What does 1 Timothy 3:1 mean?
ESV: The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
NIV: Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
NASB: It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
CSB: This saying is trustworthy: "If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work."
NLT: This is a trustworthy saying: 'If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.'
KJV: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
NKJV: This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.
Verse Commentary:
This verse begins a new section, extending through verse 7. Here, Paul discusses the qualifications of "elders," also known as pastors, bishops, or overseers (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1; Ephesians 4:11). In this verse, Paul begins by stating that his words are "trustworthy," a formula he used in the Pastoral Epistles before giving an axiomatic quote. He also uses this term in 1 Timothy 1:15 and 4:9, as well as 2 Timothy 2:11 and Titus 3:8. Each time, the phrase emphasizes a particular point or quote Paul wants Timothy or Titus to remember.

Many observations can be made. First, in this context "anyone" does not mean "any person." Though this particular word is in a neuter (genderless) form, the following verses specify that only men could serve as elders. All of the following pronouns in this section are specifically male, with qualifications including the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2) and managing his own household (1 Timothy 3:4).

Second, the focus is on the position more than the person. An overseer or elder is a position of top leadership in the church. Those who desire it desire a good thing. Two Greek words for aspire/desire are used here. The first is oregetai, emphasizing an internal or private desire. The other is epithymei, emphasizing an external or overt desire. This task was seen as "excellent" or "commendable": a kalou ergou, or a "fine work."
Verse Context:
First Timothy 3:1–7 describes the requirements of church elders. Those who are placed in high leadership positions within the church are to be men of a good reputation, known for self-control and fairness, as well as have an ability to teach spiritual truths. They cannot be known as drunkards, bickerers, or prone to greed. Those who are married must demonstrate faithfulness to their wife and respectable control of their children. Paul also specifies that new converts cannot be elders: this presents a high risk of arrogance and failure.
Chapter Summary:
First Timothy chapter 3 expresses requirements for two different levels of church leadership. The first are ''elders'' or ''overseers.'' These men are to be experienced Christians, respectable, capable teachers, with a good reputation and a well-ordered family life. The second group are ''servants,'' or ''deacons,'' who share many of the same expectations. Unlike elders, however, deacons are not necessarily called on to teach. And, they are expected to be ''tested'' prior to taking on their role.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 3 concludes Paul's general statements about church structure and behavior. In chapters 1, 2, and 3, he has laid out some broad concepts which Timothy needs to enforce in his congregation. This chapter specifically deals with the qualifications for leaders, including both elders and deacons. The next chapters will transition to Paul's warnings about certain dangers lurking around the Christian church.
Book Summary:
First Timothy is one of Paul's three ''Pastoral Epistles.'' Paul's other letters, such as Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians, are meant for a broader audience. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are written to specific people whom Paul is advising on how to best lead their local churches. These three letters present a close look at the form and function of church leadership. First Timothy, like 2 Timothy and Titus, is less formal and systematic, and more personal. This gives great insight into the way pastors, deacons, and elders ought to prioritize their time and energy.
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