1 Timothy 3:1 NIV
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”
This chapter describes the criteria and qualifications of being an overseer (or “bishop”) and a deacon. As indicated by the first verse, the description that follows is not for those who are already a deacon or overseer (though I’m sure it serves as excellent reminders), but for those who desire to become one. It is not a list of requirements by which we judge existing church workers, but a set of spiritual goals and standards which we are to diligently pursue if we wish to dedicate ourselves to and become worthy of serving the church.
And to pursue diligently is by no means an overstatement. The standards are high, beginning with “above reproach,” or blameless. To desire to serve the Lord is no casual matter; it’s an ambition.
In our society it is typical for people to have ambitious career goals. If we want to get into a prestigious university, we have to study hard and take up a lot of extracurriculars to develop our intelligence and well-roundedness. If we want become a technical expert, we must do a lot of hands-on and theoretical training, and constantly keep up with the latest tools and technologies. If we want to become a doctor we need to score well on the MCATS and excel in medical school. If we want to become a patent agent, there’s this assessment called the patent-bar exam which requires hours upon hours upon hours of memorizing all the material in a ridiculously thick book (ask my sister). Bottom-line: when we want to achieve something or become someone noteworthy in society, we take it seriously, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to fulfill any prerequisites and pass any test or assessment with flying colors. Only those who excel in the necessary qualities will make the cut, and so in this way, we egg ourselves on.
Again, to serve the Lord in His church is an ambition. We might think “as long as I have the desire to serve, then God will accept me,” maybe because it’s more politically correct, or because it seems more loving. But in my opinion, this is a gross oversimplification.
If I have the desire to be a doctor (hypothetically speaking of course), then can I just begin treating patients? If I have the desire to get a PhD (again, hypothetically speaking), then can I just expect to get a diploma?
Is not God higher than all these? Is not His house more honorable than any worldly office? Thus, if I have the desire to serve God in His house, then can I just begin to be lead and teach others or make decisions? Of course not.
At the end of Joshua’s life, Joshua told the Israelites to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24) and the people emphatically said,
“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods…We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
This is a good and touching response. But how did Joshua answer them?
“You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins…Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.”
Thus, in order to serve the holy God, we ourselves must be holy, set apart, above reproach, blameless. When others commit adultery, we are faithful to our spouse. When others indulge, we exercise self control. When others are given to drunkenness in wine or pleasure, we remain sober-minded. When others are inappropriate and despicable, we are respectable and of good behavior. The list goes on – not violent, not greedy for money, not quarrelsome, not covetous, able to manage his family. When others’ hearts are inclined towards themselves, our hearts are inclined towards God and his household. Only those who excel in these necessary qualifications are worthy to serve.
“They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”
We may devote much time and effort in becoming somebody of consequence in this world, but no matter how much we invest, the results are temporary. But if we dedicate and offer ourselves for a spiritual ambition, the results are eternal. Wouldn’t obtaining an eternal reward require a much greater investment than something temporary? Therefore, let us reevaluate our perspective towards serving the holy God. If we are given an opportunity to serve the church in any capacity, let us not regard it casually but rather in reverence by keeping holiness with all diligence.
If anyone desires to serve the Lord, he desires a noble task. But the privilege and honor of serving is not simply only given, but also earned.