You may be surprised to learn that most of the qualifications of bishops (also called elders, shepherds, pastors, overseers, or presbyters) are expected of all Christians — both men and women. This effectively says that bishops aren’t some sort of “super” Christian or a sort of special individual that most can’t replicate. Instead, they’re men who have developed spiritually as Jesus wanted them to, excelling in the qualities expected of all. The best thing a man can do in planning to be an elder in the future is mature as a Christian. When the qualifications are listed in Scripture, it implies that there were men already qualified, who Timothy and Titus could identify and were ready to assume the work of leading congregations spiritually in the right way. As we make our point in this space, please begin by reading the two passages of qualifications closely:
“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you — if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:5-9).
Out of these two lists, there are surprisingly few qualifications that apply specifically to bishops:
- Must not be a novice.
- Must desire the position of an elder.
- Must be the husband of one wife.
- Must have faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
Now let’s consider the characteristics that everyone must have. The many qualifications that apply to everyone are going to differ among various translations in the terms used. This is a compilation taken from the NKJV:
- Blameless: Unimpeachable character (Philippians 2:14-15).
- Temperate/self-controlled: Able to deny your own desires (2 Peter 1:5-6).
- Sober-minded: Having a sound mind, earnest, and sincere (1 Peter 1:13).
- Good behavior: Decent in conduct, well behaved (Galatians 4:18).
- Hospitable: Generous reception of guests (Romans 12:13).
- Able to teach: Qualified to instruct (Acts 8:4; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 3:15).
- Not given to wine: Not addicted to wine (Ephesians 5:18).
- Not violent: Not apt to fight (Matthew 5:39; 1 Peter 2:21-23).
- Not greedy for money and/or covetous: Will not use wrong means to make money; an example of liberal giving (Hebrews 13:5).
- 10.Gentle: Kind and meek (Philippians 4:5).
- 11.Not quarrelsome or quick-tempered: Not easily enraged (Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:8).
- 12.Not self-willed: Arrogant and self-pleasing (Philippians 2:3-4).
- 13.A lover of what is good: Loves good things (Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 21).
- 14.Just: Equitable, fair, and honest (James 2:1, 9).
- 15.Holy: Devoted to God and pious (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
- 16.Holding fast the faithful word: Holding on firmly to the truth (Ephesians 6:14-18).
- 17.A good testimony among those who are outside: Good reputation from those outside the church (Romans 12:18; 1 Peter 2:11-12).