Moreover, he [the guardian/overseer (3:1)] must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:7 ESV)
One of the qualifications for the “guardians” (overseers) in Ephesus listed above concerns the Christian man’s reputation among non-Christians. In 1 Tim 3:7, the church is called to evaluate this testimony as a preventive measure in the selection process of a “guardian.”
It has been asked, “what will happen to a leader who is not so regarded by those outside the church”? The answer is clear: it becomes a trap set by the Devil to bring about disgrace in the church. The man’s public record must weigh in as to whether or not he should have the responsibility of a guardian. Let us explore this verse in some greater detail by looking at three aspects of the text.
(1) A Final Necessity
After exploring thirteen qualifications designed to add details to the broad concept of being “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2), the final detail is the measure of his character as reflected by “outsiders.”
The nature of his public record must be “morally excellent.” The ESV has “well thought of,” but the text literally reads, “have a good testimony.” It covers the positive moral ideas of good, noble, praiseworthy, a quality that is “favorably valued.” His character and standing in the community (3:7) must be equal to the “good work” as a guardian (3:2).
The “source” of information which is supposed to help the church examine a “guardian’s” candidacy comes from non-Christians (literally, “from those on the outside”). At first glance, this may appear to be strange. Why would public opinion matter when addressing the leadership role of a church “guardian”? The short answer is his public reputation either brings glory to God or it brings disgrace to His Kingdom. This qualification of the quality of an overseer’s reputation must not be ignored.
(2) The Reason for the Requirement
The middle of the verse reads, “so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” The emphasis is placed upon protecting the church from those who have a bad reputation in the community; such a scenario would play “into the devil’s trap.”
Are there any longstanding frictions with the community which are detrimental not only to the guardian’s service but also to the mission of the church? Is he “known” for having improper relationships, or do rumors circulate about him which would be reproachable to him?
These questions must be asked and answered. However, despite the importance of public record, the community is not the final say. It is an important part of the appraisal process designed to prevent disgraceful men from entering the eldership. It is much easier to get a man in, than it is to get an unqualified elder out.
(3) The Ever Present Danger of the Devil
There are no sinless guardians; however, pretense and hypocrisy are subject to slander and accusations. Such is the main objectives of “the Slanderer” (i.e., the Devil). The man’s public record should not be a prized trophy captured by the Devil (i.e., the implied hunter’s snare). Consequently, “Christian men who bring widespread scandal upon the church of God have a heavy burden to bear.”
If one’s character is something which has been built brick by brick, then so is one’s reputation. Good character does not have to be perfect, but according to this verse, one’s reputation does need to be well thought of. This, then, is not a role where one develops their good reputation; quite to the contrary, the role is for the person who already possesses an excellent reputation. Contextually, further, they must already possess such a reputation from the community.
A Final Word
One’s public record is a general guide to anticipating the trajectory of a person’s character: where does it point toward? We must allow for imperfect people having imperfect records; furthermore, not all concerns are of the same weight and worth. Nevertheless, if there is no longstanding trajectory towards godliness in non-Christian circles then it is adequately apparent such a prospect cannot serve in such an iconic and spiritual role as shepherd, elder, and overseer in the church of God, which is God’s house (1 Tim 3:15).
I was recently told of a congregation that was in the process of selecting new elders. In keeping with the tenor of this character requirement, the congregation placed a notice in a local newspaper seeking public input as to the character and public record of the proposed elders. I am unaware of the outcome, but their action is powerful as it upholds the importance placed upon an elder’s public record.
- George W. Knight, III, The Pastoral Epistles (1992; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013), 165.
- Bauer, Walter, Frederick W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, eds. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), BDAG 504; Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2d ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Society, 1989), L&N 88.4.
- Wayne Jackson, Before I Die: Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus (Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, 2007), 94.