“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the Word as taught faithfully, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”
This is a fairly full list of attributes that we are going to have to work through one at a time, but it is important that we keep them together as a whole, for this is how Paul presents the character of one who will be an overseer in the church of Jesus Christ. Note also that Paul, in the previous verse, spoke of Elders (πρεσβυτερος — presbuteros) and now he changes the term he is using to Overseers (επισκοπος — episkopos). This is not because he is confused, but is because these form one in the same office…arguably the first by title or office (Elder) and the second, by function (an Overseer). The scriptures use these terms interchangeably.
So, what does it mean that the Elder must be “irreproachable”? Literally, this term means to be blameless. Yet, we are sinners, so how can we be blameless? Certainly that is an impossible standard. If we spoke of being blameless in the eyes of God, then yes, it would be an impossible standard. Here, though, we are speaking of blamelessness in the eyes of the church. The one serving as Elder must have a reputation in the church of walking with integrity and not seeking to “cut corners” or as one who creatively interprets or manipulates the rules to serve his own benefit. He must have a reputation for doing the right thing because it is the right thing — regardless of the consequences.
How often this is missed in the life of the church. How often what we see is that of the church doing what is right in its own eyes with respect to the state or to the community. This is a temptation that Elders (and arguably, all church leadership) must resist. Furthermore, there is a time and a place to remove an Elder from his office if his character does not reflect this level of integrity. Remember, when we lead the church, we also represent Christ to the community around us; so what the community sees in our character will be how they understand the character of Christ.
This raises a very real question. Can someone sin in such a way that disbars them from holding the office of Elder? The answer is “yes.” Those sins that destroy his irreproachable character do just that. Sometimes those sins may be such that they disbar a man from the office for a season of repentance and restoration and sometimes they disbar a man from the office for life. Too often this reality is overlooked by churches with leaders that are likable or influential and so excuses are made, but if we are to take Christ’s calling seriously, this is not something we will do. Yes, we are a people saved by grace and are held eternally in Christ’s hand. Yet, losing one’s ability to hold church office and losing your salvation are two different matters. We may lose our ability to serve due to a sin we harbor and commit but our name is not erased from the Lamb’s Book of Life. These are two separate matters. To not take this notion about losing one’s ability to serve as Elder is to take the Word of God lightly. Let us walk in wisdom and lead our churches in integrity to the glory of Christ our Lord.