1 Timothy, Lesson 8: Instructions for Overseers/Elders

Matt Harrison Preaching (610x351)Earlier, Paul had told Timothy that the Church is a pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Paul then delved into what the Christian religion is that the Church catholic believed and confessed (as opposed to the dysfunction in Ephesus, where Paul had placed Timothy as pastor to “clean up the mess”). Now Paul gets more personal, specifically commanding Timothy in his pastoral tasks.


Paul’s Commands Timothy on an Overseer’s Shepherding Tasks

Read 1 Timothy 4:11

  • Who is Timothy to “command”?


  • What is he to “command”? In other words, what are “these things”?


  • Why would Paul use such a word as “command”?


Read 1 Timothy 4:12

  • As an overseer, how is Timothy to be an example to the congregation at Ephesus?


“set… an example”: “be an example.” “Be” is a present-tense imperative verb. Timothy must be an on-going example to the congregation at Ephesus.

In this verse, Paul waxes poetically, using alliteration with five prepositions. All of the prepositions begin with an “en” sound, with three of the five objects of the prepositions starting with an “ah” sound. 


Lesson 8, Timothy is to be an Example


Read 1 Timothy 4:13

  • What is Paul planning to do?


“until”: Greek, eos. In English, we usually understand “until” to mean something is to exist, or not exist, up to some point in time. After that, the opposite goes into effect. But the Greek, eos, doesn’t carry that implication. Eos simply means that something will or will not happen up to a particular time, with no implication after that. In this verse, Paul isn’t implying that Timothy will stop publicly reading the Scriptures, etc., after he arrives, but that he will most likely give Timothy further instructions.

“devote”: Greek, prosexo. Another present-tense imperative verb. Timothy must be in a state of devoting himself to these three tasks that Paul has listed. This is not optional.

  • What does Paul command Timothy to do?


  • Why do you think Paul commands these three tasks for Timothy? Are these three tasks only for Timothy or for all pastors? (We’ll see Paul clarify this next.)


Read 1 Timothy 4:14

  • What is Timothy not to be doing?


“do not neglect”: Again, Paul uses a present-tense imperative. Paul is commanding Timothy not to neglect the gift. Neglecting the gift would take place by not doing what Paul had just told Timothy to do: Publicly read the Scriptures, exhort, and teach.

2 Timothy 1:6-7: For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control.

  • What was the “gift”?


  • When did Timothy receive this “gift”?


  • How did Timothy receive this “gift”?


“prophecy”: The speaking of God’s Word


Lesson 8, Duties of an Elder Overseer


What does this mean?

Elders/Overseers are to read the Scriptures during worship, preach, and teach the Faith. These are all public functions. This doesn’t mean that other teaching may not take place in the Church, for we see such teaching elsewhere in Scripture (such as private instruction in Acts 18:26). But as public functions, the Holy Spirit authorizes elders/overseers to do these tasks. Biblically qualified deacons may also perform these functions in their role as an overseer’s assistant. (Note: Biblically qualified deacons are theologically examined, found to hold the faith purely, and are ordained to serve as assistants to an overseer [1 Timothy 3:9, Acts 6:6]).

What Paul commands for Timothy, both positive (do read, preach, and teach) and negative (do not neglect) also matches what Jesus told His Apostles. Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Nowhere do we ever find Jesus saying, “Sheep feed yourselves.”

God giving His Holy Spirit for a specific task is not unusual. This isn’t a denial of the Holy Spirit being in all Christians but, instead, affirms that God gives His Holy Spirit through the means of His choosing to authorize someone to do some specific task. We see Jesus breathe the Holy Spirit on His Apostles, commanding them to receive (an imperative verb) the Spirit, who then authorized them to forgive and retain sins (John 20:20-23). We also see that here: An overseer/elder receives the gift of the Holy Spirit through the spoken Word of God when hands are laid on him by other elders/overseers. This is how God authorizes someone to be an overseer/elder, so he may publicly read the Scriptures, preach, and teach the Faith.

Our Lutheran Confessions touch on this idea, in part: “Our churches teach that no one should preach publicly in the Church or administer the sacraments without a rightly ordered call” (Augsburg Confession, Article 14). A “rightly ordered call” is rite vocatus in the original Latin. Rite vocatus means “called according to rite,” which means, “called and ordained.”

Read 1 Timothy 4:15

“practice”: Greek, meleta. This is another present-tense imperative verb, a command. Timothy must “put into practice,” even “take pains” to be doing “these.”

“immerse yourself in them”: literally, “be in these.” “In” is another present-tense imperative verb.

  • What were “these [things]” that Timothy was to put into practice and be in?


  • How would someone see Timothy’s “progress” in relation to “these [things]”?


Read 1 Timothy 4:16

“keep a close watch on yourself”: “Hold on to yourself.” This is another command. Timothy is to hold on to himself (not lose himself, not to be swayed from what Paul has commanded him to be and do).

“and to the teaching”: The imperative “hold on to” also applies to “the teaching.” In the same way that Timothy must do what Paul has commanded him to do (“hold on to”), he is to do the same with “the teaching.” Notice the definite article (“the”) in relation to teaching/doctrine. The teaching is not Timothy’s teaching to do with as he wants; it is the Church’s doctrine, given by Christ to His Apostles.

  • If Timothy remains in “the teaching,” what is the result for both Timothy and the congregation he shepherds?


  • Based on what Paul commanded Timothy in these verses, how would Timothy spend most of his time as an overseer?


An Overseer’s Relationship with His Congregation

We now find Paul switch his verbs. No longer is he exclusively using imperative verbs but a mix of advice (denoted by an “A”) and command (denoted by a “C”).

Read Timothy 5:1-2: Do not reprimand an older man harshly [A], but appeal [C] to him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

“reprimand harshly”: Greek, epilesso. This refers to a sharp rebuke and, at least by the “dictionary definition,” can even refer to striking someone. By not using an imperative verb, Paul is allowing milder forms of rebuke, if needed.

  • A careful reading applies Paul’s advice of not rebuking harshly to whom?


  • What does this verse allow, if needed, but still sets the course for the ideal way an overseer should relate to the congregation?


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