In 1 Timothy 3, Paul instructed young pastor Timothy on the qualifications he should
look out for in the appointment of elders and deacons. He begun the section in verse 1
with the expression, “This is a true saying” (Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος, pistos ho logos).

The phrase “pistos ho logos” appears four other times in the King James Version of the
Bible as “This is a faithful saying” in 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 2:11
and Titus 3:8. These four faithful sayings deal with the doctrine of salvation and its
applications. However, 1 Timothy 3 deals with the qualifications of leaders in the
church. This tells us that God regards the setting of qualified men as extremely vital for
the life of the church. Timothy is to look out for men of such qualities if he is to set the
life of the church in order so that it may indeed be “the church of the living God, the
pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15) When leaders are godly, the church is
vibrant in its testimony for Christ and well-protected. However, when unqualified men
are put in place, the church will surely fall. Therefore, Timothy and churches of all
generations to come must make sure that only men who have such qualifications can be
appointed as leaders. There should be no deviations and compromise on the matter.

It is interesting to note that the first qualification of an elder that is set forth by the
Apostle Paul is the necessity of the elder to have a call to the work of the office. “If a
man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” (1 Tim. 3:1). A man may
have the qualifications stated in the other verses, but if he does not have the call to be an
elder, he should not be installed to the office. If he does not have the call to the office,
he will surely in due time collapse under the demands of the work and when the battle
for the truth is at its fiercest. He will flee in the face of danger as his own interests
comes first, for he was not called to the office by God in the first place. Nevertheless, if
he is truly called by God, he will find God to be his sufficiency. “Not that we are
sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of
God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

The two words for “desire” in verse 1 are translated from two different Greek words.
The first word for “desire” is ὀρέγομαι (oregomai). It describes how a person is
determined to seek and to accomplish a goal (BDAG). This word thus describes the
intensity of the call. It is not an impulse, but is an enduring yearning to fulfil what God
has placed in his mind and heart concerning the oversight of God’s people.

The second term for “desire” is ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeō). This describes a strong yearning
that is in the heart. Thus, the emphasis of this word is on the sincerity of the call. In
other words, he is not in the office by his own appointment. Neither is he in the office
for the sake of others or by the appointment by men. Rather, it is God who has called
him to the office. Thus, he cannot help but be involved in the work and will not run from
the task when the going gets tough.

This brings us to the next point that this desire of the office of the elder is not like how
the men of the world desire for promotions in the corporate setting. Note that this desire
is a desire to the work. Thus, this verse should also be viewed as describing THE
BURDEN of the elder. The elder is thus not in office for themselves to puff up their
ego. He understands that it is a charge that God has laid on him. It is a duty. It is a
responsibility. It is the same burden on the heart that led the prophets of old to preach
despite the intense persecutions from the detractors of God’s Word. Thus, Jeremiah
confessed, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his
name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was
weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jer. 20:9) He wanted to stop preaching,
but God so laid it in his heart that he cannot stop proclaiming the truth. It was also a
burden of the work as the Apostle of the Gentiles that led Paul to declare, “For though
I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe
is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)

A further illustration of a burden can be seen from the recent testimony of a sister in
the past church camp. She testified how as a doctor, she was often praying to God for
wisdom as she knew the responsibility she had for the patients under her care. A wrong
decision will impact their lives. She thus cannot help but be careful in her dealings with
the patients. On the other hand, one who does not have the burden for the job but
simply for money and prestige, will not care less for the needy patients. He is but an

What then is the work to which the elder is called to? Acts 20:28 has the answer, “Take
heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath
made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own
blood.” (Acts 20:28) When an elder is faithful in discharging his burden, the church
will be spiritually strong and healthy and the Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified. Thus,
Paul calls the work of an elder a “good” work.

This principle of appointing only a man for the burden of the work is also a principle to
be set in the rest of church life. Deacons must see their appointment as that which is
given by God and thus a burden which God has laid on him to the glory of Christ’s
name. So should everyone of us in our different areas of service for the Lord. The
corporate world often sees people resigning from their office as a threat or a bargaining
chip for higher authority. Otherwise it is done when the going gets tough. However, we
should not throw in the towel if we are indeed called to a particular ministry or area of
work. In fact, a man with a burden will never stop serving in that ministry because of
his ego (as it is so often the case), but because of the burden that God has laid on his
heart. What then is the burden which the Lord has laid in your heart?

Excursus: Is there a distinction between teaching and ruling elders?

The teaching that there are two different types of elders is found in 1 Timothy 5:17,
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who
labour in the word and doctrine.

Of key importance is the presence of the adverb “especially” (μάλιστα, malista), which
has the meaning of “to an unusual degree”. This verse thus teaches that all elders are
dedicated to the rule and administration of the church. However, there are those who
involve themselves to an unusual degree in labouring in the word and doctrine. These
would be the teaching elders who are involved not only in the administrative oversight
of the church but also in the teaching of God’s Word to the congregation. This is the
reason for the teaching elder being afforded “double honour”. This “double honour” is
bestowed upon him because while the ruling elder is actively involved in ruling, the
teaching elder is involved in both ruling and teaching.

In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the elders of Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, where
he appeared to address the elders as a whole body with this injunction, “Take heed
therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath
made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his
own blood.” (Acts 20:28) There seems to be no distinction in the body of elders.

Objection answered
While the teaching elder may hold the special responsibility of teaching the Word
of God to the flock, it is also the responsibility of the Board of Elders as a body to
be held responsible for the spiritual state of the flock. This explains the use of the
second personal plural pronoun in the injunctions given by the Apostle Paul.

Further Proofs
There are also further proofs in the Bible which indicate a distinction between
ruling and teaching elders:
1. The presence of pastor-teachers in Ephesians 4:11 point to a group of man
whose duty is to pastor via the intense and faithful teaching of God’s Word.
2. The fact that Paul addressed the pastoral instructions to Timothy in 1 and 2
Timothy and not any other elder, points to a distinction of Timothy from the rest
of the other elders in the church of Ephesus.
3. In the book of Revelation, the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia were
addressed to the messengers (ἄγγελοι, anggeloi) of the local churches. It is
interesting to note that each of the church had one messenger. This messenger is
likely the pastor of the church.

It is therefore the conclusion of this writer that the Scriptures teach a distinction
between ruling and teaching elders. He is the one who will set the spiritual
direction of the church as well as the Board of Elders. Nevertheless, though he is
to be regarded with “double honour” for the fact that he is engaged in both ruling
and teaching, he is not to lord over the elders nor the congregation (1 Pet. 5:3). As
seen in the earlier article, he is to work hand in hand with the ruling elders, of
which they share the same burden to have oversight of the flock of God.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew