Frequently Asked Questions
"What does it mean to be above reproach/ blameless?"
The dictionary defines “reproach” as shame or disgrace or that which brings rebuke or censure upon a person. The Bible speaks of being “above reproach” or “blameless” as one of the distinctive marks of those who aspire to the office of elder within the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7). As such, their work for the church, as well as their interactions with others, are to be of such moral quality that they do not bring shame or in any way disgrace the body of Christ or the name of Jesus. This holds true not only within the church, but outside it as well.
The qualifications for the elder, sometimes called “overseer,” are outlined by the apostle Paul. He wrote: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7). The word “must” is emphasizing that this particular quality of being “above reproach” is an unconditional prerequisite for a leadership role in the church.
Above reproach, however, does not mean without sin. No Christian lives an entirely sinless life, nor will we until we reach the glorified state in heaven. Above reproach means that the overseer’s life is free from sinful habits or behaviors that would impede his setting the highest Christian standard and model for the church to emulate (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). Similarly, the overseer must not give cause for those outside the church to impugn its reputation. Being above reproach means that no one can bring a charge or accusation against him (Acts 25:7; 1 Peter 3:16).
In essence, the church’s overseers must be men whose character is unimpeachable, who are esteemed highly within their community. Such men are known for their wholesome life and untarnished integrity. Elders are to be men of good character and reputation. Though Paul, in his letters to Timothy and Titus, is addressing the distinguishing marks of those who desire to be church leaders, it certainly does not diminish the need for all Christians to aspire to the same qualities. Being above reproach should be an ongoing aim of all believers (Colossians 3:7-10).
“What’s the difference between an Elder and a Deacon?”
When you compare the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 (elders/overseers, vv. 1-7; deacons, vv. 8-13), there doesn’t seem to be much difference. This, quite simply, is because the qualifications speak more to the issue of character than they do of role.
To understand the difference in role, we would do better to look at what the actual titles are meant to convey. First, elders are overseers. Paul makes this clear in Acts 20 when he gathers together the elders of the church of Ephesus (v. 17) and says to them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers to shepherd the church of God (v. 28). Elders, then, are supposed to provide the kind of oversight that a shepherd provides for his flock. They are to lovingly lead and direct the congregation in terms of both doctrine and a vision for the ministry; they are to come alongside and encourage or rebuke where necessary to get individual sheep back on course.
Deacons, on the other hand, are called to serve. The original Greek word, diakonos (dee-a-con-os), in 1 Timothy 3actually means “servant.” It is translated at such throughout the New Testament (in Matthew 22:13 (“servants”), Colossians 4:7 (“servant”), and Romans 15:8 (“servant”). A deacon is a servant; he is one who has been called to serve. Practically speaking, this means putting hands to the work of the ministry. Their primary role is one of service.
To summarize, then, elders are primarily responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church whereas deacons are primarily responsible for attending to the physical matters of the church (service).
“Is an Elder required to be married?”
The issue is not the elder’s marital status, but his moral and sexual purity. This qualification heads the lists, because it is in this area that leaders are most prone to fail. Some take the qualification for elders “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,” in 1 Timothy 3:2 as meaning that for a man to be an elder, he must be married. That is not the meaning of “husband of one wife.” In the Greek, the phrase “husband of one wife” literally reads “one-woman man.” For a man to be considered for a position of church leadership, and he is married, he must be committed to his wife. This qualification is speaking of fidelity in marriage and sexual purity. It is not a requirement of marriage. If it were, a man would have to be married and also have children, because 1 Timothy 3:4 states he must “keep his children under control with all dignity.” We should understand this qualification as: If a man is married, he must be faithful to his wife. If a man has children, he must manage them well.
Some think this requirement excludes single men from church leadership. But if that were Paul’s intent, he would have disqualified himself (1 Cor. 7:8). A “one-woman man” is one totally devoted to his wife, maintaining singular devotion, affection and sexual purity in both thought and deed. To violate this is to forfeit blamelessness and no longer be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6,7). Being single is praised by the Apostle Paul as enabling more faithful service to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Why would Paul restrict men from church leadership positions when he believes “…an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32)? In the first nine verses of this chapter, Paul establishes that both marriage and singleness are good and right before the Lord. An elder may be either married or single, as long as he meets the qualifications of godliness outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.