Welcome to our latest HTS blog series entitled “Officer Qualifications By Way of Catechism” by Dr. Patrick Morgan.
And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:7
Question 23: What is meant by an overseer should have good reputation with those without? 
That he is a man who is viewed with integrity by the people he works with, in his neighborhood and in the broader community; while he may be despised for his profession of Christ, but no one can begin a charge against him justly. Moreover, he is a man who is a conspicuous and contagious Christian servant and known to be that first and foremost – so he is no private believer, and lives boldly and unashamed of the Gospel.
I recently filled out an application for initiating the process to be certified as a biblical counselor. One of the questions on the application read, “Is there anyone we could talk to who would say that you should not be a counselor?” I answered, “I have been a minister for over 25 years; in fact, the number of such people is legion. So, yes, I would say that every single non-Christian who I shared the gospel with and rejected it would be on that list. Additionally, I would also add those who masquerade on that list as those who prove themselves to be false.”
Really, the question on the application comes from, I strongly suspect, a certain kind of understanding of 1 Timothy 3:7. This is, however an often-misapplied verse which is one part of the list of qualifications dealing with the heart of a man seeking to serve in the Church as a minister or overseer. Proper qualifications apply to elders too, of course, to every Christian really, as the character there is for a decidedly faithful and exemplary Christian, and not exclusive to special office of overseer. Serving in the work with the authority and calling of overseer, though, the passage says that such men are especially to be, not perfect or faultless to be sure, but exhibiting an overwhelming adherence to the way of life and doctrine set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (also Titus 1:5-9).
The standard in verse 7 is usually seen to be about scandalous behavior on the part of the man; known and public sins which impair and impede their witness and cause them to be entrapped by the evil one (or to be seen as aligned with his side). Reproach among outsiders is certainly the idea and the central meaning of the verse, but reproach is not just any instance of someone finding fault. Such a charge must justifiably be made and supported with witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-20) Additionally 1 Timothy 3:7 says, they ought to have this character free of reproach so that they may not fall into the snare of the devil. The point being that openly unrepentant hypocrites cast a shadow across the glory of Christ and bring shame to His name, at least as it appears among the unbelievers. This is the correct understanding, there is nothing that may justifiably bring reproach.
There are times however in every man’s life when we may be at cross purposes with an unbeliever, with someone outside the church. If a minister refuses to pay for an ice cream cone because it is not what he ordered or because is prepared poorly such a thing itself does not bring reproach upon the gospel. He may, without reproach, refuse to pay in such a case. Also, if a minister refuses to pay the bill for some work he hires a craftsman do in his house because the work is shoddy, incomplete or violates a contract, he does not bring reproach. He is NOT required by his office or his calling to roll over like some doormat and say, “Oh, mercy teacups, I can’t ruffle this man’s feathers because he might not think well of me.” Christians are not doormats, nor is their character required to be that of the proverbial Rev. Milquetoast.
If you live boldly as a Christian in the world, you are always going to have those outside the church who will find you to be offensive because the Gospel itself is offensive to the unregenerate, that is, to those outside of Christ. What 1 Timothy 3:7 is talking about is a man who sins openly or even privately. One who is lives scandalously and proudly, not just someone who some unbeliever might find offensive. The first portion of the catechism question above deals with the issue of whether a just charge can be brought against the man, and not whether he is well liked.
However, I believe 1 Timothy 3:7 has a “converse application” which, I suggest, is commonly overlooked when we consider the reputation of a man before outsiders. This converse application is what is meant in the second half of the catechism answer above.
A vignette from my own personal experience might help illustrate this “converse application” of 1 Timothy 3:7. I had recently been installed as pastor of a church and was invited by one of the elders and the former pastor to come for breakfast at a local cafe. Seems it was their habit to have breakfast together weekly. Saffron was their regular waitress and served them every morning they came in. On this particular morning she came to take our order, and both the other men said “the usual.” I introduced myself and ordered my usual wherever I go: coffee (and keep it coming) and three scrambled eggs with three slices of bacon. While we were waiting for our food, it was the habit of the two men to open their phones and read a passage of scripture and discuss it briefly. We did just that, and as we were wrapping up, Saffron brought the orders out to the table.
I paused and asked Saffron, “We’re about to pray over our meal, is there anything that we can pray for you about?” (I’m not bragging here, I promise….I learned this habit from a man I knew and was mentored by in Kansas City, and offering to pray for others almost never fails to winsomely establish credibility and connections with people and a future inroad to witness to them more.) I had obviously surprised her with this question, and she was unsure what to say. I decided to relieve the tension by saying, “we’ll just pray for your family, is that OK?” She said, “sure thank you,” and left to serve another table. I prayed over the meal, the three of is finished our breakfast after, (of course), solving all the political problems of our day and then went home.
Some weeks later, I was out with my wife at another local restaurant and there was Saffron. She recognized me and I her, and so I went over to her and said hello. I said I was new in town, and we made small talk. Eventually, she asked me, “were (the other men) in your church too?” I was a little surprised at her question, so I answered, and I said “Well, one is the former pastor, and the other is an elder in the church.” She said something like, “Well I’ve seen them reading once in a while, and they’ve given me a pamphlet to read, but that was the first time anyone ever asked me if they can pray for me.”
Now, Saffron was not a member of a church and not a Christian, so she is “someone who is outside”, who is “without.” I ask you: do these two men have a good reputation with her? Well, one might answer, “they didn’t have a bad reputation, anyway,” sure, but is it really not good enough to simply be “not bad?” See, the reason we are to be above reproach is to be credible in our witness. It is not to be above reproach so that we might be thought well of. These two men could not claim that they were doing what their Christian calling demanded in their life. Saffron had no idea in whose Name they were doing what they did as they read to each other.
I don’t really know if Saffron was relating everything to me accurately – that’s why I have not used their names nor mentioned the incident to either of the men I dined with. (Her name was not Saffron, either, by the way.)
Both men, I believe, may have fallen short in this qualification of having a good reputation for those outside the church by being silent about the Gospel. This may be another perspective, a converse application, sure, but it is an application which is often lost in our understanding of what actions constitute serving Christ in the world; of what our responsibility is as Christians in the world and to the world because we are not of the world. As the salt of the earth, we are to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ — that ought to be our reputation among the outsiders.
 This is Question #23 from Appendix B, “Elder Qualification Explained by Way of Catechism” from a self-published book on Amazon, “Shepherd’s Hands” by Patrick Morgan.
 From Stephen Brown’s book, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
Dr. Patrick Morgan resides in Sioux Falls, SD, serving as Heidelberg’s Director of International Studies.