The two epistles to Timothy, and that to Titus, contain a scripture-plan of church-government, or a direction to ministers. Timothy, we suppose, was an evangelist who was left at Ephesus, to take care of those whom the Holy Ghost had made bishops there, that is, the presbyters, as appears by Acts 20:28; where the care of the church was committed to the presbyters, and they were called bishops. It seems they were very loth to part with Paul, especially because he told them they should see his face no more (Acts 20:38); for their church was but newly planted, they were afraid of undertaking the care of it, and therefore Paul left Timothy with them to set them in order. And here we have the character of a gospel minister, whose office it is, as a bishop, to preside in a particular congregation of Christians: If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good work, 1 Tim. 3:1. Observe,
I. The ministry is a work. However the office of a bishop may be now thought a good preferment, then it was thought a good work. 1. The office of a scripture-bishop is an office of divine appointment, and not of human invention. The ministry is not a creature of the state, and it is a pity that the minister should be at any time the tool of the state. The office of the ministry was in the church before the magistrate countenanced Christianity, for this office is one of the great gifts Christ has bestowed on the church, Eph. 4:8-11. 2. This office of a Christian bishop is a work, which requires diligence and application: the apostle represents it under the notion and character of a work; not of great honour and advantage, for ministers should always look more to their work than to the honour and advantage of their office. 3. It is a good work, a work of the greatest importance, and designed for the greatest good: the ministry is conversant about no lower concerns than the life and happiness of immortal souls; it is a good work, because designed to illustrate the divine perfections in bringing many sons to glory; the ministry is appointed to open men’s eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, etc., Acts 26:18. 4. There ought to be an earnest desire of the office in those who would be put into it; if a man desire, he should earnestly desire it for the prospect he has of bringing greater glory to God, and of doing the greatest good to the souls of men by this means. This is the question proposed to those who offer themselves to the ministry of the church of England: “Do you think you are moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?”
II. In order to the discharge of this office, the doing of this work, the workman must be qualified. 1. A minister must be blameless, he must not lie under any scandal; he must give as little occasion for blame as can be, because this would be a prejudice to his ministry and would reflect reproach upon his office. 2. He must be the husband of one wife; not having given a bill of divorce to one, and then taken another, or not having many wives at once, as at that time was too common both among Jews and Gentiles, especially among the Gentiles. 3. He must be vigilant and watchful against Satan, that subtle enemy; he must watch over himself, and the souls of those who are committed to his charge, of whom having taken the oversight, he must improve all opportunities of doing them good. A minister ought to be vigilant, because our adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pet. 5:8. 4. He must be sober, temperate, moderate in all his actions, and in the use of all creature-comforts. Sobriety and watchfulness are often in scripture put together, because they mutually befriend one another: Be sober, be vigilant. 5. He must be of good behaviour, composed and solid, and not light, vain, and frothy. 6. He must be given to hospitality, open-handed to strangers, and ready to entertain them according to his ability, as one who does not set his heart upon the wealth of the world and who is a true lover of his brethren. 7. Apt to teach. Therefore this is a preaching bishop whom Paul describes, one who is both able and willing to communicate to others the knowledge which God has given him, one who is fit to teach and ready to take all opportunities of giving instructions, who is himself well instructed in the things of the kingdom of heaven, and is communicative of what he knows to others. 8. No drunkard: Not given to wine. The priests were not to drink wine when they went in to minister (Lev. 10:8, 9), lest they should drink and pervert the law. 9. No striker; one who is not quarrelsome, nor apt to use violence to any, but does every thing with mildness, love, and gentleness. The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all, etc., 2 Tim. 2:24. 10. One who is not greedy of filthy lucre, who does not make his ministry to truckle to any secular design or interest, who uses no mean, base, sordid ways of getting money, who is dead to the wealth of this world, lives above it, and makes it appear he is so. 11. He must be patient, and not a brawler, of a mild disposition. Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, is so. Not apt to be angry or quarrelsome; as not a striker with his hands, so not a brawler with his tongue; for how shall men teach others to govern their tongues who do not make conscience of keeping them under good government themselves? 12. Not covetous. Covetousness is bad in any, but it is worst in a minister, whose calling leads him to converse so much with another world. 13. He must be one who keeps his family in good order: That rules well his own house, that he may set a good example to other masters of families to do so too, and that he may thereby give a proof of his ability to take care of the church of God: For, if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God. Observe, The families of ministers ought to be examples of good to all others families. Ministers must have their children in subjection; then it is the duty of ministers’ children to submit to the instructions that are given them.—With all gravity. The best way to keep inferiors in subjection, is to be grave with them. Not having his children in subjection with all austerity, but with all gravity. 14. He must not be a novice, not one newly brought to the Christian religion, or not one who is but meanly instructed in it, who knows no more of religion than the surface of it, for such a one is apt to be lifted up with pride: the more ignorant men are the more proud they are: Lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. The devils fell through pride, which is a good reason why we should take heed of pride, because it is a sin that turned angels into devils. 15. He must be of good reputation among his neighbours, and under no reproach from former conversation; for the devil will make use of that to ensnare others, and work in them an aversion to the doctrine of Christ preached by those who have not had a good report.
III. Upon the whole, having briefly gone through the qualifications of a gospel-bishop, we may infer, 1. What great reason we have to cry out, as Paul does, Who is sufficient for these things? 2 Cor. 2:16. Hic labor, hoc opus—This is a work indeed. What piety, what prudence, what zeal, what courage, what faithfulness, what watchfulness over ourselves, our lusts, appetites, and passions, and over those under our charge; I say, what holy watchfulness is necessary in this work! 2. Have not the best qualified and the most faithful and conscientious ministers just reason to complain against themselves, that so much is requisite by way of qualification, and so much work is necessary to be done? And, alas! how far short do the best come of what they should be and what they should do! 3. Yet let those bless God, and be thankful, whom the Lord has enabled, and counted faithful, putting them into the ministry: if God is pleased to make any in some degree able and faithful, let him have the praise and glory of it. 4. For the encouragement of all faithful ministers, we have Christ’s gracious word of promise, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world, Matt. 28:20. And, if he be with us, he will fit us for our work in some measure, will carry us through the difficulties of it with comfort, graciously pardon our imperfections, and reward our faithfulness with a crown of glory that fadeth not away, 1 Pet. 5:4.