“And not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 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.”
These verses conclude Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and the leadership of the Ephesian church regarding the office of overseer. In past posts we’ve discovered that the overseer is one who has been placed over the church as a sort of steward, having authority but only that which is given him by the Lord Jesus. The overseer is to care for Christ’s bride, the church, until He comes for her. We use terms like “pastor” or “elder,” but these terms are all interchangeable. The terms pastor/elder/overseer all describe the same office. This is a good work, a fine and noble work. But it is not a work for just any man. He must be a qualified man.
The overseer is first identified by his character. The first three verses (particularly vv. 2-3) explain the high character that is required of the overseer. He must be above reproach (ἀνεπίλημπτον). The specific word Paul chose indicates there can be nothing about his character that someone can hold onto or hold up that would bring disgrace upon him and the church. Literally it is translated “unable to receive.” Regardless of the accusation, it would never stick. The detailed list that follows communicates exactly what Paul means by above reproach.
The overseer is then exposed by his conduct. Verses 4&5 make an obvious parallel between the duties of husband and father and the duties of the overseer. The church, after all, is one large family. If the man in question is unable, or unwilling to rule over his own family as God has demanded him to, then there is zero chance that he will rise to the occasion with a much larger task. It is entirely possible for one to have a flawless character and still be a lousy shepherd. He must rule over his family well.
Because of the enormity of the task, the importance of the work, and the consequences of failure, the overseer is in need of protection. There is a reason why the enemy targets officers and NCO’s before common soldiers. If you strike the shepherd, the sheep will flee. By placing a man into the office of overseer we place a target on his back. By identifying a man who is qualified to lead Christ’s church we are identifying a target that is worthy of the enemy’s attention. Can you imagine placing a man in such a position who is not equipped to handle that kind of direct fire?
These last two verses give two more non-negotiable qualities of an overseer. But these last two qualities have his protection in mind; not only his protection, but also the protection of Christ’s church.
Maturity to avoid the devil’s damnation (v.6)
“And not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”
Grammatically, this verse is dependent upon the main verb in v. 2, just as this whole section as been. Δεῖ (it is necessary/he must) is thrust upon all of these qualities. This leaves zero wiggle room. It is a non-negotiable fact that the overseer must not be a new convert.
The term here (νεόφυτος) quite literally means newly planted. The image and concept of planting and transplanting are as old as Scripture itself. Psalm 1:3 tells of the blessed man who has been planted/transplanted (same root used in the Greek translation) by a secure water source. God’s promise to David (2 Samuel 7) states that God Himself will plant (again same root in the Greek translation) His people Israel securely in the land that He promised them. Paul has used the same concept before in his letter to the Colossians where he reminds his audience of the transformational act whereby God transferred them from out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved son (Colossians 1:13-14).
The connection between planting and conversion is now not such a leap. Just as Israel had been taken from Egypt and established in the Promised Land, just as they will be established there in the future, just as the blessed man had been removed from one location to an established garden, so too has the Christian been planted into Christ’s kingdom. The prohibition therefore does not doubt the individual’s conversion necessarily, but questions the depth of his roots.
Small plants are the first to suffer the results of a sudden frost, gale force winds, hail, etc. Yet these weather conditions are not uncommon. Likewise it is the new convert who struggles most with what others would deem common occurrences for a Christian in a fallen world. To place such a man as a leader/ruler/overseer over the house of God will very likely prove disastrous.
So that he will not become conceited
We would expect some sort of explanation after such a statement and Paul is ever so happy to give it. Very literally the word used here (τυφόω) means “to smoke.” The NKJV translates τυφόω (conceited) as puffed up. The ESV splits the difference and reads, “he may become puffed up with conceit.” Both of these translations are attempting to bring out the figurative sense of being puffed up with smoke, or to be in the midst of a smoke screen.
When you’re in the middle of a smoke cloud you are unable to see or even breath. It is from this word picture that the word came to carry on the meaning of being blinded or even to become foolish. Some contexts even tress the mental capability of the individual in question. Paul here is concerned that the newly planted man might become blinded, foolish, or even mentally impaired if he is placed into the office too quickly. But what is the issue behind the smoke screen, or the blindness?
And fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil
In his blindness, Paul is concerned that this sapling, this new convert, is in very real danger of falling into the exact same condemnation (literally judgment) pronounced upon the devil himself. From passages like Ezekiel 28 and Genesis 3 (the first three chapters of Genesis have been on Paul’s mind since 2:11), we know that pride was the root of Satan’s rebellion. Not only is Satan convinced that he can be like God, he convinced our first ancestors of the same lie (Gen. 3:5). If a man who is young in the faith, newly planted, a new convert was put into a position with so much authority and responsibility he would be wide open to being blinded by pride. Rather than ruling the church for Christ he will attempt to rule instead of Christ. This is the same crime committed by Adam in the garden. This criminal rebellion will be answered by the same judgment given to all rebels, the devil included.
If a man is placed into the office of overseer without first putting down firm roots, he is susceptible and vulnerable to follow the footsteps of the first Adam rather than the second. The consequences of such a fall are impossible to calculate, but would obviously spill over into the church and cause much disruption; all to the enemy’s glee. Yet such a catastrophe is 100% avoidable. For the protection of the elder and Christ’s church, don’t appoint a new convert as an overseer.
Reputation to avoid the devil’s deception (v. 7)
“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.”
This concluding verse stands on it’s own. We’ve made a point to stress that all of vv. 2-6 hinge on the single verb he must/it is necessary back in v. 2. Here Paul repeats the verb to indicate one final quality that is most certainly not up for debate. This is a deal-breaker just like everything that has come before it.
And he must have a good reputation
“Reputation” (μαρτυρία) is literally testimony. It’s related to the word for witness. One who gives testimony in a court of law is called a witness. The overseer in question must have a good testimony. This is the third time that Paul has used this same basic root good (καλός). In v. 1 he said that the work of an overseer is a fine work (καλός). In v. 4 he said that an overseer must rule over his house well (καλῶς). And here he says the overseer must have a good reputation/witness/testimony. It must be good, fine, noble, and beautiful. But who is observing this testimony?
With those outside the church
The church does not live in gated compounds or in secluded communities where we only see and do business with each other. We live in neighborhoods and work alongside people who do not profess Christ and have no interest in doing so. But when they look at this overseer, they see a life that is admirable even from the perspective of a non-believer. They may not like this man. They certainly don’t agree with much of what this man has to say. But even they have to admit that, from a worldly point of view, this is a good man. Why is this so important?
So that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Once again Paul not only tells us the “what” but also fills in the “why.” The devil wants nothing more than to tarnish, stain, and slander the church of Jesus Christ. The very word devil (διάβολος) means slanderer. Wherever there is a body who professes and lives for Christ, a church who preaches, teaches, and obeys Christ’s commands (i.e. the Bible), THE slanderer will seek out ways to trap, snare, and in any other way bring reproach upon the body. This verse speaks of just one snare, a bad reputation.
The overseer, like it or not, is a representative to his community for the church that he oversees. All will notice his conduct as a neighbor, employee, customer, and citizen; and they will carry that perspective to the entire church. Out will go the cry that this local body is unfriendly, unkind, dishonest, cheap, noisy, disrespectful, you name it; all because of the perception given off by the overseer. His conduct outside the church is every bit as important as his conduct within the church and within his home. He MUST have a good witness to those outside.
The office of overseer/pastor/elder is a high and noble calling. These men are chosen to be both imitators and models. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, become imitators of us and of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:6) and again, for you yourselves know how you ought to follow our follow our example (2 Thess. 3:7). There is no double standard for church leaders from church members. All of these qualities are those that every Christian should pursue with vigor. But for the good of Christ’s church, there can be NO exception within the leadership. Children with disobedient parents never have a model worthy of imitation. Churches without qualified overseers will never imitate the Lord.