In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he outlined how the church should function. Beginning in 1 Tim. 2:8 Paul, by apostolic authority, decreed that the men should lead the corporate worship of the church, and that the women should “quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness” (1 Tim. 2:11). He also gave details of the qualities that must be exhibited by those who would become elders and deacons in the church. He began by saying that any man who desires the office of overseer (or elder), desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1). Then, he listed each of the qualities that a man should possess in order to do this good work. The first of these is that he must be “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2). Some translations say he must be “blameless”.
Without even considering the enormity of the responsibility to shepherd the souls of a congregation, this qualification alone will cause honest men to have second thoughts about accepting this work. Who among us is so vain as to suggest that he is blameless before the Lord? Most of us have done things of which we are not proud. Some of us still carry the stigma of previous indiscretions, and although we have repented of these sins and have been forgiven, we cannot escape the feeling that our reputation has not yet recovered.
How then can the apostle say that an overseer must be above reproach or blameless? How is such a thing even possible? When we look within ourselves for the answer, we cannot help but despair. Like David we exclaim, “My sin is ever before me” (Psa. 51:3). In such a state of mind, no matter how godly one’s life may have become, we will never consider ourselves qualified to shepherd God’s people.
The reason Paul could stipulate such a qualification, and the reason why imperfect men may accept the call to spiritual leadership, is because of what the Lord has done for us. In Col. 1:21-23 Paul said, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach–if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
By the blood of Jesus Christ our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16), and we are made blameless and beyond reproach before God. Those who repent of their sins and seek God’s forgiveness are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and their sins are remembered no more (Jer. 31:31-34). Although we are weak and sin from time to time, we are nevertheless above reproach, we are blameless, because we continue to submit to the will of our God and Father in heaven. And just like David, we can still be men after God’s own heart.
Some of our friends and neighbors in the world may still hold our past sins against us, but that does not change our status before God. If they were obedient themselves they would no longer hold those things over us. The fact that they do hold them against us shows that they are still in sin and in need of redemption.
Being above reproach or blameless is not about being perfect. It is about being the kind of man who acknowledges his sins and constantly seeks forgiveness for them. Such a man is building a reputation that cannot be assailed by frivolous accusation. Good and honest people will see and recognize this, and such a man can indeed shepherd God’s people.