The term “above reproach” is a general description of what overseers/elders must be in 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6–7. 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6–7 each use their own Greek term (anepilēmptos, 1 Tim 3:2; anegklētos, Titus 1:6, 7), but they are practically synonymous and are thus both translated “above reproach.”1 What exactly “above reproach” means is detailed with all of the character traits that follow in each passage. In other words, “above reproach” summarizes all of the character traits to follow.2
The first character trait to examine is “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6). Many interpretations have been offered for this phrase: an overseer (1) should be married, (2) cannot be divorced, (3) cannot be divorced and remarried, (4) or cannot be remarried after the wife’s death. Circumstantial aspects of one’s interpretation aside, all can agree that overseers must live with purity. As the passage puts it literally, he is a “one-woman man,” pure with one or none depending on whether he is married or not. (Please remember I am discussing principles for Christian leaders in general, not requirements for overseers/elders alone.)
To round this out a bit, purity begins in the heart. Whether a Christian leader or a Christian in general, all must abstain from lust (Matt 5:27–30). Such lust is sin in and of itself. When this lust is fostered, it may lead to sinful acts, the end of which is death (James 1:14–15).
Practically, Christian leaders should treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters (1 Tim 5:1–2). They do not go about creeping into households and preying upon women whose sin-burdened consciences and unbridled passions can be manipulated for the sake of the leader’s sinful sexual desires (2 Tim 3:6). Like Solomon, they are wise to know the wily ways of wicked women and avoid them altogether (Prov 7). Learning from David, they make no provision for the flesh and are not careless to find themselves in the wrong place and the wrong time to thus become susceptible to temptation (2 Sam 12:1–5; cf. Rom 13:14). Like Joseph, they run from unexpected situations in which the sins that could take place would be brought to light only at the end of the age (Gen 39:12; 1 Tim 5:24). In all these matters, this purity is an example for the church as a whole (1 Tim 4:12).
In keeping with the previous paragraph, I would enourage Christian leaders to consider a few suggestions for their ministries today:
- If a woman needs long-term counseling, try to find a godly woman who will counsel her better than you. After all, this is biblical, is it not (cf. Titus 2:3–4)?
- Don’t find yourself alone with a woman unless she fits Paul’s category of being treated as a mother. (It took me a minute to figure out how to say that nicely. Thank you, Paul.)
- Take all necessary precautions to guard yourself from pornography in our technological age. A filterless and unaccountable life with America’s internet is like inviting Potiphar’s wife to hide in your corner and tempt you in time.
- If single, pray for the grace of self-control (1 Cor 7:7; cf. 7:5). If married, enjoy life with the wife you love (Ecc 9:9).
I’m sure so much more could be said, but we can at least say that Christian leaders should be above reproach, meaning at the least that they should be pure. May God give us grace to reflect who He is in this regard.