It may be well, as we are come to the passage, to understand clearly what a bishop is according to scripture. Timothy, as an apostolic delegate, was to ordain elders in every city.
Things have been perverted to such an extraordinary degree that the first idea that presents itself to many, when a bishop is in question, is that of a mitred prelate in lawn sleeves; but this is not at all the New Testament meaning. I suppose that no one will question the fact that the elder of verse 5 is the same thing as the bishop (more properly overseer) of verse 7, and that the very first point to be noticed about him is that he has a faithful household, brought up in good order - a thing not easily found in Crete, nor indeed in some other islands.
Much has been said to clear up the main differences between the gifts given by Christ to the Church (Eph. 4) and the local charge of a man morally qualified to watch over the order of the church. It is well to be subject to scripture in these things, for to confound them is one of the chief causes of the present state of Christendom.
Let us notice that these overseers were appointed by apostles or by apostolic delegates (see Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3), and if any in our day were to say, "Show me an official bishop," the answer would be, "Show me an apostle to appoint such." That there may be men, not officially established, who may answer by their moral character and position to the functions we may well admit.
Note, in passing, that there are no such things as archbishops in the New Testament. They are as mythical as archangels. There is one archangel (Michael), but there are no archbishops.
Having said so much, we may look at the character here presented of one who should be appointed to watch over the saints. He must be unblameable, having a family well brought up according to God's mind*; the same ruling of the household as in 1 Timothy, for this must precede care of the church. The expression "steward of God" is a remarkable one, for even in this world a wise man of property will not employ a steward unless he has an irreproachable character, the charge being one of great responsibility and honour. The rest of verse 7 denotes a true command of himself, not carried away by the senses, not hot-tempered, not given to wine, to fighting, or to gain: a man who is not all these things is a steady person.
*Of course it is understood that "the husband of one wife" refers to the man being free of Gentile polygamy. A polygamist might be converted, but he was disqualified as to overseership.
But then comes that which is positively good - hospitality, love of good, wisdom, justice, godliness, continence. These virtues are far more than the mere absence of evil passions. The house door is open (hospitality), and the house itself is full of good things.
But there is more, the 9th verse insists upon tenacity as to the faithful word, according to the received teaching, so that he may exhort by sound doctrine and refute gainsayers. This character should be noticed, for it is not every one that holds fast true teaching (having himself received it). Then comes the exhortation of others,. and the answering of those who oppose and contradict the truth. It is the crowning virtue of the overseer's list. His moral worth and weight had been spoken of, and, to make the whole complete, there is the retaining of the faithful word, to be used both for help to the saints in stimulating them to good, and as a means of stopping evil.
No doubt in Crete Judaizing teachers had found a fine field, for the Cretan disposition ("liars, evil beasts," etc.) was naturally such as to receive wrong doctrine; and the position of an overseer in a Cretan city was no sinecure. It implied active care for the sheep, and the use of the Word to check wrong teaching for filthy lucre. (v. 11.) The fact is, that such a charge always involves patient work and suffering, whether in Crete or elsewhere; and whilst the privilege is great (if any man desire "overseership," he desires a good work), the responsibility and care are great also.
To sum up then, an overseer is here presented to us as being one whose moral weight inspires confidence as to supervision, the house in order, passions excluded, good things cultivated, and the faithful word held fast.
Although no such man may be now officially appointed, yet we may well look to the Lord to raise up such for the local care of His beloved sheep. E. L. Bevir.