1 TIMOTHY – SERIES NR 5
1 Timothy 3: 1 – 13
Theme: Godliness makes all the difference
In chapters 2-3 the Apostle Paul is giving Timothy, his much younger colleague, a couple of directives about how the gatherings and administration of the Lord’s church should function. And because it is an APOSTLE who is saying it, it is God himself who says it and, therefore anyone who reads and hears it should listen carefully.
In chapter 3 he now moves on to the offices of elder and deacon.
One thing is true: Someone who has a yearning to be an elder desires something noble. Yes, Christ Jesus is the ONLY head of the church, but He governs the church through a chosen body of elders. They, in turn, are chosen by the congregation. Elders are the leaders who must look after the church.
In the NT there are three different words for exactly the same office, namely presbuteros (elder), episkopos (overseer), and poimen (shepherd/pastor). Here in chapter 3 episkopos is used, but in Titus 1 presbuteros and episkopos alternately. In Acts 20: 12,28 all three words are used.
It is therefore the same office, but each one highlights a certain aspect of the office which comes down to oversee, govern and care. Presbuteros (govern), episkopos (care) and poimen (care). An enormous responsibility, therefore. Truly, churches must really pray for their elders and church council.
After the time of the Apostles ended, the office of elder was the only form of church leadership. And often there were some deacons who were their fellow workers to look after the welfare and socio-economic welfare of the congregation.
In the earliest church, elders were appointed where churches were established (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), they prayed for those who are sick (James 5:17), cared for the Lord’s flock (Acts 2:28), keep watch over the souls of others (Heb 13:17), but primarily they manage and care for the church (verse 5). In addition, they direct the affairs of the church and teach (1 Tim 5:17; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 3:2). They lead the church (Titus 1:7) and protect the church against false preachers (Acts 20:17). They watch over the true doctrine and visit those who are sick. They, therefore serve the church of Christ in a pastoral capacity by keeping watch, leading, and caring for. From 1 Tim 5:17 it is clear that some elders had the specific official duty of preaching. Today’s pastors and ministers are therefore elders that have this particular task and responsibility, but without the others, the administration of a church cannot be put into effect properly. It is teamwork and everyone must do their share.
To return to the first part of verse 1: Someone may well set his heart upon serving the Lord as an elder, but he must patiently wait to be chosen. Nobody must intrude or thrust himself forward. But, to cherish the desire is not wrong. It is a great privilege of grace to be of service in this way.
I now move down to verses 2-3.
Now the Apostle makes a list of the qualities that someone has to have to be able to serve as overseer/elder in the church.
It is very clear that the Apostle takes it for granted that the elder will be a man – we see it by him continuously using the words him/his… a husband of one wife… It is inconceivable that a woman could be the husband of one wife!
The elder is a servant of Christ – who is the Head of the church – and he must comply with certain moral demands.
ABOVE REPROACH does not mean sinless-perfect, but so that nobody can point a finger at him.
Significantly elders are not required to comply with higher standards than the rest of the members of the church of Christ. The things that the Apostle mentions here are merely the attributes to which ALL Christ-believers are known, but an elder is very often put under the magnifying glass and Christ‘s name must continuously be honored in and through his life.
HOW is the Lord Jesus’s Name continuously being praised and honored in the lives of ALL true Christians? Well, by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And HOW does that fruit of the Spirit appear and show practically? Look at the elders, because THERE is where you see it!
Someone in whose life the glory of Christ became evident, shall remain faithful to his wife! In the society of that time, prostitution, adultery, keeping of concubines practicing homosexuality were common.
Contrary to that, the elder’s life looks completely different. Conjugal fidelity triumphs!
In addition, the elder is temperate, says the Holy Spirit through the apostolic pen. Temperate means: to be able to form a sober judgment.
Furthermore, also self-controlled, respectable, open-hearted, and love for other people, and able to teach others in the Word – or at least be prepared to be trained for that. The Gospel message is not proclaimed by angels, but by PEOPLE of flesh and blood. The progress of the church in the world is closely connected to the witnessing of Christians and elders. Just the same as you would tell everyone that you have discovered something that can heal you from Covid, you would share the Gospel with everyone if it had healed you.
If one has been filled by the SPIRIT, things like arguments and selfishness and discord and the chasing after riches can not fill you. It is EITHER one OR the other. The influence of alcohol can also not fill you. Eph 5:18 is very clear about that. It is better for a Christian’s testimony to the outside to flee from it and to stand rock steady for the honor of the Lord.
As you can see, the Apostle’s instructions are unequivocally clear.
And then down to verses 4-5.
Nothing is more important to the Lord than families. Indeed God is 100% the God of the Covenant – that is how He works. Statistics from the USA show that 94% of people who become Christians become so by the influence of close family. It is pre-eminently the Lord’s way to save His chosen ones.
The satanic attack on humanity today wants to destroy this God-willed structure in many ways like overthrowing the family through the destruction of authority and wrecking the God-willed marriage through gender confusion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. 10 years ago this massive attack was unknown and undoubtedly comes from Evil, and the only haven of preservation is the church of Christ! Within the church, covenant families should be safe PROVIDING the true doctrine of the apostles are taught and obeyed there. THAT is what makes a church true church, and not how many committees and groups and warmth and beautiful music and soup-and-sandwich there is. In the true church of Christ, there is sincere love and respect for the true Apostolic teaching and proper exegesis and passionate living out of the Scriptures which becomes visible in the disciplines that are important to GOD such as prayer and evangelism. And overall of that: the pastoral watchfulness of the elders.
All of that could not have been better expressed than here in verses 4-5. The Lord has placed everything in the hands of the elders. Everything. THEY must set the example of healthy, Biblical families and manage their children with God-willed authority – exactly what the world is undermining.
And out of their households, they must care and manage the Lord’s family – His precious church – the same way. The Apostle is saying: THAT is the task of the elders: the care of the church of Christ which He bought for Himself with His blood. In his household, the elder does not reign like an autocratic dictator and therefore also not in the Lord’s household – the church. He governs by serving and showing people what Scripture teaches. Exactly the way Jesus used to do.
There is therefore a close connection between the home and the church. We are striving towards the preservation of both, even though we will never be popular with the world. God’s truth is 1000X more important than what the world and people think or say.
Verses 6-7 next…
It is still dealing with the qualifications to which an elder must conform – it is the HE the Apostle is talking about here.
In today’s churches, it sometimes happens that someone comes to faith and repentance and becomes on fire for the Lord Jesus, and immediately that person is elected to the office of elder.
That is wrong, says the Apostle (and the Holy Spirit through him). Despite the good intention, such a man can be put in temptation – a snare of satan – namely to become self-righteous like the devil himself did when he came to a fall. Pride always leads to a fall. We know from passages like Rev 20:10, Is 14, and Ezek 28 that conceit brought Satan to a fall. Paul was undoubtedly thinking about these passages when he wrote verse 6. Lucifer’s self-exaltation towards God and his pride in his beauty is the cause that he lost his position and became a fallen angel.
The same judgment can come over an elder who develops self-conceit. It is a snare of the devil.
But there is also a second snare and that is when people OUTSIDE the church are not reckoned with. Not that outsiders can prescribe to the church who may serve as an elder. But the witness – the public witness – that is important to the Apostle. The church of Christ must as far as possible reflect a good witness to the outside. Outsiders should rather be drawn closer than be repulsed.
Non-Christians will certainly not applaud someone who has turned towards Christ – but they MUST acknowledge that the person’s life has changed positively and that the person is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). In Acts, we read that outsiders respected the church.
An elder candidate to whom outsiders can still point a finger about how he misbehaves, can simply not serve as an elder. Yes, the standard is high, because the Lord lives and He is holy.
Now verses 8-9…
The Apostle now turns to the qualifications that deacons should comply with.
The office of deacon had a specific origin in Acts 6. The word means SERVANT and is usually used for people who serve at tables in John 2:5 and Luke 17:8 – almost like a waiter in our day.
In the earliest church, it was the habit to have a meal AFTER the worship service and often also serve Communion. There were always believers who helped, but later on, the church in Jerusalem had grown so large that the apostles could not manage everything, and to enable them to concentrate on prayer and the preaching of the Word, servants (deacons) were appointed to help with the meals and the communion and also the caring for the widows – compassionate work, therefore. Sometimes they also preached the Word as in the case of Philip – but the main thing was walking in the footsteps of Jesus Himself who did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).
From Phil 1:1 it seems that the deacons became an established office. One also see it here in 1 Tim 3 where the Apostle under the lead of the Holy Spirit, gives instructions about the high moral standards to which deacons must comply.
Because they often worked with money, they must not try to enrich themselves and they must be trustworthy. They must also be men of good character – therefore they must be worthy of respect and live graciously. People must not have a reason to point a finger at them. They must also be wary of alcohol and not speak with two tongues. A servant of Christ must not say what people want to hear but strictly keep to the Truth of the Word. That applies to all Christians.
All these requirements apply to all Christians. Particularly also verse 9: Keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. FAITH meaning the objective packet of truth – in our language the OT and NT. Cling to it at all cost! Read it, study it, remember it, believe it, pray it, confess it, preach it, and do not deviate one millimeter to left or right. Because it is revealed from ABOVE. It is from God. It is HIS Divine Plan and Word.
And then – in closing – verses 10-13.
Yes, there must be testing as to who can serve as elders and deacons, because they must be blameless. Not sinless, but blameless. There must not be cause for fingers to be pointed. They must have the congregation’s approval.
It almost sounds as if the Apostle is stricter with the testing of the deacons than of the elders, but we should rather understand that he thinks the same about both offices.
The wives also must apply to certain conditions and reflect Christ’s heartbeat by being reliable and of good character – not someone who spread malicious stories and so forth. Absolutely reliable.
The word “women” is without the definite article in Greek and can be understood to mean wives of the deacons OR women who work in the church as deacons. In Romans 16:1 we read about Phoebe who worked as a servant /deaconess. Whether it was truly in the OFFICE of deacon we do not know. But THAT women were active in the earliest church as servants/deacons, is a strong possibility, although we do not see it definitely in the Scriptures. Elders/pastors must be men, but about the deacons, there is room to argue that women too could be servants.
However, it may be – the important message is the high premium that the Holy Spirit places on a Christ-glorifying walk of life. THAT is at all times important.
Back concerning the deacons in verses 12-13 – his behavior within the privacy of his household is just as important as in the case of the elders. Conjugal fidelity is a requisite as well as good management of his children – that is not negotiable.
To may serve the Lord in His church, brings joy and a fulfilled life. A reliable/faithful deacon’s esteem rises in the church and inspires confidence.
And for someone in whom the Holy Spirit truly dwells, there is nothing more important and better than to be part of Christ’s church. It is impossible to be saved in Christ Jesus and not place a high premium on being part of His church on earth. The two walk hand-in-hand.
The deacon who serves faithfully, his spiritual life grows and strengthens. The same as an ember that is fading out, will flame up again once it is placed among other burning embers. Such a person’s faith-confidence and boldness simply increase. Particularly boldness towards the Lord himself – through faith-trust.
WHAT can compare with a heart which is filled with faith-confidence towards the living God? Nothing on earth!
Translated by Marthie Wilson