1 Timothy 3
1It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
Paul has just made it clear that women are not to be aspiring to the office of overseer (i.e. pastor, elder, primary teacher and preacher). There will be times where they will oversee others, teach others, and shepherd others, but the office of shepherd is only for the men. If any man desires to serve as an overseer, this is good and fine before the Lord as long as he meets the qualifications that Paul is about to give. A person does not become an overseer because he is popular or because the congregation voted him in. He either is overseer material, or he is not. If he meets the criteria, if God has placed the desire in his heart, and if he is in a place where a body of believers needs an elder, he qualifies. If elders are already leading the church, they can identify such a one and appoint him to the office of elder. If there are no other elders, which can happen as a group gathers initially, the body must be able to recognize who meets the list and who doesn’t, and they must accept the results.
2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
The elder is one who is above reproach. There is nothing that a person could charge him with that would stand, for his testimony is outstanding. He does nothing that makes a person question his integrity, faith, sound doctrine, or godliness. He must be the husband of one wife, being literally a one-woman man. He thus should not be given to lust, he cannot be engaging in any sexual immorality, and he must be faithfully loving his wife. If he is single, he must be above reproach in the area of sexual purity. Temperate implies that the overseer is sober in spirit and vigiliant, not losing focus or getting carried away in emotion or in the pull of a moment (c.f. 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8). Prudent implies thinking rightly and soundly and exercising self-control. Respectable means that a person is deserving of being trusted to lead and shepherd because of model behavior and integrity. Hospitable involves being willing to open one’s home to take in guests. This creates a chance for more intimate fellowship and for others to learn how a person operates outside of normal church functioning. In addition to these requirements of character, there is one important skill that must be possessed. The overseer must be able to teach the Word of God. Both his life and his words must be able to communicate the enduring Word of God. He must not be addicted to wine, being controlled by it rather than God (Ephesians 5:18). He must not be pugnacious, seeking to quarrel and given to fighting, verbally or physically. Rather, he is a man who does everything he can to be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18). He is to be gentle (c.f. Philippians 4:5) and peaceable, not a brawler. He cannot be greedy, loving money and selfish gain. The glory of God motivates the elder, not wealth (Luke 16:13).
4He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
5(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
6and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
7And 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.
It is important that the overseer is able to care for, manage, and maintain an orderly home with submissive, obedient children. He does his part as a loving father to not provoke his children to anger, and he trains them in righteousness and in the ways and Word of God (Ephesians 6:4). He is not afraid to discipline them, and it is clear that he is the authority and that they are not (Proverbs 22:6). His expectations and standards for His children are that they obey (Ephesians 6:1) and walk in purity. This is the only dignified way, and it is befitting an elder to have a home managed in such a way. If he cannot even manage the few people of his own home, particular his children, how could he possibly manage a church with adults and children, far more than in his own home? That a person can shepherd his own home well is a great (and Biblical) litmus test for his ability to shepherd the church. An overseer cannot have recently come to Christ. He must have had some significant time to learn the Word of God and to learn how to walk by the Spirit. To promote a person to leadership before he has had a chance to become anchored in his faith is to open the door for him to become proud and arrogant. The word for “conceited” is tuphoo, meaning literally to “raise a smoke, to wrap in a mist.” The idea is that the person gets clouded, deceived, and led astray into foolishness and stupidity because he has never been grounded in sound doctrine. This is particularly dangerous if others are then led astray by the doctrinal errors. Thus, it is absolutely important that a person has walked with God for quite some time before he is placed in a position of leadership over God’s people, lest he, and potentially they as well, get led into deception. A new convert might be very worldly-wise, mature, eloquent, or intelligent, but God must prepare his heart, which takes time (Galatians 1:16-18) and a lot of study (Psalm 119:99, 2 Timothy 2:15). He must also be well-thought of in terms of character and integrity outside of the church. Even unbelievers must not be able to bring an accusation against the man aspiring to leadership in the church. If a man is allowed to serve in the office of elder before growing to maturity in Christ, it will be easy for Satan to deceive him and lead him into blind arrogance, thereby having to be held responsible for leading many souls astray. If he becomes an elder while carrying a bad reputation in the community, it will be easy for Satan to ensnare him and defeat him and possibly the church’s testimony and ministry as well through reproach and scandal. Character and integrity at home, in the community, and in the church are paramount. The ability to effectively care for the people of God and teach them the Word of God is a must.
This is the Biblical basis for who should and can be an elder.
8Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
9but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
A deacon is understood to mean one who serves on behalf of the elders. He is not merely a “go-fer” for the elders, but he does the work of the ministry. There will be opportunities for him to teach and shepherd, even if only on an individual basis. His job is to do the highly effective and important work of tending to those in the flock when and where the elders are not able to. The elders are responsible to be praying and studying the Word of God so that they can teach it rightly and soundly (Acts 6:4). They are also to lead and shepherd the flock, but there will be times when the deacons will need to be there to do what they cannot. Thus, the deacons play an extremely important role of doing the actual work of the ministry which might be, for example, visiting homes, tending to the sick, distributing funds to the needy, encouraging those who need help, and doing whatever else the elders might need done.
Deacons must first be tested, which means that they will have been involved in a fellowship for some time during which they will have demonstrated consistent integrity and a willing and available heart to serve. Then, if they are completely above reproach, the church will trust them, and they can effectively serve in the office of deacon. Deacons, just as elders, must be venerated as men of dignity and character. They must be consistent and fully honest and forthright in their words, so that there is no deception, lying, or uncertainty about where they stand or what they believe. What they commit to they must do, and what they say they believe, they must live. They cannot say one thing to one person and then change their position when speaking to another. They must be speakers and believers of truth at all times and in all situations. They must not be given to drunkenness, and they must not love money or be driven by greed and materialism. Such is blatant idolatry. They must cling to and hold fast to sound doctrine and the fundamental teachings of the faith, and they must be walking in purity without any secret or unconfessed sin. If they have secret doubts about the purity of the Word or Christ, these must be dealt with prior to becoming a deacon. If they need to purify their hearts, this too must be done prior to becoming a deacon. Conviction about Christ, His Word, and the gospel are essential to effective ministry and leadership in the church, and so is character and integrity by the standards of God’s Word.
11Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
Women, and particularly the wives of elders and deacons, must be equally respectable for their integrity and walk with Christ. They cannot be those who talk badly and with destructive intent about others. Rather, they must be those who use their speech to edify and speak wholesome things (Ephesians 4:29). They must be temperate, sober, of sound mind, and not mastered by things other than Christ. They must be faithful to Christ, to sound doctrine, and to their husbands if they are married.
12Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
13For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Deacons, just as elders, must be committed to only one wife, unless, of course, they are single. They must be pure in the area of sexuality, and those who are married must honor and love their wives. Just as elders, they must manage their homes and children well such that there is reason to believe that they can care for and shepherd those in the church. Those who serve as deacons (as well as those who serve as elders- 1 Timothy 5:17) will be honored in eternity with a high standing and great confidence at the coming of Christ. This is confidence not merely because of a position held but because of what it takes to meet the qualifications of such a position. All believers should seek to have the integrity and servant’s heart that deacons and elders must possess, so that we all can have confidence at Christ’s coming (1 John 2:28). As deacons see God use them and minister through them, their faith will increase, and their joy and confidence in kingdom truths and priorities will grow stronger.
14I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;
15but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
Paul hopes to come and visit Timothy in person, but in case he is delayed, there is truth that he wants to convey to Timothy before too much time passes. Thus he writes to him about how a person is to conduct himself in the church, which he has already done to a great extent in explaining how elders, deacons, men, and women should behave. The true church is the household of God Himself, for He dwells in us (1 Corinthians 6:19). The living God is alive in the hearts of those who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). The church is not a building but the people of God, and it is the people of God as they come together in worship that constitutes a church (Hebrews 10:25). Since God is the truth (John 14:6) and since His ways and kingdom are advanced in and through the church (Matthew 16:18), it is the purity and growth of the church through the regenerating power of Christ that alone can advance the truth of Christ. Belief and submission to Christ is what upholds the truth, and there is no truth outside of Christ. The church is the support of the truth, propping it up so that the world can see it. This is why Satan attacks the church, for he desires to cast truth to the ground (Daniel 8:12, John 8:44). If he can cast the church to the ground by leading it astray or by the church poorly conducting itself, then truth also tumbles. Fortunately, Christ never tumbles because He reigns, and He will continue to build the true church (Matthew 16:18).
16By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.
This is likely part of an early church hymn or confession. What the true church of Christ believes is the truth which it upholds which includes the following ideas: 1) Christ was made manifest and plainly recognized as having come to earth in the form of a man, though still being God (Philippians 2:5-11), 2) Christ was pronounced just and holy in the Spirit, having been raised from the dead (Romans 1:4), 3) the risen Christ was seen by angels at His resurrection (Matthew 28:2) and ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9-11), 4) Christ’s death was a public display of His love for the world (Romans 3:25, Colossians 2:15), to which He commissioned the church to be a testimony (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20), 5) Christ was believed on by those who received Him (John 1:12-13, 3:16), and 6) Jesus was taken up into glory to be at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1). These truths constitute the foundational truths about the gospel and the groundwork of the church. It is a revelation of the mystery of godliness, for the truths about the predicted Messiah from the Old Testament had come to be, and the transforming power of the gospel of Christ is now at work to make men godly.