As we continue in our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine. The purpose of this series is to clearly state my doctrine regarding church and to challenge individuals and heads of households to weigh everything they are taught in their church (down to the very structure of said church) against Scripture. I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.
Qualifications of Overseers (Elders)
Today, we will continue reading in 1 Timothy, beginning in chapter 3.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Paul goes into greater detail in his letter to Timothy than we saw in Titus, though we see no contradiction. I have highlighted here what I mentioned back in Part 2 of our series, that a man must manage his own household well. It makes no different how knowledgeable, charismatic, or affluent, if his house is not in order he is not fit to manage God’s church. His attention should be firmly fixed upon his household, as his first duty and responsibility to God. This doesn’t mean he is unfit to share the Gospel, or serve his brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, it means he is unfit to be an Elder or Overseer. I have also highlighted able to teach. You see, Paul will not be going into the qualifications of “teachers” or “pastors” because the role of pastor is to be performed by an Elder. How can one effectively “Shepherd the flock” if he is not qualified to serve as an Elder?
Qualifications of Deacons
1 Timothy 3:8-13 (ESV)
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The role of Deacon is one of service to the Body of Christ. This role began when the Early Church in Jerusalem had grown large and the widows of the Hellenist were being overlooked in the daily distribution (Acts 6). Now their task was to minister to the people so that the Elders would not be drawn away from their primary task of seeking the Lord in prayer and preaching the Word of God. That is not to say that these men did not minister or preach the Gospel themselves. Of the first 7 appointed as deacons of Christ’s Church, we Philip and Stephen being used mightily of God. They were servants in the Church, and they were Ambassadors of Jesus Christ outside the church (as are we regardless of our role within the church). While a deacon is not an overseer, he is still being entrusted with the task of ministering to the body of believers. The daily distribution was for the feeding of those in need, particularly the widows. The Church is to take care of its own. We are to serve one another in love and humility. Where did we get the idea that it was somehow wrong or out of the ordinary for Christians to seek help from the Church? May God have forgive us of our neglect.
I highlighted an interesting comment in verse 9, “They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. Well, what does that mean? Thankfully, that is Paul’s next point in the chapter.
1 Timothy 3:14-16 (ESV)
The Mystery of Godliness
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God was made flesh, vindicated (proven right, pure, justified) by the Spirit of God, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations and believed on in the world ascended into heaven. So Paul has defined what he was referring to in verse 9 and notice how he continues in that thought at the start of chapter 4 (remember, these letters weren’t written in chapters and verses).
1 Timothy 4 (ESV)
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Within the context of appointing deacons, those who look after the needs of the brethren, Paul reminds Timothy that the Holy Spirit has warned that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Other things are included in this list, but Paul hits the biggest ones first. Timothy is to make sure that he is not placing into the role of deacon any who would fall into this category of apostasy (falling away). Notice that aberrant food myths will also play a role in the departure from the faith. We cannot simply dismiss these deviations from the faith as merely “nonessential” since Paul is warning of a departure from the faith by such devotions. While the brothers and sisters within the congregation will undoubtedly be at various stages in their walk and growing in the faith, and we are to extend grace to those whose faith is still weak, we are NOT to place such individuals into positions of leadership within the church. Paul then encourages Timothy directly to set for the brothers a role model. He is being charged with authority to lead the appointed Elders and Deacons in the way that they must go. He will undoubtedly be placing men who are older than he is as Overseers, and they will be expected to follow Timothy’s example. Paul encourages Timothy, and charges him to let no one despise you for your youth. I fear we have allowed this passage to serve as a proof text that age is irrelevant completely and that all one needs is a “calling” and “gifting” to preach, or at least a college degree (seminary) and you are good-to-go to lead a church body. Don’t get me wrong, I think a seminary degree is a good thing… but it isn’t a Scriptural requirement, it’s a fairly modern one. Leaders need to be discipled into leadership, tested and proved to be blameless. They must manage their households well, and be above reproach.
General Instructions for Church
1 Timothy 5 (ESV)
1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35 (ESV) “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We must honor the older men and women as we would honor our own mothers and fathers. Open rebuke is not acceptable; rather, we must encourage them in the Word as we would our own parents. Younger men and women are to be regarded as brothers and sisters, in all purity. Sexual immorality is not to be tolerated in this sense, we do not allow a wolf in sheep’s clothing to pose as a brother only to defile younger women for his own pleasure (or vice versa).
3 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
I find this to be extremely poignant and out-of-step with the present culture. We now see that the upholding of family as the smallest unit of the Church working in the other direction. We have clearly established that a man’s qualifications for leadership in the church are demonstrated by his management of the household. Here, we see that true widows are to be honored by the Church. True widows not having any remaining family are to be cared for by the Body of Christ. Notice, however, that Paul looks to the children or grandchildren of widows to demonstrate godliness in their household by taking care and honoring the widows, even compelling some to return to live with their mother. Can you imagine giving that sermon on “Mother’s Day”? We then see Paul warn against true widows taking the “retirement” mentality and becoming self-indulgent, for such a person is dead even while she lives. We are to care for and meet the needs of the true widows in the Body of Christ, but our young women need proper instruction, example, and encouragement from the older women.
9 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.
Here we see Paul addressing what might be considered “welfare”. This good work should be handled by the Church, not the State. We should be setting the standard for taking care of those in need, those without family. Having already set the standard for how the true widows should continue in godliness, he also warns against allowing younger widows to be enrolled without responsibilities. Paul’s concern is for their faith. While many will find such generalization insulting, do we not see such behavior now among the newly divorced? Sure, in our culture women are taking jobs and careers outside the home but don’t we see newly single women turning away from the faith chasing after carnality? We also see men failing (woefully) in this regard, but men are not provided the kind of enrollment being offered to widows here in scripture. Paul encourages young widows to remarry and lead godly faithful lives as wives and as mothers, thereby safeguarding themselves from many a temptation that is natural to fleshly man/woman. (Edit: As a point of clarification, I am in no way equivocating divorce and widowhood. Divorce is a sin that requires repentance and forgiveness)
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
Finally, we see here that Elders are to be the pastors and teachers, and those who labor in such capacities are worthy of double honor. It is fitting to pay those who oversee the church well. Should they become affluent? I think not. Double portion… not 100 fold. Besides, affluence is a snare unto itself. But we will cover that tomorrow when we close out our study of 1 Timothy.
We gather together as a church body to encourage one another in the Spirit of Truth and Love. Christ have to the Church Apostles and prophets (foundations), and pastors, teachers, evangelists (elders), and deacons to minister to the body of Christ, teaching the Word, bearing one anothers burdens, honoring one another, confessing our sins and forgiving each other. One does not seek out or accept a position of authority to serve himself, rather, it is to serve others. In closing, I want to share some strong warnings regarding church leadership.
James 3:1 (ESV)
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
James 3:13-18 (ESV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
When was the last time you honored your Elders? I recommend taking some time this week to send them a letter, or a phone call, maybe invite them to lunch. They have accepted a noble task, one that can be quite a burden at times. In the meantime, our series on the Church is drawing to a close. In tomorrow’s post we will close out 1 Timothy, and then I will try to address some of the special cases I’ve witnessed and to which I’ve been made privy.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.