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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Timothy 3

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Qualifications for Leaders

A. Qualifications for a bishop.

1. (1Ti 3:1) Introduction the good work of spiritual leadership.

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.

a. This is a faithful saying: Paul has just written that women are not to hold positions of authority in the church; but he does not want to leave the impression that just any man is qualified. No man is qualified to be a spiritual leader in the church just because of his gender.

b. If a man desires the position of a bishop: The office Paul described is that of bishop. Our religious culture has given us a particular idea of what a bishop is; but the word bishop in New Testament Greek [episkopos] literally means “over” (epi) “watcher” (skopos) – an overseer.

i. These were men with leadership and authority in the church. “The state has its monarch, the Church has its bishop; one should govern according to the laws of the land, the other according to the word of God.” (Clarke)

ii. In Acts 20:17, we learn there were many bishops – that is, overseers – in one church in one city. Undoubtedly, these were men who had oversight over the many house-churches that met throughout the city. The idea of a “regional bishop” doesn’t come from the Bible.

iii. Based on what bishop means, a bishop is someone with oversight in the church, a leader. Such a person may also sometimes be called an elder (presbuteros) or a pastor (poimen, which means “shepherd”), as in Acts 20:17, 28.

iv. “On the question as to the terms presbyter and episcopus, it is sufficient here to state my own conclusion, that they represent slightly different aspects of the same office, pastoral and official; aspects which came naturally into prominence in the Jewish and Greek societies respectively which gave birth to the names.” (White)

v. Of this passage, White adds: “Having given elementary directions concerning the scope of public prayer, and the ministers thereof, St. Paul now takes up the matter of Church organization.” Yet this organization of the church is greatly limited. There is no advice or guidance on structure or exactly how the offices of bishop or deacon or anything else relate to each other. In the New Testament design, there seems to be some flexibility on structure and an emphasis rather on the character of leaders.

c. He desires a good work: The idea isn’t, “Good for you, you want to have a place of spiritual leadership,” even though that can be a godly desire. The idea is more like this: “This is a good, noble, honorable work. Timothy, you need to look for good, noble, honorable men.”

i. “For it is no light matter to represent God’s Son in such a great task as erecting and extending God’s kingdom, in caring for the salvation of souls whom the Lord Himself has deigned to purchase with His own blood, and ruling the Church which is God’s inheritance.” (Calvin)

d. He desires a good work: Spiritual leadership in the church isn’t all about titles and honor and glory; it’s about work. Jesus said: If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. (Mark 9:35)

i. “A good work, But a hard work. The ministry is not an idle man’s occupation, but a sore labour.” (Trapp)

ii. “What is the use of a lazy minister? He is no good either to the world, to the Church, or to himself. He is a dishonor to the noblest profession that can be bestowed upon the sons of men.” (Spurgeon)

2. (1Ti 3:2a) Qualifications for bishops.

A bishop then must be...

a. A bishop then must be: God has specific qualifications for leaders in the church. Leaders are not to be chosen at random, nor just because they volunteer, nor because they aspire to the position, nor even because they are “natural leaders.” Instead they should be chosen primarily on how they match the qualifications listed here.

i. The qualifications for leadership have nothing to do with giftedness. God doesn’t say, “Go out and get the most gifted men.” God may easily and instantly create gifts in a man, because gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).

ii. Going to seminary doesn’t make one qualified for spiritual leadership. Being a good talker doesn’t make one qualified for spiritual leadership. Natural or spiritual gifts in themselves do not qualify one for spiritual leadership. What one gives in money or volunteer time does not qualify them for spiritual leadership. What qualifies a man for spiritual leadership is godly character – and godly character established according to these clear criteria.

b. Then must be: However, this is not a rigid list which demands perfection in all areas; they are both goals to reach for and general criteria for selection. One looks at this list and asks, “Does the man in question desire all these things with his whole heart?” “Does that desire show itself in his life?” “Are there others available who better fulfill the requirements of this list?”

c. Must be: As well, these qualifications are valuable for every person – not only those who aspire to leadership. They are clear indicators of godly character and spiritual maturity and they can give a true measure of a man.

3. (1Ti 3:2b-7) A list of qualifications for leaders in the church.

Blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

a. Blameless: This word literally means, “Nothing to take hold upon.” There must be nothing in his life that others can take hold of and attack the church.

i. “The word is a metaphor, taken from the case of an expert and skilful pugilist, who so defends every part of his body that it is impossible for his antagonist to give one hit.” (Clarke)

ii. This is a broad term for a man who lives a righteous life that can be seen as righteous. No one can stand up and rightfully accuse the man of grievous sin.

iii. In 1 Timothy 3:10, in speaking about deacons, Paul used the phrase being found blameless. This implies being blameless is demonstrated by a track record of behavior.

b. Husband of one wife: The idea here is of “A one-woman man.” It is not that a leader must be married (if so, then both Jesus and Paul could not be spiritual leaders in our churches). Nor is the idea that leader could never remarry if his wife had passed away or was Biblically divorced. The idea is that is love and affection and heart is given to one woman, and that being his lawful and wedded wife.

i. This means that the Biblical leader is not a playboy, an adulterer, a flirt, and does not show romantic or sexual interest in other women, including the depictions or images of women in pornography.

c. Temperate: The idea is of someone who is not given to extremes. They are reliable and trustworthy, and you don’t have to worry about wide swings of vision, mood, or action.

d. Soberminded: This describes the person who is able to think clearly and with clarity. They are not constantly joking, but know how to deal with serious subjects in a serious way.

i. “This does not man he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather it suggests that he knows the value of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.” (Wiersbe)

e. Of good behavior: The idea is “orderly.” It is the same word translated modest in 1 Timothy 2:9. “Orderly, perhaps dignified in the best sense of the term.” (White)

f. Hospitable: They are willing and able to open up their home to both friends and strangers.

g. Able to teach: Skilled enough in the Bible to teach, either in a public or one-on-one setting.

h. Not given to wine: The idea is of not being addicted to wine or intoxicating drink. This verse, in itself, does not prohibit godly leadership from drinking alcoholic beverages, but it clearly discourages it.

i. “No ale-stake, tavern-haunter, that sits close at it, till the wine inflame him.” (Trapp)

i. Not violent: This is a man who is not given to violence either publicly nor privately; a man who can let God fight his cause.

j. Not greedy for money: The King James Versions puts it far more memorably: not greedy of filthy lucre.

i. “I repeat that the man who will not bear poverty patiently and willingly will inevitably become the victim of mean and sordid covetousness.” (Calvin)

k. Gentle: The kind of man who takes Jesus as his example, not the latest action hero.

l. Not quarrelsome: The kind of person who is not always fighting over something or other.

m. Not covetous: This is a more encompassing thought than merely greedy for money. The covetous man is never satisfied with anything, always demanding something more or different. A man who is constantly dissatisfied is not fit for leadership among God’s people.

n. Who rules his own house well: The godly leader demonstrates his leadership ability first in his own home; Paul recognized that it is in the home where our Christianity is first demonstrated.

i. It is true that a child may rebel from even a good home; but is the rebellion because of the parents or in spite of their job as parents? This is the question that must be asked.

o. Not a novice: New converts should not be given leadership too quickly. The leader should be well past the novice stage in their spiritual development.

i. Novice is literally “newly planted.” When someone first comes to Jesus, it isn’t good to put them into a place of leadership until they have been allowed to grow long enough to put down some deep roots.

ii. “Novices are not only bold and impetuous, but are puffed up with foolish self-confidence, as though they could fly beyond the clouds.” (Calvin) Promoting a novice too quickly gives occasion to the great sin – pride, in imitation of the Devil himself.

p. A good testimony: These characteristics must be evident to all, even unbelievers to see. The potential leader must be a good Christian outside the walls of the church.

B. Qualifications for deacons.

1. (1Ti 3:8a) Deacons, the practical servants of the church.

Likewise deacons must be...

a. Likewise deacons: An example of the appointment of deacons is in Acts 6:1-6, where the apostles saw the need for those to distribute the daily assistance to the widows among the church, yet did not have the time to distribute the aid themselves. They chose men to act essentially as deacons in that church.

b. Deacons must be: Their qualifications are much the same as those for “bishops”; practical service (especially when recognized by an office) is leadership also.

i. It is a mistake to see one office as more prestigious than the other, though bishops have more responsibility before God. Each is more a matter of calling than status.

2. (1Ti 3:8b-12) Qualifications for deacons.

Reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

a. Reverent: Showing proper respect towards both God and man.

b. Not double-tongued: A man who speaks the truth the first time, with no intent to deceive.

c. Holding the mystery of the faith: Those who can adhere to proper doctrine, out of sincere conviction.

d. First be proved: A man demonstrates his fitness for office in the church by his conduct. Deacons and bishops are more recognized than appointed.

e. Likewise their wives: It is difficult to know if Paul here referred here to female deacons (such as Phoebe, in Romans 16:1), or the wives of male deacons. The original wording will permit either possibility.

i. If he is speaking mainly of a male deacon’s wife, it is appropriate because a man’s leadership in the home can be evaluated, in part, by his wife’s conduct. Is she reverent, not [one of the] slanderers, temperate, and faithful in all things?

ii. Not slanderers: “Literally, not devils. This may be properly enough translated slanderers, backbiters, tale-bearers, for all these are of their father, the devil, and his lusts they will do.” (Clarke)

3. (1Ti 3:13) A promise for deacons.

For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

a. For those who have served well as deacons: God remembers their faithful service, even in tasks which some would consider menial. There is little doubt that you will see more deacons with a great reward than bishops or pastors.

C. The mystery of godliness.

1. (1Ti 3:14-15) Paul’s reason for writing Timothy.

These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

a. These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly: Paul desired to speak these things to Timothy personally, but knowing he might not be able, he made certain that he said it in a letter.

i. “This verse makes it clear that Timothy’s position was a temporary one; he was acting as St. Paul’s representative at Ephesus.” (White)

b. How you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God: Paul’s purpose for writing was to give Timothy, as a leader, practical information on how to run things in the Ephesian church.

c. The house of God: The church must be, very consciously, the place where God is. This makes a church more attractive than anything else.

i. The Church is God’s house because...

· He is the Architect.
· He is the Builder.
· He lives there.
· He provides for it.
· He is honored there and He rules there.

d. The church of the living God: In the ancient Greek language, “church” was a non-religious word for a group of people called together for a purpose. The living God has called His people together for His purpose.

e. The pillar and ground of truth: The pillar and ground (foundation) of the church is truth. Tragically, many churches today sell truth short and are therefore left weak pillars and shaky ground.

i. “The Church is the pillar of the truth because by its ministry the truth is preserved and spread... Paul will not acknowledge the Church except where God’s truth is exalted and plain.” (Calvin)

ii. It isn’t that the church is the foundation for the truth, but that the church holds up the truth so the world can see it. “Pillars also were of ancient use to fasten upon them any public edicts, which princes or courts would have published, and exposed to the view of all; hence the church is called, the pillar and basis, or seal, of truth, because by it the truths of God are published, supported, and defended.” (Poole)

iii. “When the Church stands boldly out, and preaches the Word, it is the pillar of the truth; when it is hidden in the Roman catacombs, and cannot proclaim the Savior’s name to the world, still there lives the truth deep in the hearts of believers, and they are then the ground of the truth.” (Spurgeon)

2. (1Ti 3:16) An early hymn to express the foundation of Christian truth.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.

a. Without controversy: “When he says ‘without controversy,’ I suppose he means that there ought to be no controversy about these facts, though controversies have arisen concerning them, and always will, since the most self-evident truth will always find self-evident fools to contradict it.” (Spurgeon)

i. “Observe that the comprehensive summary of the gospel here given is contained in six little sentences, which run with such regularity of measure in the original Greek, that some have supposed them to be an ancient hymn; and it is possible that they may have been used as such in the early church.” (Spurgeon)

b. God was manifested in the flesh: This is the essence of the incarnation; that God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, added to His deity humanity – and was thus manifested in the flesh.

c. Justified in the Spirit: We can say that Jesus was justified by the Spirit not in the sense that He was once sinful but made righteous, but in the sense that He was declared to be, by the Holy Spirit, what He always was – completely justified before the Father.

i. This declaration was made at His baptism (Matthew 3:16), and at His resurrection (1 Peter 3:18; Acts 2:32-33).

d. Seen by angels: The ministry of Jesus, both on earth and through the Church, is of great interest to angelic beings. There were many instances when Jesus was seen by angels (Mark 1:13; Luke 22:41-43), and especially at the resurrection (Matthew 28:2-7).

i. “The apostle mentions this to show the greatness of our religion, since the noblest intellects are interested in it. Did you ever hear of angels hovering around the assemblies of philosophical societies?” (Spurgeon)

ii. “The Godhead was seen in Christ by angels, as they had never seen it before. They had beheld the attribute of justice, they had seen the attribute of power, they had marked the attribute of wisdom, and seen the Prerogative of sovereignty; but never had angels seen love, and condescension, and tenderness, and pity, in God as they saw these things resplendent in the person and the life of Christ.” (Spurgeon)

e. Preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world: Paul himself did his best to fulfill these statements. He was busy preaching Jesus among the Gentiles and bringing the world to belief.

i. “God’s way of creating faith in men’s hearts is not by pictures, music, or symbols, but by the hearing of the word of God. This may seem a strange thing, and strange let it seem, for it is a mystery, and a great mystery, but a fact beyond all controversy; for ever let the church maintain that Christ is to be preached unto the Gentiles.” (Spurgeon)

f. Received up in glory: This reminds us of Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:51), His finished work on our behalf (Hebrews 1:3), and His present intercession for us (1 John 2:1).

i. “He was so received because his work is finished. He would never have gone into his glory if he had not finished all his toil. He would have accepted no reward had he not fully earned it.” (Spurgeon)

ii. Received up in glory: Jesus ascended into heaven in a resurrection body; yet it was a body that still retained the marks of His great work of love for us. It still had the nail prints in His hands and feet, the wound in his side, all marks of His suffering on our behalf (John 20:24-29).

iii. Paul’s description of Jesus after the passage speaking of Christian character reminds us of the key to our own character transformation – beholding Jesus. It is just as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

iv. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of these descriptions of Christian character. We trust that Jesus will transform our life according to the same character, as we put our focus on Him. We sometimes want religion to build this character in us; but truly, relationship with Jesus is what really does it.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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