1Timothy 3 - Outline of 1Timothy (Book Notes menu page)
III. The Superintendents of God's House, 3:1-16
1. The Overseers (Bishops), 3:1-7
1. This [is] a true saying,
If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
This is a true {ie., 'faithful'} saying...
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul uses this phrase repeatedly to highlight central points, which these young pastors could rely upon, as they pursued their God given responsibilities. (1Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9,10; 2Tim 2:11-13; Titus 3:5-8)
If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
The phrase 'office of a bishop' is one word in the original: 'episkope,' meaning 'oversight.' This is the responsibility of a caretaker who watches over God's people, to ensure that everything is in order, spiritually. It is the shepherding work of a pastor who cares for God's flock, tending to their waywardness and injuries, guarding against enemies, and feeding them from God's Word (1Pet 5:1-4).
     The words 'elder' and 'bishop' are used interchangably of the same role (Titus 1:5,7). 'Elder' {GK=presbyteros, aged} refers to a man who possesses the wisdom of maturity. 'Bishop' {GK=episkopos, overseer} refers to his work. You will recall that when Paul addressed the 'elders' of the Ephesian church, he called them 'overseers {GK=episkopos} of God's flock' (Acts 20:17,28). Also, in this passage (Acts ch.20), we observe that there were many elders/bishops at the church in Ephesus. The work was not under the control of one man. Wherever, the NT mentions the leadership of a local church, there is always a plurality of elders/bishops.
     Humility is also to characterize these church leaders. They are charged with caring for brothers who, in God's sight, are their equals ('the flock which is among you'). Their oversight is not to be domineering ('as lords over God's heritage'), but rather, in demonstration of godly living and genuine love for God's people (1Pet 5:1-5).
     The concept of church hierarchy is foreign to the NT. In the passage cited above, the apostle Peter regarded himself as simply one of the elders. Each of the elders is directly accountable to the Chief-Shepherd Himself. Christ is the head of His body, the church. The members of His body are 'fitly joined together... by that which every joint supplieth' (Eph 4:15,16). Some members have been gifted by the Lord, for pastoral roles to assist the body in growing up into full union with Him (Eph 4:11-14). But, while differing in gifts, we are all 'members one of another' in Christ (Rom 12:5).
     Yet, some of the formal denominations, have implemented an elaborate top-down authority structure (eg., Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Elders, Deacons, common people). This structure is not built on the Bible, but rather borrows from the pagan religions of Rome.
If a man {lit., if any} desire {GK=oregomai} the office of a bishop, he desireth {GK=epithumeo} a good work.
Here, two different words are translated 'desire.' The first means 'to stretch oneself in order to grasp.' The second, means 'to long for, to covet.' Taken together, these words express an intensity of desire, that willingly works to prepare (eg., through study of the Word, 2Tim 2:15) for the privilege of serving the Lord as an 'overseer.'
     This role is a good {excellent, honourable} vocation to pursue. Yet, it is possible to pursue it for the wrong motives. It is also impossible to do this work aright, unless the Lord has called you to it. Consider the Lord's call of Peter, and the question He asked (three times), which reveals the only acceptable motive for service (John 21:15-17). Also note that the OT priests were not self-appointed (Heb 5:4).
     While the Lord Himself calls and appoints His under-shepherds, the local church needs to recognize and appoint those whom He has chosen for the work (Titus 1:5). Therefore, as we saw in ch. 2, the church must make prayer its priority, in order to discern the Lord's mind. Only then should the local church ordain {appoint} a man to serve as an elder, or in any other role (eg., Acts 13:1-4) .
2 A bishop then must be blameless,
the husband of one wife,
vigilant, sober, of good behaviour,
given to hospitality, apt to teach;
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre;
but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4 One that ruleth well his own house,
having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house,
how shall he take care of the church of God?)
6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride
he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without;
lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
A bishop then must be...
This list of qualifications, for eligibility as an overseer, is very similar to that given to Titus (Titus 1:5-9). Neither list is exhaustive. Not all who meet these qualifications should serve in this role, for not all are called to this work by the Lord. However, any man who does not measure up to these tests, is either not called, or not yet at the level of spiritual maturity required by the role.
This does not imply that he must be sinless (for all would be excluded), but that he must be of irreproachable character. Church leaders will be blamed for all kinds of infractions and offenses. Therefore, an overseer must consistently conduct himself in such a way that others will recognize that he is not worthy of blame. A man, who is not guilty, need not fear false accusations.
...the husband of one wife...-
This statement reveals the error of those sects that forbid their bishops to marry. Such a prohibition belongs to false teachers (1Tim 4:1-3). God Himself designed and instituted marriage, not only for the procreation of the race, but also as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church. Therefore, a married man will learn a great deal about caring for the church, through learning how to treat his own wife (Eph 5:21-33).
     However, an unmarried man may be considered for this office in some circumstances. During a time of intense persecution, Paul recommended that the unmarried remain unmarried, as he was (1Cor 7:8;26-29). Yet, in that chapter, Paul displays a thorough understanding of marriage, in the counsel which he gave to the married. It is probable that Paul had been married, because this was a requirement for Pharisees. Perhaps his wife had died, or perhaps she had left him when he turned to Christ. In any case, as the apostle ministered, he was unaccompanied by a wife.
     The stipulation concerning 'one wife' primarily addresses the practice of polygamy, which was common at the time of writing. In God's design, marriage is between one man and one woman. Some of Israel's patriarchs did have more than one wife. The OT faithfully records the favoritism, jealousy and feuding which make such relationships difficult. Church leaders should not be encumbered by unnecessary family squabbles.
     The 'one wife' limitation may also apply to divorce and remarriage. While his former wife is still living, a divorced man who has married another woman, may be viewed as having two wives (Mat 19:3-9). If Paul's wife had left him, this may explain why he remained unmarried. Paul does seem to allow an exception, saying that in cases where an unbelieving spouse chooses to depart, a believer is "not under bondage" (1Cor 7:15). Some interpret this to mean that he or she is free to remarry. Others note that although Paul gives specific permission to virgins (1Cor 7:25-28,36-37), the unmarried and widows (1Cor 7:8,39) to marry, he does not grant similar specific permission to divorced persons. Of course, as permitted for the widow, the divorced believer would be free to remarry after the death of the former spouse.
     Yet, the Lord said that the ability to remain single is not given to everyone. Likewise, most people find it understandable that a divorced person may sense the need to remarry, while the former spouse still lives. While it may be better to do so, than to burn (with desire), this remains contrary to the Lord's intent for marriage (Mat 19:9-11; 1Cor 7:8,9).
     There is considerable disagreement on this question among Christians, today. Therefore, preferring to err on the safe side, many churches exclude divorced and remarried men from serving in the role of 'bishop' or 'deacon.'
...vigilant {GK=nephaleos, sober minded, temperate}...- translated 'sober' in v.11; Titus 2:2
...sober {GK=sophron, of sound mind, temperate, self-controlled}...-
translated 'sober,' 'temperate,' 'discreet' (respectively in Titus 1:8; 2:2,5). Together, the words 'vigilant' and 'sober' indicate that an overseer is to be serious minded, not taking his responsibilities lightly.
...of good behaviour {GK=kosmios, well arranged, modest}...-
This word is used regarding a woman's 'modest' apparel (1Tim 2:9). Likewise, an overseer is to be orderly in his conduct and clothing.
...given to hospitality {GK=philoxenos, friendly toward strangers}...-
This word is rendered 'a lover of hospitality' and 'use hopitality' in Titus 1:8 and 1Pet 4:9. Church leaders should be ready to welcome and assist traveling missionaries and preachers of the Gospel (as in 3Joh 1:5-8).
...apt to teach {GK=didaktikos, skillful in teaching, see this word in 2Tim 2:24}...-
The ability to teach can be misapplied to false doctrine (1Tim 1:3). The church overseers must be prepared to teach and defend good doctrine (1Tim 4:6; 2Tim 2:2).
...not given to wine {GK=paroinos, lit., 'of wine,' drunken}...-
The abuse, of alcohol or any other drug, will undermine the 'good behavior' and damage the testimony of any believer. Wine is a mocker, which robs a man of wisdom. Alcoholic spirits conflict with the Holy Spirit's control (Eph 5:17,18).
[Note: Limited medicinal usage of alcohol or other drugs may be appropriate for a believer (1Tim 5:23).]
...no striker {GK=plektes, contentious, quarrelsome}...-
An overseer must not be looking for a fight. Even in the defense of the faith, he is to be gentle and reasonable (2Tim 2:24,25; 1Cor 11:16, where 'contentious' means 'fond of conflict').
...not greedy of filthy lucre {GK=aischrokerdes, eager for gain, greedy for money}...-
The love of money has lured many into error and away from the faith (1Tim 6:10). An overseer must be motivated by love for Christ and His church, not by concern for his salary (1Pet 5:2). [On the other hand, local churches have a responsibility to adequately support those who serve them (1Tim 5:17,18).]
...patient {GK=epieikes, equitable, fair, gentle (in Titus 3:2; Jam 3:17), moderation (in Php 4:5).}
...not a brawler {GK=amachos, not contentious}...- (Similar to 'no striker')
...not covetous {GK=aphilarguros, not loving money, lit., 'not a lover of silver'}...-
Covetousness, whether for more things or more money, is idolatry. A believer's affections are to be set on things above, not on things on the earth (Mat 6:33; Col 3:1-5).
...one that ruleth {GK=proistemi, superintend} well his own house... if... not... how shall he rule the church of God? -
The principle is similar to that in Mat 25:21,23, where a servant who is faithful over a few things is given charge over many things. The man, who cannot maintain order among his own few children at home , is unlikely to maintain order in the 'assembly' consisting of many diverse members. Therefore, the children, in an overseer's home, ought to be characterized by obedience and respectfulness, toward him and other elders.
     [Sadly, some children, who have been raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, become prodigals when they come of age. A man should not be considered ineligible to serve, due to the willful rebellion of an adult child. Consider the families of Abraham (Gen 18:19), Joshua (Josh 24:15), Samuel (1Sam 8:1-3).]
...not a novice {GK=neophutos, neophyte (a new convert)}... lest... pride... condemnation of the devil.-
Pride is always a danger, for any leader (eg., Rom 12:3; 2Cor 12:7). But for a new believer, who is elevated quickly to leadership, the danger is even greater. Lacking a solid foundation in God's Word, he may not understand his own deceitful nature, and the necessity of Christ's deliverance from it (1Cor 4:6-8). Pride was Satan's downfall, for which he is condemned to the lake of fire (Isa 14:12-15; Mat 25:41).
...[having] a good report {GK=maturia, testimony, witness} of them which are without...-
It goes without saying that believers should maintain a good testimony, before the world, so as not to bring reproach upon the name of Christ. While the message of the Gospel offends the world, the conduct of His servants should not be offensive. A man who is suitable to be an overseer should live in such a way that 'them who are without' (ie., unbelievers, outside of the church of Christ), will bear witness to his reputation as an honest and upright man. He should be recognized as one who is free of criminal activities and questionable business dealings (for such things will cause shame and entanglements which Satan will use to hinder the Gospel). 1The 4:12; 5:22; 1Pet 4:14-16
2. The Servants (Deacons), 3:8-13
8. Likewise [must] the deacons [be] grave, not doubletongued,
not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
10 And let these also first be proved;
then let them use the office of a deacon, being [found] blameless.
11 Even so [must their] wives [be] grave,
not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.
12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife,
ruling their children and their own houses well.
13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well
purchase to themselves a good degree,
and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
...the office of a deacon...(v.13)
This phrase is one word in the original {GK=diakoneo, servanthood, the work of a servant, attendant, minister}.
     The first deacons {GK=diakonos} were chosen to 'serve tables.' They were to tend to the physical temporal needs of the church family, in order to free the apostles to focus on the spiritual ministry (Acts 6:1-5).
     There are only two biblical 'offices' in the church: bishop (elder, pastor) and deacon (servant, minister). Yet, all of God's people are engaged in the ministry of Christ, because all are called to serve the Lord and one another. Many serve without any official designation. Many women serve, some as appointed 'deaconnesses.' Phoebe was a servant {GK=diakonos} of the church (Rom 16:1).
     In today's local churches, there may be additional offices, such as Treasurer, Secretary, Usher, and Trustee (usually tending to matters concerning the building and property). These duties fit the biblical role of deacons, though those who serve may not bear that title.
Likewise must the deacons be...
The list of qualifications, of a deacon, is strikingly similar to that of an overseer (above). Ideally, these characteristics should be evident in the lives of all believers (2Tim 2:19c).
...grave {GK=semnos, honest, honorable}
...not doubletongued {GK=dilogos, two words; ie., not saying one thing to one person and something else to another.}...-
His word must be true and reliable.
...not given to much wine...- (see notes at v.3a)
...not greedy of filthy lucre...- (see notes at v.3c)
...holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
He must sincerely adhere to the tenants of 'the faith.' (1Tim 1:5,19)
...let these also first be proved... being [found] blameless.
New converts were not eligible to be appointed as deacons, or as bishops (v.6), until being 'proved' {ie., evaluated, tested, proven as genuine} and found 'blameless' {ie., above reproach, as in v.2).
"Even so {ie., likewise} must their wives be..." (evaluated and found to be...)
  • grave {honest, honorable}
  • not slanderers {GK=diabolos, prone to making accusations, 'false accusers' in Titus 2:3}
  • sober {sober minded, temperate, discreet; See 'vigilant' in v.2c)
  • faithful in all things.
...the husbands of one wife (as in v.2b)
...ruling their children and their own houses well (as in v.4,5).
For they that have used the office of a deacon well, purchase...
...a good degree {a good standing}... boldness in the faith...
To be eligible for service, either as a bishop or as a deacon, a man must be known as morally upright in the way he lives, and spiritually sound in what he believes. A bishop is subject to a higher level of scrutiny (as indicated by a longer list of qualifications), because the role of a spiritual leader requires greater spiritual maturity. The most obvious difference between these two offices is that, as a spiritual leader, a bishop must be 'apt to teach.' The ability to teach God's Word is not necessary for those who 'wait on tables' (Acts 6:2). But higher service is possible for those who desire it (v.1).
     Those who 'use the office of a deacon well' {lit., who serve well as servants} may be prepared for greater service in the process. Remember that it is the Lord who evaluates His servants (Mat 25:21). Faithful servants, though unnoticed or disregarded by men, will be rewarded with His "Well done!" Yet, His spoken praise is only the beginning of the reward. On top of that, He adds not only the privilege of greater responsibility, but also the greater resources required for greater service for Him (Mat 25:20-21,28-29).
     Stephen and Philip, who were among the first deacons, grew through faithful execution of their mundane ministries, to become powerful preachers of God's Word, and steadfast witnesses of the Gospel. Stephen boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Christ to the Jewish leaders, and became the first Christian martyr (Acts 6:8-15 and Acts ch.7). Philip traveled widely as an evangelist. His ministry extended well beyond his travels, as the Ethiopian eunuch carried the Gospel to his country (Acts 8:5-8,26-40).
3. The Living God and the Secret of Godliness, 3:14-16
14. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:
15 But if I tarry long,
that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God,
which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
...that thou mayest know how... to behave {ie., conduct} thyself in the house of God, which is the church...-
This is the theme of Paul's letter of instruction to young pastor Timothy.
     Perhaps this verse sounds like a parent instructing a child to behave respectfully (no running, no shouting, etc.) within a church building. However, in Paul's day, there were no church buildings.
     Here, 'the house of God' refers to the local congregation of believers, the assembly of called out ones. {In the NT, the word 'church' is GK=ekklesia, 'called out assembly.'} The church is a spiritual building, constructed of living stones (individual believers), and "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph 2:19-22; 1Pet 2:5). Timothy, like all superintendents of God's house, needed to understand how the many different members are to fit together, and function in cooperation with each other to fulfill God's purpose.
     To that end, Paul had written 'these things' (v.14; ie., in ch. 1, the necessity to guard against false doctrine; in ch. 2, the necessity of prayer voiced by holy people; in ch. 3, the necessity of choosing godly leaders...).
...the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
A 'pillar' supports an object, holding it high, placing it on display. The church lives and proclaims the truth, which is God's Word, the Gospel of Christ.
     The English word 'ground' suggests the foundation which supports the pillar. The foundation of Truth is not the church, but 'the living God' whose Word is sure (1Cor 3:10-13; Eph 2:19,20; 2Tim 2:19).
     However, the Greek word for 'ground' {GK=hedraioma, stay, support, bulwark} speaks of that which is steadfast and unmovable (eg., 1Cor 15:58; Col 1:23). The church is not only to proclaim, but also to maintain the Truth against a tide of false teaching.
...'without controversy' {GK=homologoumenos, confessedly, by consent of all} great is the mystery of godliness...
The truth confessed by all believers is 'the mystery {the hidden truth} of godliness' {GK=eusebeia, good piety, right reverence}. It is the means, revealed by God, by which He is able to transform a sinner into a saint, whose life and worship is acceptable to Him. Col 1:26,27
That truth is outlined in the closing words of this chapter:
God was...
... manifest in the flesh...
This is the incarnation of God the Son. He, who was from eternity past, in the beginning with God, and who was God, became a man, by means of the virgin birth. He was fully God and fully man. Being God, He was completely without sin. Being Man, He was able to be our kinsman redeemer. Bearing our sin, He was crucified, dead and buried. Joh 1:1-4,14,16-18,29; 2Cor 5:19; Php 2:6-8; Heb 1:1-3
...justified {ie., shown to be righteous} in the Spirit...
Men mocked and rejected Jesus as a blasphemer who deserved to die. But, by means of His resurrection, the Holy Spirit vindicated Him as the sinless Son of God (Rom 1:1-4).
...seen of angels...
The One, whom the angels serve, is 'the invisible God.' From the time of their creation, the angels rejoiced to behold the glory of His holiness (Job 38:7; Isa 6:1-4). But there was much about His Person that they could not perceive... until He took upon Himself the form of a man, to declare Himself to His creatures (Joh 1:18; Col 1:15).
     In Christ, the nature of God was displayed, as angels had never imagined. They were aware of His matchless power, His exquisite holiness, and His eternal existence. But such great Love, such amazing Grace -- that the Holy One should offer Himself for His enemies! The mystery of godliness was hidden, not only from men, but also from the heavenly angels, until God chose to implement His eternal plan to redeem fallen men (Eph 3:9-12).
...preached unto the Gentiles...
Another aspect of this mystery was that God's salvation was not only for Israel, but also for the Gentiles. Paul was appointed to preach the Gospel of Christ to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. Rom 1:16; Eph 3:1-8; 2Cor 5:19-21
...believed on in the world...
God Himself, in Christ, has accomplished the work of salvation. It remains for sinners to put their trust in Him... to receive and believe the Gospel which was proclaimed in their hearing. (Joh 1:11-13; 3:16; Rom 10:8-15; 5:1)
...received up into glory.
Several weeks after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11). There, at the Father's right hand, He intercedes for His own (Heb 7:25; 1Joh 2:1). From there, He will return, for His own (Joh 14:3), and also to judge the unbelieving world (2The 1:6-10).

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