READ 1 TIMOTHY 3:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
This passage in Paul’s first letter to Timothy is one dedicated to the positions of elder (verses 1-7) and deacon (verses 8-13) within the household of faith God has established. These are often-quoted seldom-followed commands of God for the leadership of His Church. The “seldom followed” part of the last sentence is my opinion only. The verses in this passage are quite stiff commands among those who are followers of Jesus.
Some Key questions:
Why is being an overseer such a noble task?
The task is a noble one because of the context of the verses. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul treats as common sense the hierarchy of Creation’s order and authority… call it Edenic mandate if you like. Think through how Paul writes from the top down of God’s creation order and how redemptive order follow suit.
“God our Savior – the man Jesus Christ – Human Beings” is one order.
“God – Men and Women in Marriage” is an order presented in Scripture.
“Jesus – Man – Woman – Children” is another order.
“Jesus – Church” is also presented.
When we participate in the order of creation through our given a role, we are mirroring the God Who made us. I love the word Paul uses “noble.” It is the Greek word “kalos” which means: beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, and admirable, beautiful to look at, and magnificent. Why does this word have such an emphasis on “looks?” It does so because we are reflecting God Who is excellent and beautiful and precious and surpassing. So, when we reflect our God our lives are admirable and good as God intended. His pattern is always the path for us.
We are “noble” when we reflect God in our lives and obey His order. We reflect Him and so we are noble. An elder/overseer in God’s Church who is fulfilling his God-given God-gifted role is a beautiful and worthy effort. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone called and thereby gifted for it. Most shouldn’t even attempt it.
Can any person actually meet these qualifications?
I do not see how a living human man can embody the qualification for an elder. This confuses me because I believe them to be a command and not a suggestion. Why would the Apostle Paul command something that was not possible for Timothy to follow through on? Why set up Timothy to fail? I don’t believe he would, but I also have struggled with this listing for years (as well as Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5). I do not know that I have ever been in a church where there is a plurality of men that meet these qualifications… sometimes not even one. Perhaps I have been in poor churches. Perhaps the standard is too high. I take the Apostle at his word and do not devalue it. Was it possible long ago? Not so long ago? Today?
At the moment, I honestly do not know. Ask me tomorrow and I might have a different answer. Nevertheless, keep in mind Jesus does meet the standard! He reveals God’s intent of humanity and secures the standard. He is proof of what God is seeking and also opens the door to eternal life! All humanity misses the mark. So, in Christ, the objective remains in place as laid down in the Edenic expectation because that is what God willed. Moreover, the Godhead is complete and unchanging. Just as the individual Jesus of Nazareth is the standard for human conduct so accordingly the Godhead is the standard of relational order and conduct for the family and the Christian community at large.
Is there a ranking system or is it all or nothing?
It is indeed all or nothing. We cannot pick and choose what we obey in Scripture and what we ignore. All Scripture is God-breathed and we are to follow it and not turn to the right or the left. Jesus affirmed everything to the last stroke of the pen. An elder/overseer must fulfill these qualifications as a whole because there is no option in the passage to fulfill some of it. It is indeed all or nothing.
It is indeed all or nothing, but what fun is that? Here is my sinful-biased ranking of the most important qualifications. Some of them seemed similar in my mind, so I grouped them accordingly. My ranking:
Sets his heart on being an overseer
Manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect
Able to teach
Not be a recent convert
Above reproach || Respectable
Not quarrelsome || Temperate || Not violent but gentle
Not given to drunkenness
Not a lover of money
Have a good reputation with outsiders
The husband of but one wife
What do you think of my list? I think it stinks because it is an all or nothing standard and the exercise is pointless. “Husband of but one wife” is dead last because I waffle between the phrase meaning either divorce or polygamy. If it is “divorce,” then it ranks right up there with managing his own family well (which I have at #2). If it is “polygamy,” then its probably in the right spot. I have my reasons for my ranking… explaining is perhaps an effort for another day, but again, no ranking needed.
Why are wives and children included in the qualifications?
Wives and children are included in the qualifications because the “elders” from the nation of Israel in the Old Testament were the best-of-the-best leaders from the tribes. They proved themselves in their families and could be trusted with larger responsibilities. Elders were proven trusted leaders. It is the same in the church as the Church follows God’s established order. Paul wanted Timothy to remember this as he is preaching and planting churches. If a Christian man has no Christians in his home among his wife and children, he can certainly come to church and volunteer, but he may not be an elder. He is simply not qualified for there must be a track record of proven spiritual leadership.
Many men can lead, but not all are elders.
Many men can volunteer, but not all are elders.
Many men can teach or share testimonies, but not all are elders.
Many men can serve and build and give, but not all are elders.
I know this posting has a different flavor than the others we have done thus far as we march through 1 Timothy, but we didn’t want you to think that reading through Scripture is not without questions. We all have questions about what we read in the Bible? God is not afraid of our questions. We should not be afraid to ask questions. We should also not be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t know let me pray and study on that.”
In the end, we should note the Apostle Paul’s words in verses 14-16. He says: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3). Remember Paul is laying out the order for Timothy that the household of God follows. The Church is built on truth rooted in God’s created order.