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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Ed. Ingram Cobbin. One Vol. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1962.

Davidson, Prof. F., assisted by A.M. Stibbs and E.F. Kevan. The New Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1953.

Dummelow, J.R. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. One Vol. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1947.

Lipscomb, David. A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles. Edited with additional notes by J.W. Shepherd. Vol. 5. Nashville, Tennessee: Gospel Advocate Co., 1955.

Martin, Sydney. Beacon Bible Expositions. Vol. 10. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1977.

Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Everett F. Harrison. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1971.

Staton, Knofel. Unlocking the Scriptures for You. Standard Bible Studies. New Testament Pastoral Epistles. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Co., 1988.

Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1940.

Wuest, Kenneth S. The Pastoral Epistles in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1954.

Verse 1

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

This is a true saying: Moffatt prefers "a popular saying." Greek and Latin manuscripts use the phrase "faithful, sure saying." Barnes, in his notes, puts it this way: "It was worthy of credence; it was not to be doubted" (1138). Certainly, the saying was without controversy, for it was commonly understood that the work of elders in the church was a good and noble work and the brother who entered into it would do so with earnest desire.

If a man desire the office of a bishop: The Greek word for "desire" means to "reach or stretch out; to long after, try to obtain." The idea is to grasp something with passionate desire or longing. A young man desiring to attain his lifelong ambition will reach out and stretch his mind until the goal is reached. A man who desires to be an elder will likewise reach out with true ambition to meet the qualifications set forth in the scriptures. In Beacon Bible Expositions, Vol. 10, Sydney Martin says, "One curious criticism of verse 1, as it stands in the King James Version, is that it amounts to an incitement to carnal ambition" (123). It is true that carnal ambition may motivate the carnally minded man; but the spiritually minded man who aspires to be an elder will be motivated by love: love for Christ, the church, and the work of the church.

In Paul’s day, there, no doubt, was not a surplus of candidates for the office of bishop. Bishops would likely be viewed as ringleaders of that "sect everywhere spoken against"; therefore, they would be "sitting ducks" and might very well be in real danger of severe persecution or even death. Thus, in the early days of the church, men with pure hearts and pure motives "desired" the office of bishop. The same thing is true today, for only men with spiritual ambition desire to "oversee" the affairs of the church.

he desireth a good work: Some look at the phrase "office of bishop" and shutter! They see not a good work but a bishop carrying a big stick. They see a one-man rule, a rod of iron rule. Many cannot see "a good work" because they think of status and superiority. Yet, Paul saw the eldership as a good work because he saw it as an office of service, not an office of superiority. We know that status and superiority very well can enter into the picture as it did in the third epistle of John, verse 9: "but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them," says John, "receiveth us not." When one "desires a good work," he desires to serve. A good senator is one who uses his office to serve the people. A good elder is one who uses his office to serve the people.

office of a bishop: This office has come, in our day, to mean something wholly different from what Paul had in mind. People are apt to think of a bishop as one who dresses in a peculiar way, one adorned with a long, black robe and a stiff, white, reversed collar. His countenance, they say, is stern. He is aloof, a man too often alone with God. In the New Testament, however, the bishop or elder is not pictured as an iron rule authoritarian but, rather, as an humble man who views himself as simply a leader among equals; he knows that the ground at the foot of the cross is level; standing there he sees himself: not taller, not better, but simply a forgiven servant.

What is covered by the expression "good work"? We catch a glimpse of what that means in Acts 20:28 : "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." The good work done by the elders here was the work of "feeding the church." Elders do a "good work" when they meet the needs of the members, the "flock of God." Those needs are many, and hard work is required for those needs to be met. As God’s overseers, the elders are to do some of the following: teaching, leading, protecting, disciplining, comforting, providing security, soothing the troubled, forgiving, handling disputes, evaluating weaknesses, ministering to the sick, counseling, and delegating responsibilities. These responsibilities and more fall into hands of the overseer.

Verses 1-16


In this chapter, Paul discusses the practical administration of the work of the church. He gives Timothy clear and explicit qualifications that must be considered by the church when choosing faithful men as bishops and deacons.

The great apostle views the work of elders and deacons as a good work and shows that a "good work" calls for good men! The men who are appointed guardians and custodians and who function as keepers and helpers in congregations making up the church of Christ are to serve only after meeting the qualifications set forth here and in Titus 1.

At the end of this chapter, Paul discusses the foundation upon which the church is built (3:14-16). In short, he shows that instructions concerning elders and deacons (as well as other instructions) are essential because of what the church is. He wants the church leaders to know that their leadership skills must first of all be tested in their own homes as they raise up faithful children. Then, and only then, will they know how to take care of "the church of the living God" (verse 15).

In verse 16, Paul points out that what is often called the "confession" is another way of saying that Christians have "no creed but Christ." In this final verse, he paints a picture of Christ which might be called "The Circle of Love."

Verse 2

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

A bishop then must be blameless: A bishop, W.E. Vine says, "is an overseer" (128). He, and other Greek scholars, point out that an elder is another term for bishop or overseer. Elder and bishop are used interchangeably in Acts 20:17-28 and Titus 1:5-9. Barclay says, "The word elder describes the man as an older, respected man of the church" (54). "Bishop" describes the function of the man in his oversight and superintendence of the work of the church.

The word "overseer" gives problems to some. Is he a military-type? Is he a general or sergeant? Is he an inspector? Is he like a chairman of the board of directors? Those titles suggest status and authority in the carnal world, but they do not capture the New Testament concept of "overseer." The qualifications given here in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1 show that the men who desire the office of bishop are men who, like Paul, wish to imitate the chief Overseer, Jesus himself. Peter refers to Jesus as "the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25). Jesus, as Shepherd and Bishop, did not communicate superiority but emptied himself and became humble that he might serve man’s needs (Philippians 2:5-11). A shepherd spends quality time with his sheep: protecting them, talking with them, learning them by name, seeking for the lost and straying ones, rescuing, providing for their physical needs. His task is a noble one, and we should not become alarmed at the thought of elders becoming authoritarians who carry a big stick. If they first meet the qualifications set forth in scripture, they will be too much like their "Chief Shepherd and Bishop" to play the role of an army general or resort to playing penny politics as carnally minded men tend to do.

The word "blameless" means "above reproach." W.E. Vine says, "lit., that cannot be laid hold of" (131). It spotlights the fact that there is to be nothing in the elder’s present character that would discredit the moral commitment to God. The word "blameless" seems to be an umbrella under which all of the other qualifications fall. His life is committed first to Christ. He does, as Paul advises in Acts 20:28, "take heed unto thyself." With his trust in Jesus, he goes forth in faith, practice, grace, and truth to please his Lord and is not concerned about pleasing professional "nit-pickers." If elders were afraid of making mistakes and of being criticized, they would never know the real joy of doing the work of a bishop. When they follow Jesus, they will be criticized as Jesus was. He did not please everyone, but he certainly was blameless. Never could his enemies "lay hold" on one single thing he said or did that was wrong. He pleased his Father always (Matthew 17:5). Elders, like Jesus, will be so committed to God that they will strive always to please Him. Will they make mistakes? Yes. Will God forgive them? Yes. Blameless, then, does not mean that an elder lives a perfect life; it means, rather, that he lives his life so that it squares with the moral character of our Lord himself.

The little word "must" (must be blameless) stresses the necessity of being above reproach. There is no question about it: if a man desire the office of a bishop, his life must be lived before Christ and others in great love, honesty, and general uprightness. In his commentary on First Timothy, David Lipscomb says, "elders should be men of unimpeachable character" (146).

the husband of one wife: Because of the time that is necessary to spend with both men and women in the church, it is important that an elder be a "one-woman man." His home life with his wife must be healthy and honorable so that his sexual feelings for other women will not escalate. "The husband of one wife" is a troublesome phrase, hard to nail down, for sure. Yet, taking Paul at his word, it seems quite clear that a man desiring to be an elder must have a wife. If he is single or has never been married, he does not qualify for the eldership. On the other hand, if he is a polygamist--a man having two or more living wives--he cannot be an elder. However, the individual congregation should use great wisdom and strive to be consistent in this matter. Whatever we do with the "one-woman man" issue must be consistent with what we do with the rest of the characteristics. Could it be possible for a man to be married to the same woman for fifty years and not really be a "one-woman man?" I think so. He might have been unfaithful. Or maybe he was sexually faithful but did not care and provide for the needs of his wife. Maybe he was a super communicator at work but an inadequate communicator with his wife. The real issue here could very well be: commitment! The true sense of the phrase "the husband of one wife" may be found in the way the husband is committed to his wife and how that commitment is linked to his other "Bride"--the church: the Bride of Christ!

vigilant: Vine, and others, use the words "temperate" and "watchful" (114). Peter gave good advice to Christians: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). The word "temperate" comes from a word that means "wineless." In 2 Timothy 4:5, the same idea is expressed: "But watch thou in all things." Simply stated, it says, "Keep your head." Wuest says of the word "vigilant": "to be calm, dispassionate and circumspect" (55). An elder must be a straight thinker. He must not allow his mind to become clouded and intoxicated with philosophies and strange doctrines. He keeps straight about God’s word and is well rooted and grounded in faith and doctrine. An elder is always ready to "communicate the word," skillfully wielding the "sword of the Spirit" to defend the faith and protect God’s flock. He is ever watchful, remembering the warning Paul laid down in Acts 20:29, "For ... after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." Thus, a vigilant man keeps the faith and keeps his head while others are losing theirs. He is calm, cool, and collected in all his relationships, in the community as well as in the church.

sober: The Greek dictionary defines "sober" as "sound mind; self-controlled, sober-minded." A sober-minded man is one who is well-behaved in actions and reactions. His is a committed life. He does not live in a dream world of emotions and impulsive feelings. In a word, an elder who is self-controlled is Spirit-controlled. He is the kind of man we like to see in a church business meeting. He is the kind of man God uses to motivate others to a more fruitful and abundant life. Because he is self-controlled, he can calm the storms of fear, envy, and bitterness that often rage in a congregation because he experiences calmness on the inside.

of good behaviour: Vine says of this phrase, "orderly, modest" (112). His deportment is good, kind, and considerate. He is a gentleman. A man of good behavior is a respectable man. He respects God and the Bible; he respects himself, too, and such inner feeling and commitment will always reflect in his outward conduct. Knofel Staton says about the word "respectable":

"Respectable comes from the word from which we get our word cosmetics. It comes from the same root word for the orderly world. It denotes an inward orderliness seen in an outward adornment or beauty. It is the same word that is used in 1 Timothy 2:9 to describe how a woman should be dressed, modestly. Here in 1 Timothy 3, it describes a man’s outward conduct of good behavior that comes from his inner character of Christ-likeness."

Staton further states:

"There are two kinds of cosmetics, one is a cover-up; it covers up what is really there. The other kind is a revealer; it highlights and brings out what is already there. A person who is truly respectable is a person who highlights and brings out the character of Christ, who is already in the heart" (69).

given to hospitality: This phrase literally means, "a lover of strangers." An elder who practices hospitality is warm, friendly, and responsive to others. People feel at ease with him. A congregation is blessed when it has for its leaders men who are friendly and open to visitors. Gaius, in the third epistle of John, gives an example of Christian hospitality. Verse 5 says, "Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to brethren, and to strangers." We live in an impersonal world today. In our high-tech society, men and women who work with cold, impersonal machines all week long don’t need to find cold, impersonal people at church on Sunday. We need more than correct heads filled with correct doctrine; we also need warm hearts filled with correct Christian love.

apt to teach: This expression means, "Capable of teaching." Why should elders teach? Paul gives the answer in Ephesians 4:11-12 : "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Apt to teach means more than being a walking encyclopedia of doctrine. It means more than quoting scripture rapid-fire to shoot down an enemy. True, a good strong sermon filled with scripture that "reproves, rebukes, and exhorts with all long-suffering and doctrine" is needed in any congregation. But that is only one style of teaching. They need the ability to teach privately: to impart spiritual knowledge and advice quietly, reverently, skillfully, and lovingly. To teach well, one must study and know the word. An elder must "hold fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayer" (Titus 1:9).

Verse 3

Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

Not given to wine: Literally, this phrase refers to a person who is "not beside wine." Wuest says, "One who sits long at his wine" (56). Barnes says, "The way in which the apostle mentions the subject of wine here would lead us fairly to suppose that he did not mean to commend its use in any sense; that he regarded its use as dangerous, and that he would wish ministers to avoid it altogether. A minister will do no injury to himself or others by letting it entirely alone; he may do injury by indulging in it" (1138).

no striker: Not a bruiser: not one ready with a blow. This describes the man who is not always looking for a fight. He is gentle, considerate of the other person. In gentleness, he corrects, admonishes, leads the wayward to repentance and truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

not greedy of filthy lucre: Such a man is not desirous of base gain. He is not greedy, reaching out for more money to use for himself. He is not a lover of money. David Lipscomb says, "not willing to use wrong means to obtain money, not anxious for sudden riches." Occasionally we hear of churches that have thousands of dollars in the bank drawing interest, while the congregation never holds gospel meetings nor helps others to spread the gospel. What are those leaders doing with the Lord’s money? Nothing. Thus, they strangle the life out of the congregation by holding the purse strings.

but patient: Thayer defines patient as "mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness." An elder’s conduct should be like the beauty expressed in James 3:17, "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."

not a brawler: He does not go about with a chip on his shoulder. He is not contentious. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:24, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient."

not covetous: That is, he is not fond of silver but free from the love of silver (Wuest 56).

Verse 4

One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

One that ruleth well his own house: Knofel Staton says, "This literally means, one who stands before his family, not above" (76). He is a leader, not a dictator. Like a shepherd, he leads and guides. As he has trained his children with love and discipline, he uses the same qualities to train, discipline, and encourage members of the household of God. Paul uses the word "ruleth" in a good sense, of course. He rules by showing the way, not by shouting orders. He rules by faith, not by fear. So, to "rule" does not mean "to boss." A home is a place where love, forgiveness and happiness are experienced. A Christian home is a place where babies grow into mature adults. Thus, a man who manages his family well is in an excellent position to manage well the family of God.

having his children in subjection with all gravity: The children under his care should be obedient, submissive. Their love and respect should be won rather than severely enforced. The children know their father’s voice, and they recognize it as a voice of love, concern, and fairness. The same is seen in the church. An elder knows each member of God’s family. Members see and hear him as a dedicated man of love, concern, and fairness. And, if the congregation knows him as a loving, kind, caring family man, they can rest assured that he will rule well over the household of God. Some scholars say that "children" in this phrase normally refers to those who have not yet attained adulthood. A growing child, moving through the stages of development should have respect for his father. Albert Barnes makes this observation: "A church resembles a family.... A church is made up of an assemblage of brothers and sisters.... It should be felt that he who presides over it, has the feelings of a father; that he loves all members of the great family; that he has no prejudices, no partialities, no selfish aims to gratify" (1140).

Verse 5

(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

See above comment.

Verse 6

Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Not a novice: Vine says the word "novice" means "newly-planted" (119). This definition, of course, denotes "a new convert." Because he is "newly-planted," he does not have the experience needed to oversee and shepherd the flock. If such a one were elevated to such a position of leadership, he would not only hurt the congregation; but he might be hurt, too, by having his ego inflated. It is a rare person who can handle honor without doing injury to his soul. He is also in great danger of coming under the same judgment as did the devil, who was so puffed up with pride that he fell. We have all seen the young convert who, if given an immediate place of authority, begins to act like a "little god," rather than acting like an humble servant.

lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil: Wuest says "being lifted up with pride" means to raise a smoke, to emit smoke, smoulder: hence to blind with pride or conceit" (58). Thus, many young converts, if given an elevated position, might very well walk around with their heads in a cloud of arrogance and pride, with a confused mind. A brother who desires to become a church leader must have plenty of time and opportunity to test his own faith and to give others time to see evidence of his spiritual growth and maturity.

Verse 7

Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Moveover he must have a good report of them which are without: He must be--if he desires the leadership role--a man of general acceptance. Paul often impressed upon his readers the importance of safeguarding their reputation among outsiders. In 1 Corinthians 10:32, he wrote, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." In Philippians 2:15 he advises, "...be blameless and harmless...in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation..." And, in Colossians 4:5, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without." This is excellent advice for leaders, for very often the world will judge the church by their personal conduct. The New English Bible says, "he must ... have a good reputation with the non-Christian public, so that he may not be exposed to scandal and get caught in the devil’s snare." As far as it is possible, the elders are to "shine as lights in the world," not compromising their Christian position, principles, or practices. And, like Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, they are to show the world that they are honest, sincere, moral, and committed. Perhaps if we really want to know the reputation of the men who wish to become elders, we might ask the people they do business with or the people they play golf with. Is the brother’s life with his family consistent with his life with the outside world? If it is, the world will see it and will give him credit and glorify the Father in heaven. The reputation of the congregation is as strong as the reputation of the leadership.

lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil: Since Satan himself fell because of pride, he greatly longs to see church leaders fall into the same snare. The word "reproach" means, according to Vine, "defamation": "disgrace, slander, blame, accusation." Paul mentions the "snare of the devil" in 2 Timothy 2:26 : "And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." Satan, because of his pride, came under judgment and condemnation. An elder should have a good reputation, not open to easy attack from the slanderer. Verses 6 and 7 reinforce here at the end of the list of qualifications for the elder, the very first requirement mentioned in verse 2, "without reproach," that is: blameless.

Verse 8

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

Likewise must the deacons: "Likewise" simply means "in like manner." The Greek dictionary defines "deacon" as servant. It underscores personal service rendered to another, usually with humility. They take charge of the temporal affairs of the church. In The New Bible Commentary, edited by Professor F. Davidson, this comment is made concerning deacons: "The Greek word has a very general meaning, ’ministers.’ But in the Christian fellowship, it obviously became the special term for a class of helpers subordinate to bishops or elders" (1068). This interpretation certainly seems true in light of such statements as found in Philippians 1:1, "...to the saints... at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." Most Bible scholars agree that deacons are servants, helpers, who like the seven appointed at Jerusalem (Acts 6:3) are to look after the poor, etc, and help the elders in their work. To my knowledge, no where are the seven in Acts 6 called "deacons." They did, nevertheless, do the work of deacons: that is, they were servants. Sydney Martin, in Bible Expositions, makes the statement: "In a general sense, any servant of Christ can rightly be called a ’deacon,’ indeed Christ applied this title to himself, and in the lowliest sense" (128). (See Luke 22:27.) In that verse we read that indeed he viewed himself as a servant. He said, "For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth."

Deacons, like elders, are to be men who bring credit to the church. Also, like elders, they must maintain the purity of their Christian character, and they must be men who are spiritual and not carnal. The church today needs men with character, gifts, and abilities that will enable them to aid the elders in caring for the needs of the congregation.

be grave: The deacon must be honorable and worthy of respect, one who maintains moral ethics and serves with dignity.

not doubletongued: That is, he must be sincere! He does not have "divided words," or as we often say, "does not speak out of both sides of his mouth." Consistency in speech is of great importance; and since the deacon would go visiting from house to house, it would be hurtful to the church for him to have a double-tongue saying one thing at one house and something different at another house. Such talk would soon erode his Christian influence and inflict damage upon the church. A deacon who speaks the truth and keeps his promise is the kind of servant God needs.

not given to much wine: He is not addicted to wine. Longing to be mature and "straight-thinking" in his work, he will refrain from the use of strong drink.

The word "much" is added here to what is said (verse 3) concerning the elder. I like Barnes’ comment on this word "much." He says, "It is not affirmed that it would be proper for the deacon, any more than the bishop, to indulge in the use of wine in small quantities; but it is affirmed that a man much given to wine, ought not, on any consideration, to be a deacon" (1141). The Bible testimony is consistently against the use of strong drink. It is certainly best for a Christian not to drink wine or strong drink at all. That would be a mark of wisdom.

not greedy of filthy lucre: He is not to pursue dishonest gain. (See notes on verse 3). A deacon, in the homes of Christians, is to be careful not to take advantage of people: especially widows. If a man had a greed for gain, he might be tempted to steal from or cheat the people he serves.

Verse 9

Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

The New English Bible perhaps has given a good sense of the original, "They must be men who combine a clear conscience with a firm hold on the deep truths of our faith." Deacons--indeed, all Christians--should be ready and able to express clearly and convincingly what they believe. Thus, the deacon must know what he believes, and his doctrinal anchors must be secure.

The word "mystery," Vincent says, "is truth which was kept hidden from the world until revealed at the appointed time, and which is a secret to ordinary eyes, but is made known by divine revelation" (234). Of course, that "mystery" has been revealed by the gospel.

the faith: Faith seems to be synonymous with the gospel, the Christian system of revelation.

in a pure conscience: Vine says, pure" means "pure, as being clean" (228). Thus, the writer emphasizes the necessity of conscientious purity and sincerity. In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul uses the phrase, "having their conscience seared with a hot iron." Vincent makes this comment: "They (deacons) express conscientious purity and sincerity in contrast with those who are described as branded in their own conscience, and thus causing their followers to fall away from the faith" (234). Wuest puts it, "It is as if the pure conscience were the vessel in which the mystery of the faith is preserved" (60). The word "conscience" is defined by Vine as "a knowing with, a co-knowledge (with oneself), the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives." So, with a pure conscience one distinguishes between good and bad, commending the good and condemning the bad. Therefore, "in pure conscience" would require that a deacon not only be firm in doctrine but pure in heart.

Verse 10

And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.

And let these also first be proved: The deacon must first be tested, and he must have the qualifications listed here. He must be of sufficient age that would allow time for fidelity and steadfastness in the work of God. After observing the men who wish to be deacons, members must agree they are grave, serious-minded, trustworthy men, sound in faith. When appointing brethren to serve in Acts 6:3, the church was directed to "look out seven men of honest report...."

then let them use the office of a deacon: In the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, we find this comment: "The ’then’ is significant: it appears to mean that candidates are to be approved before taking office, then serve. They are not to be proved in office" (851).

It seems quite clear that no one should be ordained as a deacon with the aim of giving him a "training period" to see if he qualifies for the office. He should not be allowed to serve as deacon unless first approved by the congregation as being counted worthy to serve.

The word "proved" in the original means "to be put to the test for the purpose of approving, and having met the test, to be approved."

being found blameless: Wuest says, "The word blameless here is ’unaccused’" (60). It is a judicial term. Of course, this qualification would not mean they had never done anything wrong, but that presently there is nothing against them. (See notes on verse 2)

Verse 11

Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

Even so must their wives be grave: The Greek scholars say the word "wives" literally means "women." These are the "women" or the "wives" of the deacons. As such, they carry a special responsibility in their service in the church and in their support of their husbands. Like their husbands, they, too, must be honorable and worthy of respect (verse 8). Paul’s addressing the deacons’ wives shows that, although women cannot take a leading role in the church, their work and influence are of value. Many women in early Christian times served Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) and helped serve the church (Romans 16:1).

not slanderers: Because of the nature of the deacons’ work, their wives must not be malicious talkers. They must be careful not to gossip. Their husbands will be hindered in their work if they pass on tidbits of information about brothers and sisters in the congregation.

sober: They are temperate, well-balanced, having themselves under control in both moral and spiritual issues. (See notes on verse 2.)

faithful in all things: This expression means trustworthy. The great lesson here is that the wives of deacons can help their husbands and the church beyond measure by being always discreet and diligent. Albert Barnes sums up the matter like this: "Wives should be faithful to their husbands, to their families, to the church, to the Savior."

Verse 12

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

Let the deacons be the husband of one wife: Wuest says, "Let the deacons be one wife sort of husbands" (61). (See notes on verse 2.)

ruling their children and their own houses well: The word "ruling" means "to be over, to superintend, to preside over." (See notes on verse 4.)

Verse 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.

For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree: Many rewards await those willing to serve the church. When the job is done diligently with love, humility, and grace, the rewards are great--great here in this life and even greater in the life to come. "Purchase" means to procure, to acquire, or to gain anything. Paul shows that God purchased the church--He acquired, gained it by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). In the church, deacons can "purchase, gain, acquire a good degree," suggesting they can step higher as one would on a stairway in their service to the church. Barnes comments: "The fair meaning is that of going up higher, or taking an additional step of dignity, honor or standing." He further states: "So far as the word is concerned, it may mean either an advance in office, in dignity, in respectability, or in influence" (1142).

and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus: David Lipscomb sees the deacons going about their daily work of ministering to the sick and helping the needy; while doing so, they grow stronger and develop greater boldness in the faith (151). The Bible makes it clear that those who serve others will gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith.

Verse 14

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:

"These things" refers to the instructions concerning qualifications of elders and deacons. Paul hoped to come back and finish the work started in Ephesus.

Verse 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.

But if I tarry long: We sense Paul’s feeling that Satan might hinder his return visit; therefore, he urges Timothy: "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God ...." All the instructions given concerning elders and deacons, as well as the other instructions to Timothy, are essential because Paul views the church of Christ as the family of God, a household that needs direction. As members of God’s spiritual family, we need church leaders who are keen and skillful in helping us develop and grow more and more like Jesus. That is why the qualifications of elders and deacons should first be tested in the family, at home. In families, the father’s role is to rule well his household. And his task is a difficult one because his children go through different phases and stages of maturity. The church consists of one Father and many different brothers and sisters. Some are "new born babes" and others are at a teenage stage in a world of fears and temptations. All have need of wise counselors. Thus, God uses bishops to oversee His family. "Oughtest to behave thyself" means it is necessary to behave, a MUST. Not only Timothy, but all members of the family of God must behave as Christians should. "Behave" in Greek means "to conduct oneself, indicating one’s manner of life and character."

which is the church of the living God: A living God dwells in a living temple. As a church--called out ones--we are "lively stones" which God uses in building His Spiritual House.

the pillar and ground of the truth: Vine says of the word "pillar," "a column supporting the weight of a building." He comments: "a local church as to its responsibility--in a collective capacity--must maintain the doctrines of the faith by teaching and practice" (184). The church holds up the gospel to the world. The church was built upon the bedrock confession of Peter, "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:18). In 1 Corinthians 3:11, "...other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." It is God’s purpose to send the gospel to the world (Ephesians 3:10). The great truth in this verse is Jesus, the heart of the gospel. The word "ground" means a "stay, a prop." It indicates that which is firm, stable. The church is the "pillar," the prop or support of the truth (Wuest 63). Thus, the church supports, holds up truth as a foundation holds up the building, giving support and steadiness to the building.

Verse 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.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: Many scholars believe this verse is a hymn of praise, a poetic statement of true doctrine. "Without controversy" means to agree with or to have common consent. The mystery of godliness, though once hidden, is now revealed to all men. That which was hidden is now clearly seen. "Godliness," Vine says, "is the doctrine which is according to godliness" (162). It signifies that which is consistent with godliness, in contrast to false teachings (Titus 1:1). Looking at the great mystery of godliness evokes reverence, respect, and awe.

We have in the next seven statements what I like to call the great circle of love. We see the Word coming to earth as flesh, living, doing the will of God, dying, buried, resurrected, and ascending back into glory! Thus, we see the glorious circle of love.

God was manifest in the flesh: That is, God appeared in a body. He put on flesh (John 1:14). Being in the flesh, becoming man, He qualified as our Great High Priest who knows our human needs and understands the temptations of the flesh (Hebrews 4:14-15).

justified in the Spirit: He was vindicated by the Spirit. The Spirit empowered the body and performed miracles through that body, and the Spirit raised the body of Christ from the grave (Romans 8:11). Romans 1:4 says, "and declared to be the Son of God with Power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (see also Romans 8:10-11).

seen of angels: From the beginning of His life to the end, Jesus was visited by angels. They announced His coming, proclaimed His birth, ministered to Him, strengthened him (as when He prayed in the garden), declared His resurrection to the women, and explained His ascension to the apostles. They even ushered Him back into glory.

preached unto the Gentiles: He was preached among the nations (Romans 16:26; Colossians 1:6). Thus, to the apostles He declared, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

believed on in the world: His great miracles convinced many to believe in Him (John 2:23). In Colossians 1:5-6, Paul writes about the "truth of the gospel, which is come ... in all the world." In verse 23, of the same chapter, he speaks about the "gospel ... which was preached to every creature which is under heaven ...."

received up into glory: Luke 24:51 says, "He was parted from them (disciples), and carried up into glory." A convoy of angels received Him and escorted Him back to the throne of God (Psalms 24:7-10). Barclay exclaims, "here the story of Jesus which begins in heaven also ended in heaven" (54).

Present-Day Application

This climatic verse (16) is indeed a great confession: the church has no creed but Christ. It is Christ who died for us, saves us, and unites us. It is interesting that this verse, so full of Christ and all He did for mankind, should come at the end of the discussion of church leadership qualifications. It is placed here, it seems, to show the elders, deacons, and all other church members that the real issue is Christ! Elders and deacons should ever keep this principle in their minds rather than focusing on opinions or issues detrimental to the church, thus belittling Christ and undermining His influence on the hearts of men. Paul urges such men in high office to be aware at all times of how they "behave" themselves in the church of the living God and to be sure every decision and practice renowns to the glory of the risen Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-timothy-3.html. 1993-2022.
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