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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-16



1. The overseer (1 Timothy 3:1-7 )

2. The deacon (1 Timothy 3:8-13 )

3. The house of God and the mystery of Godliness (1 Timothy 3:14-16 )

1 Timothy 3:1-7

As stated before, the Church is viewed in these pastoral Epistles as the house of God. The holiness which becomes this house is to be maintained and expressed in a practical way. The different directions given as to overseers and deacons demonstrate what God esteems highly, and what He expects of those who are saved by grace, and who constitute His House. Paul wrote these instructions to his son Timothy, so that he might know how to behave himself in the house of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15 ).

Bishops (overseers) are identical with elders (presbyters). For conclusive proof see Acts 20:17 ; Acts 20:28 ; Titus 1:5 ; Titus 1:7 . In both passages the same persons are called both bishops and elders. It is nowhere taught in the Word of God that a bishop has a place of superior authority in the body of Christ, as head of a diocese, etc. These things as practised in the Romish, Episcopal and other ritualistic churches are according to human ordinances.

The work of the overseer is learned from Paul’s statement in Acts 20:28 : “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” The Holy Spirit called them into this work, for He is the great administrator in the church. Each local church had not one overseer or bishop, but a number of them, showing that the authority was not vested in one person only (Philippians 1:1 ). If anyone desired the office of an overseer, he desired a good work. It is a good work to exercise loving and patient care over souls which are beloved of God, and so dear to Him, who purchased them by His own blood. Such a desire would be the result of the Spirit of God, who laid the work of an overseer upon the heart. Paul then gives Timothy the qualities which a bishop or overseer must have. He must be blameless, that is as to his moral character irreproachable, with nothing whatever against him. “He must be the husband of one wife.” This has been explained as excluding all who had been married twice. This is incorrect. It may refer to those who were as pagans married to more than one woman, for polygamy was practiced among the heathen in that day, as it is still. Converted to Christianity these pagans were in an unhappy condition, and on account of it could not exercise oversight in a local church.

On the other hand this inspired qualification of an overseer or bishop is a complete and crushing refutation of the celibacy of the Romish priesthood. He also must be vigilant, sober, of a good behavior (modest), given to hospitality and apt to teach (2 Timothy 2:24 ). (“Apt to teach” has also been translated “ready to learn.”) Among the other qualifications we point out especially the one “not greedy of filthy lucre,” that is, he must not be a lover of money. This is mentioned several times in the epistles to Timothy and to Titus. And Peter in exhorting the elders also writes, “Feed the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2 ). The Holy Spirit anticipated the corruption of church office and ministry through the love of money. He is also to rule well his own house and have his children in subjection, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?”

We see all these are moral qualifications. They are to be men of mature age, who had shown in the government of their own household their fitness for the more blessed work of having oversight in a local assembly. A new convert may begin to give a testimony for the gospel as soon as he has believed, but fitness for oversight, to be an elder, required time and a practical walk in the truth. Therefore Paul writes, “not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into condemnation of the devil.” How often this has been true, that in some assembly a young convert with natural gifts was made much of, and then became lifted up and aspired, like Diotrephes (3 John) to have the preeminence.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

“Deacon” means “a servant,” one who ministers. The seven chosen in Acts 6:1-15 to serve tables were deacons. They were to be occupied with the external affairs of a local church, to serve the bodily need. Without entering into the different qualifications, which need hardly any further comment, we point out only one. “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers--sober, faithful in all things.” As the deacons had their work in external things, in connection with the family and family life of a local church, there was danger of their wives making mischief and becoming busybodies and tale-bearers; hence the instruction to the wives of the deacons. Nothing was said to the wives of the overseers; theirs was a different sphere.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

Paul expected to come shortly to be with Timothy, from which we gather that he was not then a prisoner. In the words which follow we have a threefold mention of the church on earth.

1. It is the Home of God. God dwells in it on earth. Its leading characteristic on earth must be holiness. “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever” (Psalms 93:5 ). All Paul had written, his solemn charge concerning sound doctrine, a good conscience, prayer for all men, about overseers and deacons, was to teach Timothy and to teach us also, how to behave in the house of God, as on earth. God dwells in the church on earth. And He who dwelt among Israel and said, “I am holy, be ye also holy,” makes the same demand of the house in which He dwells now.

2. The second name is the Church of the living God. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the living God, dwells in the church. She is the habitation of God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22 ). She is therefore set apart for Himself, not of the world, as He, who is the blessed Head of the body, is not of the world.

3. The pillar and support of the truth. While our Lord was on earth He said, “I am the truth.” He is so still; and His Word is the truth. The church is here to maintain this truth on earth, to contend earnestly for the faith delivered unto the saints. She is the witness for Christ on earth, Christ who is hidden now with God. Therefore the true Church is the pillar of the truth, in proclaiming it. Woe! to the men who meddle with the truth of God, and by their wicked criticism try to undermine the support of the pillar and the house of God. God shall destroy them for their evil work (1 Corinthians 3:17 ). When the Church leaves the earth, then the truth will be abandoned, and complete apostasy has come. As long as the true Church (though it only may be a feeble remnant) the pillar and support of the truth, is on the earth, the complete apostasy cannot come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 ). From all this we learn that the presence of the living God and the maintenance of the truth are the foremost characteristics of the house of God.

1 Timothy 3:16 brings before us the mystery of godliness (piety). It is that which the church on earth is to witness to. This mystery is the Lord Jesus Christ ( Colossians 2:1-23 ). The first fact of the mystery is, “God was manifested in the flesh.” (The Revised Version on account of textual criticism changed this to “He who hath been manifested in the flesh.” Some would therefore rule out this text as one which speaks of the deity of our Lord. But even if it were positive that the correct reading is “He” instead of “God,” it does not affect the argument. The “He” could not be any one else but the Son of God.) It is the incarnation. God Himself has been manifested in the form of man. The Creator God came to be the Saviour God. He appeared on earth as man. “Justified in the Spirit.” Upon Him, the second Man, the Spirit of God descended. He lived the holy life on earth. The power of the Holy Spirit was manifested throughout His life on earth. And having offered Himself by the eternal Spirit without spot to God, the power of the Holy Spirit marked Him out as Son of God in resurrection. “Declared the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4 ). His resurrection, by God the Father and through the operation of His Spirit (Romans 8:11 ) justified Him as Son of God.

“Seen of angels.” Not only did man see Him as John testifies, “that which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life”--but angels saw Him. The host of angels witnessed His entrance into the world, surrounded Him and were present with Him in His life on earth. He was seen of angels in His resurrection, and seen of angels when He ascended on high to take His place at the right hand of God, far above all principalities and powers, becoming the head over all things, the head of the Church. And to these heavenly principalities and powers there is now made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10 ). “Preached unto the Gentiles.” The good news is preached in the whole world. Jews and Gentiles hear the message, and especially is He preached to the Gentiles. “Believed on in the world.” As a result of the preaching, the hearing of the Word of God, He is believed on, and those who believe on Him constitute the house, the Church of the living God. “Received up in glory.” He ascended to the glory from which he had descended. He glorified God on earth, and now, as the Risen One, God has glorified Him in heaven. And some day all who believed on Him in the world will also be received up in glory, to be with Him where He is. And all this is the truth which is to be maintained and preached in the house of God.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/1-timothy-3.html. 1913-1922.
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