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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

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Verses 1-7


1 Timothy 3:1. This is a true saying.—See note on 1 Timothy 1:15. If any man desire the office of a bishop.—It is generally admitted that to the latest New Testament times the terms “bishop” and “presbyter” were applied to the same persons. Whether subsequent developments have any binding force for us may be left an open question. The R.V. indicates that there are two words in the original for “seeketh” and “desireth”—not one, as the A.V. might lead us to suppose. The former means “to stretch oneself out in order to grasp.”

1 Timothy 3:2. Blameless.—R.V. “without reproach.” Some think the term an agnostic one, signifying one who gives his adversary no hold upon him, applied here metaphorically to one who gives others no just cause to accuse him. Ellicott denies any but an ethical sense. The husband of one wife.—Full play is given to subjective interpretation on this passage. A bishop must have a wife, only one at a time, must not have a concubine, only a wife, and on the loss, even by death, of his wife must never have a second. Such are some of the interpretations. Vigilant.—R.V. better “temperate,” in its usual and literal meaning. Sober.—R.V. “sober-minded.” Of good behaviour.—R.V. “orderly.”

1 Timothy 3:3. Not given to wine.—R.V. “no brawler.” The A.V. margin indicates that it is not simply a liking for wine, but the quarrelsomeness of a man so addicted. Not greedy of filthy lucre.—Omitted in R.V. The idea comes in with the last word of the verse.

1 Timothy 3:4. One that ruleth well.—The management of his own household with dignity would be a recommendation to the oversight of a larger family.

1 Timothy 3:6. Not a novice.—Lit. “a neophyte”—one just born. Lest being lifted up.—“A beclouded and stupid state of mind must be associated with that of pride” (Ellicott). The condemnation of the devil.—Whose great sin was pride.

1 Timothy 3:7. A good report of them which are without.—How different this sounds from the Master’s “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you!” And yet how often has the world borne witness to a life of spotless humility!


Qualifications of a New Testament Bishop.

I. He must be a man of upright and irreproachable life (1 Timothy 3:1-3).—The office of bishop or presbyter is a good work in itself, has to do specially with good things, and gives a signal opportunity of doing good to others. Speaking to Bishop Crowther, the first coloured bishop in connection with the Church of England, a clergyman said: “If a man desire the office of a bishop, what saith the word of God that he desireth?—a large income?—a palace?—to be called my lord? No—he desireth a good work. Work for Christ is the true honour of the bishop.” Such a man should possess both gifts and grace, and both in a high degree. The qualifications of a bishop are here given by the apostle in detail. “A bishop then must be blameless”—unexceptionable, giving no just handle for blame. “The husband of one wife.” The feeling which prevailed among the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, of that age against a second marriage would, on the ground of expediency and conciliation in matters indifferent and not involving compromise of principle, account for Paul’s prohibition here in the case of one in so prominent a sphere as a bishop or a deacon. “Vigilant, sober”—ever on the watch, as sober men alone can be—keenly alive, so as to foresee what ought to be done. “Of good behaviour”—orderly. “Sober” refers to the inward mind; orderly to the outward behaviour, tone, look, gait, dress. “Given to hospitality”—both to Christian brethren and to strangers. “Apt to teach.” They who labour in word and doctrine are counted worthy of double honour. “Not given to wine”—not merely drunkenness, but any intemperance in wine-drinking. The word also includes not indulging in the brawling, violent conduct towards others which proceeds from being given to wine. “Not covetous”—not a lover of money, whether we have much or little.

II. He must be a man showing the faculty of government in his own family.—“One that ruleth well his own house … for how shall he take care of the Church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). Presiding over his own children and servants, as contrasted with the house of God, which he may be called on to preside over. The fact that he has children, who are in subjection to him in all gravity and modesty, is the recommendation in his favour as one likely to rule well the Church. If he cannot perform the lesser function, how can he perform the greater and more difficult one?

III. He must be a man not raw and inexperienced in spiritual things.—“Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). Not one just converted—a neophyte, a young plant, luxuriantly verdant—lest being lifted up with pride, being beclouded, darkened, befooled, inflated with self-conceit and exaggerated ideas of his own importance, he falls into the same condemnation as that in which Satan fell, who was condemned for his pride. The minister is emphatically the spiritual man, and should be deeply and experimentally acquainted with the mind of the Spirit and with spiritual things.

IV. He must be a man of unquestionable reputation.—“He must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). He should be blameless, not only in the eyes of the Church, but be esteemed for his moral worth and uprightness by the world. Not even the former life of a bishop should be open to reproach. The reproach continually surrounding him for former sins might lead him into the snare of becoming as bad as his reputation. Despair of recovering reputation might, in a weak moment, lead some into recklessness of living.


1. The officers of the Church should be above reproach. 2. A bishop should be a competent leader of the Church. 3. Only the grace of God can make a true bishop.


1 Timothy 3:2. “Apt to teach.” The Pulpit a Light and Power.

I. To meet the claims of a good teacher one must be willing to learn.

II. We must have a lesson to impart.

III. One must be master of the lesson he would impart.

IV. A sacred enthusiasm is indispensable.

V. We must gather strength and success by prayer.

VI. Apt to teach has the element of faith.Homiletic Monthly.

1 Timothy 3:4-5. Family Government

I. Must be carried on in a religious spirit.

II. Is necessary in the proper training of children.

III. Is a preparation for higher ministerial duties.

Verses 8-13


1 Timothy 3:8. Deacons.—Originally dispensers of the Church’s bounty, they came to be regarded as the subordinates of the presbyters. Not greedy.—Like the first purser of the Church.

1 Timothy 3:10. First be proved.—In allusion to what is said of the bishop in 1 Timothy 3:6. Their qualifications for the office must be self-evident.

1 Timothy 3:11. Even so must their wives.—As “their” is entirely imported and the original does not distinguish them as wives, the R.V. gives “Women in like manner.” More probably they were deaconesses.

1 Timothy 3:13. Used the office of a deacon well.—R.V. “served well as deacons.” Purchase to themselves a good degree.—R.V. “gain to themselves a good standing”—not simply preferment; the gain is spiritual, as is intimated by the next phrase.


Qualifications of New Testament Deacons.

I. They must be men of good character and behaviour (1 Timothy 3:8).—The deacons answer to the chazzan of the synagogue—the attendant ministers or subordinate coadjutors of the presbyter. Their duty was to read the Scriptures in the Church, to instruct the catechumens in Christian truths, to assist the presbyters at the sacraments, to receive oblations, and to preach and instruct. To the other qualifications belonging to the bishops, the deacons were required to be circumspect in speech. “Not double-tongued”—not saying one thing to this person and another to that person. The extensive personal intercourse that deacons would have with members of the Church might prove a temptation to such a fault. “Not given to much wine.” He who would not merely aid poverty, but as far as possible heal it, must be himself a pattern of temperance. “Not greedy of filthy lucre.” Any who was capable of this would soon appropriate dishonestly the gifts entrusted to him for the poor. All gain is base which is set before a man as a by-end in his work for God. The deacon’s office of collecting and distributing alms would render this uncovetous spirit a necessary qualification.

II. They must be men holding clear and conscientious views of Divine truth.—“Holding the mystery of the faith in a good conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). The mystery of the faith is like a treasure in the actual possession of the deacons, and the coffer in which it is best preserved is a good conscience. Having a firm hold of the truth themselves and realising its power in their hearts, they must illustrate it in their lives and actions.

III. They must be men whose fidelity has been tested.—“And let these also first be proved” (1 Timothy 3:10). Their character is to be carefully inquired into, and the investigation being favourable, they are then to be appointed deacons. In this way the unworthy were kept from office. The office required one of tried and well-ascertained fidelity.

IV. They must be men whose married and family life is without reproach (1 Timothy 3:11-12).—The character not only of the wives of the deacons, but also of deaconesses, is referred to here. The same qualifications are required in female deacons as in deacons, only with such modifications as the difference of sex suggested. “Not slanderers”—not devils, as they undoubtedly would be if guilty of lying and slander. “Sober”—answering to “not given to much wine.” “Faithful in all things”—in little as well as great. The deacons must be husbands of one wife—not marrying a second time; and must show competency for their duty in the Church by ruling their own households well. The domestic virtues of deacons must not be inferior to that of presbyters. Care of their own children was doubtless the best preparatory school for care of the poor and sick.

V. Fidelity in their office will ensure their advancement and stability in the truth.—“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” (1 Timothy 3:13). Those who faithfully discharge the duties of the diaconate acquire for themselves a good standing-place, a well-founded hope of salvation against the day of judgment. A faithful fulfilment of our calling in the Church of Christ is the means blessed by Him to win here as in eternity a good degree of growth and of salvation (Lange, Fausset). It seems most agreeable to our conceptions of justice, and is consonant enough to the language of Scripture, to suppose that there are prepared for us rewards and punishments of all possible degrees, from the most exalted happiness to the extremest misery, so that our labour is never in vain: whatever our advancement in virtue, we procure a proportionable accession of future happiness (Paley).


1. Church work affords spheres of special usefulness.

2. Work for God demands the highest moral qualifications.

3. Work done for the Church helps the growth of personal godliness.


1 Timothy 3:8-13. Church Officers

I. Should be sedate in behaviour (1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:11).

II. Irreproachable in life (1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:11)

III. Conscientious in maintaining the faith (1 Timothy 3:9).

IV. Should be submitted to preparatory tests (1 Timothy 3:10).

V. Exemplary in home life (1 Timothy 3:12).

VI. Are rewarded for their fidelity (1 Timothy 3:13).

Verses 14-15


1 Timothy 3:15. How thou oughtest to behave thyself.—The language seems open to a double interpretation, as the R.V. shows—“how men ought to behave.” Perhaps St. Paul meant that his letter should teach Timothy what men should be in office, as well as the officials themselves what manner of men they must be. The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.—“If the Church is here called ‘the pillar and stay of the truth,’ the expression is one of the least Pauline, the most difficult and the most modern in these epistles. On the other hand, all difficulties vanish if we refer the words to Timothy, who is here bidden to bear himself as an upholder and supporter of the truth” (Farrar).

1 Timothy 3:16. And without controversy.—Lit. “confessedly.” God was manifest.—R.V. “He who was manifested.” Ellicott thinks it not at all improbable that we have a quotation from some well-known hymn, or possibly from some familiar confession of faith. Justified in the Spirit.—As in 1 Peter 3:17, the Spirit seems to be contrasted with the flesh. Preached unto the Gentiles.—R.V. “among the nations.” How inseparably St. Paul considered his own mission to be united to the purposes of God in giving His Son, this phrase makes evident. Received up into glory.—The reference is to the event recorded in Acts 1:9, the assumption of our Lord.


The Dignity and Stability of the Church.

I. The Church is the habitation of the living God.—“The house of God, which is the Church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Church of God does not consist of massive buildings, however grandly designed or richly decorated, but is a congregation of immortal souls and of bodies, which are temples of the living God. How different from the lifeless idol Diana, in whose honour the Ephesians built a temple that was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world, and how different the worship and service! God’s house must have rules and regulations to preserve it from unseemly disorder and irreverence. The congregation worshipping the living God must have a constitution and laws to preserve it from faction and anarchy. Officers of such a Church must have the highest qualifications, and their behaviour be above suspicion. To them is largely entrusted the moral culture and destiny of living souls. “As I was walking in the fields,” writes M‘Cheyne, “the thought came over me, with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron, that I might visit every one and say, ‘Escape for thy life!’ Ah! sinners, you little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation at my door!”

II. The Church is the stay and defence of the truth.—“The pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). “To the Church has been assigned a post of great responsibility. Truth in itself is self-evident and self-sustained; it needs no external support or foundation. But truth as it is manifested to the world needs the best support and the firmest basis that can be found for it. And it is the duty and privilege of the Church to supply these. God’s household is not only a community which in a solemn and special way belongs to the living God—it is also the pillar and ground of the truth.” The Church is stable and enduring because it rests upon and is made up of unchanging truth: the truth it declares defends and preserves it. One of the red republicans of 1793 was telling a good peasant of La Vendée, “We are going to pull down your churches and your steeples—all that recalls the superstitions of past ages, and all that brings to your mind the idea of God.” “Citizen,” replied the good Vendéean, “pull down the stars then.”

III. The greatness of the Church needs special qualifications in its officers.—“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). As his hope of visiting Ephesus soon was not very confident, the apostle regards the work of governing the Church as of such vital importance that he provides for Timothy’s lengthened superintendence by giving him the preceding rules to guide him. Thus he commends the weight and dignity of the pastoral office, because pastors are stewards to whom God has committed the charge of governing His house. If any person has the superintendence of a large house, he labours night and day with earnest solicitude that nothing may go wrong through his neglect or ignorance or carelessness. If only for men this is done, how much more should it be done for God! St. Francis, reflecting on a story he heard of a mountaineer in the Alps who had risked his life to save a sheep, says, “O God, if such was the earnestness of this shepherd in seeking for a mean animal which had probably been frozen on the glacier, how is it that I am so indifferent in seeking my sheep?”


1. God is the life of His own Church. 2. The Church lives by being faithful to the truth.

3. No pains should be spared in acquiring efficiency in Church work.


1 Timothy 3:15. The Christian in the Church.

I. The condition our subject supposes.

1. The Church comprises all the redeemed and sanctified people of God.

2. Frequently means a particular community or company of believers associated together for religious purposes.

II. The obligations we are under to enter this state.

1. Suitability.

2. Consolation.

3. Safety.

4. Usefulness.

III. The duties arising from the state.

1. Worship, in the use of the means of grace.

2. These duties in the use of the means regard the minister.

3. Your fellow-members.

4. The welfare and prosperity of the whole interest.—W. Jay.

The Church the House of God.

I. The Church of God

1. Is any number of Christians meeting together.

2. All the Churches in existence on earth at the same time.

3. All the people of God of all ages.

II. The Church of God is a house.

1. It has a foundation.

2. The materials of the house are men. The materials differ from each other, and are prepared for the heavenly building before they go to it.

3. The putting of the materials together is done by union and mutual dependence on each other.

III. The Church of God is the house of God.

1. He is the builder.

2. The owner.

3. The inhabitant.—C. Bradley.


An Epitome of the Gospel.

I. The incarnate God a mystery, but a fact.—“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” The oldest manuscripts and versions read, “He who was manifest in the flesh.” Paul speaks of the truth as the mystery of godliness, in order to express both the Divine and the human aspects of the Christian faith. On the Divine side the gospel is a mystery, a disclosed secret. It is a body of truth originally hidden from man’s knowledge, to which man by his own unaided reason and abilities would never be able to find the way. The mystery of godliness has for its centre and basis the life of a Divine Person; and the great crisis in the long process by which the mystery was revealed was reached when this Divine Person was manifested in the flesh. “Mystery” in Christian theology implies something which once was concealed but has now been made known: “manifest” implies making known what had once been concealed. An historical appearance of One who had previously existed, but had been kept from the knowledge of the world, is what is meant by “who was manifest in the flesh.” The famous statue of Christ in the gallery at Stuttgart, by Dannecker, was produced after reading the words “God manifest in the flesh,” which led to the conversion of the sculptor. The subject he proposed to himself seemed too great; but as he reflected that others could preach and write on Christianity, which he could not do, he wrought out the statue as the expression of his faith.

II. The incarnate God was vindicated as Divine in His own spirit.—“Justified in the Spirit.” His flesh was the sphere of His manifestation; His spirit was the sphere of His justification. It was in His spirit that Christ was affected when the presence of moral evil distressed Him. This spiritual part of His nature which was the sphere of His most intense suffering, was also the sphere of His most intense joy and satisfaction. As moral evil distressed His spirit, so moral innocence delighted it. In a way that none of us can measure, Jesus Christ knew the joy of a good conscience. His justification or vindication in respect to His spirit or higher being was effected by all that manifested that higher being—His words, works, His Father’s testimony at His baptism and at the Transfiguration, and by His resurrection.

III. The incarnate God is a suggestive revelation to the angelic intelligences.—“Seen of angels.” This manifestation of a perfectly righteous man was not confined to the human race. The angels also witnessed it, as well as His triumphant return to glory, and can bear testimony to the reality of both facts. Angels saw the Son of God with us, not having seen Him before. Not even they had seen His Divine nature, which is not visible to any creature, but they saw Him incarnate.

IV. The incarnate God is the theme of the gospel and the object of faith.

1. As such He was declared to the nations. “Preached unto the Gentiles.” What angels came to know by seeing, the nations learned by preaching. He is a new message to the one class as well as to the other—to the angels so near to Him, and the Gentiles so far off.

2. As such He was and is accepted by perishing men. “Believed on in the world.” Though many reject Him, many believe on Him. To reject Him is to perish; to believe on Him is to be saved.

V. The incarnate God is now reigning in heavenly glory.—“Received up into glory.” At His ascension He was received up so as now to be in glory, carrying on His mediatorial work and ruling the universe, until all things shall be finally subdued unto Him. The revelation of the eternal Son, which imposes on those who accept it a holiness of which His sinlessness must be the model, is something awful and profound. But He does not impose a pattern for imitation without at the same time granting the grace necessary for struggling towards it. The sinlessness of Christ is immeasurably beyond us here; and it may be that in eternity the loss caused by our sins in this life will never be entirely cancelled. But having followed Christ on earth, we shall follow Him still more in heaven (Plummer, Fausset).


1. The gospel is the revelation of the incarnate God.

2. The fundamental facts of the gospel are well authenticated.

3. If we reject the gospel we shall be condemned by both earth and heaven.


1 Timothy 3:16. Mysteriousness of Godliness.

I. Godliness as it exists in the soul and character of man is a mystery.

1. It is mysterious in its commencement.

2. Mysterious in its own proper nature or in that in which it consists.

3. Mysterious to those who are themselves possessed of it.

4. A mystery to the world.

II. Godliness as it exists in the form of Christian doctrine is a mystery.

1. Because of its own intrinsic nature.

2. Because of the remoteness and invisibility of the things of which it treats.

3. Because of the untriedness of the state it describes.

4. Because of the inscrutable nature of many of the subjects of which it treats.

5. Because of the manner in which it is revealed.

6. Because of the character and capacities of man.—Stewart.

The Mystery of Godliness.

I. The gospel a great mystery.

1. Because it could not have been known had it not been revealed.

2. Being revealed, it cannot be perfectly comprehended.

(1) Reason not to be the measure of faith.
(2) Disquisition of truth to be within the bounds of sobriety.
(3) Offence not to be taken at the difference of opinions among Christians.

II. Christianity a mystery of godliness.

1. In regard of its general scope.

2. Of the special parts of it.

3. In the means of conserving it. The best and surest means to preserve Christianity in its proper integrity and power is to season it well with grace, and be sure to keep the conscience upright.—R. Sanderson.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-timothy-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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