Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 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, 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. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
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 3:1-16
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
On aspiring and desiring: “Two different Gr. words are used. The first means ‘to reach out after.’ It describes external action, not internal motive. The second ‘a strong passion,’ and refers to an inward desire. Taken together, these two words aptly describe the type of man who belongs in the ministry – one who outwardly pursues it because he is driven by a strong internal desire.”
On ‘overseer’: “The word means ‘overseer’ and identifies the men who are responsible to lead the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:7). In the NT the words ‘bishop,’ ‘elder,’ ‘overseer,’ and ‘pastor’ are used interchangeably to describe the same men (Acts 20:17, 28; 5:17), preach and teach (5:17), help the spiritually weak (1 Thess. 5:12-14), care for the church (1 Pet. 5:1,2), and ordain other leaders (1 Tim. 4:14).”
On ‘blameless’: “Lit. ‘not able to be held’ in a criminal sense, there is no valid accusation of wrongdoing that can be made against him. No overt, flagrant sin can mar the life of one who must be an example for his people to follow (cf. 1 Tim. 3:10; 4:7; 5:7; Ps. 101:6; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:3). This is the overarching requirement for elders; the rest of the qualifications elaborate on what it means to be blameless. Titus 1:6, 7 uses another Gr. word to mean the same thing.”
On managing his family well: “The elder’s home life, like his personal life, must be exemplary. He must be one who ‘rules’ (presides over, has authority over) ‘his own house’ (everything connected with his home, not merely his wife and children) ‘well’ (intrinsically good; excellently). Issues of divorce should be related to this matter. A divorced man gives no evidence of a well-managed home, but rather that divorce shows weakness in his spiritual leadership. If there has been a biblically permitted divorce, it must have been so far in the past as to have been overcome by a long pattern of solid family leadership and the rearing of godly children (1 Tim. 3:4; Titus 1:6).
On ‘deacons’: “From a word group meaning ‘to serve.’ Originally referring to menial tasks such as waiting on tables (see Acts 6:1-4), ‘deacon’ came to denote any service in the church. Deacons serve under the leadership of elders, helping them exercise oversight in the practical matters of church life. Scripture defines no official or specific responsibilities for deacons; they are to do whatever elders assign them or whatever spiritual ministry is necessary.”
- John MacArthur, One Faithful Life
1 Timothy 3:15: “God offers you a family of friends and friends who are family – his church. When you transfer your trust into Christ, he not only pardons you; he places you in his family of friends.
“’Family’ far and away outpaces any other biblical term to describe the church. ‘Brothers’ or ‘brothers and sister’ appears a whopping 148 times between the Book of Acts and the Book of Revelation.
“God heals his family through his family. In the church we use our gifts to love each other, honor one another, keep an eye on troublemakers, and carry each other’s burdens.”
- Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life
1 Timothy 3:15 ‘foundation of the truth’: “What do these words mean, ‘the truth’? They mean nothing more or less than is wrapped up within the two covers of the Bible. What is the truth? I might say that it is the counsels of heaven revealed on earth, the mind of God made known to men, all the precepts, statutes, and testimonies of the Most High. I might point us to the person of Christ, his obedience to the law, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension, and remind us that the gospel contained in the writings of the four evangelists is the truth of God. Or, once more, I might tell us of the witness of the Holy Spirit, those convictions he brings home to the believer’s heart and the teaching by which he trains up the heirs of glory from the moment of conversion until their final gathering into the heavenly assembly and say that all the witness of the Holy Spirit is ‘the truth.’”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
1 Timothy 3:16: “Let’s remember that angels and prophets and even Paul said, ‘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.’ Many serious-minded, worthy scholars are ready to say that Paul’s mind was the greatest that ever was known in the human race, except of course for the perfect mind of Christ. But this mighty mind never tried to understand it. He said, ‘Great is the mystery of godliness,’ and that’s all.
”We’re saved by His blood, but how are we saved by His blood? We’re alive by His death, but why are we alive by His death? Atonement was made in His death, but how was atonement made in His death? Let’s not vulgarize it by trying to understand it. But let’s stand and gaze at the cross and say, ‘Oh Lord God, Thou knowest! Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”
- A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God
I have written before about how I was taunted within my own family with regards to never being a church leader. After all, I was the “Jesus Freak” of the family. My Dad, in his innocent way, tried to evangelize to me, thinking that I talked a good story, but I was not living the story. Otherwise, the elders would notice my 1 Timothy 3 qualities. As an Army officer, I had proven that I had leadership qualities. He did not taunt as others did – “What’s wrong with you, Jesus Freak?!?!?” No, my Dad questioned my salvation. I do not blame him, but that hurt far more deeply. He was elected an elder in a small church in a small town at about 30 years old. At 34, I finally was elected a deacon. I became the chairman of the board of deacons at 36, and then became the first chairman of the board of deacons to not automatically ascend to the position of elder in recent church history (for that particular church), basically kicked to the curb. And during that year, the church moved back into a rebuilt building, having grown in membership during the reconstruction (education wing having burned to the ground and the sanctuary smoke damaged), we established a new inner-city mission with a few other churches, and new programs were established by the deacons under my leadership, not that I contributed a lot other than being the church’s representative on the inner-city mission board of directors.
I became an elder at the age of 46. Since I have learned that “presbyter” means “gray haired,” it was fitting, but through those years, I looked at 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and wondered what I was doing wrong. I succumbed to the verbal abuse and searched for answers in my personal behavior. How could they not see that I was a Jesus Freak, through and through? As a result, I became more legalistic and, if it were possible, more dogmatic with my sons – wanting to look like I was ‘in control’ from an outward viewpoint.
In other words, to impress the nominating committee so that I could rid myself of the familial verbal abuse, I became a wonderful Pharisee and a rotten Christian. Good on the outside at all costs.
Then, after one year as a church elder, I was removed from the session. The pastor’s excuse was that I became bored with the process. Actually, the pastor was highly liberal and had total control over the clerk of session and the session at large – just a group of ‘yes people,’ dictating everything, mostly lies, that went into the report that was sent to the presbytery each month. For example, he told the clerk, “Whenever we have a vote, put in the minutes that everyone votes in favor of what I say, except for Mr. Rackley who votes against. He never agrees with anything that I say, and we can live with something less than unanimous.” I replied, “But I abstained!!! I did not vote against!” To which the clerk, a female elder, broke down in tears and said, “But I have no idea what ‘abstained’ means!!!!” To which the pastor berated me for making the clerk of session cry. The pastor pushed for them to accept my resignation a few months after this incident, a resignation that I never sent – more lies.
After moving to another church, I was about 50 when I started five years on session. The pastor was biblical but political – never learning from years of sermons what he truly believed other than his sermons never veered from biblical precepts. He occasionally backed me up when I talked about faith at session meetings, but the liberals on session told me plainly, “Leave your God stuff out of this meeting. This is a business meeting.” I stayed, totally drained of any energy, for five years to fight for Jesus to not be totally removed from the ruling body of the church. I think that the next pastor was successful in returning Jesus to the session, but by then, I was spent, burned out.
In retrospect, why did I waver from my non-religious, total devotion to Jesus Christ for worldly accolades when the result became a living nightmare? Maybe the living nightmare was due to sacrificing my irreverent, but more godly, principles. I had to worsen my Christian walk so that people who had no idea what they were looking for would notice that I existed. And the pastor, knowing that I was different put me in charge of evangelism. He saw what was different and why no one wanted me on session in the first place. I truly believed and lived by it.
I think there might have been a little hyperbole in that rant, because a couple of elders over the years would whisper, “I like sitting next to you because you say what needs to be said and I am too afraid to say it.” So, not all elders are Pharisees, but some are timid, and might I say scared. But most ruling body nominating committees look for the business acumen and regular church attendance and how much you put in the offering plate. Then, if someone is too “preachy” they are eliminated from consideration. Thus, the ruling body meetings become a business meeting where “God” is left outside the door and the teachings of Paul to his two favorite acolytes, Timothy and Titus, are ignored. The ‘blameless’ is laughed off as being impossible, so why did Paul write that in the first place?
And when you are beaten down and cast aside, you have no feeling of ‘family’ at all.
There is no perfect church on earth, but I am sure there are better ones than those that I described above. If you attend one, praise our heavenly Father.
But, let’s move to Tozer’s comments and the last verse in 1 Timothy 3. I have heard so many authors and pastors talk of the essentials of Christian belief. I have heard them talk about researching the topic for years, but Paul did a great job in just one verse.
“He appeared in the flesh,
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 3:16b
Add to that, that “He” is Jesus and that Jesus was fully human and fully God and you have a great start on what is ‘essential.’ Then you have something upon which you can trust with your very soul. Are you ready to accept Jesus as your all, unconditionally?
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“Although applied specifically to leaders here, why are these qualities important for all Christians?
“Of these qualities, what are two or three you have made progress with in the past year? In which area do you want to grow now? How can the group [or the church] help you in that process?”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
In my opinion, it is hard for someone to assess their own progress in achieving anything like these attributes or gifts of the Spirit or other ‘good qualities.’ These things are borne out in our attitudes, our words, and our behavior. I was in a Sunday school class on the works of the Holy Spirit. When it got around to “spiritual gifts,” one woman who never smiled (a constant holier than thou snarl) said that she was a great leader. I could imagine “bully,” but if she led, I would run the other way. Another spoke of being the greatest teacher that ever walked on the planet. Even excluding Jesus, the gentleman fell horribly short. Having listened to a few of his lectures, I would rather undergo root canals on every tooth in my mouth than to endure another of his lectures, yet, when he stepped away from the podium, he was a nice guy and very engaging and articulate. As for me, my wife asked me to read my latest post to her the other day when she was in the hospital with nothing to read. I found three typos in a published post. I was so embarrassed, and I might have missed even more as I read the post out loud. Might I consider myself a good writer or based on my mistakes, a lousy one? Others are better judges of such things.
Oddly, Screwtape, a famous senior demon, had the same idea.
“A man is not usually called upon to have an opinion of his own talents at all, since he can very well go on improving them to the best of his ability without deciding on his own precise niche in the temple of Fame.”
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.