Bishops and Deacons
1 Timothy 3:1-13
In this section, Paul is still concerned for the
reputation of the church. He understands that the pagan will not
consider the Gospel if the church seems to him composed of either
radicals foaming at the mouth or pious sounding hypocrites. In the
last chapter he approached this for the church in general; in this
section he approaches this concern for those in authority over the
church. He knows quite well that the church is known by its leaders
as well as its followers. Even in our day the character of a
president is often taken to be the character of the nation.
This is the point of this section. Therefore,
Paul omits some things that might otherwise be logical points. Would
you appoint an elder (or bishop, or episcopate, or overseer – your
choice of word) who did not have an active prayer life? Of course
not. But Paul doesn’t mention it here. He is focusing on that which
can be observed by those outside the church.
But note, please, that such things can also be
observed by those inside the church. Those under the authority of
the elders expect those elders to behave themselves in exemplary
Both points can be seen in contemporary newspaper
practice. If a criminal story has a culprit who is a church member,
that fact is mentioned prominently in the news article. The world
expects better of us. But if that culprit is a deacon or elder (or
minister, or …) in the church, it makes the headline. Why? Because
the world expects the church to model the standards it teaches.
Which, it seems to me, is a reasonable expectation.
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office
of overseer, it is a fine work he desires
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not
addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the
love of money. He
must be one who manages his own
household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how
will he take care of the church of God?), and
not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall
into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good
reputation with those outside
so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
(1Ti 3:1-7 NASB)
A fine work
Whether you call them bishops, elders, overseers,
episcopates or whatever, they are the spiritual leaders of the
church. Spiritual leadership has a temporal dimension to it:
First, let us kindly understand
that it is work. It is not a title of a prince but of a
As such, it is a title worthy of
honor. With authority comes responsibility. With
responsibility comes work. When done as our Lord commands,
such work is worthy of honor.
Attributes of all Christians
Most of what Paul lists as the attributes of a
bishop can also be said to be attributes of any good Christian. This
is not surprising; he is talking about the external, visible habits.
Here’s a short summary of same:
Above reproach. It’s a
generic term, but its technical meaning is that there are no
warrants out for his arrest.
Husband of one wife. In
our terms, someone not given to serial monogamy and a string
of trophy wives.
Temperate. The word can
be translated “sober” or “vigilant.” This is a man who is on
Prudent. This must be a
man who is discreet, and a man who is careful in his
handling of the things of this world.
Respectable. It comes
from the root word which means “orderly.” This is a man who
does things in such way as to command respect. His business
deals are open and honest.
Hospitable. This is a man
whose home welcomes strangers and travelers in the name of
Able to teach. Sometimes
misinterpreted to require an elder to teach, it simply means
one who has the knowledge necessary to be a teacher of the
Not addicted to wine.
Would you respect an alcoholic bishop?
Not pugnacious. This
should not be a man who’s ready to settle any point of
dispute by stepping into the back alley.
Gentle. A harsh man stirs
up anger, but a gentle man who speaks with dignity commands
Peaceable. The opposite
of pugnacious, it means a man who prefers to speak peace at
all times. It is surprising how the world recognizes such so
Free from the love of money.
To chase money is to chase that which will be of no
importance when you are dead. The question is not whether or
not you are rich; the question is whether or not “more” is
Attributes of the elder
Likewise, there are some things which seem to be
requirements for being an elder which we might not insist upon for
the average Christian:
Manages his own household
well. As Paul points out, if he can’t manage one
household, how would you expect him to manage a church?
A good reputation outside.
You may have come to Christ from a very disreputable
background. So that the church will not gain a reputation
for such (even if undeserved) the elder must have a good
Not a novice. The word is
the one from which we get “neophyte.” Note that this does
not prohibit young men from the position – but those who
beginning the Christian life. The reason is fairly clear;
such a person might get conceited and proud – and pride is
the Devil’s grip on your throat. Do not give Satan the
handle to twist you about.
1 Timothy 3:8-13 NASB
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or
addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, (9) but holding to the
mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (10) These men must
also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are
beyond reproach. (11) Women must likewise be dignified, not
malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. (12)
Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of
their children and their own households. (13) For those who have
served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and
great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Deacons were first used for the purpose of
distributing food to widows in a fair manner. They are traditionally
charged with the handling of things temporal in the church.
Paul lists many of the same qualifications, but
adds a couple of items which are of interest:
Not double-tongued. The
word in the Greek is dilogos, meaning one who has two
logos – the word they used for the Word. In short,
your story on Monday should match your story on Sunday.
Not fond of sordid gain.
We spoke of money before, but this tends more to the way in
which you make money. Do you lie, cheat and steal to earn
your daily bread?
Unique to Deacons
There are two characteristics which are unique to
the deacon. The first is that they must be tested before becoming a
deacon – in other words, will they be able to handle the chores
given to them? I would make a very poor deacon indeed were I charged
with the church’s carpentry. One eyed men have much difficulty with
this hammer and nails thing.
The most surprising thing is that deacons can be
female. The Bible is plain in telling us that there were
deaconesses. So it would seem that the temporal authority of the
deacon is exempt from the rule which disallows women to have
authority over men. But in matters spiritual, the man is intended to
There are some general principles which this
passage highlights to us.
Remember who is watching
Christians do not live in a vacuum. They are in
the world but not of the world. So we need to pay heed to who is
watching our conduct:
First, the world outside is
examining us. They are quick to spot hypocrisy. It takes a
little longer to recognize something as genuine. Have you
given those around you a reason to believe that Christians
Then, there are those in the
church who are watching too. Your students are particularly
good at this – whether they are adults or three year old
If that were not sufficient,
remember that our Lord Himself is examining your conduct.
Christian liberty and voluntary restraint
There are many things which it is lawful for me
to do; some of that many are those things which might bring the
church into disrepute in the worlds eye. Others might cause my
brother to stumble. If I might suggest:
Paul said he was all things to
all men so that by all means he might win some to Jesus
Christ. Are we willing to lay aside our freedom so that
others might know salvation?
Even aside from evangelism,
there is this: you are the model of Christ. It is therefore
necessary for you to be an accurate model of Christ, lest
the world be misled about Him.
Sadly, it is often true that the church does not
behave this way. Chrysostom lived in a time very much like ours:
…/ (T)hose who are taught, look to the virtue of
their teachers: and when they see us manifesting the same desires,
pursuing the same objects, power and honor, how can they admire
Christianity? They see our lives open to reproach, our souls
worldly. We admire wealth equally with them, and even more. We have
the same horror of death, the same dread of poverty, the same
impatience of disease, we are equally fond of glory and of rule. We
harass ourselves to death from our love of money, and serve the
time. How then can they believe? From miracles? But these are no
longer wrought. From our conversation? It has become corrupt. From
charity? Not a trace of it is anywhere to be seen. Therefore we
shall have to give an account not only of our own sins, but of the
injury done by them to others.
Live so that God is not blasphemed
There must be a balance struck.
Don’t concern yourself with your
reputation among human beings; we are all but dust. You
cannot stop the slanderers; but your conduct can shame them.
In balance, live your life so
that the slanderers have no opportunity to slander the
church by what you do.
Remember, please: You are the light of the world.
You are meant to be seen by others in this world. This is commanded,
and our Lord will hold you responsible for your sins – and the
injury your sins have done to others.
 We might point out, ladies, that this might
well be one of those cases where God has chosen out a group for a
particular distinction not because of their innate qualifications,
but merely to indicate that no one is good enough to hold the job –
therefore God uses some other, arbitrary criterion. An example is
the Old Testament priest. He had to be a male descendant of the
tribe of Levi. Why Levi? Why not? It was God’s way of saying that no
one is good enough in themselves to be a priest.