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First Timothy

Bishops and Deacons

1 Timothy 3:1-13

 Lesson audioIn 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 fashion.

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 to do. 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 laborer.

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 the alert.

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 Christ.

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 Scriptures.

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 respect.

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 quickly.

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 your goal.

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 reputation.

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 rule.

General Principles

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 are different?

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 children.

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.

[1] 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.

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