3 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 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. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
The “overseer” is a leader in the church. Without going into a detailed explanation, 1 Peter 5:1-4 shows that an overseer (translated as “bishop” in some older translations) is also a pastor or an elder – the terms seem to be interchangeable. Be that as it may, Paul has been writing to Timothy about how the church is to be organised [3:15]. Leadership is vital to the good functioning of the church, “the pillar and foundation of the truth” [3:15]. Paul lists some of the qualities expected in a leader, although the list is not exhaustive because he mentions some qualities when he discusses deacons a little late one in the passage that he hasn’t covered for overseers, and you’d expect the same to apply to both – as is suggested by Paul’s use of the word “likewise” when he discusses deacons form verse 8.
Although the Bible teaches the priesthood of all believers, church leaders must meet a standard of godliness before they can be appointed to this “noble task.” [3:1] The overseer must be “above reproach”. That is, their reputation both in the church and outside must be such that no reasonable charge of hypocrisy can be brought against them. All Christian should live lives beyond reproach but there is a higher standard for church leaders [James 3:1] and that is why most Christian denominations have a strict ordination process and put their stamp of approval on a select few to teach the word and lead in their denomination. Part of the reason is that Christian leaders are meant to be models for people to follow. We can see the reason for this when we see the damage that is caused not just to the church where the leader is disgraced, but for the reputation of the wider church as well. The standard for being above reproach within the church will always be guided by the Scriptures, but the standard for those outside it will vary with the culture of the day. There will be some things that leaders do and say in upholding the Bible that will be seen badly in the culture around them, but that they must uphold in obedience to their Lord.
Paul then goes on to list some of the things that will disqualify an overseer from office. Check out the list in verses 2-6 and you’ll see some things that would not disqualify someone from leadership in the eyes of our world at large. Does anything in the list surprise you?
Paul isn’t telling Timothy to look for perfection in his leaders, but to look for leaders who will not bring the good news into ill-repute because of their character or behaviour.
We ought to be praying for our church leaders that they be godly people and stand up for the Word of God even in the light of harsh opposition from the world around them.
God of all holiness and purity, keep our leaders from harm and from temptation. Help me to be a disciple of integrity and keep me from words and actions that would cause others to stumble. Amen
8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, the women[c] are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul having dealt with leaders in the church, pastors and elders, move on to deacons. What is a deacon? Well notice here that, unlike the overseer, the deacon does not seem to have teaching as part of the role, although they may preach, like Stephen.
In Acts 6 the early Jerusalem church appoints people to administer the weekly distribution of aid to the poor and needy in the church, enabling the overseers to get on with prayer and the word. Although they are not described as deacons, there has been early attribution of the term to that role, and they were to ‘deacon’ tables, the word deacon meaning ‘servant’.
It would seem that the deacon looks after the physical and administrative matters of the church. It would also seem that women are included in the role of deacon.
What does this mean for the church today? Do these standards apply to all people in any sort of leadership positions in the church? Does it, for instance, include youth leaders, growth group leaders, musicians, parish councillors, Sunday school teachers, service leaders and other positions of some authority in the church? Does it apply to administrative staff?
It seems that before appointing people to certain positions in the church we must consider whether or not people in that position are seen as models of Christian living. If the answer is ‘yes’, then we need to make sure that they measure up to the standards Paul sets out here. Will their way of life negatively affect the faith of others or hold the gospel or the church up to ridicule or the charge of hypocrisy? Is it OK to appoint those who aren’t Christians to any roles at all within the church?
It must also apply to those already in leadership roles. We should ask people to stand down from certain roles if their way of life is not a good model for others to follow? This is not being judgmental, although it does involve judging [1 Cor 5:12]. Being judgmental is unlovingly writing people off, judging is lovingly assessing and correcting behaviour, being humbly aware of our own sin and failure [Matt 7:1-3; 2 Tim 4:2]. People’s eternity may be in the balance, and the name of Christ may be blackened [Romans 2:24].
Lord God, please provide us with godly men and women to lead the various ministries in our church and protect them from sin. Amen
14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 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.
This passage makes it clear that what Paul not just speaking to a specific context or a local problem but is giving general instructions for all churches.
He describes the church in two ways: it is God’s household and it is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
God’s household – what an extraordinary description. In the culture of the day people lived in large households, [not necessarily large houses] with an extended family and the patriarch the head of the household. It would consist of the patriarch’s wife and children, his family, household servants and other members such as widows and unmarried women members of his family. This makes even more sense of the need for an overseer to manage his family well [3:4]. In this letter Paul sets out the household rules focussing on “the church at large [2:1-7], men and women [2:8-15], elders/overseers [3:1-7], deacons [3:8-13], Timothy himself as the servant of Christ Jesus [Chapter 4], different age groups [5:1-2], widows [5:3-16], elders [5:17-25], and slaves [6:1-2] with occasional general instructions interspersed” [Andreas Köstenberger]. The church is God’s household. He is the patriarch and we live under his care and protection.
The pillar and foundation of the truth – if anything, that is an even more extraordinary description of the church. You’d expect it to say that the truth is the foundation of the church, but it doesn’t. The church in Ephesus, where Timothy is the leader, was no longer teaching truth but error [1:3-7], and so was in danger of no longer being the household of God. It should be the pillar upholding the truth of the gospel, and the “buttress of the truth”, as it is put in the ESV translation. How do you know if a church is the household of God and not a counterfeit church? Ask yourself, “Is it a buttress for the truth?”. Does it prohibit false teaching? We keep coming back to this, but what is the measure of the truth? If we move away from the inspiration of scripture; if we find ways to get around the clear teaching of the Bible, then our standard of truth is dependent on our world view. I was watching TV this morning and the furore over Williams dissing of Prince Charles’ parenting skills, and the host said, “well that is his truth.” Can we regard the Scriptures this way? Is it legitimate, as some do for instance, to dismiss the Old Testament depiction of God as primitive and no longer appropriate for New Testament believers, or to disregard the Bible’s teaching about gender and sexuality in the light of modern cultural trends? This latter is gospel issue, for to continue in sin without repentance is to disbar yourself from the household of God [Rom 1:16-2:2]. This is not a call to hold to biblical precepts in contradiction of scientific truth because science has not disproved anything the Bible says, despite the claims of some.
How does this description of the church affect you? Does it fill you with incredulity? Do you think “Really? That is not how I view my church as I look around on a Sunday.” I wonder if God have a higher view of the church than we church members do.
How does this view of church affect your attitude towards the meeting of the saints?
God of truth, help me to cleave to the truth of your word, for you have the words of eternal life. Amen
16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,[d]
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
The heart of the household of God is truth taught, not just truth. Paul’s concern is not just for church order but for church order and health in order for the gospel to go out [2:3]. It’s assumed that this passage is a hymn or a creed. Many claim that the first line is a quote from the false teachers – Paul is saying the mystery that you, the false teachers, claim you know is really this – it’s the gospel. It’s not about “myths and old wives' tales” [4:7], or “endless genealogies” [1:4], or even the law [1:7]. No, the “mystery” is no mystery at all, but it is all about the God who came to earth as a man. The open secret is that God brings Jews and gentiles together in the gospel of Jesus [Eph 3:4]. That is the message for the world, the message that “was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world”. The hymn doesn’t set out the full message of the gospel, that is not Paul’s aim here, rather it is stating that the gospel is preached to all nations, that all would be saved. The goal of church life is to reach out with the good news. As Dick Lucas points out, the false teachers wanted to make people more Jewish, Paul wants people to be more missional. [Sermon buy Dick Lucas The Gospel Coalition Resource Library , 1988]
“Appeared in the flesh, vindicate by the Spirit”. There is no antithesis between flesh and spirit. Christ was righteous while in the flesh. True spirituality does not deny the flesh. It does not withdraw from the world but moves into it, as did Jesus who was the friend of sinners. The retreat movement is good and helpful if it strengthens and equips us to go back into the world as Christ’s emissaries.
“was seen by angels, was preached among the nations”. Matthew 28:2-10, tells us that the angels were present at the resurrection, and in v 11-20 when the disciples see the risen Lord, they receive The Great Commission. The result of seeing the risen Christ is the spread of the good news. Seeing Jesus does not result in some sort of personal revelation and that edifies the soul, although that might happen, but rather it issues in the desire to spread the gospel. There is a movement in Christian circles to pursue “personal encounters” with God; to experience the activity of the holy spirit, to seek relational intimacy, and all that is well and good, but true encounters with the risen Christ will lead to evangelism. “Do you want a manifestation of the Spirit? You’ll see that in flesh. You’ll see that in working as Christ worked. Do you want to see God, do you want to encounter God, you’ll see that not in contemplative prayer but in evangelistic enterprise, that’s where you’ll see the Lord.” [Dick Lucas supra]
“was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
Where is the glory of the church to be found? In her history? In her wonderful architecture? In her social service? In her great saints of the past? In her ministries? It’s found in Christ.
In what do we glory at our church? In what we do glory as individuals? Our abilities? Our looks? We glory in Christ. And Christ is glorified when he is believed on in the world.
Lord God, help me to glory in you. Help me to find my value and my joy in you. Amen
4 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Here we get another glimpse into the false teaching that was tearing the church apart in Ephesus. “ 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods,”. Whatever the teaching was it was legalistic. It seems to be centred around a Jewish core [1:7-10], but with other flavours added. Paul calls them “Things taught by demons” not that the content was about demons and evil, but rather the source of the false teaching is the evil one and his minions [John 8:44-47].
The false teaching was a religion of denial [do not touch, do not taste etc Col 2:21]. Paul is not denying the need to be self-disciplined, or self-denying, which Paul advocates in the very next part of ch. 4 [4:7-8], but rather his is critical of religion that calls things bad that God has declared to be good and says that denial of these things is essential to faith. As we saw in yesterday’s devotion, the only thing essential for the believer is Christ, and that involves an embracing of all the good things God offers in Christ rather than a denial.
It is such a terrible thing that those who have abandoned the faith and teach things taught by demons, haven’t in this case abandoned the church. They are still involved and because of that their influence can cause problems. They are spreading their lies. At least in the case in Timothy the false teachers knew what they were doing and had ulterior motives [4:2] The even great danger is those who spread false teaching and think they are doing good by it. They can be well-meaning, thinking that they are making the gospel more attractive to people. You can see it in the Christian church today, with people spruiking things like “The secret to intimacy with God”, or “the 5 steps to a deeper spiritual life” [I made those titles up]. They may be fine but If they are teaching that there are some rules that need to be obeyed, some secret knowledge or trick to be gained, then they are taking the glory away from Jesus. The drift can be real but imperceptible for even the keenest of disciples. There is always a tendency to think that we can somehow earn God’s love – that our religion would be more real and vital if only we did this or that. Retreats and self-reflection and solitude and spiritual disciples can be helpful if they point us back to Christ as the fulfilment of all that God has for us. Eph 1 says “We have been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” [Eph 1:3]. If you have Christ, you have it all. The secret, that’s not a secret, is more of Christ.
“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving”. God expresses the same thing to Peter in Acts 10:9-15. Receiving God’s good things with thanksgiving is the way of God’s people.
God of all joy, keep my heart and mind filled with Christ. Amen