1st Timothy 3
I feel it’s time for me to return to this series of posts, and try to offer some thoughts on what a Bible passages is saying to us today.
Previously in this series, we have reflected on the need for the Truth of God’s Word, and by that we mean the whole Bible. Then, we considered what it looks like to live as an ordinary Christian, and how this differs from the world around us.
Paul continues along this theme, but shifts his focus to those who are pursuing a call to Church leadership.
1. Qualities for Church Leadership (v. 1-13)
Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. (v.1)
This passage of the Bible speaks to me on a very personal level, as I approach the end of my training for full time ministry. It is helpful for me to reflect on the qualities I should expect of myself in order to be an effective and authentic Christian leader.
Paul speaks to two forms of Church leadership here:
- episkopos: This is usually translated as “overseer” or “elder”. The role of this Church leader is to have oversight of the affairs of the local Christian community. Although this word is applied to episcopal Church government, I find it difficult to justify any form of Church polity from these verses alone.
- diakonos: This carries connotations of a servant leadership. In the modern Church, deacons tend to follow this idea of a servant ministry: looking for ways to service others.
I would, however, argue that any form of ministry should contain elements from both: oversight and service. Certainly, this was the kind of leadership Jesus demonstrated: He led the disciples, He had oversight over them; but He was also keen to serve His disciples. A good example of this was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in John 13.
The qualities Paul highlights are fairly self-explanatory; there’s not much I can add by way of reflection! I would note that the expectations and qualities for overseers and deacons are very similar. From this section, and by way of summary, I think Paul suggests that the following qualities should be sought in a Church leader. He or she should:
- Be above reproach, self-controlled, respectable and hospitable;
- Faithful to his or her spouse (I know the text reads for male leaders, but I think this can be applied the other way to include women. See my previous post to explore a little about women in leadership);
- Be of a temperate nature;
- Able to teach;
- Not prone to drunkenness, violence, being quarrelsome, or loving money;
- Can manage his or her own family;
- Should not be a recent convert;
- Must have a good reputation with outsiders.
- Be sincere;
- Keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience;
- Must first be tested before being admitted to office.
This is quite an incredible and detailed list. It could almost put you off becoming a Church leader! What is clear, however, is that Paul believed there should be a fairly strict set of criteria which should be applied to Church leaders. The question is; why?
I believe the reason for such strict criteria is because of the recognition that Church leaders set examples to the rest of the Christian community. The sort of behaviour deemed acceptable or unacceptable for a follower of Jesus is often derived from what the Church leader does or does not do.
That is not to say that our faith or salvation is based on how we live. It is, however, the case that, once we begin following Jesus Christ, we are called to live in a way which reflects His ways, and we do this in response to the love God has shown us through Jesus.
If that is the case for the ordinary follower of Jesus, how much more for those in Church leadership? Just as Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to follow his example as they, in turn, try and follow Jesus’ example (1 Cor. 11:1), so people will look to us as Church leaders, trying to follow our example as they in turn try and follow Jesus.
It’s also worth noting the following from James :
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NIVUK)
Church leaders will be judged more strictly, and not just be those to whom they are accountable on earth. When we stand before God, He will ask us how we responded to his call to minister to His people! How we live will not affect our salvation (Christ has covered that completely!), but we should be prepared to give an account for how we live, as others will follow our example.
Why is Paul Writing? (v. 14-15)
As is often the case in Paul’s letters, he covers a range of issues. At this point in the letter, we are reaching a point where he is about to change gears and consider other matters. As he does this, he explains why he has written this letter to his friend:
I am writing to you with these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar of truth. (v. 14-15)
Who is Jesus? (v. 16)
Paul completes this section with a wonderful, short statement of who Jesus is. I think this speaks for itself:
He appeared in the flesh,
Was vindicated by the Spirit,
Was seen by angels,
Was preached among nations,
Was believed on in the world,
Was taken up in glory. (v.16)
This chapter should cause us to pause and consider how God is calling us to live, especially as Church leaders. This is of great importance, as others will follow our example. Yet, it is encouraging that this chapter ends with an allusion to the Gospel, as Paul reminds us exactly who Jesus is.