1 Timothy 3:1-13
We need to recognize the fact that Scripture distinguishes between gift and office. Our risen, glorified Lord, we are told, has given gifts unto men. “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). These are divinely-given gifts for the edification of the church. It is God Himself who qualifies men for any of these particular lines of service. A man is not an evangelist because he goes to some school and develops a set technique and methods of preaching. A man is not necessarily a teacher of the Word because he takes some course of Bible instruction and then endeavors to pass on to others that which he has learned. But the risen Christ, by the Holy Spirit, qualifies men to do the work which He has for them. Never in Scripture do we have the least intimation that a man has to be humanly ordained in order that he may preach the gospel or teach the Word. We do not get anything like that in the Bible. It is the Lord Himself who gives the gifts. When He imparts the gift of preaching or teaching to any man, then the recipient is responsible to use his gift to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the most widely used ministers of the gospel that have ever lived were never ordained by man. Charles H. Spurgeon, pastor for many years of the great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, and one of the most outstanding Baptist preachers of his day, absolutely refused to be ordained by man. He utterly repudiated anything of the kind, saying the Lord Himself had ordained him and that was sufficient. D. L. Moody was never ordained by man, yet was a mighty evangelist who won thousands to Christ.
In Timothy’s own case there was undoubtedly some formal service participated in by Paul and the elders of Derbe and Lystra before he went forth with the Apostle in itinerant missionary work. This is generally spoken of as his ordination, and perhaps it is correct to so speak, but actually it was more in the nature of a commendation and expression of fellowship. In response to the prayers and the laying on of hands of Paul and the elders on that occasion, God gave to Timothy a special gift to qualify him for the ministry he was to perform.
In the present section of our epistle, 3:1-13, Paul gives by inspiration the qualifications for official position in the local church. The officers may or may not be men of special gift. They must be men of sincere piety and exemplary lives. Verses 1-7 have to do with the selection of bishops, or overseers, and verses 8-13 with that of deacons, or servants.
Scripture recognizes these two offices in the church. Bishops and elders are one and the same, as a careful examination of certain passages will show.
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” We see both offices in the book of Acts and also in the Epistles, and these elders and deacons are definitely appointed by the church. In the case of elders they were ordained by the apostles or by apostolic authority. The word ordained does not necessarily mean all that we sometimes put into it. We read, “Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor. 16:15). The word rendered “addicted” is the same as that rendered “ordained” elsewhere.
First then notice what is said of those who are called bishops.
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil, (vv. 1-7)
“This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” The word translated “bishop” means “overseer.” If we turn to the epistle to Titus, we see that an elder and bishop are one and the same, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: … For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre” (1:5, 7). You see the Apostle is saying to Titus, “Now Titus, in order to complete the organization of the churches in Crete, you go from church to church and select out of the fellowship of your brethren suitable men to be ordained as elders in each of these churches.” Then he gives the qualifications of a bishop. In verse 5 the word elders is used, and in verse 7 they are called bishops. Elders implies they are to be men of mature years. But the other term bishops means that they are to be competent to bear rule in the church of God.
You will never find anything like the modern bishop in the Bible. A bishop today, both in the Roman Catholic Church and in other churches which came out of Rome, is one of superior rank set in authority over other ministers. But there is no such idea as that in Scripture. In Acts 20 we find a number of bishops in one church, instead of one bishop set over many churches. In verse 17 the Apostle is addressing the elders of the church, and in verse 28 he says to them, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” The word overseers is a translation of the same word rendered bishops, so he says to these elders that they are to take care of the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit has made them bishops.
A great many things have come into the professing church for which there is no warrant in Scripture but which people take for granted. In certain organizations you have first a lower order of clergy called deacons, then a higher order called elders, and the highest of all called bishops. Some recognize even a higher order than these called archbishops, and then a few are selected from the archbishops, given red hats, and called cardinals. All that came in as a result of the church’s departure from its early simplicity and of its imitation of the ways of the pagan systems.
What we need to keep in mind is that elders and bishops are one and the same. In the local church these are responsible for the spiritual affairs of the church, and we learn here the type of men that should be selected for this office.
Go back to verse 2: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife.” Do not misunderstand. The Apostle does not mean that a bishop must be sinless. If so, we could not have any bishops. Charles Spurgeon said a certain man whom he knew at one time was very pious. Mr. Spurgeon said he thought the man was practically sinless, until one day he said he was. Then Mr. Spurgeon knew he was not. A bishop must be a man of pure motives who desires to glorify our blessed Lord. He must be “blameless” as to motives. Then he is to be “the husband of one wife.” It is amazing to think that in one of our great religious systems they hold that a clergyman of any character must have no wife. Scripture distinctly states that a bishop is to be “the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” Those who hold the office of bishop are to be men who are interested in showing forth to others the grace of God in their Christian testimony. And, if God gives them a special gift, they are to use that gift in teaching the Word, not depending upon stimulants for inspiration but upon the Holy Spirit of God. They are to manifest a kindly interest in their brethren and in all men: “no striker,” not one who readily loses his temper; “not a brawler,” not quarrelsome; “not covetous,” or a lover of money.
“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?).” This is a very important qualification. We have often seen men aspiring to this office in the church whose children were a disgrace to them because of their willfulness and worldly ways. But the man who is fitted to have oversight in the church of God is one who has proven his ability to shepherd others by the way he rules his own household.
“Not a novice [not a new convert], lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The Devil fell through pride. He was created a glorious angel, Lucifer, but his heart was lifted up with pride, and because of that he rebelled against God and fell. He who was one of the anointed cherubim of the throne of God is now “that old serpent, the devil, and Satan.” So the Apostle warns of the danger of selecting one who has been converted recently, and putting him in the special position of bishop, lest he be lifted up with pride.
“Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” Men chosen for bishops are to be of such character that even the people of the world can look up to them and see in them what Christians ought to be.
Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus, (vv. 8-13)
Here we have the qualifications of a deacon. The word deacon really means “servant,” or “minister,” and a deacon is to take care of the temporal affairs of the church of God. All who are deacons do not bear the title. For instance, a treasurer is a deacon, ushers are deacons, the men who look after the building, the trustees, are all deacons according to the Word of God. In Acts 6 we read of the first deacons. Seven men of honest report were chosen to take care of the distribution of the funds and the ministering to the poor and needy saints of Jerusalem. The word rendered “ministration” in Acts 6:1 is diakonia. Those who attended to this work were deacons, therefore.
In Romans 16 we find the feminine word for deacon. The Apostle sent his letter to the Romans by the hand of a lady who was traveling to Rome, and he calls her “Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1), literally, “a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea.” She served the church. So a woman who serves the church is called, in Scripture, a “deaconess.”
Deacons must “be grave,” not given to frivolity, but realizing the seriousness of the work they are to undertake. “Not doubletongued”—one who will say one thing to one person and the opposite to someone else is double tongued. A deacon must be a man whose words can be depended upon. “Not given to much wine,” not exhilarated by stimulants. “Not greedy of filthy lucre,” not men who are seeking to enrich themselves.
“Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” That is, they must be converted men, who, having received Christ, are faithful to the truth of God and obey His Word, ever seeking to maintain a pure conscience.
Next the Apostle mentions the wives of the deacons. Inasmuch as the deacons have to do with the temporal affairs of the church, their wives are likely to cause endless trouble unless they are wise, godly women. If the wife is a busybody she can destroy very easily her husband’s influence for good. So the Apostle says, “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” The word for “slanderers” is the plural for “devil”—that is, “she-devil.” The Devil is the great slanderer. And the deacon’s wife must be one who is not characterized by anything like that. “Sober, faithful in all things.” A wife like this is a great asset to any man.
Reverting to the deacons, Paul says, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” You get the same qualifications for those in charge of the temporal affairs of the church as for those who oversee its spiritual affairs. They must be men who maintain good order in their own houses.
Then in verse 13 he has a very nice thing to say for the encouragement of the deacons, “They that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, they who have delighted to serve the people of God, they who have had a real heart interest in the work of the church to the glory of God, they that have used their office unselfishly and faithfully “purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
We have that illustrated in a very remarkable way in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Among the seven deacons appointed on the occasion to which we have referred already were Stephen and Philip. Not long after Stephen’s appointment as deacon we find him being led out by the Spirit of God to preach the Word and going from synagogue to synagogue in Jerusalem, proclaiming the truth that Jesus was the Christ. He had used well his office as a deacon. He had purchased to himself a good degree, and he was honored by becoming the first martyr who laid down his life for Christ’s sake. Philip also used well his office of a deacon. Later on we learn that he went down to Samaria and there preached the Word, and many of the Samaritans believed and were baptized. He became known as an evangelist. It was he who was used to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace. And in later years we find Philip in Cesarea maintaining a testimony for God.
We may not all hold official position, but we are all to serve according to the gift given by the grace of God, and we are responsible to be faithful in whatsoever place the Lord has set us. But those chosen or recognized by their brethren as fit to be trusted with special responsibilities in the church need special grace for the work they have to do.