About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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1 Timothy 3

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Overseers And Deacons (ch. 3:1 - 16)


Paul opens chapter 3 by saying for the second time that “this is a trustworthy saying”.  Once again, remember that he is writing this instructive letter to Timothy so he will know how to carry out his duties in Ephesus .  Paul says, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task”.  Note a couple of things here.  One is the use of the word “overseer”.  Without taking the time to prove this, we should realize that overseers, bishops, pastors, elders and shepherds are five different words used for the same task in the New Testament.  Note also that they are always used in the plural.  At the time of Paul’s writings a group of men, here called “overseers”, cared for the church, who was God's people.  One man, or a board of directors who hires one man, did not take care of the church. 


Some have suggested with some validity that there may have well been two different formats for the church.  They were the Jewish format promoted by men like James and the Gentile format promoted by Paul.  It appears that James might have been a one man leader in the church in Jerusalem .  Yet when you see the churches described by Paul you see a group of men called elders that cared for the church.  James in his Jewishness may have stuck with the idea of “the high priest”, that is to say, “one man in charge”.  But it is clear from Paul’s writings that he desired a group of men caring for the church. 


I tend to think that there was a transitional period of time where the church moved from a specific style of Jewish leadership, as in the high priest being in charge, to more of an elder based style.  This elder based style was in effect in the Roman Empire , but was also an old Jewish concept as well.  Jewish men called elders would sit at the gate to the city and care for those in the city.  


Note also that Paul says that if you desire to be one of these overseers, you desire a good “task”.  This is in striking contrast to the KJV that says if you desire “the office of a bishop…”  The word office cannot be found in the original Greek.  This phrase in the KJV was most likely translated this way for political reasons.  It has been suggested that this is what King James wanted since the “office” was very important.  But Paul does not speak in terms of an “office of overseers”.  He speaks in terms of the “task” of overseers.  The emphasis is actually on doing the job of an overseer, not merely holding an office.  Just because you have the title of pastor, or you hold the office of pastor, does not mean you are a real pastor as Paul would view it.  Paul is not interested in the office of a pastor or overseer but doing the work of a pastor or an overseer.


Note that Paul says that "if anyone sets his heart…"   The task of overseeing is a matter of the heart.  It is not a career choice as is the case with many pastors today.  A real pastor cares for God's people as a loving father cares for his family.  One should not be a pastor without this heart-felt caring for God's people.   


So Paul says that if you want to do the work of an overseer, then you want to do a good thing.  Yet merely having the desire to be an overseer is not sufficient enough.  There are certain qualities you must possess in order to be an overseer.


In verses 2 and 3 Paul states these qualities. The first quality is being “above reproach”.  This means that your life must be seen as holy and Godly by those you are serving.  Nobody should be able to say that you are doing wrong and be able to prove it.


Then Paul says that “he” must be the husband of one wife”.  I believe that this means one wife at a time, not one wife in a lifetime. The reason for this is because an overseer must be a faithful man.  If he is not faithful to his wife, then he can’t be trusted to care for the church.


There might be another reason for Paul saying that an overseer must be the husband of one wife and that is in the Roman world in which these Christians lived, polygamy was a well established practice.  This would have been a problem as it is for missionaries today in certain parts of the world.  What should a man do when he becomes a Christian when he has more than one wife and children born from these wives?  The Scriptural norm is for a man to have just one wife, but how does he express agape love to all of his wives.  Should he divorce all but one wife?  What would happen to these women if he did that?  They would be in a very bad way. It might be possible that these men kept their wives, but since they had more than one wife, which would be unbiblical, then they couldn't be an overseer.   


Paul goes on to say that an overseer must be “temperate (not excessive in all you do), self controlled (able to control yourself and have nothing control you), respectable (hold the trust of those you serve), hospitable (friendly, welcoming others into your personal space), able to teach (teaching being very important in leading a church), not given to drunkenness (Greek, not given to excessive drinking, suggesting that it is okay to drink, but not to get drunk), not violent but gentle (a certain measure of gentleness should be the mark of a mature Christian), not quarrelsome (like the false teachers who like to argue, causing divisions), not a lover of money (money should not be the reason why you want to be an overseer, you should want to serve).


Verse 4 says, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect”.  Why is this important?  Because if anyone cannot manage his household, how can he manage, or care for the church.  Like the family, the church itself is a family.  Being an overseer is similar to being a father.  There are characteristics in both tasks that are the same. Thus an overseer must be a good father.


In verse 6 Paul says that he must not be a “recent convert” so he will not be overtaken by pride and ‘conceit”.  Being an overseer is a visible position in the church and it is clear that over the centuries that pride has crept in and destroyed not only the overseer but the church as well.  One must remember that an overseer is a servant, not a lord.  Paul uses some strong language on this point.  If one gets overtaken by pride then “he will fall into the same judgment as the devil”.  How many so-called Christian leaders will be thus judged in the same way the devil is judged?  This should be a serious reminder to all who are in leadership in the church.


Paul also says that “he must also have a good reputation with outsiders”.  "Outsiders" mean those who are not part of the church.  Not only should Christians respect him, but outsiders should respect him as well.  If outsiders do not respect him because of the offense of the gospel, that is okay, but they should not have occasion to bring true accusations   against him.  The gospel should be offense enough.  People should not have to be offended by the way we preach or share the gospel. 


The specific reason why Paul wants overseers to be respected by outsiders is so that “they will not fall into disgrace and the trap of the devil”.  For one who has authority over the devil, Paul is still concerned that people behave properly so that they will not fall under his influence or be trapped by him.  He can only trap us, if we let him. We have seen Christian leaders over the years fall into such a trap and have been disgraced before the whole world.  With today's media who jump on every fallen pastor, this is more important than ever before.


In some parts of Evangelicalism today, the devil is not spoken of much.  I don't suggest that we should talk about him, but we can't ignore him.  He is a living reality, but we're not always treating him in that way. 


There are two main Greek words that are translated as “servant” in the New Testament.  They are “doulous” and “diakanos”.  “Diakonos” means a bond servant, that is a servant by choice.  The word relates more to the master the person is serving than the job he is doing.  “Diakonos” means a servant as well, but is more related to the task of serving than to any individual.  Paul often calls himself a “doulos”, a servant of Jesus by choice. 


Here in verse 8 we see the English word “deacons”.  The Greek word that it comes from is “diakonos”, meaning a servant, relating to a task, not a person.  Paul lists the qualities that a deacon should have in the next few verses.  They are similar to that of the overseers.  Therefore by definition, a deacon is one who serves.


In Acts 6 we see the apostles being overworked and they decided that the local church should pick 7 men full of the Holy Spirit to distribute food to the poor saints, and to do other such work.  The apostles felt that they did not have the time to do these jobs as well as preach the gospel.  Although the text in Acts 6 does not call these men deacons, it appears by what they were doing they were deacons.


Paul says that these men should be worthy of respect (they should live a life that would make people think well of them), sincere (take their faith and work seriously), not indulging in much wine (could drink some but not to get drunk), not pursuing dishonest gain (not being greedy for money and trying to get it in wrong fashion), must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience (a love for the truth with a conscience that cannot tell him he is doing wrong).


In verse 10 Paul goes on to say that “they must first be tested and if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons”.  What kind of test these men had to go through, we don’t know.  Probably Paul left that up to the individual church or to Timothy.  The point is that these men had to be counted worthy by some standard in order to serve the church.


In verse 11 we note that wives of deacons must behave as women of the Lord.  They too must have similar qualities as their husbands, because they reflect him in his ministry, and possibly even help him.  


Concerning a deacon’s family, like overseers, they had to be a husband of one wife, who was properly submitted to him. His children had to respect him as well.  Once again, caring for the church is similar to caring for a family.


Caring for a family is a requirement for both overseers and deacons, therefore I would think that job of these duties would have to be done by a married man.  This is something that I believe the Catholic Church as really gone astray on.  I don't see the idea of priest being single as being Biblical.  I am speaking here of elders, those who care for those in the local church.  Paul would have preferred people to be single in order to devote their time more to Jesus and not to a family.  He says this in 1 Cor. 7, but I think his words here give an exception to what he said in 1 Cor. 7.   


In verse 14 Paul wanted to come and visit with Timothy, but in case he is delayed he says that he is writing these instructions for him to put into practice in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”.  For many reasons the church in our society is not looked upon with much respect.  Much of that is due to our own doing.  Yet in reality, the church is supposed to be the "pillar and foundation of truth” in the world.  That is not the case in our day.  It may have been the case in times past, when people looked to the church for their education, as well as other things. 


In the Old Testament the tabernacle and the temple were the centre of Jewish culture.  The same is meant to be true of the church.  The church should be the centre of our culture, which would include such things as education, the arts, health care, morals, and so on.   When I use the word "church" here, I'm not speaking of a denomination, or a building. I'm speaking of people, a community of people properly and Biblically relating and working with each other in the service of our Lord.    


Note the word "household" in verse 15.  The church is God's family.  We are God's children.  We belong to Him.  Therefore we should obey Him in matters of church life.  We should follow His instructions, but for the most part we don't.  Another thing to note concerning this, I often hear pastors calling those in the church "his people".  The people belong to God, not to the pastor.  The pastor only works on behalf of God to care for God's people.   


Paul closes this chapter in verse 16 with some very lofty words about Jesus.  He says, “Beyond all question (beyond any shadow of a doubt), the mystery of godliness is great; He (Jesus) appeared in a body, was vindicated (approved) by the Spirit (because of his signs and wonders), was seen by angels (as He lived His life out on earth), was preached among the nations (both by Himself and His apostles), was believed on in the world, was taken up into glory (the ascension).  You can certainly see by these words how Paul viewed Jesus.  Jesus was very personal to Paul.  He had a very high esteem for Him, and came from the deepest depths of his heart. 


The phrase "He (God) appeared in a body" is extremely important.  This speaks to the Deity of Christ.  Jesus being God is the most fundamental truth that Christians should hold dear to their hearts.  If Jesus is not God in a human body, then for many reasons, our Christian faith is in vain. 


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