Recall from our previous studies that we have to understand the historical context of the letter that is written so that we may understand what is being said, and sometimes it makes the Scripture even more relevant to what is going on in our lives as we begin to see what is really being addressed and what is actually being said. We will consider this here, and concerning these Pastoral Epistles, that will involve some controversy as it turns out.
There are several attacks on the authorship of these letters, and it is more practical to deal with them all at once, because they are the same for each letter. There are four primary areas of attack:
- The letters cannot be attached to the known history of the book of Acts. (These letters make more sense if Paul was released after his imprisonment at the end of the book of Acts.)
- Attempts to confuse the relationship between Paul and Timothy. (Attempts to make these guys seem like co-conspirators in constructing a false religion.)
- Different tone, style, and vocabulary in these letters argue different authorship. (Paul uses different tones in the letters he writes in the letters that nearly no one disputes authorship of, e.g., Philippians and Galatians or Colossians.)
- Specific heresies and ecclesiastical structure too advanced for the time period. (All heresies started somewhere. They didn’t have names here because Paul was perhaps dealing with things for the first time in these letters.)
Commentators are divided on the authorship of these letters, because of certain things we simply do not know historically from those days. Some (usually more liberal scholars trying to attack the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture) have taken this as an occasion to insist that Paul did not write these letters (not including Philemon, which includes personal details of events that make this kind of thing impossible). For example, Marcion, who rejected the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament portion of our Bible) and the God of Israel because of the wrathful aspects of His nature, did not include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in his canon EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW OF THE LETTERS. Marcion rejected these letters as inspired because they didn’t line up with what he believed, and I need to point this out because it is a real danger for those who study the word – that we let our presuppositions dictate our understanding rather than the other way around.. Let’s take that as a caution not to do the same, especially in this day of compromise for the sake of so-called social justice which really is a Marxist model for social change, and is well removed from real Christianity. We can get into that another time.
In Chapter 1, we looked at the introduction of Paul and noted it was very short, marking his familiarity with the recipient Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to stay on at Ephesus where he was, suggesting the Timothy was perhaps looking to leave Ephesus to other, greener pastures, so to speak. In fact, Timothy had a difficult job there at Ephesus, because things had, like Paul had said before his first imprisonment, wicked men had arisen, some from within, some from without, leading the flock of Ephesus astray from their first love, Christ. These false teachers and brethren spoke from a seared conscience, and had begun to turn to myths and genealogies. There were both Jewish and Gentile components to this false teaching, and already most of the components of what would later be called Gnosticism were already in place. Paul had already dealt with these things in some measure in his letter to the Colossians, so modern critics who claim that Paul could not have authored this letter because he was addressing Gnosticism which didn’t come along until the second century clearly have ignored Colossians, of which no one disputes the authorship. (When liberal scholars aren’t consistent, it makes my life easier, because I can easily identify the error, and then communicate it to you!)
Paul instead refers Timothy to Paul’s own testimony to give the main point of Christianity – God reconciles the worst sinners to Himself to show that the way is open for everyone that will accept that Jesus paid the price of redemption for them personally, and that is worth all the fight we can muster. Some had given up that fight, and had suffered shipwreck of their faith, and Paul even named examples of two such men, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who he said had been delivered to Satan so they might be taught not to misuse the name of the Lord.
In Chapter 2, the conversation talks about the need to pray for all men, especially our leaders – in that time, Caesar Nero. That was convicting to me personally, because I do not like politics or those who lead political parties, sometimes at cross-purposes to the Everlasting God. However, Paul instructs Timothy to have the people pray evangelistically for everyone. The chapter then turns to what some have called regulative principle, although I believe it is much more if it is in the writ of Scripture. We discussed what it meant on the spectrum of gender relations, and identified four basic positions, rejected the two extremes as not Biblical, and presented the two outlooks of the main camps of opinion on the interpretation of Scripture, and then asked you to make up your own mind, with the thought that it is a spectrum, and one need not necessarily be restricted to one camp. For example, it is possible to be egalitarian with complementarian leanings, at least for short periods of time. Whatever your position, I will repeat my earlier warning, not to let your presuppositions colour your understanding of Scripture, but to read what it says and then make up your own mind in concord with the Holy Spirit. This is important here, because whatever way you understand Chapter 2, will influence your understanding of Chapter 3 in some way.
That brings us to today’s chapter, but before we begin, I feel the obligation to inform you that there are again things that people don’t like to talk about, and certainly things over which Christians disagree. Chapters like this are why I include this kind of disclaimer – don’t believe a word I say. Read it for yourself, pray that the Lord would show you the truth of the matter, and then do your own research. Don’t criticize what I have to say before doing your own work and reaching your own conclusions. I’m not asking you to agree with me, and I will state for the record that I am willing to change if I hear a compelling enough argument.
So, Chapter 3.
1: It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
- It is useful to remember here that the chapter divisions and verse divisions we use in Scripture are for easy reference, and are not part of the inspiration of Scripture. This follows from the concept introduced in Chapter 2 about expected behaviour in the Church, of roles and responsibilities. So far, we have covered men and women, and now we are launching into the definition of the leadership of the Church. We may use different words today, but the job descriptions given here are the same.
- It is a trustworthy statement. This is something Paul uses five times in his writings, and only in his letters to Timothy. It is reminiscent to me of my 3rd-year Cytology professor – he had a phrase he used when he considered it important enough for us to commit to memory – “This will be on the test.” He is indicating by his use of the phrase that it is important enough to take notes.
- If any man [tis, anyone; the word is used regardless of gender] aspires [oregetai, has a strong yearning for, or strong desire for] to the “office of overseer” [episkopos, role of oversight; translated by some as bishop]. I must pause here long enough to say that this is not a title, it is a job description.
- He desires a fine work. Fine here is the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful, or refined. It isn’t just good in the moral sense, it is also aesthetically pleasing. Desire here is the Greek epithumeo, which has a worldly use (lust, covetousness) and a spiritual use (godly desire). We trust because of the context of the subject matter, this is the spiritual use. Paul launches at this point into a list of qualifications. It is my opinion that this is what God wants for ALL believers, but what leaders of the Church MUST have.
2: An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
- The very first qualification? The overseer must be above reproach [anepilemptos, without blame]. He must be blameless. I once heard a phrase that you might recognize: avoiding the appearance of evil. Yeah, Paul wrote that too – to the church at Thessalonica (5:22). And I think this verse is understood even more clearly if the rest of the list is seen as the categories where the leader must be blameless.
- The husband of one wife. This has been better translated as “one-woman man.” this isn’t talking specifically about his past marital history, there are circumstances in Scripture that can allow for a person to marry again, like the untimely death of a spouse. There are others, and I’m not going to go into detail, or we will be here for more than our allotted time. The one thing this isn’t talking about is polygamy – that would have disqualified you from the church in those days to begin with, and from what we know archaeologically about Ephesus, that issue wasn’t even on the radar. Even the sexually active Ephesians only had one relationship at a time. Polyamory wasn’t a thing either.
- [nephalios, the word literally means empty of wine]. This isn’t speaking so much of sobriety, that is dealt with in the next verse, but rather of self-control. What does such an individual give themselves to? Are there dissipating influences in their life? Are there things that they do not control or that control them instead of the Spirit of God?
- [sophron, of sound mind, self-controlled, self-disciplined] This is similar to temperate in the sense that is speaks to dissipating influences, but this is more speaking of how the individual controls himself, rather than outside controlling influences. It also speaks to a habit of self-control, disciplining themselves in all things they do.
- [kosmios, orderly]. This speaks to his lifestyle, not just his thought processes. It goes without saying that an overseer should have logical thought processes. But there are other things that can be indicators, and this verse is already laying down some of those areas. Does is the individual at time management, for example?
- [philoxenos, loving strangers]. This isn’t so much that they invite people over to their home all the time, though that can be true, but rather, in the words of folks in my hometown, they never met a stranger. Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt until the give reason not to have it. Generosity is a part of that, wanting to see their benefit is another part of it.
- Able to teach. [didaktikos, skilled at teaching]. This does not mean they would be a great math teacher or driving instructor. This speaks specifically about teaching the Scriptures and what they say to us. It is the kind of skill that transmits spiritual truth and calls people to life action as a result.
3: not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
- Not addicted to wine. [paroinon, not a drinker]. This again isn’t referring to sobriety itself, but a lifestyle. The Overseer of the Church shouldn’t be hanging around in bars or smoke-up rooms (and that’s just a matter of time here in Canada at this point). I want to say a word here about this “reformed pub” I have heard about. This is where so-called reformed brothers hang around and sample various malted beverages and practice their so-called liberty to drink and smoke cigars. This kind of behaviour in your so-called pubs is a disqualifying characteristic for you being in church leadership. That’s what Paul says. And as for your standing in your so-called “Christian liberty,” it is all for nothing if you offend somebody, even by your explaining it. What if your brother is an alcoholic from before He was saved? And before you say “all things are new, we are new creatures in Christ,” that’s true – but we are still trapped in this sinful bag of flesh, and your brother is still an alcoholic, and will be until the day he dies because of that. You really want to stumble that brother?
- [plektes, a striker] The image is one who uses his fists or feet to strike another person. Again, this isn’t talking about skill with fists, this is talking about lifestyle. When this individual gets into a confrontation, is his first (or any) play to go to his martial arts skills? I’m not decrying martial arts, by the way, I hold advanced belts in Judo, I was on the wrestling team in high school, and I hold belts in Jiu-jitsu and Kung Fu. But I haven’t used those skills outside the dojo in more than 35 years.
- Instead, the list of lifestyle qualifications turns to what character SHOULD be present, not what should be absent. [epieikes, seemly, equitable, yielding]. The word gives the sense of someone that is deliberately easy to get along with, and who puts others interests ahead of his own.
- [amachos, one who abstains from fighting] Again, the individual does not choose to fight when confronted. This is in the sense of not argumentative. A deliberate keeping of the peace, so to speak.
- Free from the love of money. [aphilarguros, free from the love of money (specifically silver)]. This is the very opposite of avarice. Such a one cannot be bought with filthy lucre, so to speak.
4: He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
- Another Sphere of management is his family. A very clear test is how this man functions in his own family. How does he treat his wife? How does he treat his children? Is his wife respectful of his authority in his own home, or is there some kind of metaphorical tug of war going on all the time? The best indicator of how a man treats his children is how his children treat him. Barring mental illness, they should be orderly kids. If dad says to do something, it gets done (most of the time). They should fear, honour, and respect him. And if they don’t it really begs the question as to why not.
- Why have I made an exception in the case of mental illness you ask? Well, I haven’t. The treatment of each child is unique. As a parent with multiple children. If mental illness is involved, it remains the same, but there are medically and spiritually prescribed treatments for defined and diagnosed problems that are outside of the normal experience of most people. In a case like this, one asks if the father is doing everything he can to get the child the appropriate treatment, up to and including confinement for the child’s own safety. This is aq part of the meaning of “dignity” for that child afflicted with mental illness.
5: (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
- Paul here is explaining something to Timothy by use of a parenthetical comment. We can look at how the man behaves in his own home environment toward his family. If he can’t stand the test here, then we can be very sure that he will fail the test in church leadership. If he is a child abuser or wife abuser, to use an extreme example, please explain to me how he will NOT in some way abuse those he leads in the church? He cannot but be who he is.
- I think it is about this verse that I start to see that this is a very narrow band of people that God wants in the leadership of His church. Paul is giving Timothy (and later gives Titus, as we will see when we get there) a list of things to look for in a man that has been put forward, either by himself or by others, for leadership in the church.
6: and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
- There is a danger in putting a new believer into any position of responsibility in the church. Paul isn’t suggesting that this might happen, he is saying that it will. The new believer placed in leadership will become arrogant in that position, and will become proud – the very condemnation of the devil – check out his 5 “I wills” in Isaiah 14. He became proud, and he began to exalt himself over God, forgetting that he is in fact God’s creation.
7: And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
- After asking what his own family treats him like, the next step is to ask what people outside the church think of him. I don’t think this is talking about total strangers, either. This is talking about his employers, the people that work with him, the people that serve him his coffee every day if he frequents a coffee place. The idea is to get a clear picture of how he treats others, and how he conducts himself under the banner of Christ. Is he kind and generous? Does he show a team mentality at work? Is he late from lunch consistently? All of these things speak to that orderly, disciplined lifestyle that a leader in the church MUST have, and that all Christians should pursue.
8: Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
- The previous passages are describing the ruling elders. Recently, I heard someone distinguish between ruling elders and teaching elders, but I submit that the two are the same. How is a man qualified to teach in the church without becoming an elder? We will see in this next passage – deacons do not have the “skilled in teaching” qualification. Let’s look at their qualifications now.
- Men of dignity. Interesting, this is not a word meaning male, though it is in the masculine gender. This is simply a category in Greek, and does not mean that it must be a male member of the congregation. Otherwise, what do you do with Phoebe from Romans 16:1, who is in Greek called a diakonon, the same word in this passage called Deacon? Whatever the case, this must be an individual of dignity [semnos, serious, venerable]. That is to say, they must be serious in the pursuit of Christ.
- Not double-tongued. [dilogos, two-tongued; not given to repetition]. I don’t think this is the political sense like when we mean “speaks out of both sides of his mouth,” which implies they say different things to different audiences, but rather repeats the same thing over and over again to everybody all the time, becoming wearisome by the repeating. By the way, it ALSO means they don’t give two different and contradictory promises to people, but not from this word.
- Not addicted to much wine. This phrase seems to indicate that this person is not a lush. This is actually the first time that Paul has connected the verse to alcohol directly. I understand that he is not forbidding it, but he is saying that if such a person uses alcohol, he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis in his life.
- Fond of sordid gain. [aischrokerdes, greedy of base gain.] A person with the negative of this characteristic is all about the Benjamins, so to speak. Anything to make a buck. Interestingly, I received a phone call while I was meditating on this passage with a way to “make a couple hundred bucks” a month by renting a friend a room. The friend wouldn’t be staying at my house, by the way, it was a way to cheat welfare. If I had the negative of this characteristic, I would have said, hey why not? My “friend” was of course saddened that I declined his “generous” offer. It’s about more than just the money, saints. It’s ALL about the character of the individual.
9: but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
- It’s all about the individual’s walk with Christ. It’s all about the choices that the individual makes. If they are making dubious choices, it will become evident in the state of their walk with the Lord. For such a person as cannot keep clear conscience while walking with the Lord, perhaps it is better to not have them as a deacon in the church until such time as they can.
10: These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
- Again, the word “men” does not occur in Greek, and just because the phrase is masculine in Greek, doesn’t mean it is male. For those that think it is, I remind you that there is a neuter gender in Greek. To say this is talking about men from anything but a contextual understanding is not good exegesis.
- These individuals should be tested [dokimazo, analyzed and approved]. The analysis of the categories Paul is discussing are a sort of litmus test, to determine the quality of character of the individual being considered for approval.
- Beyond reproach. [anegkletos, not able to be called into account, unreproveable]. The rule of thumb is that if it looks like it might be a question, it’s too much of a question. If there is the slightest whiff of garbage, this person is not to be approved as a deacon, a servant of the church. Remember, CHARACTER is what is being sought here.
11: Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
- [gune, female in gender] This is where the understanding of verse 10 being about men can come from. You may think such textual criticism is pointless, but I assure you it is not. Some will use this as more evidence that women cannot hold church office. Others will say that this very verse says women may, but that they have additional qualifications to meet because of the culture in Ephesus (aggressively feminine and sexual). What’s the right answer, Ger? I’m not telling. Make up your own mind after doing the work.
- The same word is used here as in verse 8. These women must be serious in their pursuit of Christ.
- Not malicious gossips. [diabolus, one who makes false accusations]. So this lady does not run around telling stories to slander people. That’s my understanding of the phrase.
- Again, the same word as verse 2. This word talks about lifestyle. A sober, self-controlled, self-disciplined lifestyle.
- Faithful in all things. [pistos, reliable]. If they are given a task, they DO it. I have met people that go around collecting tasks by saying yes to requests to help out. I am certain that they even meant well, but they ended up with too much on their plate, and reliability was…well, let’s just say I had to badger them for a while (months) to get what I needed.
12: Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
- Whether or not you interpret this as complementarian or egalitarian, this passage says what it says. And it says that deacons (if they are married) are to be one-women men. I personally think this is a representation of their ability to be committed. If they can commit to being married, it is a good measure of their ability and willingness to commit to Christ.
- We also see the managerial aspects in the context of their children, finances, and administration of their households again. Paul says this because it is a microcosm to show how they will be in service of the house of God.
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.
- Here is another interesting thought – deacons may not have had permanency attached to their office. The phrase “who have served well with deacons” is in the aorist tense, and that is most times a mood-tense combination, and in this case it is unspecified. Now I’m really NOT a Greek scholar, but from my understanding, deacons are for specific tasks, and when those tasks are complete, there is not necessarily a need for that ongoing office. This is not the case with an overseer.
- However, and this is the logical part of me, once you have successfully tested out as a deacon, the likelihood of you filling other needs and specific tasks around the church is a lot higher, and you’re likely to stay a deacon if you are given more temporary tasks. Hey, someone needs to do them! Why not me? At least that’s the attitude that should serve such a deacon well.
- Many congregations today have a difficult time meeting the needs of the church and finding volunteers to do things. My suggestion for the reason is this point here. People do the job for a time and because they didn’t meet the spiritual requirements in the first place, don’t want to do it again. Is that the attitude of “desiring” or strongly yearning for the office in verse 1? I don’t think so. And why isn’t it? Well, either people are not taught that this is what the Christian life actually is (service and a life laid down for Christ), or they aren’t actually saved. Either or both are possible.
14: I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;
- This is a personal word of encouragement to Timothy – Timothy, help is on the way, and I should be there shortly.
15: but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
- But just in case it doesn’t work out that I am able to get there (and we don’t know he ever did), Timothy, I’m listing this off because I want you to know the proper behaviour everyone should have in the household of God! This is where I am getting the thinking that says that all of these qualifications are what all Christians should be. However, for reasons that are often outside of the control of individuals, not everyone can be a leader in the church.
- We find here that the household [oikos, household, or dwelling] of God is the church of the living God. Hey, wait, that’s not the building we’re in that we call a church – that’s the people in it! The dwelling of God is us! Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that Christ should come to dwell in our hearts by faith.
- We also see that the church of the Living God is the pillar and support of the truth [alethia, what is true, what is real, what is certain]. Where are we to be able to find truth? IN THE CHURCH! So if your congregation of people isn’t interested in the truth but rather wants to run a social club of friends who have coffee or lunch on Sundays and that’s about it, then you are NOT a CHURCH. You might be trying to play one, but you aren’t the real deal. And that’s the truth.
16: By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.
Why? Because the Church actually has a confession, a reason for being. Here it is, and it is why we do the things we do! Who are we talking about? The risen Christ, Jesus the Lord.
And that’s the chapter! Next week, chapter 4.