“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).
The closing verses of 1 Timothy chapter two began a discussion related to leadership roles within the church. We can understand those verses to mean that a man (or men) who are called of God should hold the office of a primary congregational leader. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that any man is right for this position. Nor does it mean that any man should hold that office simply because he is a male.
Here now in chapter three, Paul the Apostle will continue this discussion by examining the qualities that should characterize those who seek to fulfill this responsibility. One scholar sets the foundation for our look at this chapter with the following commentary…
“Paul now turns to the subject of leadership in the church, continuing his instructions for behavior befitting the church as God’s household (v. 15). He first discusses overseers (vv. 1–7; v. 1 text note) and then discusses deacons (vv. 8–10, 12, 13, with a digression on women in v. 11). Paul focuses more on the personal qualities of those who are qualified to serve in these positions than on their duties. This emphasis indicates his concern to install the right people, perhaps because some of the false teachers in Ephesus had come from, or were selfishly seeking, positions of leadership.” (1)
The New Testament uses the terms bishop, elder, and overseer to identify this important role. Today we might use the word “pastor” to describe this position as well. These words describe those who serve God’s people in a position of spiritual oversight.
As we’re told in the passage quoted above, a man who aspires to this responsibility is someone who seeks a good, honorable, and noble work. Those who serve in these leadership roles have an opportunity to experience the fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from having a positive impact for Christ in the lives of others. However, this position also carries a great degree of responsibility.
As with any important job function, a man who seeks to become an overseer, elder, bishop, or pastor must meet certain qualifications in order to be considered for the position. Paul will go on to list many of those qualifications in the following verses. Everyone can benefit from studying these qualifications, including those who do not serve in positions of spiritual leadership…
“All believers, even if they never plan to be church leaders, should strive to follow these guidelines because they are consistent with what God says is true and right.” (2)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2158). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [1 Timothy 3:1-13] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1 ESV).
One example of a Godly aspiration involves a person who seeks the office of a spiritual overseer or “bishop.” A man who holds that ambition is someone who pursues a “good work” (ASV), an “honorable position” (NLT), or an “excellent task” (AMP).
Before we consider the qualifications for this position, let’s take a closer look at this job description…
“The word ‘bishop’ is the rendering of episkopos. The verbal form is episkopeo, ‘to look over, to oversee, to superintend, to exercise oversight or care over.’ The word came originally from secular life, referring to the foreman of a construction gang, or the supervisor of building construction, for instance.
Thayer defines the word; ‘an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent.’ The word was taken up by the Church, and designated an overseer of any Christian church. The responsibilities of this office have to do with the oversight and direction of the spiritual life of the local church.” (1)
Another source provides us with further insight into the responsibilities that accompany this role…
“His duties included ruling (1 Tim. 5:17), pastoring or shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), guarding the truth (Titus 1:9), and general oversight of the work, including finances (Acts 11:30).” (3)
As mentioned earlier, several other New Testament words are closely aligned with this position including…
- “Elder” (presbuteros, Acts 20:17, Titus 1:5).
- “Pastor” (poimenas, Ephesians 4:11, see also 1 Peter 5:2).
- “Rulers” (proistamenoi, Romans 12:8, see also 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
- “Overseer” (Acts 20:28).
These designations identify a man who exercises spiritual care and authority over a church congregation. Words like “ruler” and “overseer” are self-explanatory in this respect while “pastor” offers an easily-recognizable association with a shepherd who provides spiritual leadership. However, we might question why the words “bishop” and “elder” seem to be used interchangeably to describe this role.
Once source offers the following response to that question…
“The answer is that presbuteros (G4245) described these leaders of the Church as they personally were. They were the elder men, the older and respected members of the community. Episkopos (G1985), on the other hand, described their function, which was to oversee the life and the work of the Church. The one word described the man; the other described his task.” (3)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 3:1] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Ryrie Study Notes, [1 Timothy 3:1] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp
(3) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:1-16”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-3.html. 1956-1959.
“This saying is trustworthy: ‘If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work’” (1 Timothy 3:1 NET).
A person who wants an undemanding job may have many potential employment options. However, the office of a church overseer is not likely to be one of them.
As we’re told in the passage quoted above, a person who aspires to this office is someone who seeks a good and honorable position. However, this job responsibility also involves work- the type of work that is often difficult, exhausting, or painful. You see, an average person who attends church on Sunday morning may not see (or appreciate) the challenges that a Pastoral leader may encounter throughout the rest of the week.
For instance, an overseer may spend much of his time visiting and consoling those who are hospitalized, institutionalized, or home-bound. He may also be called upon to counsel those who are working to overcome addictive or self-destructive behaviors. A good congregational leader must demonstrate wisdom, compassion, skill, and perception to effectively respond to these needs.
A bishop is also entrusted with the responsibility to comfort the grieving, offer healing to the broken-hearted, and support those who are suffering from deep emotional pain with grace and sensitivity. He is often available at any hour of the day or night to respond to emergencies or provide spiritual and emotional support to those in need. In addition, he must work to develop a wide breadth of knowledge in many diverse areas in order to provide an informed opinion to those who seek his advice.
The Scriptures also identify many other responsibilities that are assigned to these church leaders. These include…
- Preaching and teaching the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Preaching is generally associated with an exhortation to righteousness while teaching involves the act of communicating the Scriptures in a manner that others can understand, remember, and apply. A good church leader must often engage in many hours of study and preparation in order to fulfill these important responsibilities.
- Examining and rendering decisions on issues related to spiritual doctrine and practice (Acts 15).
- Identifying and commissioning those who demonstrate God’s call to leadership (Titus 1:5).
- Identifying and commissioning others to assist in serving the practical needs of the church community (Acts 6:1-6),
- Assisting in the area of financial oversight (2 Corinthians 8-9)
- Overseeing the general welfare of the church (1 Timothy 5:1-22).
These are all responsibilities that fall under a congregational leader’s job description but may go unnoticed (and unappreciated) by others.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;” (1 Timothy 3:2).
1 Timothy 3:2 begins a detailed list of qualifications for those who aspire to positions of spiritual oversight within the church. The first step in that process often begins with a desire to pursue such a work (1 Timothy 3:1). The distinguishing characteristics given to us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 then go on to measure one’s fitness to act upon that desire.
In the words of one commentary, these qualities “…stress four main prerequisites: personal character, the witness of the home, teaching aptitude, and a measure of experience. These are God’s standards for any who would exercise spiritual leadership in the local church.” (1)
While things like education, experience, and communication proficiency are important, we should note that the qualifications given to us within this passage are primarily ethical in nature. We should also recognize that these attributes are not necessarily limited to those who are seeking leadership positions. Instead, all Christians should prayerfully strive to reflect these qualities.
So a person who aspires to the office of an overseer is someone who must first be above reproach (NIV). The Living Bible renders this passage in the following manner: “…a pastor must be a good man whose life cannot be spoken against.” This serves to identify the type of person who leads a life that cannot be justifiably criticized.
This does not mean that those who led sinful lives prior to coming to Christ are automatically disqualified from holding leadership positions. On the contrary, some of God’s greatest and most influential leaders were guilty of serious transgressions in their early years. For instance, Moses was guilty of murder while Paul the Apostle was an accessory to murder. Nevertheless, God transformed these men and enabled them to accomplish many great things despite the seriousness of their earlier crimes.
Instead, the context of this passage conveys the image of a lifestyle that offers “nothing that can be taken hold of.” In other words, a congregational leader’s way of life should not provide others with a “handle” that might allow them to make a legitimate accusation of wrongdoing or attack the church.
While the personality and temperament of a leader may limit or enhance his ability to minister to others, there should be no obvious character flaws, emotional issues, or other negative characteristics in his life that might potentially discredit Jesus or His church.
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, C. Regarding Elders And Deacons (3-1-13) (3:2) pg.2150
“An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher” (1 Timothy 3:2).
The next leadership characteristic given to us in 1 Timothy 3:2 is “the husband of one wife.” The meaning behind this directive is fairly straightforward: a man who is under consideration for a congregational leadership position should be someone who is a “one-woman man.” However, the proper way to apply this guideline has generated a considerable amount of debate over the years.
There are four major viewpoints that reflect the various interpretations of this passage…
“The meaning of this phrase is disputed. It is frequently understood to refer to the marital status of the church leader, excluding from leadership those who are (1) unmarried, (2) polygamous, (3) divorced, or (4) remarried after being widowed.” (1)
While some (or all) of these views may be appropriate, one thing that is beyond dispute is this: the character of a church leader should reflect the qualities of loyalty, dedication, and faithfulness. This is the interpretive approach taken by several versions of this text that feature a “dynamic equivalence” approach to Biblical translation…
“They should be faithful to their spouse” (CEB).
“Now the overseer is to be… faithful to his wife” (NIV).
“He must be faithful to his wife” (NLT).
This methodology provides us with an opportunity to consider the two major approaches scholars use in translating the Scriptures for the benefit of modern-day readers…
“If we look at Bible translation in the simplest of terms, there are two basic methods. The first is called ‘formal equivalence’ (meaning word-for-word); the second is called “functional equivalence” or ‘dynamic equivalence’ (meaning thought-for thought).
In doing a formal-equivalence translation, the translator attempts to retain as much of the specific wording of the original languages (Hebrew or Greek) as possible when rendering a sentence into the language he or she is working with (in this case, English).
In doing a functional-equivalence translation, the translator tries to convey the thoughts of the original languages into the closest natural equivalent in English. This approach places a greater emphasis upon meaning and style than a word-for-word approach does when rendering a sentence in English. The goal of this kind of translation is for a passage to have the same impact upon today’s English readers that the original had upon its audience.” (2)
We’ll continue our look at a few of the other characteristics that should identify the life of a church overseer next.
(1) NET Bible notes on 1 Timothy 3:2 https://netbible.org/bible/1+Timothy+3
(2) Philip W. Comfort, Ph.D., The Origin Of The Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright© 2000 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc [pg 61-62]
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV).
1 Timothy 3:2 continues with two additional qualities that should identify the life of a church overseer: temperance and self-control. The word “temperance” conveys the following idea: “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” (1) This first-century counsel makes good sense from a 21st century perspective for alcohol is widely recognized today as a depressant. As such, it serves to depress one’s capacity to make wise decisions and demonstrate good judgment.
With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why a pastoral leader should exercise temperance. Although the Scriptures do not mandate complete abstinence from alcohol (John 2:1-11, 1 Timothy 5:23), a decision to voluntarily limit one’s freedom in this area will place a congregational leader in an appropriate position to minister to others.
In fact, we can apply this guidance to more than just alcohol. You see, this word is also used to describe those who are vigilant and circumspect. In light of this, we can expand these parameters to include anything that may potentially hinder, impair, or cloud an overseer’s judgment.
Next comes self-controlled. This phrase refers to the act of “…curbing one’s desires and impulses.” (2) The implication is that a pastor should exercise discretion when interacting with others or airing his opinions, feelings, or views.
That brings us to the next quality of an overseer: respectable. This word is associated with the idea of order and decorum in one’s behavior and appearance. So much like the links in a chain, these characteristics present the image of a person who possesses the internal and external qualities of discipline, propriety, and composure in seeking to lead the people of God.
The next characteristic involves hospitality. One commentator explains what this meant in a first-century context…
“…the hospitality referred to here is not of the kind which says, ‘Come over for dinner and let us have a good time. Some day you will return the favor and I will enjoy your hospitality.’ The hospitality spoken of here found its occasion in the fact that in the days of the great Roman persecutions, Christians were banished and persecuted, and rendered homeless.
Or, in the case of travelling preachers and teachers, ministering from church to church, these servants of God were to be received and cared for by the bishop. Or, because in the early centuries, the local churches had no church edifice in which to worship, the church met in the home of an individual. The bishop should be glad to thus open his home for this purpose.” (3)
(1) G3524 nephalios Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3524
(2) G4998 sophron Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4998
(3) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (1 Timothy 3:2) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher” (1 Timothy 3:2).
The next non-negotiable quality for an overseer involves teaching ability. In other words, a prospective overseer must possess the ability to effectively communicate the Word of God along with its meaning and application. The New Testament book of Ephesians identifies this quality as a God-given spiritual gift…
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, emphasis added).
A good pastoral leader should demonstrate the capacity to communicate the Scriptures in a way that others can understand, remember, and apply. A man who does not possess this quality (or is solely gifted in the ability to preach), should consider other avenues of ministry that take better advantage of his gifts. One source identifies the high cost of disregarding this critical ability…
“It is one of the disasters of modern times that the teaching ministry of the Church is not being exercised as it should. There is any amount of topical preaching and any amount of exhortation; but there is little use in exhorting a man to be a Christian when he does not know what being a Christian means. Instruction is a primary duty of the Christian preacher and leader.” (1)
As mentioned earlier, this quality is not only important for church leaders; it is important for everyone. You see, a person who knows what God’s Word says and means has the ability to teach even if he or she is not called to a teaching ministry. Another commentary discusses this idea in the context of those who are not called to leadership positions in the church…
“… some people are effectively ‘able to teach’ who never teach or lead formally at church. Their lessons are passed on to one or two others. They become mentors of spiritual truth. Paul described this intimate kind of teaching in 2Ti_2:2, ‘You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others.’
More is learned through living than through lectures. If you have been able to communicate your faith clearly to another person, you have demonstrated teaching at its best. In measuring your ability to teach, don’t consider how many students you have had; instead, ask how much truth you have passed on to even one student whom God has brought your way.” (2)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:2-17”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-3.html. 1956-1959.
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [1 Timothy 3:1-13] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“A bishop must have a good reputation. He must have only one wife, be sober, use good judgment, be respectable, be hospitable, and be able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 GW).
The ability to teach God’s Word is a fundamental requirement for a bishop, pastor, or overseer. This is a recurring theme within the Pastoral Epistles of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus…
“If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
In light of this, we can say that expository Biblical teaching is something that should characterize most pastoral sermons. For instance, a minister who customarily preaches topical messages that are comprised of various subjects he wishes to discuss may find it difficult to consistently teach “…the message of God’s truth” (GNT). The same may also be true of those who regularly emphasize a few preferred themes or favored doctrines from the pulpit.
One source makes a hard-hitting and thought-provoking observation in regard to this subject: “…There are various ways to use the word of God deceitfully, or to tamper with it. Using a Bible text to preach a ‘sermon’ that has little or nothing to do with the Bible is one of the common ways of doing it.” (1) Therefore, a sermon that features little or no Biblical content is not likely to communicate “…the things which are proper for sound doctrine.”
Another pastoral commentator explains the value of expository teaching from the pulpit in a very transparent manner…
“There are certain subjects in the Bible that I find more fascinating than others. There are some things that I love to preach on; there are other things I don’t like preaching about. Those things that I don’t like to preach about, I find ways of not preaching about them; sort of bypassing them.
When you’re going straight through a book of the Bible from beginning to end, you can’t bypass them, and you’re speaking on issues that people need to hear addressed, but rarely hear addressed in the church because they are not popular subjects. Yet God would not have put them in the Word unless they were important subjects. If you go straight through a book in teaching, you will be declaring the whole counsel of God. If you go straight through the Bible, you will be declaring the whole counsel of God, and your emphasis will become a biblical emphasis.” (2)
(1) Paul T. Butler. The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) [p. 93] Copyright © 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
(2) Chuck Smith, “The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel”
“not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous” (1 Timothy 3:3).
The next quality that should mark the life of a congregational leader is this: “He must not be a heavy drinker…” (NLT). While this directive represents a prohibition against drunkenness, it also encompasses the negative behavioral qualities that may accompany intoxication as well. (1)
As mentioned previously, the Scriptures do not mandate complete abstinence from alcohol (see John 2:1-11 and 1 Timothy 5:23). However a decision to voluntarily limit one’s freedom in this area will often prove to be the wisest and most appropriate course of action. We should also remember the counsel of 1 Corinthians 8:9 in regard to alcohol consumption: “…beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” An overseer who chooses to abstain from drinking (even in moderation) can justify his position based upon this passage from 1 Corinthians 8:9.
Unlike those who may elect to relax and unwind by indulging in a few alcoholic beverages at the end of a stressful day, an overseer must always be conscious of how such actions may be interpreted by others. Therefore, a congregational leader should not be “given to wine” in deference to those who may be weak in this area.
If alcohol abstinence is realistically achievable, then an overseer would do well to avoid leaving the impression that social drinking or moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable. We can turn to the Apostle Paul’s discussion of Christian liberty in the New Testament book of Romans for additional guidance on this subject…
“…Try instead to live in such a way that you will never make your brother stumble by letting him see you doing something he thinks is wrong” (Romans 14:13 TLB).
“Don’t do anything that will cause criticism against yourself even though you know that what you do is right” (Romans 14:16 TLB).
“The right thing to do is to quit eating meat or drinking wine or doing anything else that offends your brother or makes him sin” (Romans 14:21 TLB).
Therefore, the question of Christian liberty does not simply concern the right to exercise one’s freedom- it must be broadened to include the exercise of those freedoms and their potential impact upon others. While some may object to these restrictions, the larger question is this: if these teachings on Christian liberty are applicable to the church at large, then how much more applicable are they for those who are called to lead the church?
(1) See William Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/paroinos
“not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3).
We rarely have to look too long or too hard to find those who are argumentative and confrontational. However, 1 Timothy 3:3 tells us that a bishop, pastor, or overseer should not reflect these characteristics.
You see, a congregational leader should be someone who is not “…a violent man, but gentle and peaceful…” (GNT). While an overseer is often called upon to manage conflict, he must not be someone who approaches that responsibility in a violent or unnecessarily confrontational manner.
This is especially true in today’s internet age where the comments section of a post or media presentation provides an opportunity for disputes and quarrels to develop. It is often challenging to avoid being drawn into an altercation with those who seem intent on provoking an argument in this manner. Therefore, the qualities of gentleness and peacefulness are valuable (and necessary) attributes for a good pastoral leader.
Of course, this is nothing new. In fact, Paul the Apostle was familiar with those who exhibited similar characteristics in his day. As Paul will later go on to say in the book of 2 Timothy…
“Remind your people of these great facts, and command them in the name of the Lord not to argue over unimportant things. Such arguments are confusing and useless and even harmful… Steer clear of foolish discussions that lead people into the sin of anger with each other” (2 Timothy 2:14-16).
However, this counsel is not limited to those in positions of spiritual leadership. For instance, Paul will go on to offer some additional insight on this subject in the book of 2 Timothy…
“God’s people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
We get some more good counsel from the Old Testament book of Proverbs…
“Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence” (Proverbs 3:31-32).
It is seldom easy to interact with those who are quarrelsome, opinionated, or argumentative. For this reason, an elder must not be contentious, especially when interacting with those who exhibit such qualities.
“not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3).
1 Timothy 3:3 continues with another quality that should mark the life of an overseer: he should not be someone who is covetous (KJV) or “…greedy for wealth and its inherent power” (AMP). This represents an important qualification for a congregational leader. You see, a person who is driven by a covetous desire to accumulate financial wealth is usually motivated to make inappropriate choices that are consistent with that goal. While such motivations may be hidden from others, nothing is hidden from God.
Another problem is that a leader who holds this mindset is someone who sets a poor example for the church. Consider Jesus’ cautionary message from the Gospel of Luke…
“…He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).
So this message regarding monetary greed and church leadership should encourage everyone to set the right financial priorities. Jesus also provided us with another important reminder on this subject in Matthew 6:24…
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (NIV).
We’ll return to this subject once again in the final chapter of 1 Timothy. However, we can preview that section from chapter six with a look at a well-known (and often misquoted) portion of Scripture…
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
“one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
1 Timothy 3:4-5 reminds us that good leadership starts at home. You see, a congregational minister who is a poor leader within his home is likely to be the same in other areas as well. This provides us with an opportunity to consider two important elements, one that should be obvious and another that may be less so.
First, a pastoral leader must “…keep his children in control without losing his dignity” (NET). While no parent is perfect, an overseer who does not possess the ability to lead his children will probably encounter difficulty leading the church. We can illustrate this point with a look at the Biblical example of a priest named Eli.
Eli had two sons who also served as priests. However, Eli’s sons conducted themselves in a manner that was highly inappropriate. For example, these men diverted the offerings that were dedicated to God and seized them for their personal use (1 Samuel 2:12-17). They also engaged in immoral relationships with women who assembled at the house of God. These repeated acts of misconduct were widely acknowledged by others, including Eli (1 Samuel 2:22-25).
Although Eli confronted his sons about their inappropriate behavior, he failed to use his authority to discipline them (1 Samuel 2:27-36, 1 Samuel 3:11-14). Unfortunately, Eli’s failure to act led to disastrous consequences (see 1 Samuel 4).
This passage also offers a secondary element to consider as well. As is true with any vocation or career, a man may become so engrossed in his work that he neglects his family, thus creating a destructive leadership vacuum within the lives of his children. We can turn again to the book of 1 Samuel to illustrate this danger with an example from the life of Samuel himself.
1 Samuel 8:1-3 tells us, “Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel… But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1, 3). Since Samuel served as a circuit judge in Israel (1 Samuel 7:15-17), it’s easy to see how those responsibilities may have kept him away from home for extended periods and limited his ability to provide guidance and direction for his children.
These Biblical examples, along with the instructions given to us here in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 thus offer a valuable reminder for ministers and all parents as well.
“not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
While the qualities of youth and inexperience do not necessarily preclude one from pursuing a ministry opportunity, we should not overlook the importance of character, maturity, and preparation. One commentary speaks with the voice of experience in this regard…
“New believers should become secure and strong in the faith before taking leadership roles in the church. Too often, in a church desperate for workers, new believers are placed in positions of responsibility prematurely. New faith needs time to mature. New believers should have a place of service, but they should not be put into leadership positions until they are firmly grounded in their faith, with a solid Christian lifestyle and a knowledge of the Word of God.” (1)
This brings us face to face with a challenging reality. You see, the pressures that accompany a congregational leadership position will inevitably highlight any weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or character flaws that may exist within a man. This is especially true of someone who is new to faith in Christ, for those who are newly converted to Christ may not have experience with the trials and adversities that God uses to build and shape our character.
One such area of potential vulnerability involves “…the condemnation incurred by the devil” (NASB). For instance, the authority and influence that comes with a leadership position can easily foster an attitude of pride. While “pride” is sometimes associated with the legitimate feeling of satisfaction that accompanies a job well done, the destructive form of pride referenced here conveys an attitude of insolence, haughtiness, and conceit.
This was the mindset that ultimately led to Satan’s downfall…
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14).
A man who possesses the experience necessary to recognize this negative attribute is someone who is best equipped to prayerfully overcome it. As another commentary explains…
“Condemnation of the devil does not mean the judgment which Satan brings on a man, but rather the judgment which fell on Satan himself because of his pride. He sought a high position for which he was not qualified, and as a result, he was brought low.” (2)
(1) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [1 Timothy 3:6] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (3:6) pg.2152
“Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7).
In today’s media age of religious hucksters, self-promotional spiritual “experts,” and others who make merchandise of God’s Word, the importance of having a good testimony with those outside the church is more important than ever.
As used here in 1 Timothy 3:7, the word “testimony” is synonymous with one’s reputation among others. So this passage tells us that the office of a congregational overseer should be filled by a man who is recognized as a reputable person by those outside the church. Nevertheless, we should also recognize the difference between those who possess a good reputation and others who are simply popular.
You see, a good testimony is something that is generated by Godly character. On the other hand, “popularity” may result from many things, including those that may be inappropriate or dishonorable. The problem is that it is often difficult to be a truly God-honoring person and maintain lasting popularity in a world that has little use for the God of the Bible. As Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you…”
However, it is possible to maintain a reputation for Godly character regardless of how others may view Christianity. For instance, a neighbor or coworker might acknowledge that we display the honorable characteristics of honesty, integrity, and virtue while simultaneously holding a far less charitable view of our relationship with Jesus or Christianity in general. These characteristics help us to represent Jesus in an appropriate manner and maintain a good testimony among others regardless of how they may view our spiritual beliefs.
In light of this. the Apostle Paul counseled Timothy (and modern-day readers by extension) to look for this quality in the lives of potential church leaders. Those who fail to do so will inevitably become entangled in various types of snares that reflect poorly upon Jesus and His church. These snares originate with the devil according to the passage quoted above and help provide an excuse for others to discredit the gospel or justify their personal inconsistencies.
This has led one commentary to offer an important observation…
“Paul’s emphasis on the untarnished reputation of the potential leader suggests a concern for the public perception of the church… Paul requires that leaders maintain a positive reputation inside and outside the community of believers. If not, their actions may become the subject of criticism and discredit the gospel message…” (1)
(1) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Ti 3:1–7). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money” (1 Timothy 3:8).
Having established the qualifications for overseers in the previous verses of 1 Timothy chapter three, Paul the Apostle will now turn his attention to another area of church leadership- the position of church deacon. In verses eight to thirteen, Paul will go on to identify the right kind of person for this important leadership position.
In the original language of this passage, the word “deacon” conveys the image of someone who runs an errand. It later came to refer to a person who waited upon tables. These word-pictures illustrate the primary difference between overseers and deacons. While overseers are mainly concerned with the church’s spiritual needs, deacons are tasked with the responsibility to meet the church’s practical needs.
As we go on to review the qualifications for this position, it is interesting to note that they will not include a list of job responsibilities. Instead, these qualifications are primarily character-based. In other words, they describe the right person for the job but offer no job description. While this may seem unusual, it is likely due to the fact that a deacon’s role largely involves doing whatever needs to be done within the church community.
Because of this, those who are involved in this ministry have a responsibility that is almost as important as the pastor, bishop, or overseer in certain respects. For instance, those who manage the technical functions of a church service help enable a gifted minister to effectively communicate God’s Word. Those who are responsible for building maintenance and landscaping create an environment that honors God. People who are involved in custodial services work behind the scenes to secure the comfort and convenience of others.
In some instances, the people who serve in such ministries (and others like them) are largely unknown and unrecognized by many within the church. They generally work quietly and faithfully (often during off-hours) with little recognition. Thus, the value of a deacon’s ministry may go unnoticed- that is, until they are no longer available to serve for some reason.
You see, people generally don’t notice when a church building’s sound, lighting, and environmental conditions are properly maintained. The same is true of things like building maintenance and custodial services. However, people certainly take note when those things are missing. In a similar manner, deacons are often involved in doing things that ordinarily go unnoticed- unless those things are left undone.
A pastoral minister may preach a wonderful sermon but if deacons fail in their support roles, it reflects poorly upon the church no matter how inspirational that message may be.
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain” (1 Timothy 3:8 ESV).
As with those who are called to a position of congregational oversight, a deacon must be someone who is dignified, reverent (NKJV), and “worthy of respect” (AMP). These characteristics describe a person of honorable character and convey the idea of someone who elicits respect in his or her behavior and appearance.
The next characteristic is “not double-tongued.” This implies that a deacon should be a person of truthfulness, sincerity, and integrity. Unlike the worst form of politician, a deacon should not be someone who is known for saying different things to different groups of people. That sort of behavior is addressed in the New Testament Epistle of James…
“With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in God’s likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. It should not be like this, my brothers!” (James 3:9-10 ESV).
This brings us to one of the more common objections to Christianity: there are too many hypocrites within the church. However, that objection conceals a critical double-standard. Even if we were to accept the dubious claim that wide-spread hypocrisy exists within the church, the same could be said for educational institutions, workplace environments, the internet, and other places as well. There are few who are willing to sacrifice their educational careers, quit their jobs, or cease their online activities simply because hypocrites exist in those areas.
This does not excuse an attitude of hypocrisy (especially among those who claim to be Christians) but it does illustrate the double-standard that lies behind this objection. We should also remember that there are many who claim to follow Christ but really don’t. For instance, consider Paul the Apostle’s directive to the first-century church at Corinth…
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11, emphasis added).
Therefore, the admonition against being double-tongued is something that should apply to leaders and others within the church as well.
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain” (1 Timothy 3:8 NET).
The final characteristic given to us in 1 Timothy 3:8 involves financial propriety. For instance, a deacon should not be someone who receives monetary or material benefits from questionable sources. Nor should a deacon use the power of his or her office to obtain such benefits. Instead, a deacon should be the kind of person who is “…not greedy for dishonest gain” (AMP).
This becomes especially important when we remember that deacons are often tasked with the responsibility to manage and distribute financial offerings and monetary gifts. As one commentary wryly observes…
“Deacons must not be greedy for money. As has been mentioned, one of the functions of a deacon might be to handle the funds of the local church. This exposes him to special temptation if he has a lust for money. He might be tempted to help himself. Judas was not the last treasurer to betray his Lord for mere money!” (1)
The following portion of the Biblical book of Ephesians also highlights the importance of having the right underlying attitude towards financial integrity …
“Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Ephesians 5:3-5 NLT).
So this passage reminds us that deacons are entrusted with the responsibility to fulfill their roles in a manner that demonstrates fidelity to Christ and the congregations they serve. Those who manage these responsibilities in a God-honoring manner will obtain a substantial reward, for as Jesus once said to His disciples…
“The trustworthy servant is the one whom the master puts in charge of all the servants of his household; it is the trustworthy servant who not only oversees all the work, but also ensures the servants are properly fed and cared for. And it is, of course, crucial that a servant who is given such responsibility performs his responsibility to his master’s standards—so when the master returns he finds his trust has been rewarded. For then the master will put that good servant in charge of all his possessions” (Matthew 24:45-47 Voice).
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (3:8) pg.2088
“holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9).
While detective novels and television dramas often feature criminal mysteries, a Biblical “mystery” refers to a hidden spiritual truth that has been (or will be) revealed. As one Biblical scholar explains…
“The word ‘mystery’ is musterion, the N.T., meaning of which is, ‘truth which was kept hidden from the world until revealed at the appointed time, and which is a secret to ordinary eyes, but is made known by divine revelation’ (Vincent). This truth is understood by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.” (1)
This word appears in the New Testament Scriptures with surprising frequency in a variety of contexts. For example, the word “mystery” is used in relation to…
- Wisdom: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).
- God’s will: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:7-9).
- The future that awaits God’s people: “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).
- Lawlessness in our world: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
If we should encounter a spiritual mystery that troubles or distresses us, we can find encouragement in the words of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” Much like a dim reflection in a mirror, our spiritual understanding is often indistinct and fragmentary today. Nevertheless, there will come a time when such restrictions will be lifted.
We can find additional comfort in the Biblical epistle of 1 John…
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 3:8-9] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10).
There may not seem to be much in common between an idea, a truth claim, a machine, a human being, and a scientific hypothesis. However, there is something common to each of them: they each have the capacity to succeed or fail when put to the test.
In a similar manner, we can verify one’s fitness to serve as a deacon in much the same way: “Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons” (NLT).
One scholar expands upon the test referenced in this verse by offering the following insight…
“The test and approval here do not refer to a formal examination, but have reference to the general judgment of the Christian community as to whether they fulfil the specifications set down in verse 8.” (1)
Another Biblical scholar adds, “This is the Greek term dokimazo, which is used with the connotation of ‘to test with a view toward approval’…” (2)
These examinations are important, for it is often unwise for someone to start “at the top” in a ministry responsibility. Instead, it is far more prudent for men and women to prove themselves by working their way up from lesser to greater responsibilities. For instance, an overseer may ask a prospective deacon to perform a relatively small task. If that person demonstrates faithfulness, integrity, and the ability to complete such an undertaking, he or she may be asked to move on to larger endeavors.
However, this principle extends far beyond the measure of one’s fitness to serve in meeting the practical needs of the church. Consider Jesus’ message from the Gospel of Luke…
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” (Luke 10-12 NLT).
Therefore, a person who is already handling life’s responsibilities in a God-honoring manner is someone who is sure to pass this kind of evaluation before he or she is asked to assume an official role. To a certain extent, such potential leaders are recognized rather than appointed for they are often doing the things that make them right for the position before they are ever given a title.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [1 Timothy 3:10] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [1 Timothy 3:10] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL09/VOL09_03.html
“Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11).
1 Timothy 3:11 has proven to be a verse that may be difficult to interpret. The question involves whether this passage refers to the wives of male deacons or to female deacons within the church. In addition to the New King James Version quoted above, the ESV, HCSB, and NET versions of 1 Timothy 3:11 each refer to the wives of deacons. On the other hand, the ASV, CEV, NASB, and NIV translations simply refer to “women.” According to several commentators, the original language of this verse will permit either rendering.
However, given that a literal translation of this passage is “Women likewise [must be] dignified not slanderers…” it would seem this verse refers to female deacons. We find a Biblical example of a female deacon serving in a local church fellowship in the closing chapter of Paul the Apostle’s letter to the church at Rome…
“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1).
The word translated “servant” in Romans 16:1 is diakonos, the very same word that was used for “deacon” earlier in 1 Timothy 3:8. Therefore, it would seem that male and female deacons are addressed in this letter to Timothy. One commentator identifies the value of male and female deacons in ministering to others within the Christian community…
“The qualifications for these female servants are similar to those for the male leaders. They were meant to be deacon-helpers in situations where a male deacon would simply be inappropriate (caring for sick women, helping prepare women before and after baptism, regular visits to older women, etc).” (1)
Nevertheless, it seems best to avoid making too much of these interpretive differences. If this passage refers to the wives of male deacons, then it serves to remind us that a marriage partner can enhance or impair her husband’s ministry. For instance, a wife who is irreverent, slanderous, intemperate, or fails to exhibit faithfulness in various areas will negatively affect the work of her husband. Therefore, this passage provides an important reminder for the marriage partners of those who hold this office.
If a female deacon is in view, then this verse tells us that there are uniform standards for this position regardless of whether that person is a male or female. There is no difference between the two in this respect for each is held to the same high standard of conduct.
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [1 Timothy 3:11] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL09/VOL09_03.html
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:12-13).
Much like the qualifications for church overseers mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy 3:2, a prospective deacon should demonstrate the qualities of marital loyalty, dedication, and faithfulness. A person who exhibits these attributes (along with the other characteristics given to us in verses eight to twelve) “…will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus” (NLT).
The following verses then go on to mark the transition to a new topic…
“These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
The word “church” finds its origin in the idea of a public assembly, especially one of a religious nature. Therefore, it should not be surprising to learn that the word “church” appears dozens of times within the New Testament. Although this word may sometimes refer to believers throughout history or the worldwide Christian community, it is primarily used to identify a local congregation that meets in a specific place.
We should also recognize that Jesus personally established the concept of “church.” For instance, Jesus used the term “my church” in Matthew 16:18 while Colossians 1:18 references Jesus as the head of the church. As we saw earlier in 1 Timothy 3:5, the Scriptures also speak of the church as “God’s church” and even as “God’s house” in the passage quoted above. With these things in mind, we can identify the church as an institution that has been established by God.
Therefore, we should give heed to our conduct whenever we are present within the house of God. As we’re told in the Biblical book of Psalms, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him” (Psalms 89:7). While the church should clearly reflect the type of love that honors God, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes offers some additional guidance that we would also do well to remember…
“As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1 NLT).
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
It doesn’t take a trained architect to understand the difference between a buttress (or foundation) and a support column (or pillar). Nevertheless, the church is identified with each of these distinct architectural elements here in 1 Timothy 3:14-15. These structural references become easier to understand if we view them from different perspectives.
From a long-term perspective, the church is an enduring entity that represents Christ in every age. Thus, the church serves as a foundation in the sense that “…no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). From a short-term perspective, every local Christian community is responsible to uphold Jesus before others and represent Him in a Biblically accurate manner. While it is truly regrettable that many self-identified churches have disavowed one or both of these functions, that does not change what the church should be.
Although it isn’t obvious from the text, this passage enjoyed the benefit of a ready-made, first-century illustration. You see, Timothy held a leadership position within the church in the ancient city of Ephesus, a place that was known as the home of the Temple of Diana. Diana’s temple was constructed from marble and stood 425 feet (130 m) long and 220 feet (67 m) wide. It was also supported by 127 glittering columns that were 60 feet (18 m) high. This structure was so magnificent that it was honored with a place among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
One commentator offers a further description of these support columns and ties these concepts together…
“All (of these pillars) were made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The people of Ephesus knew well how beautiful a thing a pillar could be. It may well be that the idea of the word pillar here is not so much support–that is contained in buttress–as display. Often the statue of a famous man is set on the top of a pillar that it may stand out above all ordinary things and so be clearly seen, even from a distance. The idea here is that the Church’s duty is to hold up the truth in such a way that all men may see it.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:1-16”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-3.html. 1956-1959.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).
As mentioned earlier, a Biblical “mystery” refers to a hidden spiritual truth that has been (or will be) revealed. While there may be many different aspects to “the mystery of Godliness,” they each find their ultimate resolution in Christ.
For instance, let’s consider the well-known and oft-quoted passage from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We don’t need to look any further than the example of Jesus’ first disciples before we encounter a mystery regarding that love.
It is an unfortunate reality, but the truth is that Jesus’ disciples were often dull (Mark 7:14-23), self-promoting (Luke 22:24, Mark 10:35-37), and given to impulsiveness (Luke 9:54). They deserted Him at His time of greatest need (Mark 14:43-50) and one denied that he had even known Jesus (Mathew 26:69-74). Yet John 13:1 reveals Jesus’ attitude towards these disciples just prior to His crucifixion…
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
In this, the truth of 1 John 4:19 is revealed: “We love Him because He first loved us.” You see, one of the mysterious aspects of God’s love for humanity is that He loved us when we had nothing to offer Him. As Romans 5:8 tells us, “…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (NAS).
Even though we did nothing to deserve it, God showed His love for the human family through Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross…
“But God is so rich in mercy; he loved us so much that even though we were spiritually dead and doomed by our sins, he gave us back our lives again when he raised Christ from the dead-only by his undeserved favor have we ever been saved- and lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms-all because of what Christ Jesus did. And now God can always point to us as examples of how very, very rich his kindness is, as shown in all he has done for us through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-7 TLB).
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 KJV).
This reference to “God was manifest (or revealed) in the flesh…” is a statement that merits close attention. For instance, the Gospel of John provides us with the following information regarding Jesus, the Word of God…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).
The New Testament book of Philippians adds this…
“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT).
Taken together, these passages underscore an astounding truth: the all-powerful Creator added humanity to His deity, lived among us, and sacrificed His life on our behalf. In other words, God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelt among us. But God not only became a Man; God became a Man who subjected himself to the same environment that humanity created in rejecting Him.
In His humanity, Jesus did not subject Himself to the perfect world He had created (Colossians 1:16) but to the world it had become as a result of humanity’s sin. Because of this, Jesus is personally familiar with rejection, humiliation, sorrow, and other negative human emotions that we experience as a part of life in a fallen world. Therefore, God fully understands the challenges and difficulties we experience in life for “…the Word (Christ) became flesh, and lived among us” (John 1:14 AMP).
As we’re told in the Biblical book of Hebrews…
“Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters so that he could be merciful. He became like them so that he could serve as a faithful chief priest in God’s presence and make peace with God for their sins” (Hebrews 2:17 GW).
“And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 HCSB).
- Jesus was vindicated in His righteousness. Perhaps the clearest expression of this declaration took place at Jesus’ baptism: “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17).
- Jesus was vindicated through His resurrection from the dead. Romans 1:4 directs our attention to this aspect of Jesus’ vindication when it tells us, “…he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (NLT).
- Jesus was vindicated as He overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. Jesus overcame the devil’s enticement to sin by holding firm to the truth of God’s Word and applying it in the face of temptation (see Luke 4:1-14).
- Jesus was vindicated through His sinless life. In John 8:46, Jesus posed the following rhetorical question to a group of religious leaders who had been interrogating Him: “Who among you can convict Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why don’t you believe Me?” (HCSB). This implies that Jesus’ most formidable human enemies could not convict Him of sin due to the absence of verifiable evidence. The Epistle of 1 Peter underscores this reality when it says, “…Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth.’”
- Jesus was vindicated through His miraculous works. As Jesus Himself said in John 5:36, “…I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
It was in this manner that we can say that Jesus was “…justified and vindicated in the Spirit” (AMP).
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV).
While scores of human beings interacted with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry, those members of humanity were not the only witnesses to His life and work. For instance, the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life reveal that numerous angelic beings were also present at various stages throughout His life.
For example, an angel brought word of Jesus’ pending conception in making the following announcement to Mary: “…behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 2:31). Later, an army of angelic beings delivered the news of Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). Angels also ministered to Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:13) and then again as He approached the end of His earthly life in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-43).
Angelic beings were also active in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. For instance, an angel rolled away the stone that sealed Jesus’ burial tomb (Matthew 28:2). He then spoke the following words to a group of women who had arrived at Jesus’ sepulcher…
“…the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.’ So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word” (Matthew 28:5-8).
The final angelic association with Jesus’ earthly ministry took place at His ascension…
“Now when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).
Although these events are now in the past, the Scriptures also tell us that angelic beings will appear once again with Jesus in the future upon His return (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8).
“The mystery that gives us our reverence for God is acknowledged to be great: He appeared in his human nature, was approved by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was announced throughout the nations, was believed in the world, and was taken to heaven in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16 GW).
The final verse of 1 Timothy chapter three closes with three additional aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry: “Christ was preached to the nations. People in this world put their faith in him, and he was taken up to glory” (CEV). We can begin our look at these characteristics by examining an event that occurred in the Biblical book of Acts.
That portion of Scripture describes how Jesus was preached among the inhabitants of the first-century world through the God-given ability to communicate in their native languages…
“Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? …we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:7-8,11).
The Apostle Peter then took the opportunity to speak with the representatives of those nations…
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’
Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’” (Acts 2:36-38).
Jesus’ directive from Matthew 28:19 offers an additional perspective on this passage: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those who have sought to fulfill this commission have preached Christ among numerous people groups. Thus we can say that Jesus is believed on in the world among every tribe and tongue and people and nation (see Revelation 5:9).
Finally, one commentator makes the following observation regarding the ascension of Christ: “Christ’s ascension and exaltation showed that the Father was pleased with Him and accepted His work fully.” (1) This brings us full circle in regard to this passage for “The story of Jesus begins in heaven and ends in heaven.” (2)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Ti 3:16). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:1-16”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-3.html. 1956-1959.