1 Timothy 3 - Characteristics of Overseers, Deacons, and the Church Itself

Turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 3:1;

 

This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” 2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.

 

8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain, 9 holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And these also must be tested first and then let them serve as deacons if they are found blameless. 11 Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect. 12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you 15 in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. 16 And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation:

 

He was revealed in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

 

May God bless the reading of His word.

 

Let us pray.

 

Here in chapter 3 Paul continues his advice to Timothy, first by discussing the criteria for what the New English Translation calls “overseers” but which other translations refer to as bishops, or elders, and then by discussing the criteria for deacons.

 

You may have noticed that I'm not using the New King James Version this morning, instead I'm using the New English Translation, or NET Bible. A few years back I asked the renowned theologian Dr. James White what he thought was the most accurate modern day translation was and he said that he thought that the NET translation was in his opinion the most accurate.

 

I say this just because I don't want you to think I'm pulling a “fast one” on you by using a translation that agrees with what I am about to preach upon, rather, I'm using this translation because it helps us to understand a couple of concepts that are vague both the King James and the New King James translations.

 

That being said, let's back up and see what Paul tells Timothy in regard to the role of overseer.

 

First and foremost, he tells Timothy that if someone seeks the position of overseer that they “desire a good work.” There is nothing more important than helping to insure the proper instruction and continuation in the faith. Without godly overseers, yielded only to God's word and the leading of the Holy Spirit, the faith quickly becomes the same thing that Judaism had become in the time of Jesus, a religion that men use to assert authority, exercise power, and gain worldly wealth.

 

Certainly you've heard me say it many times before, Jesus came to dispel the false teachings and religious pretense that men had erroneously put around God's word, and bring us back into a relationship with the Father. As we saw last week, Jesus had barely ascended to heaven when all sorts of false doctrines and fables were presented by men as an extension or clarification of that which Jesus had taught. So it is that one who truly oversees according to God's leading is an extremely good work, and one which is not to be taken lightly.

 

Where overseers have not done their duty properly, God's word has diminished and the importance of worldly doctrines have come to be far more important than the simple message that Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven and abiding in Jesus even as He abides in the Father.

 

It is with this in mind that we read Paul's criteria for overseers.

 

First Paul says that the overseer must be above reproach. Webster's defines reproach as:

 

an expression of rebuke or disapproval

 

We can understand this. An overseer is responsible for helping others to walk along the way that Jesus has commended to us. It would be hard to take the guidance of someone whose own life actions were not representative of a life that was desirable, even as we wouldn't buy a car from someone who we knew to be disreputable.

 

Next, Paul says that the overseer must be the husband of one wife. The New Living Translation says “ a man devoted solely to his wife,” not because this is an accurate translation, but because it is an attempt to accommodate the prevalence of divorce in our society. Good translations also translate this as “a man married only once.” The idea is clear, and a strict interpretation of the verse would preclude anyone who is unmarried, polygamists, those who are divorced, and even those who remarry after being widowed.

 

Why?

 

Because the overseer is to be an example to those who are encounter life's adversities, and it is hard to counsel someone on how to find the woman that God has intended for you and help someone who is struggling with divorce it the overseer hasn't successfully navigated that territory through the power and strength of his Christian faith.

 

Paul says that an overseer must be temperate, exercise self-controlled and respectable. These traits again speak of a level of maturity that is required to be an example to those who are less temperate, self-controlled or respectable.

 

The next characteristic is to be an able teacher.

 

And what is the overseer to teach?

 

Right doctrine, and more importantly how to help those in his charge to become all that their Lord desires for them.

 

Furthermore, if you think about it, being an able teacher encompasses a variety of skills, including patience, an ability to communicate and to empathy with those who are being taught. The overseer isn't usually teaching in a classroom sense. Rather, he is constantly teaching, advising and mentoring his charges encouraging them and showing the the true beauty of a life lived for Christ.

 

Now we come to “not a drunkard,” or in the KJV and NKJV, “not given to wine.” The Greek here is clear, and despite the best intentions of those who want to keep people from being alcoholics, Paul is simply not saying that an overseer shouldn't drink. The translation “not a drunkard” more closely to the explains the characteristic that Paul is cautioning against. Of course I have to rely on other more knowledgeable people who read ancient Greek and understand the idiosyncrasies and subtleties of the language. Clarke explains it this way:

 

An eighth article in his character is, he must not be given to wine; μη παροινον. This word not only signifies one who is inordinately attached to wine, a winebibber or tippler, but also one who is imperious, abusive, insolent, whether through wine or otherwise. Kypke contends for this latter acceptation here. See his proofs and examples.

 

Barnes follows a similar writing;

 

Not given to wine - Margin, "Not ready to quarrel and offer wrong, as one in wine." The Greek word (πάροινος paroinos) occurs in the New Testament only here and in Titus 1:7. It means, properly, "by wine;" i. e., spoken of what takes place "by" or "over" wine, as revelry, drinking songs, etc. Then it denotes, as it does here, one who sits "by" wine; that is, who is in the habit of drinking it. It cannot be inferred, from the use of the word here, that wine was absolutely and entirely prohibited; for the word does not properly express that idea. It means that one who is in the habit of drinking wine, or who is accustomed to sit with those who indulge in it, should not be admitted to the ministry.

 

He then goes on to add his extra-biblical, but good advice warning against wine's use in any form, but this is personal observation and preference and doesn't have anything to do with what Paul is writing here.

 

Not only does this understanding work, but it ties in very nicely with Paul's next qualifications “not violent, but gentle, not contentious.”

 

Perhaps we'll come back and look at this verse and others that have to do with both wine and strong drink at some point to understand God's view on the subject, but I don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole now. What I will say is that the misapplication and misinterpretation of this verse and misstating the Bible's position of both wine and strong drink can make some very God-fearing and otherwise mature Christians look like hypocrites and Pharisee. It's especially bad in the Baptist tradition. There are many normal, civilized and even godly people that partake of wine or even strong drink without becoming inebriated and people who incorrectly make stuff up about the Bible and the wine it depicts not being alcoholic do nothing but make our faith look like a farce.

 

Mohamed was all about not drinking. As a matter of fact, alcohol is hallal (which means unclean) in the Muslim faith but that is not the Bible's position on the topic,and this verse and the similar one pertaining to deacons, simply is not a prohibition against alcohol.

 

Moving along, we come to the next qualification which should probably cause a great many pastors in pulpits today to be disqualified even if they are teetotalers. Paul says the overseer should be “ free from the love of money.” Too many of our pastors, too many of our ministers, too many who even sit in the pews worship two gods as Jesus so aptly warned against. They say they love God and yet their focus is on more.

 

I personally cringe when I hear any plea for money from a ministry. George Muller never disclosed his needs to anyone other than God, and yet over the course of his life God provided more than a million and a half pounds sterling, or about five and a quarter million dollars in 1840's dollars which is equivalent to $141 million today to George's faithful and selfless needs.

 

Mueller didn't love money. He loved God, and he trusted God alone to provide the money that he needed to do the work that God called him to, including giving liberally to other missionaries such as Hudson Taylor and his China Inland missionary organization.

 

They are far too many ways that the love of money can hinder an overseer's work and unfortunately I've seen most of them, from giving people positions of authority based on their giving, to taking advantage of church members abilities for personal gain, to a watering down of the Gospel in order not to offend people in order to keep the their true god, money, flowing, nothing good can con come from an overseer who loves anything other than Jesus Christ and the charges which God ha put under Him.

 

In verses four and five Paul summarizes both the character that he has just described and the rationale for it, saying;

 

4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?

 

The similarities should not be lost upon you. The Apostle John even calls those he writes to at times. “little children,” not as a diminutive term, but as a term of the utmost endearment.

 

Finally Paul says;

 

6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.

 

Again, little needs to be said here.

 

The text is clear.

 

There is an extreme amount of responsibility in the office of overseer and it must not be sought for any other reason than a desire to give of oneself wholeheartedly to insure the continuation of the faith and the spreading of the Gospel. I personally would have never sought for such a thing and I am amazed as I look back and see what God has done through the church where He has so graciously granted me this office.

 

Many of you have encouraged me and thanked me for my service, especially recently, and I want each of you to know that it truly is not me, but it is our Lord Jesus working through, and indeed through each of us, that causes the results that you see.

 

But I thank you for those comments, and what's more than that, I urge you to understand that each of us are under charge from God to be obedient to Him and to insure the continuation of the spreading of the Gospel, until that great and glorious Day that His Son appears.

 

Whether it be as an overseer, or as a deacon, whose character is very similar to that of the overseer, or as the most important thing, a yielded, obedient, bond-servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, the end result is the same, people who live their lives and give their lives in the service of the One Who Saved them and gave them eternal life.

 

We need to know how to conduct ourselves in the house of God, for it is even as Paul writes;

 

because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. 16 And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation:

 

He was revealed in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

 

For those of you who confess Jesus as their Lord, I urge you, don't ever take you involvement in it for granted. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and what He asks you to do for the furtherance, and sanctification of both the church and yourselves in order that you might be found obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ when He returns. Paul did not write these things to Timothy lightly, the conduct, the character and the very heart of the church need to be guarded from all the things that Satan has both tried to do and successfully done to it throughout the ages.

 

Indeed the character that Paul advocates for the overseer is really that which the entire church should have, and it is all of our responsibility to insure that the church continue and mature to be the obedient instrument in God's hands in this community and throughout the world in order that God might be richly glorified in our service to Him.

 

It's not about us.

 

It's about God and it's about reaching the lost for Jesus Christ.

 

That's not to say that fellowship and support are not important.

 

They are.

 

But in larger churches there are so many inside the church who want to be ministered to and fed constantly that the church can become far more self-centered than it should.

 

You have been given the unique opportunity to be a part of a small church that is a treasure. It is that way because of each of us.

 

Let us pay attention to Paul's list of characteristics for overseers and deacons and make sure that we all not only understand them, but try to model them in our lives and in the character of the church.

 

Of course, I really don't need to exhort you to do this, because God has graciously guided us in this regard for as long as I have been here and before. But it's good every once in awhile to do a checkup and to go over security to make sure that we aren't slipping up and letting the enemy in.

 

And if you have never confessed Jesus as your Lord, I urge you to look upon the traits of the overseer and the deacons and compare those to the world.

 

You'll find that there is a very different heart in God's church than there is in the world. That is because we have been transformed and made new creations. Every person who God puts into His Son's hand undergoes a transformation from selfishness, to selflessness, from a total disregard of sin, to a humble desire for righteousness.

 

Why?

 

Because we came to understand that we all sin, and that the ultimate, unarguable consequence of our sin is eternal death, separation from God and everyone else in that place that Jesus calls the outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

We bandy about the word sin and we think that it is being really bad. As a matter of fact most people think that they are good and that they will go to heaven because they are good enough, but that simply isn't the case.

 

We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. The result of that sin is, as I said, death, but the gift of God, is eternal life in Christ Jesus.

 

A gift is not something you earn.

 

It is something that is given to you.

 

If you are becoming aware of your sin, and your need for a savior then God is making you into a new creation and is making you a part of the body of Christ.

 

Do not fight this transformation.

 

Rather, yield to Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and be saved.

 

Do it today.

 

Let us pray.

 

 

 

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