Today: [1 Timothy 3:] Is Your Church in Good Order? In our chapter we see Paul defining leadership roles and good order in the church. As an apostle, Timothy was responsible for the character and conduct of the church in Ephesus. In our day we do not recognize the ministry of the apostle. Is that working for the best interests of the people of God or against it?
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[1Ti 3:1-16 KJV] 1 This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise [must] the deacons [be] grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being [found] blameless. 11 Even so [must their] wives [be] grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. 14 These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 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.
In chapter 3 Paul begins with addressing qualifications of a bishop. Now this word conjures for us a very different picture than what an early church bishop (or episkopas) really was. A bishop at that time was not a man with flowing robes and a miter upon his head. You will also notice that a bishop was a married man. The modern idea of bishop does not ignore this it just maintains that the woman the bishop is married to is the church. In v. 1 Paul does not criticize a person for desiring to serve in this office. What it constituted from a modern perspective was serving as an elder among a group of elders over a city-wide church. The idea of many churches in a city was unknown to the early Christians, and the idea of one man providing hierarchical leadership to a church body was not something the early church would have allowed or entertained. This conveys to us the reality that an early church community was a far different reality than church as we know it.
The reason Paul states it is not wrong to desire the office of an elder or bishop is that there was criticism that to do so was ambitious and ambition was considered by some to be wrong. Paul repudiates this. Ambition in holy things and in the service of God and the Christian community is not wrong. There are qualifications however. A bishop is to be blameless. I wonder how Paul delineated this idea of blamelessness when all of the principal church leaders were ex-cons? Again the concept of blamelessness in the early church isn’t the same as what we might regard that to be today. Would you attend a church where the pastor had a criminal record as a recidivist offender? An elder was also to be a one-woman man. This is construed to mean by modern-day denominations including the one I grew up in that a leader with divorce in his background is not qualified for Christian service. We must remember that Paul was addressing a culture where polygamy was a common practice thence he was very likely discouraging the election of church leaders who had multiple wives.
A bishop is also to be a person vigilant in prayer and one who is sober-minded not given to foolish jesting or lack of seriousness regarding his calling. In other words, the church was not to be a comedy club with the pastor as the headliner telling the people the best jokes to keep them interested. He was to be a person on his good behavior (or, conversation) and given to hospitality. This is an important point. When was the last time you were in your pastor’s home? Today the leadership culture of the church places its pastors on platforms at arm’s length from the people. Often the pastor comes into the meeting from a separate entrance after everyone else is seated. To get one on one access to a leader of a church of any size is often only through a tightly controlled procedure if at all. This is contrary to the qualifications of leadership that Paul is laying out in our chapter.
Paul goes on to say a leader is to be a person not given over to alcoholic drink, not greedy in his personal economy, known for his patience and not a pugilist or one with a two-fisted approach to handling conflict. He is to rule his own house well with children that are in subjection in a well-ordered home life. This can be used as a cudgel to condemn a leader, but it is a general principle that how a leader manages his or her home life is a reflection of their character as leaders among God’s people.
Likewise, leaders are not to be novices or rank beginners. This also is not how the modern church conducts itself. In today’s church settings it is common practice to take new converts and put them in positions of responsibility as quickly as possible as a way of cementing them into their place in the life of the congregation. Many young believers have been scandalized by this unhealthy practice, taking on more responsibility than they are spiritually prepared for. Just because a person is charismatic, talented and gifted with handling people doesn’t mean they are qualified to serve in leadership in the church. By definition the early church idea of eldership was just that – older people in the faith with the wisdom and experience to lead the people. Conversely the church today does not court the participation or leadership contribution of the older generation but gears the preponderance of its programs and planning to capture the interest of the younger generation. This too is contrary to biblical precepts as Paul is expressing them.
In v. 8 Paul turns to the subject of deacons. These were men and women who were willing, mature and gifted to come alongside elders and pastors to assist with the management of the needs of the congregation. The early church did not meet in designated religious facilities, so the duties of deacons were more in the direct care of the membership where the budgetary focus of the churches finances was laid. Deacons also were to be men of good character with stable marriages and home life. Being a deacon in the early church was a great honor and not something to be despised or looked down upon. All of these things Paul writes to Timothy as instruction (v. 15) so that Timothy as a young apostle would know how to behave himself in putting the church in good order. Here also is another difference between church then and now. It was Timothy as an apostle who put the church in order and not the singular pastor as a one-man leader who doesn’t answer to anyone beyond himself. Can you imagine a leader such as Timothy sent by the original founder of your congregation coming into the church to make fundamental changes in how things got done? Would your church leadership be able to cooperate with such a ministry? This shows the stark contrast between the church as God wants it and church as we have it today.
What is the practical benefit of good order among God’s people? Paul admits (v. 16) that these things are controversial.
Generally, people in all cultures and times are accustomed to being left to fend for themselves and to conduct themselves as they see fit. When the Protestant Reformation came about the separation from the institutional church left churches on their own initiatives when it came to establishing good order among themselves. This does bring with it a measure of freedom but also chaos as well. Today’s church has more in common with the people of the book of Judges than the people of the book of Acts. Churches today as it was in the time of the Judges just do every one of them as seems right to them without any accountability to anyone other than themselves. The time of the Judges was one the darkest times in the early history of the people of Israel, and in our day it could be observed that the freedoms and individualism that have taken center stage in the modern church have not always served her highest good or the plan of God as revealed in the scripture.
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