Service in the House of God, 1 Timothy 3. 1-13
Stephen Whitmore, Clacton-on-Sea
Chapter 3 of 1 Timothy introduces two spheres of service in the house of God, those of the elder and the deacon. The first is one which is to be undertaken only by men of spiritual maturity; the second involves the exercise of spiritual gift within the company. This reminds us of the principle that there are different works to be performed. As we consider the New Testament, we find that some work is open to all saints, dependent on their maturity and exercise before the Lord. Some work is only open to those who are particularly equipped by the Lord for that work.
The Work of an Elder, vv. 1-7
As we consider these verses, we learn who may become an elder, what qualities are expected of such a man, and the reasons for this. Underlying this is the fact that these men are proven in private and family life as well as in the public sphere before they can undertake this work.
Who may become an Elder?
Paul writes to Timothy in a way that would encourage saints to desire the work of an elder. 'If any man' gives a clear implication that it is not wrong for the believer to have such a desire. Of course, this is vastly different from saying that it is right for any to become an elder. There are qualities demanded of an elder and only those that are spiritual can undertake such work, and must do so thoughtfully and prayerfully. Comparison with Titus 1. 6-9 shows that the elder is recognized by doing the work.
The first statement reminds us that it is a good work. Here again is a link with the idea of godliness that runs through the letter. As we have seen before, godliness is a devotion to what is good, and therefore it is only such a man who is fitted to undertake this work. It clearly requires very careful consideration before the Lord to ensure that none is guilty of undertaking such a work-in the wrong spirit, or without due consideration.
The Qualities of an Elder
The bulk of the verses is given over to the qualities that are required if a man can be recognized as an eider. These are not qualifications that may be earned by training, nor yet abilities which may be found in one more than another. The elder is one who has reached spiritual maturity, not In terms of knowledge and exposition of doctrine, but in terms of his life. The underlying principle behind this is that the elder is a man who is marked by godliness in his life which cannot be denied by any who know him.
'Blameless' means without reproach. No one ought to have any just accusation that can be laid at the door of an elder. The testimony of the whole assembly would be severely weakened by an elder whose life was not fully consistent with the character of the gospel which we preach. Clearly, this is required of every believer, but the elder is an example in this as in all the other qualities listed.
'The husband of one wife' is emphasized in the light of the fact that polygamy was practised at this time. But those in eldership must be seen to be blameless in this regard. Some believe that taken along with the reference to children, there is a suggestion that, ideally, a married man with a family is expected to undertake such a work. One may infer that those who have remained unmarried to fulfil their calling ought not expect to undertake such a work, although they would clearly work in fellowship with the elders. However, it is unwise to take a strict line on the basis of such an inference.
'Vigilant', 'sober', 'of good behaviour', and 'hospitality' all remind us of aspects of general behaviour which should mark every believer. On one hand we need to avoid every influence of the world that dulls our senses to the desires of the heart of God. Self control is needed. This includes avoiding the evidence of selfish desire, and every aspect of self must be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. On the positive side, behaviour should be seen that is right for the occasion. The word for good behaviour is the same root word as is used in chapter 2 for the way a woman dresses. Whether the clothing or the conduct, all must be consistent with a godly life before the Lord. Hospitality is a love for strangers. It goes far beyond the idea of opening the home to the saints. Indeed, 3 John 5 uses the second part of the word for strangers as opposed to brethren. It is a manifestation of the love of God in reception to our own homes.
'Apt to teach' has the idea of skilled in teaching. This may refer not just to the ability to teach, but the heart that can sympathize with the hearer, and so present the truth in an appropriate way for his particular circumstance. This would emphasize the difference between the teacher who presents the truth, and the eider who skilfully applies it to the individual need.
The next three qualities ail relate to the evidence of character that is seen by all. Wine has no place because the eider is living in the joy of the Lord, and does not need artificial means to create the appearance of joy. Violence has no place, either in a physical or in more subtle forms of oppression. The love of money is dealt with later in the letter. This is a clear evidence of a lack of love for God, and faith in Him.
'Patient' has the idea of yielding to others. The elder is always ready to allow others to fulfil their exercise when there is no conflict with the word. 'Not a brawler' shows someone who has learned to avoid contention wherever possible. 'Not covetous' shows that there is no desire for what others have, because this has been brought into subjection as a result of spiritual maturity.
The home of the elder is considered next. He is seen to be in control of the home, and particularly that the children are subject to him. Here is the divinely appointed training ground. If he cannot cope with this, then his ability to guide the saints of God is also open to question. In addition, in the home his behaviour would be watched more closely than anywhere else. If he cannot be faulted at home, then he shows himself worthy of the work.
Two further requirements are noted; both are set against the background of the activity of the devil. He cannot be a new convert, because as such he has not had time to prove himself in the spiritual warfare in which all believers must take part. He would then become a target for the attack of the enemy. He must have a good report in the world because his life will be the subject of scrutiny by non-Christian men. He needs to maintain his testimony under attack, or else he may fall prey to the devil.
The Work of the Deacon, vv. 8-13
The character expected of deacons is similar to that of elders. The reason why this is so is that deacons are doing a particular work for the saints. The work may or may not appear to be spiritual in character; the word is used for both types of work. The very fact that they are doing the work will leave them open to the attack of the enemy in a more public way than others. It will also mean that their failure would be a source of scandal which would affect the testimony of the assembly.
The reference to holding the mystery of the faith is a different requirement to that of the elder who must be able to teach. This is because the work of deacons does not necessarily involve public teaching, as an elder's might, but they must be marked by faithfulness to the truth of God. Clearly, if the work of deacons involves teaching or preaching, then there is a requirement to be gifted by the Holy Spirit.
Deacons are to be proved before undertaking the work. This is important. They will have worked alongside those who are more mature, and proved that they are able to do the work alone, and in due course, will train others to continue the work if this is required in later days.
The reference to 'wives', A.V., or 'women', R.V., reminds us that there are places for them in the service of the assembly. It is unlikely to refer to wives as such because the responsibility of the wife would be as great for the elder as for the deacon. From other Scriptures, e.g., 1 Corinthians 14. 34, it is clear that this is outside the assembly gatherings. We need to remember that the majority of the work, even among saints takes place away from the gatherings of the saints. If this is not the case, we are merely going through a ritual observance which has no value in the sight of the Lord. All faithful deacons have a reward for their labours. They earn recognition for their labours, and the ability to speak freely of the faith. The agreement of their lives with the doctrine gives weight to their words. This is clearly emphasized as Paul writes to Titus, Titus 2. 7, 8.
Who can work in the Lord's Assembly?
The requirements of elders and deacons in this chapter are fundamentally related to their godly lives. While every believer is gifted by the Lord, not every believer is thereby fitted to take a place of responsibility among the saints. God raises up elders; they are the subject of His preparation. But surely all believers' lives should match up to the character of the doctrine they hold. With both elders and deacons, it would be expected that they are seen to be doing the work as far as they are able, before they could be recognized by the assembly at large.