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Bible Commentaries

Bridgeway Bible Commentary
1 Timothy 3

 

 

Verses 1-13

Elders and deacons (3:1-13)

Churches of the New Testament era were self-governing bodies that were independent of each other and under the control of local elders. Elders were also known as shepherds, overseers, guardians, leaders and bishops, but these names represent only two words in the original Greek, presbuteroi and episkopoi.

These two Greek words refer to the same office and people. For example (in the words of the RSV), in Act_20:17 Paul sent for the elders (presbuteroi) of the Ephesian church, but in verse 28 he called them guardians (episkopoi). Likewise in Tit_1:5 he told Titus to appoint elders (presbuteroi), then in verse 7 he called them bishops (episkopoi). Elders were like shepherds over the flock. Their responsibility was to lead, rule, guide, teach and care for the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-3).

Early churches also developed an order of deacons, or church helpers. (The Greek diakonos was the common word for servant or minister.) It seems that deacons looked after many of the everyday tasks in the church so that the elders had more time for prayer and teaching (Acts 6:2-4; cf. Romans 12:6-8; Philippians 1:1). However, deacons were not limited to routine affairs, and some were also preachers (cf. Acts 6:5; Acts 6:8-10; Acts 8:5).

Most of the New Testament churches were founded in heathen cities, where many of the converts came from a background of low moral standards. Although some of these converts may have developed spiritually, they may also have retained disorders in their marriages, families and personal habits. These disorders, in spite of otherwise good qualities, would make such people a poor example to the church should they be in leadership positions as elders or deacons.

Paul therefore gave Timothy some guidelines concerning those who might hold office in the church. The qualities he lists are not qualifications in the sense that anyone who fulfils these requirements is an elder (for such a person may not have the elder-shepherd qualities outlined above). Rather they are minimum requirements that otherwise suitable people must fulfil if the church is to recognize them as elders or deacons.

Elders should maintain a quality of personal and family life that is a good example to others in the church. Their behaviour should be blameless and they should have some ability to understand and teach the Scriptures (3:1-5). They should not be recent converts, as time is necessary for spiritual character and gift to develop. They must each have a good reputation, not only among Christians but also among those who are not Christians (6-7).

Paul gives a similar list of qualities to test the suitability of deacons, both men and women. Although he does not require deacons to have an ability to teach, he does require them to have a sound understanding of basic Christian truth. He also gives a warning against gossip, since deacons are likely to know about the personal affairs of those who give to and receive from the church's finances (8-13).


Verse 14

The true church; the false teachers (3:14-4:5)

Timothy is urged to remind the believers that their behaviour should reflect the character of the church of God to which they belong. That church is not like a heathen temple occupied by some lifeless god, but is the dwelling place of the living God and the upholder of his truth (14-15). This living God (in the words of an early Christian song that Paul quotes) entered the world of human existence in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, rose from death, brought salvation to the world, and returned to heaven where he reigns in glory and is worshipped unceasingly (16).

Despite the greatness of God and his salvation, some abandon their faith. They claim to be following the true teaching of God, but actually they are following the deceitful teaching of evil spirits. They have ceased to teach that right moral behaviour is the natural outcome of true faith, and as a result their consciences have become dead (4:1-2). Instead of allowing the truth of God to mould people's minds and attitudes, they try to force people to obey laws. They teach, for example, that it is wrong to marry and to eat certain foods. But this teaching directly opposes God, who gave marriage and food for people's benefit (3-5).

(The false teaching that Paul and Timothy fought against at Ephesus was an early form of Gnosticism. It was a problem that Paul had dealt with in letters he wrote a year or two previously. For further details of this teaching see introductory notes to Ephesians and Colossians.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:4". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/1-timothy-3.html. 2005.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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