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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Timothy 3

Verse 1

THE EPISCOPAL OFFICE

‘The office of a bishop.’

1 Timothy 3:1

There are, and have been from the earliest times, three Orders in the ministry. St. Paul in this chapter describes the qualifications for the office first of a bishop, and then of the general body of the clergy, for the reference in 1 Timothy 3:8 must be taken in its wider aspect and applied to priests as well as to deacons. A few thoughts on the episcopal office as we understand it to-day.

I. The antiquity of the episcopal office.—It is apostolic, and in the Church of England we trace our succession right back to apostolic times.

II. The making of a modern bishop.—The greatest care is taken. The Prime Minister (representing the laity) nominates a qualified clergyman to the Crown; the Crown nominates that clergyman to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral (representing the clergy) for election; if he is elected, the election has to be ‘confirmed’ in a public court at which objectors may appear. In recent years there has been much dispute as to what are valid grounds of objection, and attempts have been made—but most wisely overruled—to object to bishops-elect on ritual grounds. It is not necessary to discuss what might be grounds of objection; these must be left to the proper authority to decide. But the point to bear in mind is the care with which the Church guards the office of a bishop, as shown in the successive steps from the time of nomination to consecration.

III. Consecration to the episcopal office.—When the election of a bishop-elect is confirmed, but not till then, the archbishop proceeds to the consecration. Very solemn is the service; the act of consecration is performed by the laying-on of hands, the bishop-elect kneeling before the archbishop, and the archbishop and the bishops assisting—sometimes a dozen in number—all laying their hands upon the head of the bishop-elect as the archbishop recites the solemn words, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God,’ etc. What that work is is shown in the questions put to the bishop-elect before the act of consecration. [Refer to Consecration Service, and explain in detail the questions put in the examination by the archbishop.]

Verse 9

FAITH AND CONSCIENCE

‘Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.’

1 Timothy 3:9

Having discoursed on the office of a bishop, St. Paul next proceeds to speak of the qualifications of a clergyman—for the reference cannot be limited to the deacon—and it is significant that he puts a conscientious faith high upon his list.

I. Faith and a pure conscience go hand in hand.—Both are necessary, and there is no need to decide the limits of their respective domains. St. Paul had united them together in his direct charge to Timothy himself. He now unites them again in stating his qualifications for the first step in the ministry. A good conscience is the natural element in which a sound faith exists. Therefore the man who deliberately thrusts away from him the former renders himself incapable of holding the latter, or at least places himself in great danger of making shipwreck of it. A true faith cannot live in an impure heart, though it may be there dormant and inactive.

II. Purity of conscience is an important element in determining our belief upon such doctrines as the Incarnation and the Atonement. The same may be said of any conception of God which includes the idea of holiness as a part of His character. It is true that all our ideas of holiness are relative and imperfect, as are the teachings of conscience itself; but what idea of beauty, and excellence, and holiness can be formed by one whose own heart and conscience are defiled, or how can such an one form any conception of the holiness of Him Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity?

Verse 15

‘THE CHURCH TO TEACH, THE BIBLE TO PROVE’

‘The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.’

1 Timothy 3:15

The Bible is not one book; it is a library of books, written by different men, of different ages, climes, and periods of history To understand the Bible we need a guide.

I. The Church is the divinely constituted guide.—Her twofold mission is to war against the world, and to preach and teach the truth. ‘The Church hath authority in controversies of faith’ (Art. XX.). What does this mean? That where differences as to interpretation exist, the Church, through the declaration of the undivided councils, the teaching of the Fathers and her formularies, is the final authority, and must act as Umpire. The Church cannot, of course, teach anything contrary to the Word of God. The Bible is the rule of faith; the Church is the witness, keeper, and interpreter.

II. But certain objectors maintain that

(a) No authority is necessary. This objection may be met with a direct negative. On what authority does such an objector receive the Bible as the Word of God? Not on his own, not on mine. He really receives it on the authority of the Church.

(b) Holy Scripture is its own sufficient interpreter.—This objection must also be met with a distinct negative. It is nothing of the kind. Are any, holding such an opinion, prepared to act up to it?

(c) The Church’s teaching creates a prejudice or prepossession; and if you go to the Bible with certain prejudices, of course you will find there what you seek. Don’t be frightened by words. Prejudice means an opinion which we have not examined for ourselves—an opinion based on the authority of another. But we are all led by authority from the beginning of life.

III. Observe how the Christian faith was first propagated—not by Scripture. The New Testament, in its present form, could not possibly have circulated through the world for some two hundred years after the birth of Christ. How were the primitive Christians taught? Orally. ‘Hold fast the form of sound words.’ ‘O Timothy, take heed to what thou hast heard, and commit the same’—not to writing—‘commit the same to faithful men, who shall teach others also.’ The Gospel was taught by tradition. Again, the Fathers and the Reformers accepted this principle of tradition. The question they asked themselves was not what interpretation can be infused into that text or passage, but what has been the invariable teaching of the earliest writers, derived from the oral teaching of the Apostles and their successors? We believe God has committed His truth to two guardians: not the Bible without the Church, nor the Church without the Bible. The two stand and fall together. Not the Bible and the Bible only, not the Church and the Church only, but the Bible and the Church, side by side, and hand in hand.

—Rev. Prebendary J. Storrs.

Illustration

‘How is it the Papist gets one thing out of the Bible, the Calvinist another, and the Quaker something different from either? Because they approach it with prepossessions—of education, environment, associations of the past. Without such, where would their opinions be—their belief and creed? The Ethiopian approached it with a mind open and void, and he was right in his reply to the question, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “How can I, except some man should guide me?” ’

Verse 15

‘THE CHURCH TO TEACH, THE BIBLE TO PROVE’

‘The Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.’

1 Timothy 3:15

The Bible is not one book; it is a library of books, written by different men, of different ages, climes, and periods of history To understand the Bible we need a guide.

I. The Church is the divinely constituted guide.—Her twofold mission is to war against the world, and to preach and teach the truth. ‘The Church hath authority in controversies of faith’ (Art. XX.). What does this mean? That where differences as to interpretation exist, the Church, through the declaration of the undivided councils, the teaching of the Fathers and her formularies, is the final authority, and must act as Umpire. The Church cannot, of course, teach anything contrary to the Word of God. The Bible is the rule of faith; the Church is the witness, keeper, and interpreter.

II. But certain objectors maintain that

(a) No authority is necessary. This objection may be met with a direct negative. On what authority does such an objector receive the Bible as the Word of God? Not on his own, not on mine. He really receives it on the authority of the Church.

(b) Holy Scripture is its own sufficient interpreter.—This objection must also be met with a distinct negative. It is nothing of the kind. Are any, holding such an opinion, prepared to act up to it?

(c) The Church’s teaching creates a prejudice or prepossession; and if you go to the Bible with certain prejudices, of course you will find there what you seek. Don’t be frightened by words. Prejudice means an opinion which we have not examined for ourselves—an opinion based on the authority of another. But we are all led by authority from the beginning of life.

III. Observe how the Christian faith was first propagated—not by Scripture. The New Testament, in its present form, could not possibly have circulated through the world for some two hundred years after the birth of Christ. How were the primitive Christians taught? Orally. ‘Hold fast the form of sound words.’ ‘O Timothy, take heed to what thou hast heard, and commit the same’—not to writing—‘commit the same to faithful men, who shall teach others also.’ The Gospel was taught by tradition. Again, the Fathers and the Reformers accepted this principle of tradition. The question they asked themselves was not what interpretation can be infused into that text or passage, but what has been the invariable teaching of the earliest writers, derived from the oral teaching of the Apostles and their successors? We believe God has committed His truth to two guardians: not the Bible without the Church, nor the Church without the Bible. The two stand and fall together. Not the Bible and the Bible only, not the Church and the Church only, but the Bible and the Church, side by side, and hand in hand.

—Rev. Prebendary J. Storrs.

Illustration

‘How is it the Papist gets one thing out of the Bible, the Calvinist another, and the Quaker something different from either? Because they approach it with prepossessions—of education, environment, associations of the past. Without such, where would their opinions be—their belief and creed? The Ethiopian approached it with a mind open and void, and he was right in his reply to the question, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “How can I, except some man should guide me?” ’

Verse 16

MYSTERY IN RELIGION

‘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

‘Without controversy’—i.e. by universal consent and beyond dispute—‘great is the mystery of godliness,’ literally, right worship; in other words, true religion. Confessedly, the mystery of Christianity is great! In the necessity of the case there must be ‘mysteries’ in religion.

I. Mystery is a necessity.

II. Mystery is an evidence.

III. Mystery is humiliation.—The more we try to fathom it, the more does it baffle us, and the lower must we come; and he who knows the most is always the man most conscious of his humiliation.

IV. Mystery is discipline, an essential part of our education. By the sense of ignorance and incompetence we are taught many lessons, which train us for a higher condition. We have a subject before us which must occupy us for ever and ever; therefore, we must always be in expectation. We are compelled to be ever looking for a revelation to come, and that revelation waits till we are low enough and prepared to receive it.

V. Mystery is joy!—For this reason ‘Mystery’ involves and necessitates progression, and progression is an essential element of all happiness.

Illustration

‘Would not religion want one of its evidences without “mystery”? If there were no “mystery”—if I could understand everything in my religion—could that religion be religion at all? Could it be of God? If a worm could understand a man, either the man would not be a man, or the worm would not be a worm. But the interval is greater between God and me than between me and the lowest animal in creation.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE MYSTERY OF REDEMPTION

This verse is like a page of a book printed in double columns. The words ‘great is the mystery of godliness’ resemble the title at the head. The six explanatory clauses which follow are six paragraphs so arranged on that page that three occupy the first column and three the second, and at the same time so framed as to be parallel in purport as well as in position: 1 (‘God manifest in the flesh’) and 4 (‘preached unto the Gentiles’); 2 (‘justified in the Spirit’) and 5 (‘believed on in the world’); 3 (‘seen of angels’) and 6 (‘received up into glory,’) mutually corresponding. Viewed in this double order they seem to set before us: I. The object of Christ’s Incarnation; II. Its success below; and III. Its success above.

I. The object contemplated in the Incarnation of Christ, viz. to make God known to His creatures.

(a) So the very first clause, ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’ Whatever view we take, critically, of the reading, this, exegetically, is the meaning. God is referred to here, if not named. And God is described here as being manifested or made visible ‘in the flesh.’ Just as we also read in John 12:45; John 14:9; John 1:18; John 1:14. This is how the invisible Godhead was, as it were, made visible to men’s eyes, viz. in the person of Christ, and under the veil of His flesh. Men saw what God was in seeing what Christ was. Something, as a man’s words, if spoken to us in our own language, make known to us His thoughts and nature; so of this Word Incarnate, speaking to us, as it were, in the language of flesh. It made known to men all that men could know of God’s nature and thoughts.

(b) Amongst whom was this done? Here the usefulness of the other mode of division comes into view. With the first clause of the first division we take the first clause of the second. God was so ‘manifest in the flesh’ as to be ‘preached unto the Gentiles.’ The manifestation, therefore, was not only for one race. (See, inter alia, Isaiah 49:6; St. Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; John 1:9.) Nor yet only for one age. God was manifested where Christ was seen: ‘we beheld His glory’ ( John 1:14). God is also manifested where Christ is ‘ preached.’

II. The extent to which this purpose was answered.—Did this intended light effect its object? The two second members of our two triads seem to answer these questions.

(a) This incarnate Saviour, first, was ‘justified in spirit.’ There are two worlds co-existent in fact in this world of ours, as we see it now; the world of spirit, and that of flesh; the world of grace, and that of nature. The ‘true worshippers’ ( John 4:23) belong to the first of these worlds, and live in it. In their world, therefore (that of spirit), the Saviour may be described as being ‘justified.’ And this ‘justification’ among such is the more remarkable because of the blindness of others.

(b) Here the other clause seems to come in. ‘Believed on in the world’—in this world of flesh and nature—this world of blindness and unbelief. Even in such a world there are those who become enlightened by this light. Passing, as it were, by the operation of God’s Spirit into the world of spirit and faith, God is indeed ‘manifested’ to their apprehensions in the face of Jesus Christ.

III. But we must look above as well as below.—This ‘manifestation’ of God in His Son was observed by other eyes than those of men.

(a) ‘Seen of angels’—rather ‘showed Himself to them—so says the first. The glory of the Godhead, that is to say, was so ‘manifested in the flesh’ by the incarnation of Christ, as to be made instructive even to the angels of heaven.

(b) But the crowning lesson, the extremest interest, would be in His return to heaven when all was accomplished. And this it is, therefore, that our final clause seems so vividly to set before us. ‘Received up into glory.’ In that hour of triumph, in that atmosphere of purity, brighter to them than ever would this ‘manifestation’ be.

—Rev. W. Sunderland Lewis.

Illustration

‘It is at least curious that the “mystery of creation,” in Genesis 1., with its six consecutive “days,” admits of a similar arrangement: the first and fourth days dealing with “light,” the second and fifth both with the “waters,” and the third and sixth both with the “dry land”; in each case, in the way of separation, on the one hand, and of production, on the other.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-timothy-3.html. 1876.