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Bible Commentaries
1 Timothy 3

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Verses 1-5

The Overseer

As an introduction on this chapter I would like to give a brief repetition. You know that this letter is meant firstly for Timothy personally. As a messenger of the apostle he needs to know which guidelines he ought to present to the believers. Secondly – and we will pay particular attention to this in this chapter – Timothy gets instructions in this letter about those who want to minister as an overseer, i.e. an elder, and as a deacon. Thirdly, all believers get practical teachings on their walk of life in this letter.

None of us takes the position like Timothy. Therefore none of us is supposed to have the right to appoint elders. For this reason we are neither able to impose regulations on the church, which we would have heard directly from an apostle. But the prescriptions that Paul passes on to Timothy are certainly essential to you, because they have regard to the life of believers. And even though you are not called to minister as an elder or deacon, this third chapter is still very meaningful to you. The conditions that are prescribed for an elder and a deacon are the rules of conduct for all believers.

1 Timothy 3:1. What Paul is going to say now about the “office of overseer” and the “overseer” originates in a “statement” that is “trustworthy”, because it comes from God. This starting point is very important. It should be a motivation for the exertion of a heavy duty, for the ministry of an overseer is certainly not light. It is not something you just do as a kind of side-occupation. This work is definitely accompanied by disappointments. How encouraging the trustworthy Word of God then can be to keep on going when that happens.

Someone may aspire the office of overseer just as someone may pursue the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). ‘Aspire’ indicates the effort, to reach out to be able to function as an overseer. It is not a reaching out to an authoritative position, but to a task of a servant. Surrender to and love for the Lord and the desire to serve Him in dependence and obedience should be the only motivation of this pursuit.

The work that the overseer does is serving in the ‘position of an overseer’, which means that he takes care of the souls and the walk of the believers. It means further that he commits himself to make the members of Christ respond to His love and that they do not lose any Christian privileges. God values this as “a fine work”, for it consists of nothing less than shepherding His flock (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Peter 5:1-Numbers :).

Note that Timothy doesn’t get the order to appoint overseers. Paul gives him a list of qualifications. These qualification are about certain spiritual characteristics (‘temperate’, ‘not quarrelsome), about the condition in circumstances (‘husband of one wife’) and about experience (‘not a novice’). The list is not only useful to Timothy, but also to us. Each church that responds to God’s thought will desire that the men with these characteristics amongst them will be revealed. We ought to acknowledge these men (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

An overseer is the same as an elder. The proof of that you find by comparing Acts 20:17 with Acts 20:28 and Titus 1:5 with Titus 1:7. The word ‘overseer’ characterizes more the nature of the work, it is a guiding and leading task. The word ‘elder’ characterizes more the office bearer, the person who executes the task, it is a person with a matured life experience.

1. 1 Timothy 3:2. The overseer “must be above reproach”. There should be no objections against him. No fault ought to be found concerning his character or conduct, for that could be used as a weapon against him by people with a negative attitude. The issues for which he definitely ought to be blameless are indicated in details in the following characteristics.
2. The first is that he must be “the husband of one wife”. Needless to say that an overseer ought to be married. How could he otherwise be able to say anything on marital problems? The significance of a pure marriage, wherein the absolute faithfulness of the overseer to his wife is the most important pillar, is uppermost.
3. He must also be “temperate”. This should be understood in a spiritual sense. It means that he abstains from everything that fuddles him. He ought to keep himself far away from all exaggeration and ought not to allow himself to be dragged by emotions, whether his own emotions or other people’s emotions. He should not allow himself to be influenced by all kinds of false teachings. He should always have a clear mind.
4. He must also be “prudent”, which refers more to his inward being. He is in control in his performance and is not quickly agitated.
5. “Respectable” refers more to the outward. His appearance and language use renders dignity. He shall not easily burst out and will not act or speak chaotically.
6. That he is “hospitable” means that he is willing to listen to others, that he is inviting and hearty.
7. That makes him able for the next quality and that is “able to teach”. He knows the Word of God and knows how to apply it in the right way.

1 Timothy 3:3. You have learnt now about seven positive characteristics. Now some negative characteristics follow.

1. He must not be “addicted to wine”. Not only that he is not drunk, but he is also in control of himself, with a view to the use of alcohol.
2. He must neither be “pugnacious”. He must remain in control in whatever way he may be provoked. He ought not to become violent. He neither fights verbally for his own right.
3. Instead of fighting for his own right, if needed with violence, he is “gentle”, he complies.
4. He must be “peaceable”. A quarrelsome person grasps every dispute to quarrel about. But an overseer doesn’t quarrel, is not on a path of war. He strives for everything that serves peace.
5. He is known as someone who is “free from the love of money”. He does not seek financial profit and will not be bribed.

1 Timothy 3:4. After mentioning the personal qualifications, as from 1 Timothy 3:4 some qualifications are mentioned that have to do with his dealings in his house (family) and in the world. The family is the first circle of responsibility. A person can only be an overseer when “he manages his own household well”. His family life makes clear whether he is suited for a broader circle of responsibility in the church. ‘Me and my house’ (see Joshua 24:15) applies especially for the overseer. His house ought to be a reflection of the house of God. When an overseer fails in that first area, it will have a major impact on the service in the second area (see Eli, 1 Samuel 2:11-Zephaniah :).

In the ‘profile’ of the overseer it is also recorded that he is “keeping his children under control with all dignaty” (cf. Genesis 18:18-Psalms :; Jeremiah 35:1-Psalms :). He is not a feeble father like Eli who did not even rebuke his sons (1 Samuel 3:13). Neither is he a bully who bashes around his children in blind anger. He applies chastisement like God chastises His children: in love and with a good purpose (Ephesians 6:4; Hebrews 12:5-2 Kings :; Proverbs 23:13; Proverbs 29:15).

The overseer deals with his children
1. with a steadfastness that it becomes recommendable to obey;
2. with a wisdom that makes it natural to obey and
3. with a love that makes them love to obey.

1 Timothy 3:5. It will be clear that ‘when a person doesn’t know how to rule his own house’, he will neither be able to “take care of the church of God”. If he doesn’t know how to deal with his children how could he be able to deal with those who are in need of care in the church? It is the church of God (Acts 20:28). That makes the task extraordinarily important.

In ‘taking care of’ you notice the loving attention of the overseer for the well-being of each member of God’s church. That care can only be found when it is in line with the loving interest that he has as a father for his own children.

Now read 1 Timothy 3:1-5 again.

Reflection: Are there men in the local church where you belong, whom you recognize as overseers, because they meet the qualifications that God’s Word shows up here?

Verses 6-11

Overseers (continuation) and Deacons

1 Timothy 3:6. An overseer may not be “a new convert” (literally: ‘newly planted’). A new convert is not able to approach spiritual problems on the basis of God’s Word. He simply doesn’t have the knowledge yet. He is neither able to sense a person who is in spiritual distress. He himself has not yet experienced a spiritual growth with the exercises that go together with that (cf. 1 John 2:12-Daniel :). Much too often he is occupied with himself and with learning to deal with the temptations of the world.

Therefore an overseer can only be someone who has already been converted for a longer time. Such a person is estimated to be spiritually grown and who also has learnt in practice that in him – that is in his flesh – nothing good dwells (Romans 7:18). You may believe with your heart and know with your mind that you are crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), but it is something quite different to keep yourself dead for sin in practice (Romans 6:11). It is of the greatest importance that you also experience the truths. A new convert cannot possibly have experience in the life of faith yet. That is not a shame, it is simply impossible.

Therefore it is highly dangerous when a young believer wants to acquire this task for himself or when people give him that task. Then he comes in the hazard area of pride or puffiness. Then the importance of his own person is number one. This often leads to arrogance and in that way to reproach (or pride) and the snare of the devil.

A local church is doing itself a disservice when it allows a young believer to bear such a responsibility. It opens the door for the pride of the devil. Pride is the original sin and was first found in the devil. He was the first creature who came up with the thought of his own interest (Isaiah 14:12-Ezra :; Ezekiel 28:12-Psalms :). That led to his fall. His judgment is sure. Let this be a serious warning for everyone who desires a task or gives a task to someone who is not (yet) suitable for it.

1 Timothy 3:7. The ‘profile’ of the overseer ends with the recognition he has outside the church – that is in society. “He must have a good reputation with those outside [the church].” It is also important how the world views such a person. Not that people should make a questionnaire in the neighborhood for that, but the overseer must be well-known as an image bearer of Christ.

That doesn’t mean that everybody speaks well of him, for that may contrarily mean that that it is not well at all (Luke 6:26). The point is that he “must not fall into reproach”. That happens when he has double reputation. On the one hand he wants to be a good Christian in church. He meets all his financial obligations and responsibilities in church and he faithfully attends the gatherings of the church. On the other hand, in the world he shows a character, a language use, a dishonesty and uncleanness that make him an object of mockery and ridicule.

This ambiguous attitude will certainly make him fall into “the snare of the devil”. That means that he becomes a prey to the devil. It is about a snare, the trap that the devil has prepared to catch the saints, and especially the leaders and to eliminate him (cf. 2 Timothy 2:26).

1 Timothy 3:8. After his interesting description of the qualifications of the overseer, Paul tells Timothy something about another particular group. It’s about the “deacons”. The overseers take care of the inward, spiritual order of the church. The deacons take care of the outward wellbeing of the church, of what is materially needed.

In Acts 6:1-Joshua : they appear for the first time. They are not called that there, but it is about the service they do. There it appears that this service – the distribution of money – originally was done by the twelve apostles. There we also see the general qualifications (Acts 6:3) and that they are chosen by the church (in contrast to the elders or overseers).

Although the deacon works on another area than the overseer, “likewise” he needs to have certain spiritual characteristics to be able to do that work. It is not ‘just a job’ that is appropriate for the pragmatic and businesslike believers. Also this material work has to be done in a spiritual way. Spiritual consideration must be made, concerning the distribution of money or goods. It must happen without favoritism.

To be a man “of dignity” is the first characteristic of the deacon. His conduct renders a dignity that shows what a deacon is occupied with, according to his inward man, his thoughts.

Also when he says something you don’t need to worry that he means something else. He is “not double-tongued”. He is no speaker who adapts himself to the audience before him, or who says things with sneaky thoughts or intentions.

It is of great importance that a deacon always has self-control. Therefore he must not be “addicted to much wine”. Being drunk is almost the quickest way for a believer to lose his dignity.

Directly connected to wine follows prosperity gained by “sordid gain”, in other words ‘dirty profit’. It is indeed very dirty to deal with the matters of God in a way to make yourself become wealthy. It is scandalous to deal from a greed for money. The deacon must spend the money, that is entrusted to him, to the needy and he must not misuse it for example by trying to speculate. He must neither seek spiritual benefits by, for instance, giving preference to certain people in order to be esteemed by them.

1 Timothy 3:9. To be occupied with outward, material matters may never be seen as a side issue. Also these matters have to do with “the mystery of the faith”. The outer deeds originate from it. The mystery of the faith is the total of the truth that is made known by Divine revelation and that is summarized in Christ. Only when the deacon clings to Christ he is able to do his work according to what is expected from him. With Christ at heart he is saved from wrong decisions and his conscience remains pure.

1 Timothy 3:10. Like the overseer ought not to be a new convert the deacon must also have proved to be faithful and reliable. You are not supposed to just ask anybody to this work. He must “first be tested”. This has got nothing to do with an experimental time or an exam. It is about a judgment of the whole person in his walk in the world and in the midst of the believers (2 Corinthians 8:22; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:4). When after an investigation the ‘candidate deacon’ is not found accountable for anything, when he appears to be “found blameless”, he is allowed to do his service.

1 Timothy 3:11. The wives of the deacons are involved in this work, often because of their practical view on the necessities in a household. (Regarding the work of the overseer, which is a work of the exertion of spiritual authority, their wives are not mentioned.) Likewise their husbands they ought to be “dignified” (1 Timothy 3:8). They must not speak out “malicious gossips”. They ought to keep the bad things they hear to themselves and are not supposed to tell these things further.

In their judgment about believers who are eligible for support they ought to be “temperate”. They are not to be influenced by all kinds of matters that can hinder them to get a right judgment.

The last feature that is mentioned is that they must be “faithful in all things”. They shall not misuse anything that is entrusted to them, both material and spiritual matters. They are reliable, you can count on them.

Now read 1 Timothy 3:6-11 again.

Reflection: Are there characteristics in this section that do not apply to you? Why not?

Verses 12-16

The House of God

1 Timothy 3:12. As it applies to the overseers, marital faithfulness is an absolute condition for the deacons. They ought to reflect God’s thoughts of faithfulness in their marriage. They must also be “good managers of [their] children and their own households”. The way they rule their own children and houses shows whether they can be considered to be capable of alleviating the financial burden of others.

Managing and distributing money where it is needed is a form of ruling. The deacons get access to and transparency in many houses and domestic issues. To be able to estimate what is needed, it is essential that their own marriage and family are in good order. A person who has debts himself could be tempted to clear his own deficiencies with the money that comes from collections.

1 Timothy 3:13. A particular reward is connected to this service when it is well performed. Deacons can “obtain” something. This word indicates that they have committed themselves to this service. God rewards that commitment with “a high standing”. A standing is something similar like a basis, a foundation. Those who have served well have laid a good basis.

This basis doesn’t serve to be promoted to a higher spiritual service, but it is the basis for another task. That task is not on material ground, but refers more to spiritual work. This position has to do with the place in the service of the Lord. Stephen and Philip are the examples of that. They were deacons and they obtained later a spiritual ministry (Acts 6:8; Acts 8:4-1 Chronicles :). God deals here according to the principle that ‘everyone who has, will be given’ (Matthew 25:29).

This ‘high standing’ goes together with “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus”. “Confidence” means that there is an inward freedom to say everything that occupies someone. There is nothing that limits him, there is no wrong conduct or sin. There is courage to do something for the Lord. That boldness has nothing to do with human courage. It is the mind of someone whose trust is completely anchored in Christ Jesus alone. It is the boldness that one has learnt to know this confidence through experience, a confidence that never fails.

1 Timothy 3:14. Paul has not informed Timothy “these things” orally, but in writing. In that way his instructions for his dealings have been fixed which also enables you to profit from this insight. After all it is also necessary for you to know how to behave and deal in the house of God as it was to Timothy.

Paul traveled to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3), but hopes to return soon to Ephesus. He has sent his letter in advance, but that doesn’t decrease his desire to come personally. Timothy’s desire for the coming of Paul must have been like that too. I believe that the speedy coming of Paul must have therefore motivated Timothy more to carry out what Paul has written.

1 Timothy 3:15. Although he was hoping to come soon he considered the possibility that his visit was not possibly to be soon. Because he always had Timothy and the church of Ephesus on his mind, he wants to tell Timothy some significant issues with a view to the conduct in God’s house.

It is about a conduct that is in accordance with the Inhabitant and the Owner of the house. Therefore the house rules that you ought to know must be made known. Without knowing them it is not possible to behave properly in God’s house, according to His will. You cannot behave yourself in God’s house the way you want. You cannot make up your own rules in that house.

The rules of conduct are presented to Timothy, but they apply to everyone who is in this house. God also determined the rules for His house in the Old Testament. Then He dwelled in the tabernacle and later in the temple. He provided His people with comprehensive prescriptions about how He wanted to be approached and how to be with Him. Then the main characteristic was: holiness (Psalms 93:5).

That is not different from His house in the New Testament. The holy God of the Old Testament is the same holy God in the New Testament. The condition on which He dwelled in His Old Testament house is the same as He dwells in His New Testament house. His New Testament house is “the church of the living God”. This house is built on Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16-Job :). God dwells in His house through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21-Song of Solomon :).

The church is on earth to testify to “the truth”. The truth is Christ and everything that is in Christ (John 14:6). The church is not the truth itself, but the bearer of the truth. It doesn’t proclaim or preach the truth, but it shows the truth and it holds that up. A “pillar” holds something up and at the same time it supports it. The church is also the “ground”. She is the basis, the certainty and assurance of the truth. The existence of the church is the proof of the truth. Outside the church there is no truth to be found.

1 Timothy 3:16. The content of the truth is “by common confession, … the mystery of godliness”. Each doubt about it is excluded. All God’s children agree with this and there is nobody who disagrees. Each believer in the church openly testifies to this mystery. The truth in Christ is hidden from the world, but is known and confessed by the believer. Isn’t it impressively “great” that you know and confess Christ, while it is still hidden to the world?

It is God’s intention that His house is inhabited by people who are characterized by “godliness”. Godliness indicates a God centered attitude that pleases God. The ‘nourishment’ of Godliness is ‘the mystery’. The more you learn to know about the mystery, the more you grow in Godliness.

Therefore Paul gives a wonderful description of the ‘mystery of Godliness’. Without mentioning the Name of Christ, it appears from the whole description that it is about Him.

Who else can that be “who was revealed in the flesh” than Christ? (See also John 1:14; Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:1.) He is the truly, everlasting God (Psalms 90:2; Colossians 1:17), Who became truly Man in (the fullness of) time (Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14). He is the living Center of the truth. It is Him alone to Whom the church ought to testify in the world.

He is “vindicated in the Spirit”. To Him the Holy Spirit testified perfectly. The Holy Spirit perfectly agreed with everything He was and did on earth, He could relate to that. The Holy Spirit declared everything righteous, there was nothing that He had to withdraw Himself from. The Holy Spirit was there when He was born (Luke 1:35), He was there in His life (Acts 10:38), when He died (Hebrews 9:14) and when He resurrected (Romans 1:4) and when He was glorified (John 16:13-2 Chronicles :).

He was “seen by the angels”. The angels saw their Creator for the first time when He was born (Luke 2:9-2 Chronicles :). Afterwards they saw Him also in His life (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43), when He was arrested (Matthew 26:53), when He resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:2) and when He ascended to heaven (Acts 1:10).

Afterwards He is “proclaimed among the nations”, which indicates that His Person and what was given in Him by God, did not stop with Israel.

The result of the preaching is that He is “believed on in the world”. He is the object of faith on the territory where He still doesn’t openly rule, but where satan is still the ruler.

Paul closes his impressive description with “taken up in glory”. This refers to the ascension to heaven of the Lord Jesus. When He was taken up, there was ‘the cloud’, the symbol of God’s glory that hid Him from the sight of the disciples (Acts 1:9).

When we see a historical order in this description, then with ‘taken up in glory’ can be meant the moment that the church is also taken up and the Lord Jesus is, as it were, complete (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Now read 1 Timothy 3:12-16 again.

Reflection: What is meant with ‘the truth’ of which the church is the pillar and ground?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Timothy 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-timothy-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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