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Observe here, 1. Our apostle acquaints Timothy with the dignity, honour, and excellency of the sacred function: He that desireth the office of a bishop, that is, to rule and teach in the church of God, he desireth a good work, that is, honourable employment.
As if our apostle had said, "Know, O Timothy, that as to the office of a bishop, whoever desireth it, doth desire a very great and excellent work; it is not a bare name, title, dignity, a place of honour and command; but a work, a work of vast importance, labour, and difficulty: take heed therefore whom thou dost admit, and of those that are also admitted into the sacred function, to consider the great weight of that important service, to enterprize it with extraordinary dread and caution, looking upon their office not with aspiring but tremendous thoughts:--for who is sufficient for these things?
Here we have St. Paul's positive character of a bishop, and what he ought to be, who is admitted into that high and honourable office in the church of God: he ought to be
blameless, a person free from scandal, without any just ground of blame: the life of a bishop should shine so bright, that others may not only behold it, but admire it, and guide their lives by the example of it.
The husband of one wife; that is, one at a time; not guilty of the sin of having many wives, or of putting away the wife by divorce, as the Jews frequently did for frivolous causes.
Here note, 1. The apostle's command (that the bishop be the husband of one wife) doth not oblige him to marry, but it establishes the lawfulness of his marriage, if he sees sufficient reason for it.
Nor, 2. Does the apostle here forbid successive marriages, as if when a bishop has married one wife, or more, he might not lawfully marry again; for this he elsewhere allows, 1 Corinthians 7:8.
From this it may not be in a man's power to abstain: many lose their first, and sometimes their second wives, so soon, that were not after-marriages lawful, all the ends of marriage must be frustrate to them; yet may we suppose by these words, and many others, that St. Paul proposes a greater degree of chastity to church governors than to other persons.
Vigilant, very diligent and watchful in the performance of his whole duty, not long absent from his flock, nor negligent when he is among them:
sober, governing his passions and appetites, reducing those rebellious powers under the dominion of reason and religion:
of good behaviour, in his words, in habit and garb, in his deeds and actions, neither proud and supercilious, nor morose and sour, but affable and easy, kind and courteous, of a composed temper and grave behaviour:
given to hospitality, not to sensuality; it is not the keeping of a free table, and open house for all comers, which St. Paul points at; but charity in entertaining strangers, poor Christians that left their country by persecuton, or such as traveled upon their lawful affairs from place to place; the free relieving of such as are necessitous and exposed to want and hardship, is the hospitality pointed at by our apostle:
apt to teach, that is, both knowing and willing, able to teach, and forward to it, having both skill and will, ability and dexterity, for that part of his duty; one that is neither ignorant of his duty, nor negligent in the performance of it.
The negative characater of a bishop now follows, showing what he must not be.
Not given to wine; that is, to much wine, no inordinate lover either of wine or strong drink, no wine-bibber, no sitter at wine in his own house, much less at taverns and public houses:
no striker, either with hands or tongue, no quarreller, that cannot keep his hand from hurting, no word-striker, no striker with the tongue, and passion, and anger; a word, we say, wounds deeper than a sword; the ministers of God may wound the consciences of men with the sword of the Spirit, but they must not wound the reputations of men with their own wrathful spirits; we must use our tongues rather to heal than wound, or if at any time to wound, it must be in order to healing:
not guilty of filthy lucre; no inordinate lover of money, which makes a man base and sordid, both in getting, keeping, and spending:
but patient, meek, and forbearing, not rigidly exacting his due, not acting summo jure, but rather parting with somewhat which in strictness may be his right for peace-sake;
not a brawler, or contentious person, often engaged in law-suits, but of a mild and peaceable disposition;
not covetous, or enslaved to the love of wealth; possess he may the good things of this life, but not be possessed by them.
A bishop being a ruler in the church of God, Timothy is advised to choose such a one to rule in the church that well and wisely governs his own family, having his children in due subjection, and both he and they behaving themselves with becoming gravity; and St. Paul subjoins a reason for this apostolical injunction, arguing from the less to the greater, thus: "The church is a large family, the bishop's house a less; the former requires a greater skill in governing of it than the latter: if then a man cannot rule a less province, how shall he manage a greater? If he cannot keep up his authority with decency and becoming gravity in his own family, how shall such a one be thought fit to be entrusted with the care of the church of God?"
Great are the obligations which lie upon the ministers of God, above all men, to guide and govern their own families, to keep their children in due subjection, and their servants in great order; because their family miscarriages reflect greatly upon their authority and prudence, and the world will pronounce them unfit for rule in the church of God, who cannot govern their own house. If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?
Learn hence, That he who knows now to rule his own house well, is in a good posture of spirit for public rule; the same wisdom, justice, and holiness for kind, but more extensive, acts in either sphere, and will regularly move in both.
A novice signifies, a young plant; here, a young, raw, unexperienced person; yet not so much young in years as in knowledge; for Timothy himself was very young: not a novice in religion then, not one that is unexperienced in the mysteries of the gospel, undertaking to teach others before he has learnt himself.
And the reason for this injunction is weighty; Lest being puffed up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil; implying, that young, raw, and unexperienced persons, when put into public office, are in very great danger of falling into the sin of pride, the devil's sin, and of exposing themselves to condemnation, the devil's punishment because their knowledge is weaker, and their passions stronger, and their graces feebler, and they want that experience which should consolidate their judgments, and are therefore in great danger of self-exalting; for none so proud and confident as the ignorant and injudicious.
Note here, That when St. Paul says, Lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil, it is as if he had said, "Lest he be condemned for the same sin that the devil was condemned for, which was pride;" not that the devil will condemn him for his pride, for the more proud a man is, the more the devil approves him; nor is it the devil's office to condemn, but to execute; he is the executioner, not the judge; he will not condemn for sin, but he will eternally torment them whom God condemns.
Note here, How needful it is for a minister to be of an untainted reputation; a bishop must be of good report, saith St. Paul; it is necessary for his own salvation that he be good, and for the salvation of others that he be accounted so: great is their sin, then, who go about to blast a minister's reputation, because something of reputation is absolutely necessary to render his ministry successful.
Note farther, He must have a good report of them that are without, that is, without the church, unbelieving Jews or Gentiles, with whom he formerly conversed; lest becoming contemptible, and so not able to perform his duty as he should, he give occasion to the heathen to blaspheme Christianity, and to reproach him for his former course of life.
Note here, 1. That there are but two sorts of fixed church-officers mentioned by St. Paul, bishops and deacons; as the church had its own bishop, so likewise its own deacons: these were at first instituted for the service of the poor; the alms of the church were brought to the altar, the deacons received them, and distributed them among the aged and impotent from house to house; now because they were thus employed, the apostle advised them to beware of those faults that are frequently committed in common conversation, as light and vain discourse, saying one thing to one person, and the contrary to another. Let the deacons be grave, not guilty of levity, but serious and composed, men of a modest and becoming carriage; not double-tongued, nor over-talkative persons, nor saying one thing to one person and the contrary to another, according to the place or company they fell into; not given to much wine, not the thing, but the excess, is forbidden; not greedy of filthy lucre, seeking to get wealth by sordid ways and means.
That is, they must be sound believers, and of an upright life, maintaining truth of doctrine and soundness of faith, by sincerity of heart and integrity of life.
Here Timothy is directed not to put any person suddenly into the office of a deacon, but to first to prove them for some considerable time; and their sufficiency being approved, let them be ordained, and use the office of a deacon.
In the original it runs, Let the women, by which is meant either the deacons' wives, or the deaconesses, who were appointed to take care of the poor women, as the deacons were of the men; understand it of both; these qualifications are very excellent and well becoming of both; they ought to be grave and sober, not light and airy, no slanderers, not devils, says the original; the sense is, not railers, nor false accusers, but diligent and faithful in all business, and trusty in all affairs. It is not enough and sufficient that the ministers of the gospel themselves be of a grave and sober conversation, but their wives also must and ought to take special care that they demean themselves answerably to their place and station, and suitably to the character which their husbands bear; so must their wives be grave.
That is, "Let not any such be admitted deacon who has more wives than one, or that hath injuriously put away one, and married to another; and let them show by the good government of their own children and household, that they are fit to govern the church of God."
Note here, That the higher officers of the church were usually chosen out of the inferior; and accordingly, the qualifications for both offices, namely, that of bishops and deacons, are for the greatest part the same, both in this epistle and in that to Titus.
That is, "Although the deacons be as servants to the bishops, yet such as use that office well, according to the foregoing rules, by so doing do purchase to themselves a good degree above the vulgar, and also have farther hopes of being advanced in the church to higher offices; and when they preach the word (as did Philip and Stephen) they might do it with great boldness, and with expectation of success, living suitably to the qualification of their function, and walking according to the rule of the gospel, which they professed and taught."
As if the apostle had said, "I do hope to come to thee very shortly; but if I tarry long, or be prevented at last, as I am uncertain, I write these things to thee, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to converse in the house of God, in the church of the living God, in which thou art a pillar and firm buttress of the truth."
Some, by the pillar here, will understand the church, as being the foundation on which the truth is built, and giving it authority; but she is therefore the church of Christ, because she holds the truth, and it is essential to her being to maintain and teach all necessary truths; she holds it forth, and publishes it to the world, sustaining it, and supporting it as a pillar doth the king's proclamation. The truth receives not its authority from the church, but the church receives authority from adhering to the truth.
Others, by the pillar, understand Timothy; and that St. Paul is here exhorting, that according to his office Timothy should be a pillar and buttress of truth in the church.
Hence, Galatians 2:9 James, Cephas, and John are said to be pillars there, as is Timothy here; a pillar in the church, signifies a man that is well rooted and grounded, and strong in the faith; this he exhorts Timothy to be.
Observe here, 1. The church's surpassing dignity: she is called the house of God, in which he dwells. God is present in all places, even in hell itself, by the immensity of his being; but the church is his palace, the place of his peculiar residence.
Observe, 2. The ministers of the church's important duty, namely, as pillars to support, maintain, and uphold, the divine truth against all those that seek to corrupt and suppress the same. Be thou, O Timothy in the church of God as the pillar and ground of truth.
Our apostle having exhorted Timothy in the preceding verses to behave himself worthily in the church of God, and as a pillar, supporting, maintaining, and upholding the truths of God, in this verse he reckons up six principal heads of evangelical truth, which are to be asserted and defended by him; ushering them in with this preface, Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness.
Learn, That our holy faith, our Christian religion, is a mystery, a great mystery, an unquestionable mystery, a mystery of godliness, a mystery hidden in God, Ephesians 3:2; hidden in Christ, Colossians 3:3; hidden in the scriptures, Revelation 3:18: hidden in and under the types and shadows of the ceremonial law; nay, hidden even in the gospel itself, for we know but in part; and if Christianity be a mystery, then the knowledge of it is the effect of divine revelation and supernatural discovery, not to be known by the light or benefit of nature, but God reveals it to us by his Spirit.
Farther, if it be a mystery, then the dispensation of it is a special favour, an arbitrary and voluntary discovery of it, to whom, when, and how far God himself pleases.
Finally, if it be a mystery, then it is to be apprehended by faith, and not to be fathomed by reason: faith looks at revelation, reason calls for a demonstration; faith embraces like Abraham, what reason laughs at like Sarah.
Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness. This is St. Paul's magnificent preface, which requires not only the assent, but challenges the obedience and adoration of our faith.
Observe next, The six principal heads of evangelical truth here reckoned up, for Timothy to study, to preach, and to defend.
1. God was manifested in the flesh; that is, the second person in the Godhead appeared in our human flesh and nature. Astonishing mystery! that the Creator of the world should become a creature, lodged in a stable, and cradled in a manger! The infinite Deity and finite flesh met in one person, and yet the Godhead not humanized, nor the humanity deified, but both invisibly conjoined; the human nature was united to the Godhead miraculously, assumed integrally, united inseparably.
2. Justified in or by the Spirit; that is, the Spirit was Christ's witness that he was no imposter or deceiver, but the promised and expected Messias, working all his miracles by the power of the Spirit, raising himself from the dead, and thereby declaring himself to be the Son of God with power, by the Spirit of holiness; and by sending the Spirit, after his ascension into heaven, down upon his disciples here on earth; thus the Spirit justified Christ really and truly to be what to be what he professed himself to be, and sealed his doctrine to the world.
3. Seen of angels; they celebrated his birth, and gave notice of it to the world, ministered to him in the wilderness, succoured him in the garden, were present at his ressurrection, accompanied him in his ascension. Seen of angels. Lord! what a stupendous sight was this; for man to see an angel is wonderful, but for an angel to see God become man was soul-amazing; they sang their Gloris Patri at his birth, they beheld and applauded his happy victory over Satan in the desert. Oh! with what eyes did they look upon his bloody sweat in the garden! With what officiousness did they roll away the stone in the morning of the resurrection! And with what universal triumphs and acclamations did they accompany him to his celestial throne!
4. Preached to the Gentiles; the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile being broken down, Christ was by his commissioned apostles preached to the Gentile world: the Jews were once children, and we dogs; theirs was the bread, ours were the crumbs; but now we are fellow-commoners with them, heirs of the same grace, partakers of the same glory.
5. Believed on in the world; Christ came into the world in so despicable a manner, that he was disregarded by the world, who are allured and taken with outward pomp and outward magnificence: therefore that any should believe on him in the world, is a just wonder, and a mystery of godliness; though Christ be liberally preached, yet he is sparingly received, Who hath believed our report? Isaiah 53:1 Christ is believed on in the world, but, alas! comparatively but by few. Lord, enlarge the number of thy believers, and confirm that number in believing!
6. Received up into glory, where he sits in his glorified humanity, united in his glorious deity, with all that blood and gore wiped off with which he was besmeared in the day of his passion, and his body shining brighter than ten thousand suns. This body the heavens must contain till the restitution of all things, when he shall come from heaven, as he went into heaven, attended with glorious angels, summon the whole host of saints to meet him in the air, that so they may ever be with their Lord. O! strengthen our faith in this desirable happiness, and set our souls longing for the full fruition and final enjoyment of it. Amen.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25