This month’s lessons are taken from 1 Timothy. It is popularly known as one of the “Pastoral Epistles,” along with 2 Timothy and Titus. These three letters from the apostle Paul contain helpful guidance for selecting godly elders and deacons to lead the church.
Elders/1 Timothy 3:1-7
Paul begins with a familiar statement of emphasis: “Here is a trustworthy saying” (see 1 Timothy 1:15). The leader described as an overseer here is also called an elder. In Scripture, the terms pastor (shepherd), elder, and overseer are used interchangeably to describe the same group of people (Acts 20:17-28). A candidate for elder should not have to be “talked into” the job. He should look forward to serving the Lord in this capacity.
The overseer must be above reproach. This general qualification summarizes all of the others. Literally, there must be no “handle” in his life (nothing for critics to take hold of) that could hinder his work. He is to be the husband of but one wife, a one-woman man. Being an example to the flock starts with his relation to his own family. Temperate, self controlled. He restrains his appetites. Respectable, hospitable. Whether in opening his home to a hurricane victim or a traveling missionary, the leader sets the example. Able to teach. Such teaching need not be in front of a class, but may be one on one. This is one of the few qualifications specified for an elder, but not a deacon (see 1 Timothy 5:17).
After the positive qualifications, Paul next lists the negative ones. Not violent but gentle. Gracious and kind. Not quarrelsome. He is to make peace, not stir strife! Not a lover of money. Not greedy, but generous. The elder must demonstrate leadership in his home. His children obey him with proper respect. Such respect is earned, not demanded. The overseer must demonstrate his ability to oversee his own family before undertaking the care of the family of God. Overseers are servants, and their service includes looking out for the church’s good.
Not a recent convert. New Christians need time to mature. An elder is not simply one who is older, but one who is “grown up” spiritually. Fall under the same judgment as the devil. This probably refers to pride, which led to his downfall. A good reputation with outsiders. The elder is to be well thought of by two groups—those within the church and those without. Consistency in life is essential for the Christian leader.
Deacons/1 Timothy 3:8-15
“Deacon” means servant. The qualifications for a deacon are similar to those of an overseer (elder). Many Bible scholars believe the seven described in Acts 6:1-6 were the first deacons, although the text does not use that term to identify them. Sincere literally means not being double-tongued—saying one thing to one person, and something else to another. Not indulging in much wine. The danger of strong drink is underscored.
They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith. Spiritual depth is a requirement for deacons as well as for elders. They must first be tested. No novice here, either. If there is nothing against them. They also are to be “above reproach” (see 1 Timothy 3:2).
Their wives are to be women worthy of respect. The original language does not contain the word “wives,” but simply says “the women.” The expression could refer to the wives of the deacons, but it could also be describing a separate group of church workers—deaconesses. Or it could be a general directive for all women serving in the church. Whatever it may be, the instructions are clear. They are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
Like the elder, the deacon is to have a good reputation in handling his home responsibilities. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. Faithful work in the kingdom always brings God’s reward. In explaining these qualities of leadership, Paul wanted to make sure his readers will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. Throughout the centuries his inspired directions have helped all who seek to reproduce the kind of church Jesus wants.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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