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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

1 Timothy 3

 

 

Verses 1-7

The Office of a Bishop, or Pastor.

v. 1. This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

v. 2. A bishop, then, must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

v. 3. not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

v. 4. one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

v. 5. (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?)

v. 6. not a novice, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

v. 7. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Here is a very complete table of duties for pastors and all public teachers in the Church, very much like that given in the first chapter of the letter to Titus: Trustworthy is the word, If any one covets the office of a bishop, he desires an excellent work. The doctrine which the apostle here teaches concerning the episcopal office, or ministry, is true, certain, trustworthy for all times. St. Paul here refers to the overseership, to the office of the ministry, in a very casual way, showing that he was not introducing a strange or new order of things. Originally the ministers of the Word and the deacons together seem to have formed the presbytery of the congregations, the former being designated as bishops, or overseers. It was only at the end of the first century that the chairman of the board of presbytery received the definite title of "bishop," which name was later applied only to the highest church officer in a diocese, city, or district. The hierarchical system of the Roman Church and of the Church of England is not based upon any command of the Lord, but is a mere human institution. Paul is speaking of the simple conditions as they obtained at his time when he states that if one aspires to the office of a bishop, he desires an excellent work. The ministry is a work, a labor, a toil which is fine, excellent, precious, good, not on account of the persons engaged in it, but on account of its object, Eph_4:8-12. Both preachers and hearers, however, should remain conscious of the fact that it is a service, a work, a labor, whose obligation and responsibility, not to speak of the actual activity, both mentally and physically, make it anything but a sinecure if it is properly done. The apostle therefore commends such men as aspire to this office, as are willing to take upon themselves the labor which the grace of God imposes upon them in this most glorious of all occupations.

The apostle now enumerates the principal qualifications of a bishop, of a minister of the Gospel: It is necessary, then, that a bishop be blameless. This demand, in a measure, anticipates and includes all the attributes that are named by the apostle. A minister must have a blameless, irreproachable character; he must lead such a life, not that he be altogether sinless, but that he abstain from all conduct which would rightly render him infamous in the opinion of the world. As the first requisite under this heading, St. Paul mentions: the husband of one wife, that a pastor lead a chaste and decent life, confining his attentions to his wife, if he have one, as he normally will, not living in concubinage or bigamy, or rejecting a woman to whom he is lawfully betrothed for another. Furthermore, a pastor should be sober, not only temperate in every form of sensual enjoyment, but filled with spiritual sobriety, and therefore careful, cautious, discreet, able to retain his cool judgment at a time when practically the whole world is swept with a flood of false enthusiasm and of a "Christianity" which is strongly anti-Biblical. A Christian minister and teacher, moreover, must be sound-minded, firm in character, fully master of himself, not a play of his affections and passions; decorous, displaying his spiritual sound-mindedness in his conduct, in his actions, in his speech, in the proper tact toward all men with whom he comes into contact; in short, every pastor should be a refined, courteous, polite gentleman.

These attributes of the person will naturally find their application in the entire life of the minister or teacher. He will be given to true hospitality, not in encouraging tramps or other undesirable loafers, but in showing all love toward strangers, especially those of the household of faith, Rom_12:13 : Heb_13:2; 1Pe_4:9. He must be apt to teach, able to impart knowledge to others; there must be either a natural or an acquired ability, for which reason this point is of prime importance in the training of future pastors and teachers. A congregation has a right to expect, to demand, this qualification, for unless a minister is really in a position to communicate the Christian doctrine to his hearers, he will be lacking in an essential point of his office.

The next attributes concern the relation of a pastor not only to his own members, but also to those that are without. He must not be addicted to wine, to the habitual, intemperate use of strong drink of any kind, he must not be a friend of carousals. "his is demanded with all the greater emphasis, since it may result in wanton profligacy as well as in drunken quarrels, in which he is apt to become, as Paul puts it, a striker, a quarrelsome person, always stalking about with a chip on his shoulder, engaged in heated controversy at the slightest provocation. Instead of these vices of recklessness, pride, and selfishness the apostle counsels leniency, bidding the minister be mild, be ready at all times with a conciliatory tone, avoid dissension and quarrels as long as it can be done without denial of the truth, abstain from selfishness, from covetousness and avarice. If these sins take hold of a person, they render him unfit for the glorious work of the ministry and for dispensing its priceless blessings.

The apostle now emphasizes the function of overseer which belongs to the office of the ministry: One able to manage his own house well, keeping his children in subjection by the application of all gravity (but if any one does not know how to manage his own house, how will he take the proper care of the Church of God?). A minister should have the ability to lead, to rule. He must exhibit the dignity and gravity which is conscious of the obligation resting upon him, also in his own home; he cannot be a mere figurehead. His rule and. management of his own house must be in conformity with the office entrusted to him. His children, therefore, must be in a state of submissiveness to him; he must guard his fatherly authority with quiet firmness of character. There may be cases, of course, in which children will go wrong in spite of all the efforts of the father to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But in general it holds true that people may rightly draw conclusions as to a pastor's ability to be an overseer of the flock by the success of his management at home. If he cannot take proper care of the small house congregation entrusted to him, how much less will he be able to give proper attention to the needs of every member of his larger flock? If he cannot do justice to the responsibility of managing those dependent upon him by nature, how will he do justice to the pastoral care of the children of God in the congregation?

The apostle now concludes his enumeration of the qualifications of a bishop: Not a novice, lest he, filled with conceit, fall into the judgment of the devil. A recent convert to Christianity should not be given the responsible position of bishop. He is still too weak and too inexperienced in spiritual matters; he is not yet able to meet the dangers and temptations of the office successfully. And the greatest danger would be in his own mind, namely, that his elevation to this high office tends to make him conceited, inflated with vanity. Should this condition result, however, then the inexperienced novice would fall into the condemnation of the devil, the judgment which struck Satan on account of his pride, on account of which he was cast out of heaven and met his doom. But just as a person that aspires to the office of a bishop must guard against the sin of pride, so he must use all careful watchfulness against the wary traps of the deceiver: But it is also necessary that he have a good report among outsiders, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil: The apostle does not mean to say, of course, that a Christian pastor should try to please all men, even with denial of the truth in word or deed, but he does demand that the candidate for the ministry shall have such a reputation in the community that criticism as to his moral life shall have no foundation, that nothing really infamous can be laid to his charge. Should public opinion, in such a case, be discredited and defied in a superior spirit, the result may be a discrediting, a reproach which may work harm to the Gospel of Christ. The censure directed against the person of the candidate would then be transferred to his office. In consequence of this not only he himself may fall into the snare of the devil by being driven back into his former sins, but the offense of the occurrence would be used by Satan to work in others an aversion to the doctrine of Christ. The dignity and beauty of the ministry is so great that the greatest care must be exercised in observing the qualifications here enumerated and in selecting such candidates for the pastoral office as measure up to the standard here set.


Verses 8-13

The Office of Deacons.

v. 8. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

v. 9. holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

v. 10. and let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.

v. 11. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

v. 12. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

v. 13. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

The distinction between the office of bishops and that of deacons, as here and elsewhere indicated, was mainly this, that the former were chiefly engaged in administering the means of grace, while the latter had charge of the business end of the congregation, especially of the care of the poor, although they did not neglect the service of the Word when opportunity offered. The duties of the deacons resemble somewhat those of the bishops: Deacons likewise (should be) grave, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy of gain. Since the office of the deacon brought the holders of it into frequent contact with individual families and persons, it was necessary that they, in their behavior, combined a proper gravity with dignity, thus inviting the respect of all that had occasion to observe their activity. The demand of the apostle that the deacons be not double-tongued, not insincere, can be understood all the more easily since their visits at the various houses exposed them to the temptation to speak of the same matter in different tones and manner, to tone down the truth to suit their own convenience, and to serve their purpose of being good friends with everybody. That such insincerity was hound sooner or later to cause trouble is evident. Another temptation connected with the work of a deacon was that of becoming addicted to much wine. With the many visits which they had to make and with the preparation of the love feasts connected with the celebration of the Holy Communion, they were in danger of becoming habitual drinkers, if not drunkards, of falling under the influence of a vice which was bound to be a curse to their office. Incidentally, they must not be greedy of gain or of filthy lucre, Tit_1:7; 1Pe_5:2. Since they were entrusted with the distribution of gifts of money and food to the poor, the possibility was either that they might falsify accounts and embezzle funds, or that they might accept fees for promptness in the case of certain persons.

With these dangers threatening the spiritual life of the deacons, it is not surprising that the apostle adds: Having the mystery of faith in a pure conscience. The mystery of faith, the glorious truth of salvation, whose center is Christ Jesus, the message of redemption, which is hidden from all men by nature, but has now been manifested through the Gospel, that the deacons must cling to in simple faith. Through faith the believer becomes acquainted with the precious mystery of the divine doctrine of salvation and accepts its saving blessings. In the case of the deacons, moreover, they should keep this precious treasure in a good, pure conscience, as in a safe container. The condition of their conscience did not dare to contradict the holy truth which they possessed; their whole conduct before the eyes of the congregation should serve for the edification of the Christians.

In order to avoid trouble with these officers of the congregation, St. Paul suggests a wise precautionary measure: And these, moreover, should first be proved, then let them enter upon the office of deacons, being above reproach. The apostle here makes use of a term taken from civil life. Before the newly elected officials in Athens were permitted to enter upon their duties, they were first examined whether they possessed the requisite attributes for the office. In a similar manner, the apostle wants the deacons to be examined with reference to their fitness, whether they actually possessed the necessary qualifications for the work, whether their manner of living showed them to be morally blameless. It was not necessary to have a formal examination in the presence of the congregation or with witnesses, but after the candidacy of certain men and women had been announced, everybody had an opportunity to secure the information enabling him to form a correct judgment as to the fitness of the candidate for the office to which he aspired. A similar procedure is followed in most of the congregations in our Church today and should be observed more generally. Not any persons whatever should be elected to the offices of the congregation, but only such as have the qualifications here enumerated. If no well-founded criticism and objection can be made, then the candidates that are elected may enter upon their work as deacons without hesitancy.

The apostle has a special charge to the women deacons or deaconesses: Women likewise (to be) grave, not slanderers, sober minded, faithful in all things. This verse does not concern the wives of the deacons, but is directed to the deaconesses; for women were employed in this capacity from the earliest times. See Rom_16:1. These women were to exhibit the proper gravity and dignity in their deportment, which would at all times cause men to respect them and their office. With all the kindness and devotion which they were to show in their ministry they must not permit familiarity to grow into lack of respect for the dignity of their office. And since the weakest member and the greatest enemy of most women is their tongue, the apostle warns them against becoming slanderers, against indulging in sins of defamation, of evil report. The deaconesses undoubtedly often gained an insight into the sinfulness of human nature which is not vouchsafed to many; all the more it was incumbent upon them not to abuse the trust placed in them by revealing matters that should have remained secret. They should furthermore be sober-minded, not merely observing a sensible moderation in all sensual enjoyments, but making use of quiet, firm common sense at all times. It is just in such situations in which the nerves of the average woman give way that the Christian deaconess should maintain the sane composure which finds the right thing to do. All other qualifications of Christian deaconesses the apostle includes in the demand that they be faithful in all things. The many apparent trifles which fell to the lot of the deaconesses showed their real value. It is in the many little services, the cooling hand, the gentle word, the cheerful smile, that the real greatness of service appears; in these true faithfulness becomes evident. Fortunately, the time does not seem to be far distant when we shall have deaconesses in most of our congregations. If such consecrated women, actuated by the love of Christ, devote their lives to the service of their fellow-men, their value to the Church will be beyond calculation.

Having spoken of the duties of deacons and deaconesses in general, the apostle now adds a word with regard to the married deacons: Let the deacons (each one for himself) be the husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households properly. Like the bishops, the deacons were to observe the demands of the Sixth Commandment strictly, each one living together with his own wife in all chastity and decency, not becoming guilty of unfaithfulness in the marriage relationship. If the Lord then blesses their marriage with children, the manner of bringing up the latter will prove a kind of test for the ability of the deacon in the management of the affairs of the congregation that are entrusted to him. If he takes care of his little house congregation properly, if he manages the affairs of his household well, then, all things being equal, it map he concluded that he will also have the ability to manage the larger affairs of the congregation.

At the same time Paul holds out the possibility of advancement as an inducement to show all faithfulness: For those that have served well as deacons gain a good position for themselves and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. Although the deacons belonged to the presbytery, the functions of the public teacher in the congregation were not included in their work. And yet, the work of the Christian pastor was considered as possessing greater dignity and worth than that of a deacon, chap. 5:17; Act_6:3-5. For a deacon to be considered able to teach and to be given charge of the preaching in any place was therefore adjudged a promotion. A faithful deacon, then, ambitious in the sense of chap. 3:1, would spend as much time as possible in gaining the ability to teach and long to be given the opportunity of proving his aptness in this respect. In this way individual deacons might be found worthy of the higher office, a fact which would serve to give them confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus. The connection of thought is this: A deacon's faith grew in the same measure as his faithfulness in the performance of his work; he became more fully acquainted with the doctrine of the Gospel, with the connection of the various parts. All this, of course, strongly influenced the boldness of his teaching and preaching, as we see in the case of Stephen. As long as a person has such an attitude toward his work that he does only that which is his immediate obligation, this result will never be achieved. But if eagerness to study and to serve go hand in hand, on the basis of redeeming faith in Christ the Savior, then the result is bound to show in the convincing presentation of the Christian truths on the part of the preacher. See Php_1:14.


Verses 14-16

The Purpose of Paul's letter and a Doxology.

v. 14. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly;

v. 15. but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

v. 16. 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.

The apostle here, as in 1Co_4:14, interrupts his discussions with a remark which concerns the entire letter in its purpose, and, as usual, adds a doxology in praise of God's salvation: This I am writing you, hoping to come to you soon; but in case I am detained that you may see how men should conduct themselves in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, pillar and foundation of the truth. The apostle at the time of writing evidently had the object and the definite hope of visiting his beloved pupil soon. But in any event he wanted to write at least this much, send him at least this communication. Should the apostle then be detained, should unforeseen events cause him to postpone his journey, the instructions contained in this letter would at least enable Timothy to know how he was to conduct himself with all other believers in the house of God, which, as St. Paul joyfully calls out, is the Church of the living God. The office of pastor and overseer, which includes both teaching and pastoral care, is exercised in the house of God, in the Christian Church. Every minister's work is among the members of the household of God, among the living stones that are being built up into a holy temple in the Lord. His work is done in the living God, the one and only Source of all true life, from whom all Christians continually receive strength and life. But the Church is not only the house and the temple of God, but also the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Just as the roof of a large building, the part which completes its exterior, is borne by the foundation as the bulwark of its stability and by the pillars which rest upon the foundation, so it is with the divine truth in the Church. The Church is bearer and home of the divine truth of the Gospel, which she has received as a precious gift. This truth she must guard and uphold against all tempests and against all the onslaughts of her enemies; and this she can do because her foundation is Jesus Christ, the Rock against whom the portals of hell cannot prevail.

As usual, the thought of the glory of the gifts which have been given to the believers by Christ causes the thoughts of the apostle to rise in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the great Lord of the Church: And admittedly great is the mystery of godliness: Who was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, appeared to angels, was preached among the Gentiles, was believed on in the world, was received up in glory. The mystery of the Gospel-truth not only works regeneration, but also sanctification; its purpose is to work true godliness, the proper reverence and worship of God. The apostle now characterizes this mystery in a hymn which he either composed at this writing or which he quoted from the liturgy of the Church as then in use, a wonderful hymn in praise of the exalted Christ.

It was the second person of the Godhead, true God from eternity, who, in the fullness of time, was manifested in the flesh. He had not been visible to men before, they had not seen Him face to face. But He now appeared in the flesh, in the form and likeness of our sinful flesh, Rom_8:3; Joh_1:14; He became a true man like us, but without sin. As the representative of mankind, however, He was justified in the spirit, in the divine nature which was communicated to His flesh. According to both natures Christ carried out the work of redemption, bearing our sins, suffering and dying according to His human nature, reconciling the wrath of God and conquering death and hell according to His divine nature. God has accepted the redemption of Christ; the Redeemer has been declared justified before God and the whole world, 1Pe_3:18.

In the next verse of his inspired hymn, the apostle declares that Christ appeared to angels. Just as the good angels often served the Lord in the days of His humiliation, Mat_4:11 : Luk_22:43, as they were present at His birth, after His temptation, at His resurrection, so He now permitted them to view the fullness of His glorification when He was making His triumphal entry into the halls of heaven. See Psa_47:1-9; Psa_24:7-10; Isa_63:1-19. The ascension of Christ incidentally marked the beginning of a new era in Gospel proclamation. Before that the Gospel had been preached to Gentiles only in individual cases, the chief work of Christ and the apostles having been confined to the lost sheep out of the house of Israel. But the ascension of Christ, with Pentecost, changed all this very decidedly. Now His servants went out into all the world and preached the Gospel to every creature, placed Christ before the face of all men as the Savior of the world. This work of preaching Christ to the Gentiles must continue till the full number of the elect has heard the glad message and the last day dawns.

That the preaching of the Gospel does not return void, the apostle proclaims in the last verse of his hymn: He was believed on in the world. Christ, the content of all Gospel preaching, is also the object of faith. Wherever the message of redemption is proclaimed, there faith is wrought. True, indeed, the great mass, the majority of men, reject Christ and His salvation; He is not believed on by the world. But in the world, in the midst of the sinners that have come short of the glory of God, there are always some hearts that are won for the Gospel of Christ, that believe in Christ as their Savior. And this faith of the Christians does not rely upon a mere man, still living in lowliness and humility in their midst, but upon Him who was received up into glory and in glory. Christ, according to His human nature, has now entered into the full use of the divine majesty, which was communicated to Him as man, in the state of humiliation. He is over all, God blessed forever! Amen.

Summary.The apostle discusses the qualifications and duties of the offices of bishops and deacons and concludes with a reference to the purpose of his letter and a splendid doxology addressed to the exalted Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/1-timothy-3.html. 1921-23.

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