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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

1 Timothy 3

 

 

Verses 1-16

If before we have seen personal conduct that is to be consistent with assembly character, this chapter, while dealing with personal character still, connects it directly with the order of the assembly. The work of the overseer, or elder, is a good work. It is not actually an "office" one is to desire here, but the work. The bishop is simply the overseer, one who cares for the state of the assembly, and watches over its spiritual interests and conditions. Acts 20:1-38 shows these men as "the elders of the assembly" (v. 17, 28); and Titus 1:1-16 confirms this also. "Overseer" indicates the work he was given: "elder" describes the person; for he must be a man of experience. Never is one said to be "the overseer" or "the elder" of an assembly; for this was not a place one person was allowed to take exclusively. Philippians 1:1 is addressed to the saints, and to the bishops (overseers) and deacons; and the appointment of elders (not an elder) is seen to be "in every assembly" (Acts 14:23; Ti. 1:5). This appointment in the various Gentile assemblies established by Paul was under­taken by Paul and Barnabas, and in Crete was delegated to Titus by Paul. Never was this left to the assembly to do. It is possible Paul also gave Timothy the authority to make such appointments, though this is not directly stated here; but the important matter here is rather the qualifications of the overseer. No apostle is here now to delegate authority for appointing elders, and therefore the official appointment is scripturally impossible. But the work of the elder is still to be done, and where there are proper qualifications, and willingness to do this work, the saints must certainly be prepared to recognize and respect men of such character.

As to his character, an overseer is simply to be thoroughly Christian: these same characteristics ought to be seen in all saints. But added to this, he must be an elder man, a man of some experience, the husband of one wife, and apt to teach.

The word for "vigilant" here is more correctly sober or circumspect, while that for "sober" in the Authorized Version has the force of "a sound mind." His behavior is to be orderly, and in his home he is to practice hospitality. Having one wife would evidently indicate that he must be proven in family life. Doubtless many were converted in those days who had more than one wife. This would disqualify them from the place of an overseer, even though the grace of God had wrought mightily in their souls. For there had been a basic character displayed of insensibility to God's order even in creation. This was not to be ignored even after conversion, as to governmental matters. In such cases problems would no doubt arise that would call for real exercise of soul, as to what must be done, but Scripture gives no instruction as to what a man must do who had already married two wives.

It was not required that an elder should be a teacher, but that he should have sufficient knowledge of the Word that he was "apt to teach," having a heart to instruct the saints in the things of God, whether or not he had the gift of teaching.

If one did not control himself as regards the drinking of wine, he could have no place in the control of the assembly; and this was true too as regards being "a striker," which involves lack of control of his own temper. Similarly, he must not be a lover of money, for this evidences lack of control over his own selfishness. Patience on the other hand involves having rule over ones spirit. This is rendered "mild" in the Darby Translation. A contentious attitude is the destruction of such things.

Moreover, his own house must be orderly, his children in subjection, for this was the very proving ground of his ability to keep order in the assembly. Therefore, he must not be a "novice," one who was only new in the knowledge of Christ, for experience was a real necessity; and premature lifting up of one to a conspicuous place could result in his being puffed up with pride, that which was the downfall of the Devil. We must have enough concern to preserve souls from this grave danger.

Finally, the outside world must see in him that which is honorable and righteous. If his dealings with the world are questionable, he would himself fall into reproach and involve the assembly with him, if he had any place of eldership. And here the snare of the Devil is laid for him, for the Devil gloats over being able to speak reproachfully of the child of God and the assembly of God.

Verse 8. The deacon is simply a ministering servant, occupied particularly with the care of temporal arrangements and necessities in connection with the local assembly. In Acts 6:1-15 there were seven of these appointed to wait on tables. In this case the brethren were told to look out from among themselves seven men of honest report, and these were appointed. The apostles left the assembly free to choose these men. This was not so as to elders, who were rather appointed by apostles or by one who had been specifically delegated by an apostle. The saints are not allowed to decide who is to have spiritual oversight in the assembly: God decides this independently of them. But for the care of their temporal things the assembly is perfectly right to decide who is to assume responsibility.

However, even for temporal matters, it is essential that one should have spiritual qualifications, for he is responsible to act with fullest integrity and proper care for the interests of the assembly. The requirements of a deacon are similar therefore to those of an elder, except that it was not necessary that he be an elder man or have special experience; but he must be of solid character, not using his tongue in political maneuvering, controlling his appetite, not fond of money; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience­ that is, that the truth of Scripture must have vital control in his conscience, thereby maintaining it uncontaminated. Time was first to be allowed to prove the character of the man, before giving him this work.

Besides this however, their wives must have a character of dependability, not slanderers; for the wife may too easily influence her husband, and this can be of serious importance in the temporal affairs of the assembly. Again, the deacons were to be those who had only one wife, having their children in subjection, for their work was connected with govern­mental administration in the assembly, and ability to keep proper order was imperative.

The summing up of this in verse 13 involves a principle of vital importance. One whose work of a deacon was well done, by this very means found great blessing for his own soul, gaining much strength by way of being "faithful in that which is least." This always leads to greater things, being entrusted with "much." It is illustrated beautifully in

Stephen and Philip, both chosen as deacons in Acts 6:1-15, and both later given "great boldness" in declaring the precious truths of God, whether truth, as in Stephen's case, that struck home to the consciences of Israel (Acts 7:1-60); or as in Philip's case, the gospel of grace that reached the hearts of the Samaritans (Acts 8:1-40).

The importance of Paul's subject in this epistle was such that, though expecting to see Timothy, he must not think of delaying his message as long as he himself might be delayed. It is with similar urgency that John writes his second epistle (to the elect lady, 2 John 1:12), for she must be warned of the danger of receiving false teachers into her home. Does this not teach us that we too must allow ourselves no delay in obeying such vital truths as are here expressed? The chief reason for the writing of this epistle is that the individual may know how to conduct himself in connection with the house of God, the Assembly. Is this a matter of real concern to every child of God? How little, sadly, is this the actual case! The unity, prosperity, strength, and growth of the assembly is too often completely ignored, while we think only of personal interests, blessings, testimony, or perhaps of a few others, who are special friends. If God's interests are truly ours, then let us remember that the house of God is "the assembly of the Living God, the pillar and base of the truth.,' This surely involves all the beloved saints of God, though all as united together in one by the power of the Spirit of God. It is only here that the truth today is properly displayed. Ignoring God's Assembly is ignoring the truth. And the Assembly remains "the pillar and base of the truth," though she has been guilty of too greatly compromising her place in practice, so that the truth does not shine out in the clearness with which it should. All true believers form that Assembly in which God delights, though in 2 Timothy 2:1-26 "a great house" is found, which involves a mixture of falsehood with the true, and this is foreign to the truth, so that the individual, in order to rightly behave in the house of God, must purge himself from the vessels to dishonor, and "follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."

In the first epistle this had not yet appeared, of course; and if every individual had always rightly conducted himself in the house of God, such disorder would not have appeared. Nevertheless, the responsibility of every saint remains the same as to his proper conduct: the failure of the mass does not give the individual liberty to also disobey. In fact, it becomes more imperative that he have sober wisdom and exercise to discern the mind of God as to his proper behavior, with full purpose of heart to obey.

Verse 16 expresses the marvellous truth which the assembly is here to bear as a precious witness before all creation. There is no question as to the greatness of the mystery of piety. This does not mean that we have any excuse to remain ignorant of it. Speaking of this word, "mystery," or in the Greek, "musterion," Vine's Dictionary says, "In the New Testament it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit." Therefore, it is not only difficult, but impossible for unbelief to understand. Yet for faith it is made known in its grandeur and greatness such as draws out the marvelling adoration of the heart.

"God was manifest in flesh." It is impossible to over­estimate the wonder of this matchless revelation. Very possibly the proper translation here may be "He who was manifest in flesh"; but the truth remains the same; for this was certainly not an angel so manifested, and of man this form of speech could never be used, for man is flesh. But Philippians 2:6-7 and Colossians 2:9 are as clear as can be that this One existed first m the form of God," and that now In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Precious, wonderful revelation of infinite love and grace! What natural mind could conceive a miracle so great as that of the incarnation of the Eternal Deity, the Creator, in lowly human form - indeed as a dependent Babe in His mother's arms? How this could be is beyond the reasoning of our minds; but the fact is proven abundantly in the Word of God. Many things in the history of the Lord Jesus can be attributed only to the fact that He is God, for instance His "knowing all things" (John 18:4; John 21:17); His answering the unspoken thoughts of men's minds (Mark 2:6-8); His calming of the sea (Mark 4:39); His walking on the sea (Matthew 14:25); His raising the dead (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44); and His many other miracles of grace.

On the other hand, many things about Him can be traced only to the fact that He is truly Man: His weariness at the well of Sychar (John 4:6); His fourteen prayers of lowly dependence inthe Gospel of Luke, and perhaps specially that in the Garden of Gethesemane where He was prostrate in agony, with 1,strong crying and tears" (Luke 22:41-44; Hebrews 5:7); His actual death (the spirit leaving the body); His literal resurrection in bodily form (Luke 23:46-47; Luke 24:36-43). These sublime witnesses to His eternal deity and perfect manhood are unspeakably

us to the believer, filling the heart with thanksgiving for the amazing truth that He is manifest in flesh.

" justified in the Spirit." The significance of this is shown in Scripture to be of great importance. This was thirty years after His incarnation, when about to begin His public ministry. Being baptized by John in the river Jordan, He came up out of the water to be greeted by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the Father's voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).

This was a public justification for every observer, of the truth of every claim of the Lord Jesus: the Spirit of God coming upon Him, the Father's voice giving His unqualified approval of Him. Perfectly sufficient witness is in this way borne to Him, a witness which was of course continued in the evident fact of the power of the Spirit being evidenced in every detail of His life. But the initial fact could not be disputed, being observed by many witnesses, of whom John the Baptist is rightly the chief spokesman, his witness clearly recorded in John 1:32-34.

Though chronologically the fact of His being "seen of angels" comes before His being "justified in the Spirit," yet it was of more importance that God's own approval of Him by the descent of the Spirit should be first mentioned here: the wondering admiration of angels is secondary. Yet this too is intended to engage our deep attention. Is it not a marvelous indication of the fact that in the incarnation of the Lord of Glory is the first time that angels have ever truly seen God? In the greatness of His effulgent glory, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, there is brightness beyond any creature's ability to behold; and though for ages existent, angels had never known a true manifestation of the glory of God until the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

The reader may find greatest blessing in considering the many occasions on which angels are spoken of in connection with the entire history of the Lord Jesus, from before His birth until taken up after His resurrection. It is most precious to observe the evident vital interest these took in everything concerning Him.

"Preached unto the Gentiles" is again a matter of wonder­ful importance. The Old Testament had no message to be proclaimed to Gentile nations; and four thousand years of history passed by before the message of God could be sent world-wide. Only the manifestation of the glory of God in the person of Christ could provide so vital a message. Israel had b: en given the law of God, accompanied by "blackness and darkness and tempest," with smoke and the sound of a trump - a law cold and hard as the stones upon which it was v, ritten, inexorable in its penalties against disobedience; which held no gospel, no message of grace, no forgiveness, no justification, no rest. But grace now invites all nations to come to the knowledge of the Son of God. He Himself is preached: He Himself is "the way, the truth, and the life."

Another fact worthy of attention here is simply that He has been "believed on in the world." There are those who, in the face of the world's concerted unbelief, take a stand of implicit faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: their number is not the impor­tant thing, but their acceptance of the pure truth of Him who is God manifest in flesh, a precious witness in the eyes of God.

Last of all mentioned is His being "received up in glory" (though this of course actually preceded His being preached to Gentiles). For God in human form, a miracle of this kind is of course no difficulty whatever. And He remains true Man, in whom all the glory of the Godhead is manifested for eternity. Here ends the apostle's treatment of the mystery of godliness. Wonderful witness indeed, which the Assembly, the house of God, is intended to present to all creation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-timothy-3.html. 1897-1910.

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