Monday, November 14, 2011

"Great Confidence"
(An exegesis of 1 Timothy 3)

Paul opened his letter to Timothy by discussing the importance of sound doctrine: the true Gospel. He went on in chapter 2 to describe the result of that Gospel taking root in a person's life. Now, in chapter 3, he begins to address Church structure, and he starts by addressing the leadership.

It's interesting that these instructions for proper leadership are right at the heart of his letter. If these were directed at Timothy alone, they'd be found at the closing, not right in the middle! But Paul needs the whole church to hear this. Why? Because we are one body, with Christ as our head. The office of overseer (*1) and deacon are held by members of the Body just like every position in the Church is held by a member with the appropriate gift. Whatever one member does affects the whole body. Therefore, choosing proper leadership is a community project (*2).

Furthermore, we know from 1 Tim 3.1 that this portion of the letter is written not only to current pastors, but to those who aspire to be pastors. Following Christ's model/mandate of making disciples, every pastor should assume that within his congregation are young men who are destined to be pastors. Again, this makes the guidelines of pastoral character relevant to everybody. We aren't just responsible to choose good leaders, we also have to raise good leaders. Therefore every person who has any role in the life of a boy or young man ought to embrace this passage that they may teach the qualifications of such a position to the men God is raising up to hold them.

Paul begins his list. An overseer must be:
  1. Above reproach
  2. The husband of one wife
  3. Sober-minded
  4. Self-controlled
  5. Respectable
  6. Hospitable
  7. Able to teach
  8. Not a drunkard
  9. Not violent but gentle
  10. Not quarrelsome
  11. Not a lover of money (1 Tim 3.2-3)
Do we care about the church? Do we really love the Bride of Christ and want to see her flourish? If we do, these are the things we ought to be dwelling on and seeking after! God, teach me these things. Let these characteristics identify me so that I will be able to raise up godly men to shepherd your Church.

Paul continues his list, this time starting to explain his requirements, and his reasoning has the same theme we saw in chapter 1: Shipwreck. Paul realizes that no Christian--not even pastors--are above making shipwreck of their faith.

He urges that overseers be able to manage their own households; if not, how can they manage God's house (1 Tim 3.4-5)? He must not be a recent convert; otherwise he will become conceited and fall into condemnation of the devil (1 Tim 3.6). He must be well thought of by outsiders, or else he may fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil (1 Tim 3.7). These are very real dangers. Paul is laying out recipes for disaster here. Pastoral office + uncontrolled home = ruin. Pastoral office + recent convert = ruin. Pastoral office + poor reputation with non-believers = ruin.

Then he addresses the role of deacon. If verses 1-7 weren't close-to-home enough for us, addressing our role in raising up men who desire to shepherd, the rest of the chapter will resonate with all of us because it ought to be addressing all of us. The word deacon (diakonos) simply means "servant." We know from 1 Peter 4.10-11 that all Christians ought to be serving (diakoneo) the body somehow. So while Paul does designate an official role of Deacon (proper) within the Body, he also makes it clear in Galatians 5.13 that we are all to be busy "deaconing" one another. In fact in the next chapter, Paul gives instructions to the whole body for how to be good deacons of Christ (1 Tim 4.6).

His qualifications for Deacons are similar to those of overseer. A Deacon must be:
  1. Dignified
  2. Not double-tongued
  3. Not addicted to much wine
  4. Not greedy for dishonest gain
  5. A bearer of sound doctrine (consider 1 Tim 3.9 alongside 1 Tim 3.16)
  6. Clear of conscience
  7. Blameless even when tested
  8. Faithful in all things (*3)
  9. Able to manage his/her household well (1 Tim 3.8-12)
Wow. That's a weighty list! I guess for a pastor a long list would be good, but is this much really demanded of all Christians? Most of us fall very short. If I was to read this list and put my Bible down right here, I'd be ready to walk away. That's way too much to ask, Mr. Paul. Sorry, but you can count me out.

But I didn't put my Bible down; I kept reading. And then comes the most glorious promise--the only thing I could imagine making all that work worth it--Paul names the reward for faithful deaconing:
"Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 3.13) 
The reward is great confidence in your faith. What could possibly be more desired among Christians than greater confidence in our God? Is this not what we pray for daily? If only I could kill my doubt! If only I could believe with greater confidence!

Want greater confidence? Find a way to serve. That is Paul's message.

The reward is great, and the Gospel, the Truth in which we have our confidence, is our catalyst, our motivation for serving! Paul finishes his thought by reminding Timothy of Whom he is serving. Timothy is a servant in the house of the living God, which is a pillar and a buttress of truth (1 Tim 3.15)! What Paul's saying is, "As you serve, as you evangelize and teach, you are doing all of it within the context of the Truth of the Gospel." It is because of the Gospel (1 Tim 3.16) that pastors pastor and deacons deacon.




Footnotes:
*1 - It's important to note that in the biblical usage, overseer, pastor, elder, and shepherd are all synonymous. See 1 Peter 5.1-2; Acts 20.17,28.
*2 - Ephesians 4.8-12 teaches that Christ died and ascended in order to give gifts to the saints to equip them for ministry. Among the gifts listed are pastors. Notice that pastors exist as a tool to enable the saints to minister. God didn't intend pastors to be the only ministers; He intended all the saints to minister, and He provided them with pastors as resources.
*3 - 1 Timothy 3.11 is difficult in English, but in Greek it reads "likewise the females must..." I believe Paul is addressing deaconesses in verse 11 rather than the wives of deacons.

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