3. Selecting Leaders in God's Household
(1 Timothy 3:1-16; Titus 1:6-9)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (42:23)

Rembrandt (1606-1669), "St. Jerome at Prayer" (1635), etching,
Rembrandt (1606-1669), "St. Jerome at Prayer" (1635), etching, 4-1/2"x3-1/8". Larger image.

Since the problem facing the Ephesian church was false teachers, some of whom were elders (Acts 20:30), Paul begins this section by reiterating the qualifications for an overseer. Timothy, of course, is scarcely new to these things. But Paul is putting it in written form to teach the church and buttress Timothy's authority as he works to set things in order

Since both 1 Timothy and Titus give similar instructions about qualifications of leaders in New Testament churches, We'll consider both together in this lesson. Later, We'll study the Letter to Titus itself in Lesson 7 and Lesson 8.

3.1 Qualities of Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-16; Titus 1:6-9)

Overseer or Bishop (1 Timothy 3:1-2)

"1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach...." (1 Timothy 3:1-2)

In verse 1, "being an overseer" (NIV, NASB), "office of a bishop" (KJV, NRSV), the verb is episkopē (from which we get our English word "Episcopal") which means, "engagement in oversight, supervision," of leaders of Christian communities.125 "Overseer" (NIV, NRSV), "bishop" (KJV, NRSV) in verse 2 is the noun episcopos, "one who watches over, guardian." The term was taken over in Christian communities in reference to one who served as "overseer" or "supervisor," with special interest in guarding the apostolic tradition.126

Synonyms: Overseer = Elder = Pastor (Titus 1:5-7)

Titus' Task on Crete

"5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless...." (Titus 1:5--6)

The word episcopos in 1 Timothy is used interchangeably in Titus 1:5-7 with "elder," a term used in both Jewish and Christian communities.127 The Ephesian leaders are called "elders" in Acts 20:17 as well as "overseers" in Acts 20:28, with the function of shepherding the church. Of course, the noun poimēn can be translated either "shepherd" or "pastor." Thus, in the early church, the terms are used interchangeably:

overseer / bishop = elder / presbyter = pastor / shepherd

Apparently, this continued through the first century, since both 1 Clement (c. 96 AD) and the Didache (late first century) refer to bishops/overseers and deacons as the two offices in the Christian church.128 By the early second century in Syria and Asia Minor, however, bishops as leaders of local congregations disappeared and were replaced by a monarchical bishop who supervised the presbyters of local congregations.129

Qualities of Overseers and Deacons

Since many of the qualities to be looked for in an overseer and a deacon are the same, I think it is helpful to consider the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus together. Instead of taking these verse by verse, I've grouped them by category. As we study these groups of traits, we begin to get a feel for what a church leader should look like. I break down Paul's guidelines into general reputation, family stability, basic character, personal traits and habits, and doctrinal fidelity. To study this, you might find it useful to print out a copy of the full comparison chart found in Appendix 1.

Let me suggest three considerations that should govern all of Paul's selection criteria for leaders:

  1. Guidelines not laws. Paul isn't creating a new legalism for leaders. He is giving selection guidelines to Timothy in his search for qualified elders and deacons to lead the church. We err if we treat these guidelines like laws.

  2. We ignore wisdom at the peril of the church. Just because these aren't laws doesn't mean they should be ignored when convenient.

  3. Grace is needed. No elder or deacon lives without fault during his or her whole life. We all have failings. We must hold very high standards for our church leaders, but temper this with grace towards those who are repentant and seeking to improve.

General Reputation

(1 Tim 3:2-7)
(Titus 1:6-9)
(1 Tim 3:8-12)

respectable (2)


worthy of respect (8),
worthy of respect (11) (wives/deaconesses)

good reputation with outsiders (7)



One of Paul's considerations for the leaders of the small, suspect, and sometimes persecuted religion known as Christianity was leaders who were people of respect in the community. Too often, elders and deacons are chosen in a popularity contest, rather than by weighing who will best represent the church in the community. Three words are used to convey these qualities:

"Respectable" (NIV, NRSV), "of good behavior" (KJV) in 1 Timothy 3:2.130

"Worthy of respect" (NIV), "serious" (NRSV), "dignified" (NASB), "grave" (KJV). While I've met a few deacons who were "close to the grave," this word doesn't really mean "serious" with no sense of humor. Jesus certainly displayed a sense of humor. Here it means, "worthy of respect/honor, noble, dignified, serious."131

"Good reputation" (NIV, NASB), "good report" (KJV), "well thought of" (NRSV).132

Have you ever met a church leader so bizarre in character that he is a laughing stock in the community? Or even worse: someone who has a reputation for greed, cheating in business, or womanizing? It shouldn't be so! It brings disrepute on Christ and his church.

Marriage and Family

(1 Tim 3:2-7)
(Titus 1:6-9)
(1 Tim 3:8-12)
husband of but one wife (2) husband of but one wife (6) husband of but one wife (12)
manage his own family well, children obey with proper respect (4-5) children are believers and not wild or disobedient (6) manage his children and household well (12)
hospitable (2) hospitable (8)  

The next group of qualities relate to family life and respectability.

Husband of but One Wife

The phrase "husband of but one wife" is found in all three lists, literally "to be a one-woman man."133 Conversely, widows to be supported by the church must have been "the wife of one man" (1 Timothy 5:9).

But what does this mean? Various interpretations would exclude leaders who are:

  1. Polygamous. While polygamy was occasionally practiced among the Jews in the first century, it was rare among Jews, and probably even rarer among Greeks and Romans.134 Thus this probably isn't what Paul was referring to.
  2. Unmarried (either never married or widowed). Since Paul (and probably Timothy also) was unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:7-8; 9:5), this isn't his reference.
  3. Widowed and remarried. Since Paul encourages widows and widowers to marry "in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39), this probably isn't his reference.
  4. Divorced and remarried. Since the New Testament seems to recognize divorce and remarriage by the innocent party in the case of marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9) or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15), this probably isn't his reference.
  5. Unfaithful within the marriage. Most likely Paul is referring to sexual faithfulness within the marriage bond on the part of elders and deacons. This is important for two reasons:
    1. They must be considered above reproach in the larger community or they will bring disrepute on the church.
    2. Their example will be emulated by families in the church. Since it was generally accepted among Greeks and Romans that men could have sexual relations with women other than their wives, such as mistresses, this would be an important matter in the context of the churches in Ephesus and Crete.

Of course, matters of divorce and remarriage are notoriously controversial within the Christian church and sincere Christian believers won't find full agreement on these matters.

Marital unfaithfulness is one leadership criterion that should exclude a person from church leadership, even if temporary lapses in other leadership selection criteria may not. Does this mean that a person who was unfaithful 15 years ago should never be considered for church leadership? I'm not saying that. But it is important that a leader have an established and consistent pattern of marital faithfulness before being allowed to lead the church -- either for the first time or after a moral lapse.

Managing the Family Well

"4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)" (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

"A deacon ... must manage his children and his household well." (1 Timothy 3:12)

"An elder must be ... a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient." (Titus 1:6)

In all three lists the ability of the leader to manage his family is mentioned. Why? Because there is a direct relationship between the ability to provide effective leadership to one's family household and the ability to manage God's household, the church.

"Manage" (NIV, NRSV), "ruleth" (KJV) is proistēmi, "to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head (of)."135 But this leadership is not to be autocratic or domineering. Rather his role is to "care for, take care of"136 the church (1 Timothy 3:5), as would a servant or steward of someone else's property.

If he is acting effectively, his children should (1) obey him, (2) respect him, and (3) be believers themselves. Of course, children will increasingly exhibit their own personalities and character. But observing them will tell you something about the candidate for church leadership. If his children are "wild and disobedient" (Titus 1:6), that may be a sign that something is wrong with the leader. Of course, our cultures are different than the strong patriarchal family structure of the first century, so that must be taken into account, also.

Q1. (1 Timothy 3:2-12; Titus 1:6) What kind of leader do you believe Paul is indicating for us with the phrase "husband of one wife"? Why is a leader's family an important indicator of leadership potential or problems?


The final qualification in this category of marriage and family is being "hospitable" (NIV, NRSV), "given to hospitality" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). The word means literally, "love of strangers."137 The Middle Eastern culture, of course, is well known for its hospitality toward strangers. It was considered a duty of all to show hospitality.

A leader who doesn't show hospitality to others is likely to lack two character qualities: (1) generosity and (2) openness towards others. Of course, in many cultures today hospitality is practiced less in the home and more in restaurants. But the attitude of generosity and help toward others must remain the same.

Basic Character

The first quality that Paul gives for a leader is to be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:2). Character in a leader is primary, since everything flows from that.

Too often when we select leaders in the church, we' re looking for warm bodies that are willing. We don't really examine character. But we neglect this to our peril.

For the purposes of our discussion I've separated "basic character" qualities from "general reputation" (discussed above) and "personal traits and habits," but there's no firm line, of course. They all relate to one's character or manner of living.

(1 Tim 3:2-7)
(Tit 1:6-9)
(1 Tim 3:8-12)

above reproach (2)

blameless (6, 7) nothing against them (10)


  trustworthy in everything (11) (wives/deaconesses)


one who loves what is good (8)  


upright (8)  


holy (8)  

not a recent convert (6)

  tested first (10)

"Above reproach" (NIV), "blameless" (KJV) in 1 Timothy 3:2 means "not open to censure, irreproachable."138

"If there is nothing against them" (NIV), "if they prove themselves blameless" (NRSV), "being found blameless" (KJV).139

Selecting a leader with unanswered charges is foolish and can backfire if the charges are proven or publicized. The City of Sacramento elected a mayor who had been accused of molesting a high school girl and his non-profit organization was under investigation for misuse of federal funds. He seems like a great guy, but ....

"Faithful, trustworthy." In 1 Timothy 3:11, deacon's wives (or deaconesses) are to be "trustworthy in everything" (NIV), "faithful in all things" (NRSV, KJV).140 Faithfulness, dependability, trustworthiness is a basic and indispensable character quality. Our leaders must possess it. Sometimes in a church's sense of obligation to fill all the available slots for church office, they' ll select someone who doesn't attend regularly, who doesn't really follow through on responsibilities. We can't say Paul didn't warn us.

Titus 1:8 gives several unique qualities in the selection guide for elders which qualify as basic character qualities.

"One who loves what is good" (NIV), "a lover of goodness" (NRSV), a lover of good men" (KJV).141 This is someone whose personal value system is in order, loving the good and despising the evil. Too often we wink at evil or compromise with it. Perhaps we have secret sympathy with wrong behaviors. "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9).

"Upright" (NIV, NRSV), "just" (KJV).142 Since the leader must often decide between people in various situations, you want someone who isn't going to show favoritism towards the leading donors in the church or partiality toward friends, but do the right, just, and fair thing.

"Holy" (NIV, KJV), "devout" (NRSV, NASB).143 Of course, you can't see into people's hearts. But you can discern something of their relationship to God as you get to know them. Look for leaders whose spiritual life is serious rather than casual, who love the Lord and seek him consistently.

"Not a recent convert" (elders), "tested first" (deacons). For both elders and deacons, Paul urges Timothy not to be hasty.

"He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited144 and fall under the same judgment as the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6)

Sometimes we find the "perfect person" for a position, but we don't take enough time to observe them, to evaluate their spiritual maturity and their character. A recent convert placed in high position in the church can easily fall victim to pride (2 Chronicles 26:16; Proverbs 16:18; 18:12).

When we put people into high church office who are immature emotionally or spiritually, we' re just setting them up for an attack of the enemy. Better no elder than one who is too immature to handle the position. Paul suggests a waiting period for deacons to see what they' re really made of.

"They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons." (1 Timothy 3:10)

"Tested" (NIV, NRSV), "proved" (KJV) is dokimazō, from the root dokē, "watching."145 In secular Greek the word can refer to assaying metals to determine their purity or in the political sphere "to approve after scrutiny as fit" for an office.146 Here it means "to make a critical examination of to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine."147 Later in 1 Timothy, Paul warns:

"Do not be hasty148 in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure." (1 Timothy 5:22)

Ordination or setting an elder or deacon into office too soon can be disastrous for the church -- and for the church officer.

Q2. (1 Timothy 3:6, 10; Titus 1:6-9) Why should leaders be observed carefully and tested before placing them in office? What should you be looking for during this period?

Personal Traits and Habits

Now we turn to the kind of character that can be demonstrated by a person's traits and habits.

(1 Tim 3:2-7)
(Titus 1:6-9)
(1 Tim 3:8-12)

temperate (2)

  temperate (11) (wives/deaconesses)

self-controlled (2)



disciplined (8)  


  not malicious talkers (11) (wives/deaconesses)


  sincere (8)
not given to drunkenness (3) not indulging in much wine (8) not given to drunkenness (7)
not violent but gentle (3) not violent (7)  

not quarrelsome (3)

not quick-tempered (7)



not overbearing (7)


not a lover of money (3)

not pursuing dishonest gain (7)

not pursuing dishonest gain (8)

Self-Controlled, Level-Headed Leaders

"Temperate" (NIV, NRSV), "vigilant" (KJV) involves being "restrained in conduct, self-controlled, level-headed."149

"Self-controlled" (NIV), "respectable" (NRSV), "sober" (KJV), "prudent" (NASB) adds the idea of being "prudent, thoughtful, self-controlled."150

"Disciplined" (NIV), "self-controlled" (NRSV, NASB), "temperate" (KJV) has a slightly different slant: "having one's emotions, impulses, or desires under control, self-controlled, disciplined."151

What Paul is saying is that in selecting church leaders you must look for the level-headed, self-controlled person who isn't "off the wall" or reactionary. This person doesn't respond primarily from emotions or prejudice, but is able to weigh issues carefully and fairly.

Mouth under Control

While self-control can refer to control of one's whole being, the next area of personal characteristics We'll consider relate to control of one's mouth.

"Not malicious talkers" (NIV), "not slanderers" (NRSV, KJV) is a qualification for wives or deaconesses in 1 Timothy 3:11. The adjective diabolos means "slanderous,"152 often with the idea of "complainer, calumniator, talebearer" in secular Greek.153 It occurs three times in the Pastoral Epistles -- twice with reference to women. Apparently Paul had a nest of female "malicious gossips" (NASB) in these churches to deal with. Later in 1 Timothy he describes the activity of younger widows this way:

"Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips154 and busybodies,155 saying things they ought not to." (1 Timothy 5:13)

If you have church leaders who can't be discreet about what they say or church administrative assistants who pass gossip rather than keep secrets, then the church quickly becomes an unsafe place of distrust and competition, rather than a "society of friends" where love is the predominant motivation.

"Sincere" (NIV), "not double-tongued" (NRSV, KJV) is one of the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8. Paul's word is dilogos, "double-tongued, double in speech, saying one thing with one person, another with another" (with intent to deceive),"156 "insincere."157

Church leaders must be truthful, straight talkers, even when people may not agree. Let your "yes" mean "yes" and your "no" mean "no" (Matthew 5:37). We can't please everybody. The sooner we figure that out, the better leaders We'll be. Our "boss" as church leaders is not the bishop or the congregation. Ultimately, it is Christ to whom we answer.

Not Intoxicated

In all three lists, Paul tags a potential problem -- intoxication. Neither elders nor deacons must be "given to drunkenness"158 (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7), or "indulging in much wine"159 (1 Timothy 3:8). That Paul is not advocating complete abstinence from wine is clear in his advice to Timothy:

"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5:23).

The principle, of course, is not limited to alcoholism. The principle refers to intoxication that results from any kind of substance abuse. In churches where drinking is frowned on, you may not know about a person's closet alcoholism, but be aware that about 5.5% of the U.S. population has a problem here, which probably extends to our church members, as well.

The problem with church leaders who drink excessively is several-fold: (1) impaired judgment, (2) risk of a public binge and bringing discredit to the church, (3) a life pattern of lying and self-deceit to cover up or excuse the problem, and (4) guilt. Praise God, there is help for alcoholics and drug addicts, healing, and forgiveness. But we err if we knowingly allow substance abusers to serve as church leaders.

Not Quick-Tempered or Violent

The next category of personal traits that Paul warns Timothy and Titus about in leader selection relates to anger and violence.

"Not violent" (NIV), "no striker" (KJV) refers to a "pugnacious person, bully,"160 a "bruiser, ready with a blow."161 Some people try to manipulate others through intimidation -- physical, emotional, or political -- but this isn't Jesus' way.

"Gentle" (NIV, NRSV), "patient" (KJV), carries the idea of "not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant."162 It is paired with the following word --

"Not quarrelsome" (NIV), "not a brawler" (KJV) means "peaceable."163 The elder should not be a person itching for a good fight -- not if keeping the peace of Christ in the church is a
priority. The false teachers at Ephesus were known as quarrelsome. That trait itself should disqualify them from leadership.

"Not quick-tempered" (NIV, NRSV), "not soon angry" (KJV) means "not inclined to anger, quick-tempered."164

"Not overbearing" (NIV), "not arrogant" (NRSV), "not selfwilled" (KJV, NASB).165 The use of this word in 2 Peter gives some of the sense, referring to the unrighteous:

"Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings" (2 Peter 2:10).

These words paint a picture of the kind of person you want to avoid as an elder or church leader -- hair-trigger, ready to fight, self-willed, full of oneself. Let's pay attention to Paul's warning.

Q3. (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1:6-9) Why are tendencies to anger, intimidation, force, and pride so important to consider in selecting church officers? What happens when you don't consider these factors?

Doctrinal Fidelity

Finally, Paul addresses the importance that the church leaders be people who can be trusted to keep the church on track doctrinally. Remember, Paul has specifically charged Timothy to stop the false teachers in Ephesus, and Titus to "set in order" the situation in Crete.

(1 Tim 3:2-7)

(Titus 1:6-9)

(1 Tim 3:8-12)


hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught (9)

hold the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience (9)

able to teach (2)

encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (10)


Both deacons (1 Timothy 3:9) and elders (Titus 1:9) must be solid in the apostolic message, not veering away from it. Notice the similarity in Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus:

[Deacons] "must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience." (1 Timothy 3:9)

[An elder] "must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught...." (Titus 1:9a)

"Keep hold" (NIV), "holding" (KJV) in 1 Timothy 3:9, carries the meaning here, "to take a hold on something, have, hold (to), grip."166 Believers are to hold fast the truths of the faith (1 Timothy 3:9) and "the pattern of sound teaching (doctrine)" (2 Timothy 1:13). "Hold firmly" (NIV), "have a firm grasp" (NRSV), "holding fast" (KJV) 167 has a similar meaning (Titus 1:9). The purpose is to get a firm grip on -- and not let go of:

  1. "Deep truths of the faith"168 in 1 Timothy 3:9, and
  2. "Trustworthy message as it has been taught" also known as "sound doctrine" in Titus 1:9

One of the problems that Paul faced was that because of pressures from the Hellenistic mystery religions and Judaism, people too easily deserted the teaching of the apostles and substituted it with something else. Paul writes to the Galatian church:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7)

It remains the responsibility of the leaders to "hold to" the actual teaching of the apostles, not some kind of evolved, modified "Christian" faith.

Finally, Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3:9 the spirit in which leaders are to hold to the true message:

"With a clear conscience" (NIV, NRSV), "pure conscience" (KJV).169 A clear conscience denotes a lack of moral compromise, a freedom from known sin. It is distinguished from the consciences of the false teachers, who have rejected a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19), whose consciences are "corrupted" (Titus 1:15) and "seared" (1 Timothy 4:2).

We' re looking for leaders who believe the truth of Scripture and live it out in their lives with sincerity. No, they aren't perfect. But they are sincerely trying to live consistent Christian lives.

3.2 Differentiating Elders' and Deacons' Roles

The primary difference between elders and deacons is not in their character, though elders are expected to be more mature Christians. The difference lies in the teaching function of the elders.

The term "deacon" is diakonia, "an administrative function, service as attendant, aide, or assistant,"170 from diakoneō, "to serve, render assistance." The deacon is kind of an official administrator caring for the business of the church.

It is tempting to see the appointment of seven men charged with fairly distributing food to the widows as the first deacons:

"It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility171 over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2-4)

They are not called "deacons" in this passage, though their function as church administrators accords with the role of a deacon in 1 Timothy, and the focus of the apostles on prayer and the ministry of the word fits the teaching role of the elders.

In the post-apostolic church deacons were often mentioned along with bishops and presbyters. They took a portion of the Lord's Supper to those who couldn't be present at the service,172 apparently did some teaching,173 and distributed food to the widows and orphans.174 Later yet they functioned as servants to the bishop, receiving the offering, administering the sacraments, reading the lectionary, visiting the poor, disbursing funds, and informing the bishop of needs in the church community.175

The Teaching Role of Elders

Elders or overseers, on the other hand, are the overall leaders (1 Timothy 5:17), some particularly charged with the specific duty of teaching.

"Able to teach" (NIV, NASB), "an apt teacher" (NRSV), or "apt to teach" (KJV) is didaktikos, "skillful in teaching,"176 used in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:24 describing "the Lord's servant."

Paul displays two sides of teaching to Titus:

"[The elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9)

"Encourage" (NIV), "preach" (NRSV), "exhort" (KJV, NASB) is parakaleō, "to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage."177 This is to teach right doctrine and call people to righteous living.

"Refute those who oppose it" (NIV, NRSV), "convince the gainsayers" (KJV) uses the verb elenchō, "to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince someone of something, point something out to someone." Since Paul's purpose in the Pastoral Epistles is to stop false teachers, you see this word several places:

"Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning." (1 Timothy 5:20)

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

"Refute those who oppose [sound doctrine]." (Titus 1:9b)

"Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith." (Titus 1:13)

"Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you." (Titus 2:15)

It is this authoritative teaching function that has been compromised in Ephesus and it for this reason that Timothy is called to appoint elders who will be faithful teachers of sound doctrine and be able to articulate and differentiate the true apostolic doctrine in the face of those who are teaching new doctrines.

Q4. (1 Timothy 3) According to our text, do you see differences in qualifications between overseers/elders and deacons? What are they?

Male and Female Deacons? (1 Timothy 3:11)

Now we need to go back to clear up a couple of issues. 1 Timothy 3:11 reads:

NIV: "In the same way their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything."

KJV, NRSV: "Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things."

Detail of icon of Saint Tatiana of Rome, deaconess and martyr, beheaded January 12, 230 AD (or January 28, 225 AD)
Detail of icon of Saint Tatiana of Rome, deaconess and martyr, beheaded January 12, 230 AD (or January 28, 225 AD).

The word translated "wives" in the NIV is literally "women" (KJV, NRSV, NASB). The word is gunē, which can mean either "woman" or "wife," depending on the context. Is the NIV right in verse 11 that the women are the deacon's wives? Or is it possible that the women were female deacons, deaconesses? One verse in the New Testament gives us a clue:

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae." (Romans 16:1)

"Deacon" (NRSV), "servant" (KJV, NIV, NASB) in this verse is the female form of diakonos, "attendant, assistant, aide." But is Phoebe a church official or is "servant" used in the generic sense? The context is pretty meager. But the only reason we wouldn't take her to be a church official would be a predisposition against the existence of women deacons in the early church.

The post-apostolic church, on the other hand, records the existence of deaconesses -- and the Roman church endorsed an ordained diaconate of women for over six centuries.178 The Orthodox Church has a very long history of deaconesses.179 I think it is quite likely that the New Testament church recognized some deaconesses as church officers.

Encouragement to Overseers and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:13)

Paul encourages those who set their sights on church leadership, though, as We've seen, he doesn't want people in office for the wrong reasons.

Encouragement to Overseers (1 Timothy 3:1)

People can want power for self-aggrandizement, but they can also desire church office because they recognize their gifts and have a God-given desire to serve Christ in this way. Paul began this chapter with an encouragement to would-be overseers:

"Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart180 on being an overseer, he desires181 a noble task." (1 Timothy 3:1)

Paul calls the office of overseer "a noble task" (NIV, NRSV) or "good work" (KJV).182 The work of overseer is noble or beneficial because it can help the whole church body become well and maintain its health. It is difficult, but profoundly meaningful in God's work and worth doing well.

Promises for Deacons (1 Timothy 3:13)

Paul also provides assurances to deacons:

"Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:13)

The first phrase states the condition: "serving well."183 The verb is diakoneō, "to serve," which means here, "to carry out official duties, minister."184 The promise is two-fold, to gain185 an:

"Excellent standing and
Great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:13)

"Standing" (NIV, NRSV), "degree" (KJV), literally, "step," means here, "a stage in intellectual or spiritual progress, rank."186 "Assurance" (NIV), "boldness" (NRSV, KJV) refers to "a state of boldness and confidence, courage, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank." 187

Does this mean that overseers and deacons earn a greater reward for their service than other Christians? We aren't told of a specific spiritual reward (though there well may be one). But the earthly reward is a place or standing of respect in the community that brings credit to the church they represent. They also have the privilege of proclaiming boldly their faith in the community.

God's Household (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

Pillars from reconstructed Celsus Library, Ephesus
Pillars from reconstructed Celsus Library, Ephesus. Larger image.

Now Paul closes this section by repeating his purpose and underscoring its importance.

"14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

"God's household" (NIV, NRSV), "house" (KJV), is oikos, used figuratively here as: "household, family,"188 the same word used to describe the households of the overseers and deacons earlier in the chapter. These are not just mini-churches meeting in people's homes in Ephesus. They are "God's household," and therefore require behavior189 proper to God's presence and authority.

Paul uses the august phrase, "Church of the Living God." The word "church" is ekklēsia, from which we get our word "ecclesiastical." The word was originally used of a regularly summoned legislative body, "an assembly," then of a people with shared belief, "community, congregation." It can be used of a local gathering of Christians, the church in a city or region, or "the global community of Christians, (universal) church."190

Now Paul's imagery goes to that of a building:

"Pillar ... of the truth" is stylos, literally, "a supporting portion, ordinarily cylindrical, of a structure, pillar, column." Here it is used figuratively, "a person or community recognized for spiritual leadership, pillar, support."191

"Foundation of the truth" (NIV), "bulwark" (NRSV), "support" (NASB), "ground" (KJV) refers to "that which provides a firm base for something," perhaps, "mainstay."192

What a grand vision of the church Paul unveils: God's own family, God's own assembly called from the world, which is in itself both the foundation of the building of truth and that which holds it up.

When we despise the church or act in ways to undermine it, we are tampering with the holy family of the Living God himself! When we serve the church, we serve in God's own household gathered from afar, God's own house, his temple.

3.3. Hymn of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16)

Sandro Botticelli, "Virgin and Child with Angel" (c. 1475), Chicago Institute of Art.
The birth of Christ is a powerful statement of God appearing in physical, human flesh -- a wonderful miracle, if you meditate on it. Sandro Botticelli, "Virgin and Child with Angel" (c. 1475), Chicago Institute of Art.

Paul concludes this section with a hymn. Perhaps it is his own composition, but he is likely quoting a hymn that was circulating among the churches, at once a kind of doxology of the Messiah and doctrinal statement. It is a hymn in celebration of the purpose of this letter: the declaration of sound doctrine -- the doctrine contained in this hymn.

"Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:

He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16)

Paul is in awe of the amazing "mystery of godliness" that has unfolded in Christ. "Mystery" (mystērion) is used in the sense of "that which transcends normal understanding, transcendent/ultimate reality."193 The word translated "godliness" (NIV, KJV), "religion" (NRSV) We'll consider more deeply at 1 Timothy 4:7-8. This phrase might be translated: "the key to our piety" or "the secret of our devotion to God...."194

Consider the statements in this hymn. Scholars debate about whether it has three stanzas of two lines or two stanzas of three lines. But here is the probable meaning:

"He appeared in a body." This is an affirmation of the physical nature of Christ, the incarnation, denied by false teachers in Ephesus a few decades later:

"Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist...." (1 John 4:2-3).

"Was vindicated by the Spirit." "Vindicated" (NIV, NRSV), "justified" (KJV) is dikaioō, which means, "to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right."195 It probably refers to Christ's resurrection by the power of the Spirit, which showed the world that he was Christ indeed (Romans 1:4; 8:11). It could, however, refer to his baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him at that time.

"Was seen by angels" -- the angels who helped him during his life, witnessed his resurrection, and now worship him.

"Was preached among the nations." Here the preaching, proclaiming ministry of the church is mentioned, the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

"Was believed on in the world." The gospel was preached with the result that people believed, were baptized, and became followers (Mark 16:15-16).

"Was taken up in glory." Most likely this line refers to Christ's ascension. Perhaps the first line and the last line serve as "bookends," the first declaring his incarnation, the last proclaiming his ascension.

1&2 Timothy and Titus: Leadership and Discipleship Lessons from the Pastoral Epistles, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.

This has been a long, rather detailed chapter. But I hope that it succeeds in its purpose: that you and I take very seriously who serves as officers in our churches. Two characteristics come to mind: (1) emotional maturity and (2) spiritual soundness. Our churches will only be as healthy as their leaders. As much as you may be responsible for selecting leaders (or serving as a leader) in your congregation, take it with utmost seriousness, since leaders serve in the Household of the Living God.


Heavenly Father, have mercy on us. Many times our churches have been led by people who should never have been placed in these positions. As you have rebuked us, also forgive us and give us courage to raise the bar for church leadership in the future. Thank you for including us in this fellowship of the "called out ones," to be members of your household. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[125] Episkopē, BDAG 379, 3.

[126] Episcopos, BDAG 380, 2.

[127] Presbyteros, "an official, elder, presbyter" (BDAG 862).

[128] 1 Clement 42; Didache 15.1.

[129] Hermann W. Beyer, episcopos, TDNT 2:620.

[130] Kosmios, "pertaining to having characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight, an expression of high regard for a person, respectable, honorable" (BDAG 561, 1).

[131] Semnos, BDAG 919, aα. In early Greek this term was applied to the gods, "revered, august" then of humans. Semnos, Liddell-Scott, AI and II.

[132] Martyria, "testimony," here carries the idea, "attestation of character or behavior, testimony, statement of approval," or "having a good standing with outsiders" (BDAG 619, 3).

[133] The Greek word for" man" (anēr, "male") can mean "husband," and the word for "woman" (gunē) can mean "wife."

[134] Herod the Great married 10 wives (Josephus, Antiquities.14.12.1; Wars 1.477). In 212 AD, the lex Antoniana de civitate made monogamy the law for Romans, but excepted the Jews. Polygamy was outlawed for Jews by Theodosius in 393 AD (Knight, p. 158).

[135] Proistēmi, BDAG 870, 1. Literally, proistēmi means "to put or place before."

[136] Epimeleomai, BDAG 375.

[137] Philoxenos, "hospitable" (BDAG 1058). Also found in 1 Peter 4:9.

[138] Anepilēmptos, means literally, "that cannot be laid hold of," from a-, "not" + lambanō," lay hold of." Thus the word means "that cannot be reprehended, not open to censure, irreproachable" (Thayer).

[139] The word is used regarding deacons, anenklētos (from a-, "not" + enkaleō, "call to account"), "blameless, irreproachable" (BDAG 76). The same word is used about elders in Titus 1:6-7, translated "blameless."

[140] The adjective pistos means "pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable, inspiring trust/faith" (BDAG 820, 1aα).

[141] The adjective philagathos means "loving what is good" (BDAG 1055).

[142] The adjective dikaios means, "pertaining to being in accordance with high standards of rectitude, upright, just, fair" (BDAG 246, 1aα).

[143] The adjective hosios means, "pertaining to being without fault relative to deity, devout, pious, pleasing to God, holy" (BDAG 1a).

[144] "Become conceited" (NIV), "be puffed up with conceit" (NRSV), "being lifted up with pride" (KJV) is typhoō, "becloud, delude," here figuratively in the passive, "be puffed up, conceited" (BDAG 1021, 1).

[145] Walter Grundmann, dokimos ktl., TDNT 2:255-260.

[146] Dokimazō, Liddell-Scott, IA and II2a.

[147] Dokimazō, BDAG 255, 1.

[148] Tacheōs, "pertaining to a very brief extent of time, with focus on speed of action," here, "too quickly, too easily, hastily" (BDAG 992, 1aβ).

[149] Nēphalios, BDAG 672, 2. The word can refer to being "very moderate in the drinking of an alcoholic beverage, temperate, sober," but since that is covered by another word, Paul probably intends the word's figurative meaning. The word occurs in 1 Timothy 3:2, 11 (where he refers to wives of deacons or deaconesses) and Titus 2:2, as a quality to be taught to older men.

[150] Sōphrōn, BDAG 987. Originally it meant, "one of sound mind," here "pertaining to being in control of oneself. From saos/sōs, "safe, sound" + phrēn, "mind."

[151] Enkratēs, BDAG 274.

[152] Diabolos, BDAG 226, 1. The Greek noun diabolos becomes a name for the chief slanderer, the devil, from which we get our word "diabolical." The adjective occurs in secular Greek with the meaning "slanderous, backbiting" (Liddell-Scott). For more on slander, see my article, "Coming To Grips With Gossip" (www.joyfulheart.com/maturity/gossip.htm).

[153] Werner Foerster, diaballō, ktl, TDNT 2:75-81.

[154] Phlyaros, "gossipy" from phluō, "to babble" (BDAG 1060).

[155] Periergos, "pertaining to paying attention to matters that do not concern one, of persons, meddlesome, officious, curious," substantive, "a busybody" (BDAG 800, 1). From peri, "beyond" and ergon, "work."

[156] Dilogos, Thayer.

[157] Dilogos, BDAG 250.

[158] "Given to drunkenness" (NIV), "not a drunkard" (NRSV), "given to wine" (KJV), is paroinos, "pertaining to one who is given to drinking too much wine, addicted to wine, drunken" (BDAG 780), from para, "near, beside" + oinos, "wine."

[159] "Indulging in much wine" (NIV, NRSV), "given to much wine" (KJV) uses the verb prosechō, "to continue in close attention to something, occupy oneself with, devote or apply oneself to" (BDAG 880, 3).

[160] Plēktēs, BDAG 826.

[161] Plēktēs, Thayer.

[162] Epieikēs, BDAG 371. It is compound word from epi-, probably here "motion toward" + eikos, "what is reasonable" (Thayer).

[163] Amachos, BDAG 52. From a-, "not" + machē, "fight, battle."

[164] Orgilos, BDAG 721, from orgē, "anger."

[165] Authadēs, BDAG 150. From autos, "self" + hēdomai, "enjoy oneself, take one's pleasure."

[166] Echō, BDAG 420, 3c.

[167] Antechō, "to have a strong attachment to someone or something, cling to, hold fast to, be devoted to" (BDAG 87, 1). This is a compound verb from anti-, "against, in opposition to" + echō, "have, hold."

[168] "Deep truths" (NIV), "mystery" (NRSV, KJV) is mystērion, "that which transcends normal understanding, transcendent/ultimate reality, secret" (BDAG 662, 2a).

[169] The phrase uses two words: katharos, "clean, pure," here, "pertaining to being free from moral guilt, pure, free from sin" (BDAG 489, 3b), and syneidēsis, "the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong, moral consciousness, conscience" (BDAG 967, 2).

[170] Diakonia, BDAG 230, 5.

[171] "Responsibility" (NIV), "task" (NRSV), "business" (KJV), is chreia, "an activity that is needed, office, duty, service" (BDAG 1088, 4).

[172] Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 AD), 1 Apol 1.67, cited in Mounce, p. 208.

[173] Didache 15:1, cited in Mounce, p. 208.

[174] Similitudes of the Shepherd 9.26.2, cited by Mounce, p. 209.

[175] Hippolytus, Apostolic Traditions (third century), and Didascalia Apostolorum (third century), summarized in Mounce, p. 210.

[176] Didaktikos, BDAG 240.

[177] Parakaleō, BDAG 765, 2.

[178] Council of Nicea (325 AD), canon 19; Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), canon 15; Council of Trullo (692 AD), canon 14. For more see http://www.womenpriests.org/deacons/deac_gen.asp

[179] "Deaconess," Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaconess).

[180] "Sets his heart" (NIV), "aspires to" (NRSV, NASB), "desire" (KJV) is oregō, "to seek to accomplish a specific goal, aspire to, strive for, desire" (BDAG 721).

[181] "Desires" is epithymeō, "to have a strong desire to do or secure something, desire, long for" (BDAG 371, 1).

[182] The adjective kalos, a superlative, means "pertaining to meeting high standards or expectations of appearance, kind, or quality," here in the sense of "something helpful, beneficial" (BDAG 505, 2cβ).

[183] Kalōs, "pertaining to meeting relatively high standards of excellence or expectation, fitly, appropriately, in the right way, splendidly" (BDAG 505, 1).

[184] Diakoneō, BDAG 229, 4.

[185] Peripoieō, "to gain possession of something, acquire, obtain, gain for oneself" (BDAG 804, 2).

[186] Bathmos, BDAG 1.

[187] Parrēsia, BDAG 781, 3b.

[188] Oikos, BDAG 2.

[189] "Conduct themselves" (NIV), "behave" (NRSV, KJV) is anastrephō, "to conduct oneself in terms of certain principles, act, behave, conduct oneself, live" (BDAG 72, 3b).

[190] Ekklēsia, BDAG 304, 3cα.

[191] Stylos, BDAG 949, 2.

[192] Hedraiōma, BDAG 276. The noun is only used in Christian writings. It comes from the verb hedrazō, "to firmly establish in a certain place."

[193] Mystērion, BDAG 662, 2a.

[194] Eusebeia, BDAG 413.

[195] Dikaioō, BDAG 249, 4.


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