GOD’S HOUSEHOLD 1 Timothy 2–3
“I am writing you these instructions so that . . . you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:14–15).The Christian community as well as the individual Christian represents Jesus to the world.
Christians are to pray for rulers and peace (2:1–8). Women are to be adorned with good deeds (vv. 9–10), but are not to exerise authority in the church (vv. 11–15). Overseers and deacons must be of exemplary reputation (3:1–13). All are to conduct themselves wisely in the church of Jesus Christ (vv. 14–16).
Understanding the Text
“Requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” 1 Tim. 2:1–4. Paul wanted us to make no mistake, so he piled up synonyms. We Christians have a vital stake in what happens in our society, and we can influence rulers through prayer. “Quiet lives” 1 Tim. 2:1–4. We pray for peace, that others may find peace in Christ. This is the reason Paul advanced for offering prayers for secular rulers. Someone said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The idea is that intense danger forces people to turn to God. This may be true, but “deathbed conversions” are notorious for their brevity. When the danger is past, all too often God is forgotten. The most effective evangelism is supported by the evidence of “quiet lives” lived “in all godliness and holiness.” The most powerful aid to the Gospel is not sudden fear created by danger, but a growing hunger for the peace and goodness observed in the lives of ordinary Christians. “God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved” 1 Tim. 2:3–4. This is an important verse if you’ve prayed for unsaved loved ones, and been discouraged by their lack of response. We know from Scripture that not everyone will be saved. But we also know that God wants—in the sense of desires—all to come to know Christ. This means that when you pray for any individual’s salvation, you can have great confidence. What you are praying for is definitely in harmony with God’s wishes and desires. It’s different if you pray for success in robbing a bank, or even that you win the latest Publishers’ Clearing House contest. You know that robbing a bank is against God’s will, and you have no basis to suppose the Lord wants to drop several hundred thousand dollars a year in your lap. But when it comes to praying for a loved one’s salvation, you’re on solid ground! That’s something God wants too. “One God and one Mediator between God and men” 1 Tim. 2:5–7. A mediator, a mesites in Greek, is someone who steps in between two persons, to make or to restore peace and friendship. Paul reminds us that only Jesus can possibly fulfill this role. A good image of a mediator is found in the great bridge that ties the state of Michigan together. One side is anchored in the Lower Peninsula, and the other is anchored in the Upper. We can cross from one to the other only because the gap between them has been thus bridged. Jesus, being fully God, has an anchor in heaven, and being truly man, has an anchor in humanity. He is the one and only Person able to bridge the gap between us and God: the one and only Saviour able to carry us from one side to the other. “Appropriate for women who profess to worship God” 1 Tim. 2:9–10. I’ve known some women who have taken this passage as a condemnation of makeup, and so have struggled to look as severe and plain as possible. That was not Paul’s point. His point was that Christian women should not rely on an artifice that is able only to decorate the outside—and that when overdone marks them as superficial. What makes a woman really beautiful is a love and goodness that glows within, and is revealed in good deeds rather than strings of pearls. Women should feel free to make themselves look attractive. But they should spend more time on beautifying the inner person than on decorating the outside. “To teach or to have authority over a man” 1 Tim. 2:11–14. This is one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament, primarily because we are not sure exactly what it means—but quote it anyway to “keep women in their place.” There certainly is a place for women in active church ministry. Paul spoke approvingly of women praying and prophesying in church (1 Cor. 11:5). He praised the mother and grandmother who trained Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). And Paul outlined specific teaching responsibilities for older women in his Letter to Titus (2:3–4). What seems to be involved here is “authoritative teaching”—that is, an authoritative statement by church leaders concerning Christian truth or lifestyle. In some traditions this is understood to mean that women, welcome in every other role, are not to serve as “elders” or members of the “board” responsible for spiritual oversight of the church. I know this understanding upsets some. But perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, most men are excluded from this particular church leadership role too! And serving as an elder is only one of many, many opportunities to minister within and beyond the walls of the local church. Perhaps each of us ought to focus on the things we can do, and do them to the glory of God, rather than resent being excluded from things we cannot do. Resentment can only deepen our hurt, while serving others in any way can bring us joy—and glorify our Lord. “Full submission” 1 Tim. 2:11. Vine suggests that “the injunction is not directed toward a surrender of mind and conscience, or the abandonment of the duty of private judgment; the phrase ‘with all subjection’ is a warning against usurpation of authority” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).Those who twist verses like 11–12 to suggest women are inferior, or to demand subservience, violate the spirit of God’s Word, as well as do violence to sound interpretation. “Women will be kept safe through childbirth” 1 Tim. 2:15. This puzzling verse has spawned a variety of interpretations. Some think “childbirth” refers to the birth of Jesus. Some connect the verse to Genesis 3:15, and the promise of a Seed who will crush Satan and bring mankind salvation. Others see the verse as a continuation of Paul’s discussion of women’s roles. Women will find physical health and spiritual fulfillment through accepting the mother role, viewed by society as proper for women. Here “saved” is not the theological deliverance of the soul, but the very practical release of the woman from a felt need to deny her sex in search of a more “significant” role in life or in the church. You and I have no need to deny our sex, our race, our heritage, or characterizing marks, to be significant as a Christian. We can find fulfillment in serving Christ where, and as, we are. “On being an overseer” 1 Tim. 3:1–7. The traditional translation of episcopos is “bishop.” The word seems to be used interchangeably with presbuteros, “elder” (cf. Titus 1:6–7). The fact that there were several bishop/elders in first-century churches (cf. Acts 20:17) makes it clear that the title meant something different then than it means in contemporary denominations. Our best understanding is that bishop/elders were responsible for the spiritual oversight of local churches, or perhaps of several house-churches. Their mission was to teach both sound doctrine and a holy lifestyle, and to equip believers for active participation in ministry. One who “sets his heart on” being an overseer surely “desires a noble task.” But church leadership is a heavy responsibility, not an honorary office to be listed on one’s résumé. Christian leaders sacrifice to serve. “Deacons, likewise” 1 Tim. 3:8–16. While the specific role of first-century deacons is also a mystery, it’s clear from these verses that anyone officially representing a local Christian congregation must have an exemplary life. How fascinating that, while Paul did not define the duties of any church leaders, he was more than careful in describing their character! We may call our leaders by any name we wish, and assign any duties to them. These things have always shifted and changed from age to age, and from society to society. What can never change is the high standard of Christian character and conduct required of those who guide the people of God (see DEVOTIONAL).
Love Is Blind(1 Tim. 3:1–7)
When my wife was praying for a husband to nurture her two preschoolers, she made up a list of qualities, and showed it to a counselor friend. He was shocked. “There may be one or two people like this,” he told her, “but the chances of your finding one is almost zero! Lower your expectations.” Today, when telling the story, Sue says the counselor was wrong. And I say (quite truthfully) that love is blind! God has His own challenging list of qualifications for church leaders. And we Christians are to look closely at candidates for spiritual leadership, and choose our leaders with our eyes wide open! Here are 15 things on God’s list for bishop/elders, those local church leaders who are charged with spiritual oversight of a local congregation. Consult them carefully, and check candidates carefully when it comes time to choose the leaders of your church. 1. “Above reproach.” If someone laid charges against this person, everyone would laugh at him! 2. “The husband of but one wife.” Not “married only once,” but totally faithful. 3. “Temperate.” This clear-headed individual doesn’t make snap decisions. 4. “Self-controlled.” Watch out for the person who gets carried away with wild ideas! 5. “Respectable.” You can count on a man who behaves in an orderly, honorable manner. 6. “Hospitable.” A person who loves strangers and always welcomes friends is right for a faith that emphasizes love! 7. “Able to teach.” The good leader may not be the most talkative. He’s the one who exhibits the deepest understanding of Scripture and its application to life. 8. “Not given to much wine.” Watch out for the tipsy or rowdy person described by this suggested phrase. 9. “Not violent.” The competitive person always out to win isn’t fit for church leadership. 10. “Gentle.” String together these qualities, and you catch a glimpse of the quality the Greek word was getting at: gracious, kindly, forebearing, considerate, genial. In other words, not the football coach determined to win an any cost! 11. “Not quarrelsome.” Here’s another person to avoid: the contentious individual always ready to fight, or to pick one. 12. “Not a lover of money.” Love for possessions ultimately destroys love for people. And people must be the Christian leader’s priority. 13. “Manage his own family well.” Our ability to influence others for good is seen first in the family. If it is not seen there, it won’t show up in the church. 14. “Not be a recent convert.” You can only tell the kind of fruit a plant produces after it has matured. 15. “A good reputation with outsiders.” Non-Christians are quick to recognize phonies! The list is long. And it may be hard to find folks who fit. But the most important leadership qualification a Christian can have is a godly character.
Don’t ache for leadership. Ache to be the kind of person leaders are to be.
“The man most fit for high station is not the man who demands it.”—Moses Ibn Ezra