Keeping Hold Of The Deep Truths Of The Faith
1 Timothy 3:1–16
Key Verse: 3:15
“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.”
To restate what we had said before, the church in Ephesus had some serious problems. There were some false teachers in the church, teaching false doctrine, and corrupting some of the members with teachings that were “contrary to the sound doctrine” (1:10). So, Paul wrote this letter to give Timothy some advice on how to deal with this problem. He started out this letter by telling him to command these false teachers to stop circulating their false teachings. He helped Timothy stand on the grace of God and urged him to fight the good fight of faith with a good conscience. Paul then showed him the best way to do that. He wrote a whole chapter on prayer and worship. He instructed this young pastor to pray and to lead his congregation in prayer. Perhaps Paul felt that in the midst of all the controversy and division that was going on in that church, not much prayer was going on. Maybe there was much arguing and fighting among the men, so Paul urged that prayer for each other would be better. Maybe the women were more concerned with their physical appearance in church rather than with being a spiritual influence among the men. So Paul urged them to rise up to God’s purpose for their lives which is to continue in faith, love and in holiness with propriety. Paul wanted Timothy first of all to restore the church to prayer so that through prayer God might intervene and restore the church as the pillar of and foundation of the truth.
Paul now goes on to teach Timothy how important it is to have good spiritual leadership in the church. A church without sound spiritual leadership is a church waiting to be devoured by all kinds of false teachers. Timothy himself was the pastor of the church. But he needed spiritual assistants, other servants like him to help him keep watch over the flock of God. So Paul teaches him mainly two things in this chapter. First, he teaches him that spiritual leadership is not a burden. It is noble task. It is actually one of the most noble tasks a Christian can ever set his or her heart on doing. In other words, Paul told Timothy to encourage his congregation to aspire to a position of spiritual leadership in the church. Second, Paul also is teaching him here what the character of a spiritual leader aught to be. Simply speaking, one who aspires to be a spiritual leader must be a true Christian at heart.
The first thing that Paul mentions here about spiritual leadership is that it is noble. It is true that Paul here says “If anyone”, but the truth of the Bible teaches us that every Christian must actually aspire to be a spiritual leader, because every Christian is called to lead others to Christ and to His Kingdom. But this does not happen overnight. Those who do aspire to this noble task must first mature in their inner person and character. When we look at the qualifications for spiritual leadership, we see that the spiritual leader must be truly a Christian at heart— one growing in the image of Christ— one after the image of Christ. Whoever they may be, they begin as disciples of Jesus and learners of Jesus. During that time, they must learn the inner life of a disciple. As they mature in Christ, they take greater steps of faith in their relationship with Christ and with others. In that way they are proving themselves before the Lord and his household that they are worthy of the spiritual leadership they aspire to. Finally, they have served enough to be fully tested and approved to be the servants of God’s household and flock. Paul calls such Christians “Overseer”, or “Elders” and “Deacons”. But in truth they are all Servants of God’s people and house, entrusted by God to keep watch over the church of God and the gospel truth on which it is built. Paul helps Timothy discern those who are ready to inherit spiritual roles in the church.
Read verse 1. “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” Actually one of the first discerning qualities or virtues of spiritual leadership in the church is this: The ability to make a decision of faith to serve the Lord! The world, as well as the countless churches all around has an endless number of those who profess to be Christians. But it’s a wonder, where are those who have a desire to serve the Lord? I’m talking about those with a passion to serve the Lord and his church, his people and his work? Why aren’t there many? Why are they so few? Perhaps because so many Christians are simply self content. And that condition is pathetic because it lacks the decision of faith to actually serve the Lord. But we have to know that self contentment is a disease that comes from the sinful nature, from the desire to serve ourselves and our concerns rather those of God. You know, God too has concerns. God is concerned with his church, with the condition of his church, with the people of his church, with their wellbeing, with what is taught, with its health, with its growth, with its blessing. God is concerned to raise his flock in the best of environments, to watch over them by those who care. Otherwise, wolves would ravage the church. Ten eyes can always watch and serve the young lambs better than two eyes can, and save the young lamb from being whisked away by the hungry wolf. But when Christians are self content, they don’t care much for God’s concerns. They are saved by grace. But they are not qualified to serve in leadership roles. They have no faith to make such a decision.
But the qualification to serve God is the ability to make decisions of faith. That’s a very important qualification. Why? Because it’s the decision to fulfill a basic responsibility the Lord Jesus left for all his disciples to do. Lord Jesus delivered us from our sins. But he also left us teachings that we cannot and should not ignore— teachings that we aught to follow in his footsteps. Every Christian is called to God’s service. Every Christian washed in his blood has the privilege to carry on the work which Jesus began. But not just anyone can accept this! So many fight against this, and make so many excuses why the work is for someone else, and they raise theologies that contradict every teaching that teaches us that we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus in his discipleship work. So many Christians today would rather spend hours listening to Christian lectures on leadership, and working out Christian programs about leadership, and going to seminars on Christian leadership— but they will fight tooth and nail if you if you even raise the subject of fishing and teaching and raising one disciple of Jesus. Leadership is practical and sacrificial as Jesus has called us to do. It is not programs! It really takes a noble heart to accept such a responsibility. It takes a decision of faith to deny the spirit of pride and self contentment, and to take on the spirit which binds us to Jesus as his servants. What kind of servants? Servants willing to serve his work— especially in leadership which is servantship— which is sacrifice and humility. Actually from the beginning of time God called the human race to be an overseer of the world. (Gen. 1:26-28) This is not new. Jesus restored our original mission. It begins in the family, in the church. Paul simply reminded Timothy of the most noble work we can ever aspire to do in our lives, which is to aspire to serve the Lord and his people in a holy office of an overseer.
Paul made it clear to Timothy that anyone in the family of God is encourage to make such a decision of faith! Then he went on define the “qualifications” of leadership or the virtues of a spiritual leader or overseer in the church. Let me make some comments before we look at this part more deeply. At first glance they appear to be “qualifications” or guidelines for who may or may not be a Christian leader. But the truth is that they are much more than that. These virtues for Christian leadership are founded in the gospel teachings of our Lord Jesus. They define the Christian heart and character. In other words, Paul defines who the true Christian is as they are touched and changed by the gospel and as they are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Not everyone who has been touched by the grace of our Lord suddenly rises to the position of an overseer, or an elder. It takes time to mature in these virtues as the Christian is sanctified and undergoes God’s testing and the church’s approval. Paul here reminds Timothy of the danger of putting a young convert in a leadership position. (v6) So it was necessary that Paul defines the inner character of the person redeemed by the blood of Jesus and brought into the family of God. When a person is touched by the grace of our Lord Jesus, they naturally reveal some changes in their lives. There are the pretend-redeemed, who speak well, act well and go through every motion within the family of believers. But they cannot hide the fruit of their inner hearts and life actions. On the other hand, those who are touched by God’s grace, reveal a clear inner transformation. For example, they no longer belong to the world nor love the world. They are now in Christ. They want to live for him and for the gospel. Still, that doesn’t mean that they are now ready to be overseers! But as they live the life of faith and holy mission taught by the Lord Jesus, they mature into the image of Christ and begin to be trusted with the work of God. Then the church recognizes them as elders and deacons of the church, as men and women of Christ’s influence in the church.
Look at verses 2-13. In these verses, Paul talks about two kinds of leadership in the church, the Elder and the Deacon. Naturally then, the Elders are of greater responsibility than Deacons. Naturally also, Deacons must also prove themselves worthy in many things before they become Elders. Or perhaps it might be their aspiration to remain deacons. This is what order seems to be all about within the church— the household of the Living God. God is a God of order. Therefore, his house must also have order, otherwise it would fall apart. But we must remember that God himself is the Leader of his House. Then he has established leaders under Him to carry out different responsibilities. Why? So that the church may fulfill its duty on two fronts: First the church should fulfill its duty to the church and to others which is to bring people to God. And second, the church should fulfill its duty to God which is to glorify God and to serve his purpose. So a church without proper spiritual leadership is a disaster waiting to happen. In our times, even in the churches many people reject leadership and authority, claiming that they submit to no leader and no authority except to God. In that way, they satisfy their own sinful desire to do as they please and to be accountable to no one. But the truth is that God himself requires spiritual authority to be established for a good reason. And with proper spiritual leadership, a church can fight the good fight of faith together to do his work. So, what kind of spiritual leadership is required for a healthy church? Look at verses 2-13. This is proper spiritual leadership. And it has nothing to do with human authority, and everything to do with true inner Christian character— one who is changed by working of Christ within.
Read verses 2-7. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
From these verses we see the true inner person of a those touched and changed by Christ. What kind of people are they? They are first of all those of moral integrity. They are people of sacrifice. They are people of self discipline. They are also committed to marital faithfulness. They are faithful to their spouses. More than that, because they are basically senior to others and have the experience of the Christian life, they are able to disciple other young people and mentor them in the gospel faith, and in the life worthy of Christ Jesus. To illustrate this, Paul uses a man’s own household as an example. For example, the Christian man must have a Christian influence on his own family. And that’s usually not that easy nor does it come naturally. In some religions and cultures, to respect one’s father is sacred, even if the father is as mean as an ogre. In many such households therefore, to honor that kind of father comes first and above all other things, without question and absolutely. But here is where Christian fathers and mothers who are touched by God’s grace are different. Paul is not talking about imposed respect and honor that comes from fear. The influence he’s describing is that of one who is in Christ— an influence they’ve earned. Only a man in Christ who truly lives by the gospel teaching is able to have a Christian influence on his family and on the world around him. If a man is not a Christian at heart, he is actually living a double life and is soon discovered. He is humiliated and scorned for his hypocrisy. No one can respect such a person. More than that, when men or women live a double life in the pretense of Christianity, others are wounded by their actions. But the man in Christ who lives before God is a man of great influence.
Our Lord Jesus shed his blood to free us from the influence of sin which corrupts the inner person and makes us unholy to God and to others. Paul loved Jesus and honored his sacrifice to change what is unholy in us and to make it holy. Among the most unholy things in this world is our heart. Our heart is corrupt beyond hope. Only the blood of Jesus is able to purify our heart and make it holy to God and to man. So Paul taught us that a leader in God’s house must be changed in his inner person and in his outward actions. If he or she has any hidden issues, they must repent, and be washed in the blood of Jesus until their heart is purified and made holy. Paul did not condemn Christians who in weakness find that their hearts wander to impurities. Paul only reminds us that we are called to be overseers of God’s flock. And as overseers of God’s flock we have a tremendous responsibilities to be sanctified on the inside for the glory of God and for the good of the church. So he simply reminds overseers what their inner heart must be like. He teaches them that their inner person must be cleansed and made new so that they may not fall into the devil’s trap. That is why an elder must remember how important it is to fight the good fight of faith, in prayer, in repentance, and in constant decisions of faith to live a life worthy of Jesus.
Read verses 8-13. “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.”
There’s a lot of similarities of deacons with that of Elders. The power of Jesus to change a heart is the same. Jesus changes unholy hearts and makes them holy. But Deacons are naturally spiritually younger than Elders. Therefore, they must be accountable in what they do, in their actions, and in their personal lives as well as in their community life. Their lives must reflect the image of Jesus. Paul insists that a Deacons should prove themselves worthy of leadership in two ways.
First, their attitude towards the word of God must be holy. He “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (9) There are many who do not have a clear conscience. Why? They are filled with guilt and shame, fears and doubts. They have such things because they don’t let the Lord of Grace enter their hearts to cleanse their conscience. That’s not so strange. Actually, what they rather do is punish or condemn themselves for their unholy thoughts, and end up living every day in the fear of God’s judgment. But here’s a mature servant of God, a Deacon who has learned to bring his or her unholy conscience before the throne of Jesus’ grace every day in order to cleanse their conscience. But they cannot do so on their own. Then how can they do it? They must first take hold of the deep truths of God. They must first believe in the holy truths of God taught to them by Jesus. When you and I take hold of these truths by faith, we can no longer be tormented by a guilty conscience. That’s when deacons can fulfill their purpose in serving the church— when their conscience is clear and they have the word of God resting upon their hearts. Then they can lead others to the Lord, and serve the Lord with faith.
The second requirement Paul gives a growing young leader is a test of servantship. Look at verse 13. Servantship is not only a test of deaconship, but a test for all Christians and all those who aspire to fulfill God’s will and serve the gospel. Jesus who is the Lord of Heaven and of earth did not come as a conqueror. He came as a servant. He came to serve us with his life, with his blood. Consequently, no one who claims to walk with Jesus but does not serve as Jesus served may be considered a true Christian at heart. A Christian at heart, or a man or woman in Christ, is first and foremost a servant.
Read verse 14-16. “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 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. 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.” This mystery was made known to all people in and through our Lord Jesus. It is no longer a mystery. But now it has been broadcast all over the world, that Jesus is the Messiah who laid down his life for our sins, and was raised to life and that he will come back some day to judge the living and the dead. When we deeply accept this amazing mystery of God’s deep love for all people, then we experience the grace of Jesus very personally. Only the grace of Jesus in our hearts can make us sincere Christians at heart. When we are sincere Christians at heart, with a personal relationship with Jesus, then we can grow as servants in God’s household and truly be sons and daughters in this household defending the truth upon which this household stands. Let’s pray today that God may raise overseers, elders and deacons, shepherds and missionaries from this church who are true Christians at heart. Amen.