1 Timothy 3

The Importance of Character

Not only was faith-behavior to be evident in all who followed Christ, but those who led His house were to have a proven and observable kind of faith-behavior. This faith-behavior was essential because of the way character is formed in followers. No longer is character shaped by keeping the law, but by following Jesus, which is one of the key themes of Paul's letter, “Follow me as I follow Christ." Above all else, an elder is enlisted into a group of Jesus-followers who, by nature, set the example for the church of a lifestyle committed to following Jesus.

Lifestyle of Elders (1-7)

Overseer, elder, and pastor are essentially three titles for the same person. In Acts 20:28, Luke uses three words to describe the same person. The first qualification for an elder was to be above reproach. To be above reproach has the connotation of being beyond the grasp of sustained criticism when it comes to specific issues Paul is going to define in these next few verses known as qualifications. Paul is not assuming perfection in leadership; he is assuming that in times when an elder is not behaving his best, he will respond to his failures in ways that will silence the criticism of his leadership team (who are doing the evaluating). Paul was a leader who endured heavy criticism within and without the church, but his leadership team could verify his true character.

Twelve areas are listed here in 1 Timothy in which an elder is to seek to be above reproach, and fifteen listed in Titus. Obviously, this list is not a precise litmus test; Paul is letting Timothy know that an elder must conduct his life, not perfectly, but in such a way that his following of Christ dominates his behavior.

Lifestyle of Deacons (8-12)

The word “deacon" means “servant," and Paul directed Timothy to set men and women into this office or function as well. When Paul uses the word “likewise" (1), he is clearly meaning deacons were to have oversight or a leadership role in the church similar to the elders, for they too were examples of how to follow Jesus. The qualifications for deacons are obviously different—the most glaring being that they were not required to teach. Instead of being able to teach, deacons were to "hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience" (9). The "mystery of faith" was a term used by Paul to describe the entire plan of the Gospel to save the world (spirit, soul, and body) through Jesus Christ. The plan was kept secret for centuries within the covenants promised to Israel, but was finally revealed and realized in the Person of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:4-13; Colossians 1:26-27). Deacons were to be devoted to the Gospel of Jesus, serving it as their conscience directed them. Nine basic qualities were to be looked at in a deacon’s life, closing him off to accumulating criticism.

The word “wives" (11) is a word used for wives or for women. It is likely better in this case for ESV and others to have translated the word “women." No doubt, there were those in the fellowship who shared leadership with elders who were women and who were to be held to the same "above reproach” test. Paul was listing a few of those qualifications.

Lifestyle of the Church (14-16)

Paul clearly states here the purpose of this letter as defining the lifestyle of those who are a part of God's household, meaning the place where God lives on the earth, His family, and those who defend the truth of the gospel (14). Paul then, in hymn form, removes the mystery or the secrecy of Who changes and redeems the lives of followers. It is Jesus Who transforms a follower’s character, making him/her like Jesus—godly:

"manifested in the flesh" ... incarnation
"vindicated by the Spirit" ... resurrection
"seen by angels" ... ascension
"proclaimed among nations" ... grace extended, Gentiles included
"believed on in the world" ... salvation
"taken up in glory" ... the fulfillment of salvation's promise to those who believe