The New Testament envisages each local church being guided and cared for by a number of spiritually mature and exceptionally godly men. While the designation "elder" emphasises the extensive Christian experience required of such, the word "overseer" (episkopos) explains that their principal function is "to look over, to oversee, to superintend"1 the spiritual well-being of the flock. "Deacon," on the other hand, translates diakonos meaning servant. Although this depiction of overseers (vv.1-7) includes reference to a few specific activities (e.g. teaching, v.2), the description of deacons (vv.8-13) focuses solely on their godly character, omitting any detail of their duties. Thus, while the role of overseers is clearly defined, that of deacons remains less so.
"The office of a bishop" (v.1) translates only one Greek word, episkope, meaning "overseership". It does not refer to a high church office, but rather to a position of lowly service on behalf of Gods people which requires energy, enthusiasm and a great deal of effort. It is "a good work" (v.1). Elders in a local church should have one burning focus above all others: to be an effective elder. Two different Greek words explain this great desire (v.1).
Orego "to stretch ones self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something".2
Epithumeo "to passionately long after".3
Ideally, this yearning should begin in the hearts of young Christian men. It should drive them to pursue eagerly the goal with wholehearted commitment. By endeavouring to maintain personal holiness and amass through study a wealth of Biblical knowledge they will finally be equipped to supervise the saints and skilfully teach the Word. Such men "must be blameless" (v.2). This overarching and essential quality does not mean sinless perfection, but rather, an "irreproachable" (JND) life that is free from shameful indiscretions. The remaining verses describe such a man.
Elders must be sexually pure: "the husband of one wife" (v.2). Since immorality disqualifies men from overseership, and marital unfaithfulness is rampant, the Biblical teaching on this subject cannot be neglected. First, it is crucial to recognise our weaknesses, and rest fully upon Gods grace and power: "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12). Second, the enforced celibacy of Roman Catholicism can lead to fornication. For this reason Paul wrote, "to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor 7.2). Therefore, simply being married, and enjoying physical intimacy with ones own wife "let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love" (Prov 5.19) should help to avoid immorality. Third, unfaithfulness can begin with a look. Gods description of Ezekiels wife as "the desire of thine eyes" (Ezek 24.16), and the Lords teaching "That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Mt 5.28) remind us that all husbands, not just elders, should only have eyes for their own wives.
In a speech before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852, Wendell Phillips stated that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty".4 Similarly, to maintain an assembly that is free from error, corruption and division requires a constantly "vigilant" (v.2) and, therefore, present oversight men who are frequently absent from their own assembly cannot adequately function as elders. Church leaders are frequently slandered, criticised and provoked. To prevent rash and angry reactions to such challenges, and enable suitably gracious responses, elders must be "self-controlled" (v.2, ALT). After all, "he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov 16.32). Furthermore, instead of a chaotic and haphazard existence, overseers, and indeed all Christians, should through careful time management (Eph 5.16) and self-control (1 Cor 9.27) lead "orderly" (v.2, ASV) lives. The expression "given to hospitality" (v.2, philoxenos "fond of strangers"5) implies an eagerness to show practical kindness even to those with whom previously unacquainted. In addition, since Gods Word, amongst other things, promotes Christian growth (1 Pet 2.2) and maturity (Heb 5.2-14), arms for spiritual conflict (Eph 6.17), equips for service (2 Tim 3.16-17) and leads to sanctification (Jn 17.17; Eph 5.26), it is imperative that elders be skilled Bible teachers (v.2).
This same letter that encourages Timothy to "use a little wine for thy stomachs sake and thine often infirmities" (5.23) asserts that an elder is "not given to excesses from wine" (v.3, JND). Drunkenness is utterly foolish (Prov 20.1), frequently results in shameful actions (Gen 9.20-22; 19.30-36), extreme poverty (Prov 23.21), foul language and unexplained injuries (Prov 23.29); and may ultimately lead to eternal damnation (1 Cor 6.9-10; Gal 5.19-21). Therefore, all believers, and especially elders, should avoid it.
One great contrast between church leadership and that of worldly institutions is summed up in the word "gentle" (v.3, ASV). The Saviour taught that "the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister" (Mt 20.25-26). And so, Christian leaders shun violence and contention "no striker not a brawler" (v.3). The angry man, who rides roughshod over all and sundry to get his own way, and if challenged responds with threats, is unsuitable for oversight. Neither should elders, in contrast to false teachers who suppose "that gain is godliness" (1 Tim 6.5), be "fond of money (v.3, JND).
The experiences of family life (vv.4-5) invaluably equip a man to address difficult assembly issues (e.g. marital), while the responsibilities of child rearing test a fathers leadership ability. "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (v.5). It remains that "unruly" children (Tit 1.6) frequently, though not invariably, signify parental failure and, conversely, respectful obedient children (v.4) are a credit to their parents (Pr 10.1; 13.1; 15.20; 28.7). Therefore, since badly behaved children disqualify their fathers from overseership, young Christians ought to "honour [their] father and mother" (Eph 6.2), while Christian fathers should raise their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6.4).
Two pitfalls associated with oversight are now addressed (vv.6-7). Firstly, "the condemnation of the devil" is simply to fall, as he did, because of pride (Is 14.12-15). All prominent positions, oversight being no exception, carry this risk. In fact, Abraham Lincoln stated that "nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a mans character, give him power". For this reason, Christian novices (neophutos means "newly planted"), who through inexperience may be "lifted up with pride" (tuphoo means "to envelope with smoke") should not fill such roles. Secondly, "reproach and the snare of the devil" are one and the same. The devil (diabolos means slanderer) accuses the saints (Rev 12.10) and at every conceivable opportunity lays snares for them, that others may accuse them too. Since elders with bad reputations discredit an assembly, it is vital that they "have a good report of them that are without" (v.7).
Deacons actual duties are not outlined. This allows for a wide range of church related activities to fall under the umbrella term "the office of a deacon" (v.10). The word "likewise" connects this description of deacons (diakonos meaning servant) with that of elders, for deacons too are expected to live exemplary lives. If the over-riding quality of elders was "irreproachable", that of deacons is "grave" (semnos means to act with dignity). Let us consider the few additional features that appear in the deacons list. First, since they are "not doubletongued" (v.8, dilogos) saying different things to different people their speech is consistent and reliable. Second, appreciating the seriousness of their holy responsibility as custodians of Gods revelation, it is in the vessel of a pure conscience so rendered through holy living that they hold this precious mystery of "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (v.9; Jude v.3). Third, together with elders, they must only be recognized as deacons after a period of testing, no doubt during which they will have demonstrated consistent commitment to, and diligent service in, the local church (v.10). Fourth, because a mans choice of life-partner has incredible influence over his own character and capacity to serve, so the spiritual calibre of a deacons wife is of paramount importance (v.11). After all, was it not Eve who gave the fruit to Adam (Gen 3.6), Solomons wives who "turned away his heart" (1 Kings 11.3), Michal who despised Davids zeal for God (2 Sam 6.16), and Jezebel who stirred up Ahab to "sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 21.25)? Refreshingly, Priscilla supported Aquila in Gods service. And a final word of encouragement. Many years of faithful service as a deacon in a local church leads to "a good standing, and great boldness [parresia, "speaking out every word" 6] in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (v.13, ASV).
To be continued.
1 Wuest, K S. Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. First Timothy.
4 Wendell Phillips,(1811-1884), abolitionist, orator and columnist for The Liberator, in a speech before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852, according to The Dictionary of Quotations edited by Bergen Evans.
5 Robertsons Word Pictures as cited on esword.
6 Wuest, K S. Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. First Timothy.