After a long silence on our 1 Timothy series, we are pleased to continue with this initiative. Today Mr. Ndumiso Dlamini discusses chapter 3 and helps us understand what Paul was trying to say to Timothy. Ndumiso emphasizes that when it comes to positions in the church, it’s not about authority but service. To catch up on previous posts on this series, you can either of the links (Introduction, chapter 1, chapter 2).
The point of I Timothy 3 appears in verse 14-15. Verse 15 reads, “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.
Two profound statements to appreciate in 1 Timothy 3: 1. specifying the ownership of the church (it is of the living God). 2. Describing the purpose of the church (to be the pillar and foundation of the truth). Paul desires to uphold the dignity of the church by setting straight how leaders should conduct themselves. This leadership should acknowledge God as the owner of the church. In their leadership, they serve God in his church. They get direction from God. They lead the church by his will. The question they need to ask themselves is, are we in positions of authority or of service?
Two offices; Overseers and deacons
Overseers, elders, bishops, shepherds
In the first verse of chapter 3, Paul mentions that to be an overseer is a noble task. Paul further lays qualifications that should accompany someone aspiring to be an overseer. Most of these qualities can be summed up to clean living. The overseer must lead a clean life before God and the people. I want to expand on two qualifications:
An overseer must be faithful to his wife – the singularity of the term, wife, implies that the overseer must have but one wife to whom he should exercise faithfulness. This virtue is not a onetime event but a routine practice that forms the character of the overseer. Christianity faces ridicule because we have leaders who are unfaithful to their spouses. Our churches today need leaders who are role models of faithfulness, who practice what they preach or teach.
An overseer must be able to teach – Remember in verse 15, the church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Therefore, elders must be able to teach and uphold the truth of God in the church. The teaching ability required from elders is very crucial to the spiritual nourishment of the flock of God. As shepherds, they are to lead the flock (church) to green pastures (sound doctrine).
There is a school of preparation for overseers mentioned in verse 4. “He (the elder) must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect” (NIV). The institution of marriage and the blessing of the family provides much-needed training for would be elders by preparing their hearts of service. The leader must be able to provide for his family, teach his family and protect his family. As the elder leads his family, he must bear a vision and lead the church as he serves as a steward. He should attend to the church’s needs as he would those of his family.
The behaviour of the elder’s children is a manifest of what he teaches them. The elder who fails in the family school has no way to make it in the Lord’s affairs of leading the church, hence verse 5.
Judging the good qualities of an elder happens throughout his life of a good character in the church. It is not easy to approve such attributes from a recent convert. The elder must have been a church member and taught before he could teach and must have been trained himself to disciple others. As churches today, we need to be careful about the kind of people we put in such positions. Biblical qualifications are the ultimate test. No one should assume the position of eldership just because they are the only few adult males in the church, or they are the wealthiest, or they have a social status no! The great question we need to ask is, is it a position of authority or service?
The fact that we need not ignore is that installing a new convert in such noble tasks destroys both the church the individual. We cannot prevent conceit from creeping into this person spirit. As African churches, let us work to preserve the dignity of the church of God.
Now concerning deacons, the same instructions apply regarding qualification to hold office. A clean life is necessary from them that aspire to be deacons. They must be devout Christ followers, upholding the truth with a clear conscience as in verse 9. A deacon’s character, tested against biblical qualifications holds much value over their social or economic status in the community. Female deacons and wives of deacons must also be of good character, respectful, should guard their tongue, kind and honest in everything. The work of deacons involves safeguarding and justly distributing the church’s resources to respond to needs. This service requires honesty and a kind spirit. Their job is not to lord over the church’s possessions. Again the question they should ask themselves is, is this a position of power or service?
One fundamental point to note is this, the position of elders and deacons are there to serve the church not to dictate its affairs or even used to abuse congregants. Those entrusted with these positions as Paul writes have a noble task. Therefore, they should lead as servants not to be lords. If we uphold such attitudes, knowing whose church is it anyway, we will run powerful, prosperous, fulfilling godly congregations across generations.