The Officers of the Church


1 Timothy 3:1-13


Paul states that his purpose in writing 1 Timothy is that people may know how they might conduct themselves in the household of God. He first rejected the legalism which tends to creep into our churches in favor of living a life of grace. Next, he highlights the importance of corporate prayer in our worship services, expecting the men to lead out in this area. Third, he limited the role of the women in the worship services, especially in the area of pastor/teacher. Now he sets his sights on the officers of the church.

According to Paul there are at least 3 official officers of the church: the overseer (translated "bishop" in the KJV), the deacon, and the "women." The overseers in the church at Ephesus (3:1; Acts 20:17, 28) were also called "elders" and "shepherds" (from where we get the term "pastor"). The 3 terms describe either a function or a characteristic of this person. "Overseer" refers to his responsibility as the one who gives leadership to and provides oversight for the church. Lay leadership is important in the church; however, that lay leadership always falls beneath the umbrella of ministerial leadership. For this reason FBC Corsicana has the pastor as an ex officio member of every committee in the church (this should apply to the ministry teams as well). The term "elder" comes from the synagogue set-up. The Jews believed that with age comes wisdom. As a result, an officially recognized group of older men ("elders") led the church. With the coming of the Spirit though upon the church, age was not the most important element. Maturity was. (In fact in 1 Tim. 4:12 Paul tells Timothy not to let anybody look down upon him because of his young age.) Paul will discuss this at length in his list of qualifications for the ministers. (The concept of a board of elders made up of lay people comes from Calvin the founder of Presbyterianism, not the NT.) Finally, the term "shepherd" (or pastor) refers to his care for the flock: he feeds them with God's Word and ministers healing to them during times of crises, bereavement, sicknesses, etc. His role is critical for the life of the church.

The second office is that of "deacon" (diakonos, pron. dee-AH-kah--nahs). The word literally means "servant." In fact, according to Dr. Thomas Urrey, former professor of NT at SWBTS, it has behind it the idea of a person who serves so fast and furiously that he stirs up dust; he doesn't collect it. According to Acts 6 this office was created in order to relieve stress from the ministers. By fulfilling their office, the deacons allow the ministers to do what they are called to do and best equipped to do--minister God's Word and devote themselves to prayer. The fact that the ministers are called "overseers" indicates that they provide oversight even for the deacons, and not vice versa. The idea that the deacons come together as a board to hold staff accountable contradicts the very purpose they were created. Moreover, they function as a type of support system for the ministers. Each month we have approximately 900+ people who attend SS at least once; however, I don't feel like I can just call up any of these 900+ for help when I need it. I should feel that way though towards the 45 who do serve as deacons in the church.

The third category is that of the "women." The question is whether this term refers to the wives of deacons and ministers or it refers to a special group of women called to serve in an official capacity in the church. Some churches today have such a group which they label "deaconesses." We shall look at this more closely in verse 11.


When you look at the list of qualifications for the pastor/minister, you are struck not by what is there but by what is not there. Paul does not mention that the minister is to be Spirit-led and Spirit-filled. He does not list the fruit of the Spirit as evidences that person is called to the ministry. Instead he lists characteristics which the pagan world would find commendable. Why? First, because Paul most likely is assuming that we all know that the qualities of Spirit-led and Spirit-filled are givens. If they are givens for Christians in general, then they should definitely be givens for ministers. Second, Paul is listing these characteristics which the world itself would approve in order to create a positive relationship between the world and the church. He fears that if the ministers do not live up to these standards, then the world will write off the church. This would be disastrous because the world is the target audience for the church. We are to be fishers of men in the world in order to bring people to Jesus. If the world writes us off, then we have no place to fish for men. It is then only a matter of time before the church dwindles into insignificance and obscurity.

(2, 4-5) An overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . he must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity, but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?

Above Reproach: Paul commands that the overseer "be above reproach." Again, Paul speaks this within the context of the community. If the community thinks ill of the church's ministers, then it will write off the church and the gospel of salvation. This does not mean that the ministers will never offend the community it lives in. Sometimes the community is doing things it should by no means do and needs to be confronted about them; however, these are the things in the church which should offend the community and not the immoral lifestyle of a minister.

Husband of One Wife: Next, Paul commands that the overseer be "the husband of one wife." Until the last century this command was pretty straightforward; however, with the increase of divorces and REMARRIAGES not only among people in the church but also among the ministers, this phrase has been watered down. Some claim that the phrase literally means "a one-woman kind of man." It CAN be translated that way; however, that is not NECESSARILY the literal translation of that phrase, as many claim. Another LITERAL translation is "a one-wife kind of husband." The first translation allows for divorce and remarriage, while the second does not. Context and Biblical witness elsewhere determine which is the right LITERAL translation of this verse.

What does Paul mean by this phrase? First, when Paul uses these same words to describe widows who are eligible to receive aid from the church, they literally mean "a one-husband kind of wife." This exact same phrase when applied to women in 1 Timothy 5:9 means (1) the widow cannot have divorced and remarried, (2) cannot have committed polygamy or bigamy, and (3) cannot have remarried after her first husband died. (See A. T. Robertson, RWP 4:585. A. T. Robertson is being a little duplicitous when he applies this principle to women and yet does not want to apply it to men.) Second, these words do not refer to polygamy. Why? Because not only was polygamy not allowed for ministers, it wasn't even allowed for the church members. Third, divorce and remarriage then as today were major considerations in the early church. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all present Jesus as giving specific instructions on divorce. Why did He zero in on divorce? Because it was a major problem then as it is now.

Why such a fuss made over marriage? Because of the importance of marriage. According to Paul the marriage relationship between one man and one woman should reflect the love for Christ for His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Whereas the model of Christ and the church should be reflected in all marriages as a witness to the world, it should be especially true of the marriage of ministers. If the world views the minister as the image of God, then its view of Christ is seriously skewered when ministers get divorced and remarried. In this manner Christ has committed Himself solely to the church; remarriage is going to undermine the witness of that solitary commitment of Christ to the church. Second, Paul states that the relationship of a man to his family shows whether or not he is qualified to serve as a minister. Paul's reasoning is that if a man does not know how to manage his own family which is made up of relationships, then he will ultimately not do well in the church which is nothing less than a conglomeration of relationships. (We need to be careful not to water down this principle. A lot of churches are spiritually unhealthy because they refused to deal with the pastor/minister who did not function well within his family. It was not a coincidence that the church these men served suffered spiritually. Paul's caution unheeded proved to be true.)

Upholding the sanctity of marriage is an important role for the church to fulfill. When the church refuses to uphold Scripture as it has in the past 40 years (for example in its lax attitude towards divorce), the world writes us off. A recent CNN poll demonstrated how much the church has failed in this area. When asked what was the greater threat to marriage--divorce/remarriage or gay marriage, most responded that the former was the greater threat. The respondents OK'd gay marriage because they felt that divorce/remarriage had really lowered its value. The church many times complains the world no longer listens to her. When she quits speaking God's Word, the world justifiably quits listening to her.

Other side issues. First, if a person has been divorced and remarries, and then his first wife dies--he is still ineligible to become a deacon or a minister. Second, if a person was not a Christian when he was divorced, then his divorce should not be held against him afterwards. Grace trumps the other reasons listed here. Paul, I believe, is referring to the Christian who gets a divorce. Remember that a non-Christian does not have the Holy Spirit living in him, while the Christian does. That is a radical difference.

temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (3) not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money . . .

Temperate: moderation is the key. Overindulging in food is as bad as overindulging in alcohol. Remember that whereas Paul does not teach abstinence, his culture does differ radically from ours. First, they watered down their alcohol--2 parts alcohol to 3 parts water. (Those of you who defend alcohol, do you stress this part of the equation?) Second, those a little tipsy in Paul's day might fall off their horse while they were driving home. They might even break their necks; however, they did not get into a high-powered motor vehicle and turn it into an instrument of death. (P.S. Moderation extends to eating, buying clothes, buying expensive jewelry, etc.)

Respectable: he commands respect from people around him. They may not always agree with him; yet they do respect him and hold him in high honor. Everybody's going to have detractors; however, on the whole this person will be respected for his walk with the Lord.

Hospitable: this was especially necessary in the first century when itinerant preachers needed places to stay. Holiday Inns simply were not available. This should still characterize our ministers. Why? Because it demonostrates their giftedness in relationships. It's easy to pat somebody on the back each Sunday morning and seem really relational. The question though is if am I really effective in relationships. A person's showing hospitality appears to be a good indicator. It also demonstrates he has the gift of mercy, a nice trait to be found in any minister.

Able to teach: this is the primary function of the pastor/shepherd.

Not addicted to wine: see under "temperate."

Pugnacious: always seeking a fight. Some people are not happy unless they've got everybody else in an uproar.

Gentle: the idea is that of a mighty stallion whose power is held in check by a small bit in his mouth. Ministers can and should be passionate about their calling; however, they need to channel those powerful energies into healthy channels.

Uncontentious: not always striving or contending. Similar to not being pugnacious.

Free from the love of money: Paul commands the churches to provide for the financial well-being of their ministers (1 Cor. 9). Some ministers though are not content with what the churches pay them. They tend to cozy up to people with money in the church, or they can use guilt from the pulpit to extract money from the congregation. You need to avoid ministers who tend to share their financial needs with you. If the church is not providing them with an appropriate salary, then it needs to fix it. If it is, then the minister needs to be quiet and concentrate on what he has been called to do--minister.

(6, 7) and not a new convert lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that he may not fall into the reproach and snare of the devil.

It is important that the pastor not be a new convert first because of the spiritual maturity needed for the position. Every now and then the church will face some serious issues which calls forth for maturity and spiritual insight. These take time to develop within a person. It is also important for him to be mature spiritually for his own sake--so that he may not become conceited and incur the same condemnation Satan incurred. A younger minister can be effective and act like he should receive the credit for it. Genuine spiritual effectiveness in the church (which produces CHANGED LIVES) results from true spiritual leadership, not from the building of bigger and better buildings, etc. It always results from following the Lord.

The final qualification for ministers is that they have a good reputation with those outside the church. With this last qualification Paul shows the underlying principle which has been determining which qualifications to list--his concern for those outside the church. If the ministers have a poor reputation outside of the church, then non-Christians are going to write off the church. It is only a matter of time then before the church shrivels up and dies. The church then will have failed to fulfill its mission in the world. The reproach and the snares of the devil refer to the traps which Satan has out in the world to prevent the ministers and the church from being effective out in the world.

THE OFFICE OF DEACON (3:8-10, 12-13)

Deacons, likewise, must be men of dignity, not double-tongued or addicted to wine, or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. . . . Let deacons be husbands of only one wife and good manager of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

The second major office within the church is that of deacon. Like the ministers, the deacons are to be dignified and not addicted to wine. They are also not to be fond of sordid gain. Of all the characteristics possible, why does Paul single this one out? It is because deacons, if they want, can take advantage of the church financially. Many of the ministries deacons are involved in might have financial overtones to them: finance committee, properties committee, widow ministry, transportation committee. There are stories of some churches in which some deacons make sure that their banks get the notes on the churches' loans. In some of these churches deacons renegotiated their bid AFTER all the other sealed bids had been opened. There is nothing wrong with a deacon or minister benefiting financially from the churches they attend IF it just happens that way. Yet, if a deacon or minister manipulates the process so that he benefits financially, then he has failed to live up to the trust the Lord and the church have placed in him.

The deacon must not be double-tongued. A person who becomes a deacon comes into the office claiming to be a servant to the church and a helper to the ministers. Yet once he takes office and starts trying to control the church or dictating to the ministers, he has begun to be double-tongued. Paul is urging the deacons to have integrity, to be who they claim to be--servants.

They must also hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. It is right and appropriate that this church expect its deacons to be grounded in the Word and in doctrine. One thing we started last year was the study of the Baptist Faith and Message in our men's groups. Our men's groups are beginning to churn out new deacons. One day the church might have to face some serious theological issues (like it did in 2000 when changes were made to the Baptist Faith and Message). Who will the church look to for leadership? Just the ministers? Hopefully not. Ministers many times come and go. Whereas they do provide leadership, it is good to have the deacons serve as a check and balance for the church in this area.

Paul states that these men are to be tested. Our church does this whenever a man has been nominated to the deacon council. His life first is scrutinized and then his doctrine. Only after he has passed both these tests is he presented to the church for ordination.

Most of us fail to understand though that this testing is not just a one-time event. When Paul says that a man is to be tested, he uses the present tense of the verb. In other words, he's not just tested once, and that's it. It is an on-going process. Somebody once told me that once a man has been ordained a deacon, he is always a deacon. Where did they get that from? If I ever have a serious moral lapse, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has the right to take my Master's and Doctor's degrees from me. The church that ordained a man can withdraw those ordination papers if he has committed either moral or theological heresy. At First Baptist we do not automatically reinstate somebody to the Deacon Council after they have rotated off for a year. The Deacon Screening Council and the church have the responsibility and the right not to put somebody back on the Council if they have failed to live up to the qualifications set forth for them by the church.

The final qualification is that the deacon have a good family life. Once more Paul honors the fact that the church is based on relationships. If a man cannot function well within the most important of relationships, if there is devastation in his family, then he is not qualified to be a deacon.

Paul extends to the deacons a promise he does not give to the ministers: they "obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith." I've seen this happen in the churches I've served in. Men who faithfully served the Lord and the church commanded great respect from those churches. Off the top of my head I think of certain deacons 71+ years of age who have attained this kind of respect: Joe Sims, Don Lake, Don Tekell, Harold Williamson, Wilson Griffin, etc. In the past I heard that these men had "power." No they didn't. They had the respect and trust of the church, and as a result they had the influence which translates into legitimate, healthy power. They did not gain this by force but by sterling deacon-like character.


The final group Paul addresses are the deaconesses. We have tended to interpret this verse as referring to the wives of deacons. Whereas that interpretation may be right, I believe Paul is referring to the deaconnesses because he introduces this group the same way he introduces the subject of deacons. The word "likewise" most likely means that he has switched from one group to another, just like he used it in v. 8 to indicate that he had switched from the subject of pastor to that of deacon.

This interpretation is further borne out by the fact that Phoebe, a woman, is labelled a "deacon" by Paul in Rom. 16, the same word used in 1 Tim. 3 to refer to the office of deacon. Although it is the exact same word used for male deacons, Paul is not necessarily mixing the group of women deaconesses with the group of men deacons (see 1 Tim. 2:11-14 once more). Rather this group tended to focus on ministry to women and to children (see Titus 2:3, 4). This is healthy since it is unwise for men to be put into close, intimate situations with women. It is ultimately better for women to be the primary ministers to women and for men to be the primary ministers to men. Our women's ministry would reflect Paul's design for women ministering in the churches.

"But," you may ask, "didn't Paul call Phoebe a deacon, using the same word he uses for men?" He did; however, sometimes in Greek the same word can be used in different ways. For example, in English the word "fast" can refer to speed or to a refusal to eat. Greek which has masculine, feminine, and neuter genders (as in German) sometimes uses a masculine word to refer to a feminine object. Phoebe being a deacon(ess) did not mean she attended deacons' meetings.