1 Timothy 3 Lead? Wait!


Questions: Dare we desire to lead? What are the qualifications? What does our family have to do with it? Is it any easier simply to serve? To what must we hold? Do we have something to prove? Is it worth it? Does the church really have the right to ask so much of us? Does God?

“Read More” to pursue answers from First Timothy.

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Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence
And fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I would know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

1 Timothy 3:1-16

This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

I must say, this is a bit of a surprise. It is fashionable to claim that the best rulers are those who don’t aspire to rule, but here Paul explicitly commends those who seek leadership. Of course, that may just be because he’s setting them up for the gauntlet of requirements they must pass!

A bishop then must be

  1. blameless
  2. the husband of one wife
  3. vigilant
  4. sober
  5. of good behaviour
  6. given to hospitality
  7. apt to teach
  8. Not given to wine
  9. no striker
  10. not greedy of filthy lucre
  11. but patient
  12. not a brawler
  13. not covetous

Ouch! From the perspective of one seeking leadership, this is a pretty daunting list. On the other hand, this seems exactly what I would want — even expect! — of those who have authority over me. Even if it means peering into their personal lives:

One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

It is a sobering thought, and actually speaks volumes about how bishops (overseers) are to rule over the church: as a firm but loving father. Which means they need to lead out of the depths of their heart and character, not just from a list of rules in their head.

And despite all these accomplishments, he also has to be humble!

Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Though he still needs to be someone we can be proud of:

Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Huh — I didn’t pay much attention to the allusion to the devil the first time, but the fact he repeated it should probably be taken as a strong warning: Satan is always looking for ways to trap leaders, either by lifting them up with pride or bringing them down in disgrace — ideally both!

Given all that, Paul’s affirmation towards those desiring leadership takes on a whole new dimension. It is like signing up to be a Navy Seal, where the honor comes from the very severity of the task to which one has committed oneself.

But even if you opt out of the super-extreme commitment of a bishop, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook:

Likewise [must] the deacons [be] grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

So far this seems like an abbreviated version of the first list; but then Paul throws us a curveball:

Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.

Now, this is surprising. I presume this is also something we’d expect of bishops, but for whatever reason Paul chose to mention it here.

In fact, it actually highlights the fact that there are zero theological requirements listed for bishop! None, zip, nada — it is all about character and competence (unless you insist on investing “apt to teach” with an implicit requirement of “theological correctness”).

This is really quite shocking, given that the overwhelming focus of modern pastoral training is the impartation of theological information (rather than, say, character formation). I suppose one could claim that such is simply “assumed” for bishops, and that it is only mentioned for deacons since it is less obvious. But that would seem awfully careless of Paul, especially since his first thirteen points include such “obvious” warnings as not hiring drunkards!

To be fair, the context is very different back then: they didn’t have the New Testament canon or centuries of church history to study. Yet, he doesn’t even require them to be proficient in (or even love!) the Hebrew Scriptures.

The uncomfortable realization I’m coming to is that Paul’s top priority is having leaders of deep personal integrity and honorable character, regardless of their education. It is as if he assumes that anyone able to live up to these ideals must have a deep practical appreciation of who God truly is, and that such an understanding is far more important than any book learning or formal creeds.

Part of me feels sure I must be missing something, and that Paul isn’t really implying something so at odds with our modern understanding of pastoral leadership. Or that it was just an artifact of the rapidly growing first century church, where there was no choice but to appoint people without a lot of theological depth, and value character over theological conformity. After all, there has to be some value in the near-universal period of extended theological training we expect of ordained pastors in the Western world; especially given how effective it has been in building up the modern church.


But I digress — we were talking about deacons (servants? elders?), for whom the command to have a clean conscience in regards to the mystery of faith seems an appropriate level of humility and awe. Especially since the real test seems to be how well they perform “in the field.”

And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being [found] blameless.

In fact, I like this idea of “reverent awe” + “thorough examination” so much I wish Paul had said people should be deacons (under these terms) before becoming bishops. Alas, he did not. 😦

Even so [must their] wives [be] grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

I don’t know whether this is meant to focus directly on female deacons, or simply an indirect constraint on male deacons, like the following verse:

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

I’ll let the theologians sort that out; for myself, I know that an integral part of my calling before God is to spiritually nurture my wife (and someday, children), so that my prayers will be heard; and thus I truly am responsible for them before God — not that they are any less responsible for themselves!

For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Amazingly, after all these intense and difficult constraints, Paul speaks of leadership in such an upbeat and positive way. The cynical part of me wonders whether that is because he himself had neither wife or kids, and thus he had no idea how high he had placed the standards! Then again, I’d still rather take managing my family over, say, getting stoned and shipwrecked as the price of admission. 🙂

I suspect Paul goes along with the idea of “high standards, but infinite grace.” None of us is perfect, but we choose to affirm an impossible (but good) goal in order that we can glorify God for His mercy — through our repentance — whenever we fall short.

Moreover, this seems like just a small taste of Paul’s heart, meant to encourage Timothy in the difficult decisions he needs to make while waiting for Paul’s arrival:

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

And Paul being Paul, he can’t seem to mention the church without a spontaneous little doxology about how cool God is to allow us to be part of that:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Perhaps that is why Paul didn’t feel the need for an in-depth theological curriculum for leaders. To him, simply being part of the church meant living in a constant state of awe and gratitude over what God had done for us through Christ.

I can’t help but wonder if since then, we’ve lost more than we gained…

God, these issues and mysteries are far beyond the understanding of a poor confused sinner like me. Lord, teach me to simply look to you in a spirit of awe and reverence, with a clean conscience. Purify me of everything that hinders my vision of you, that I may see your beauty, and worship you with my whole being. And my whole family. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:
Today’s title is a really awful pun on “lead (Pb) weight.”

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