1 Timothy 3

As believers we are stewards of two great treasures: the gospel and the church. Together they are God’s plan and program for saving the world. Paul refers to both of them at the end of this chapter.

He states the gospel in poetic form in verse 16, possibly the text of a hymn that was sung in the early church (perhaps composed by Paul, definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit). The hymn is packed with elements of the glorious gospel of Christ, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It begins with the incarnation of Jesus, who was “manifested in the flesh” when He left his throne in heaven (where He was “seen by angels”) to be born of a virgin. Having lived a perfect life, He suffered and died on the cross for our sins — but He did not stay dead! The resurrection of Jesus “vindicated” His claim to be Savior and Lord. He was “taken up in glory” in his miraculous Ascension, and is now “proclaimed among the nations” by His disciples. This gospel message has transformed millions of lives as people have heard about Jesus and “believed on Him in the world”.

Jesus gave His church the responsibility for guarding and maintaining the truth of the gospel (v.15). The truth was under attack where Timothy served in Ephesus because of the devious work of false teachers. Paul had already instructed him to fight the battle for gospel purity (see 1:18). So the church is to guard the truth, but not hoard it — we are to share it liberally in hopes of adding new family members to “the household of God” (v.15). In order to accomplish the task of propagating the gospel, the church needs good leadership. In this chapter, Paul gives Timothy instructions for selecting leaders for two offices in the church: pastors and deacons.

The office of pastor is referred to by three different terms in the New Testament. Here in verse 1 it is called “overseer” (or “bishop”), a title that focuses on the pastor’s role as a watchman or guardian, overseeing the work of the church members. It is a word that carries a very serious responsibility and accountability. A second term is “shepherd”, a title that refers to the pastor’s ministry of loving, comforting, and caring for the needs of the congregation. The third term is “elder”, which speaks of the pastor’s responsibility for leading the church in all areas, including setting direction, determining programs and allocation of resources, and teaching and preaching sound doctrine. (Note: for a passage that uses all three terms interchangeably, see 1 Peter 5:1-4.)

Such an office requires a man of integrity, spiritual maturity, high moral character, impeccable family life, and a good reputation in the community (v.1-7). (Note: I am a pastor. I wish I could say that I perfectly fulfill every one of these requirements, but I cannot. Every day I aspire to live up to live up to this list. This role to which God has called me is bigger than I am, but He is my strength in my weak places and He makes up for my shortcomings.)

Paul speaks of the office of deacons in verses 8-13. I thank God for the many fine deacons with whom I have had the privilege of serving. The ministry of deacons is different than that of pastors, as it focuses on serving the physical needs of the church family. The list of requirements, however, is similar to those for pastors, indicating that a high level of character and godliness is required for even the most practical ministries of the church.

Whatever your role in your church — whether it is out in front or behind the scenes — do it with all your heart, do it in the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep it focused on the gospel.