1 Timothy 3: 1-16, 4:11-16
Today’s question: What sort of leader are you?
Good morning brothers and sisters,
After that Bible reading just now some of you may be asking: Don’t tell me that this is another of those sermons that will make me feel guilty? You know, we have all heard sermons that makes you go home feeling more burdened than when you came in. A sermon that says you must try harder, you are not good enough, you have to do this, this and this etc.
Let me assure you this sermon is not meant to make you feel guilty, just relax.
The reason we are looking at Christian leadership this morning is that:
1. We are going through 1 Timothy systematically and we shouldn’t pick and choose our topics.
2. Even if you are not a church leader I hope this message will help you in one of three ways:
- firstly, you may be a future church leader
- secondly, you can help a church leader who is struggling now
- thirdly, everyone is a leader somewhere, maybe at home, at work,
at school or uni, at a club etc. Leadership is anywhere we have
influence on other people.
Leadership is everywhere
So please don’t switch off because you are not an elder or deacon. This passage is applicable to us all.
1 Timothy 3 talks about leadership in church. In those days church leadership was mostly male, following the Jewish synagogue tradition. Therefore depending on the Bible you use, it may only use the male gender. But there were also female leaders in the Bible e.g. Queen Esther, Deborah the judge, or Priscilla in the NT. In the last chapter of Romans Paul sends greetings to people who served with him and many are female names. If you are female and not a church leader you are still a leader to your children and maybe in a community organisation, or among your circle of friends. Leadership can be anywhere we have influence on other people.
The secular world teach a lot about leadership through leadership courses and MBA programmes etc. Sometimes Christians want to apply these secular teaching to the church without considering the Biblical viewpoint. So this morning let’s look at what the Bible says about leadership.
Let’s pray and ask God for help to understand.
Dear heavenly Father,
Thank You that we can call You our heavenly Father because of Your love in sending Jesus to earth. Now anyone who repents and asks You for forgiveness based on Jesus’ death and resurrection can become Your child and call You Father.
As we look into this passage in 1 Timothy, will You please speak to us so we learn how to use our influence on others for Your glory. Please take away any distracting thoughts or worries. Please help me to teach clearly and faithfully. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
If you have closed your Bibles please open it again at 1 Timothy 3:1-16. In this passage Paul addresses three groups of leaders:
In v1-7 he addresses elders, bishops or overseers, different terms depending on the Bible you have
In v8-10 and 12-13 he addresses deacons
and in between, in v11, he addresses deacons’ wives.
The church organisation structure in Ephesus in AD 65 is nothing like today, it was still quite primitive. Paul and Barnabas during their missionary journey just appointed elders in the various churches that were started. So when we read the terms like elders, overseers, bishops, deacons, they may mean different things to what we mean with those terms now.
Let’s look at the first group of leaders. Depending on the Bible you use they are called: elders, overseers or bishops.
Paul addresses this group in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and then personally to Timothy in 4:11-16.
The first thing to note is 3:1 whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
In my experience it is often hard to persuade people to become elders, deacons, SS teachers or other leadership roles in church. How about at St Andrews, do you also have difficulty in getting people to step up? In fact, because it is usually difficult to get willing people, when someone does volunteer to be an elder or deacon, sometimes we get a bit suspicious don’t we? We wonder what their motives are.
But Paul says it is a noble thing, it’s a good thing to do. When you look closer you see that Paul is actually referring to the task, it’s a noble task, a noble job. Paul is not referring to the status or fame. So what Paul commends is the desire to serve, to work for the congregation, not the desire to have a noble title or status. Brothers and sisters this is a good reminder to each of us; because we are all still sinful people often we like the status or title of church leadership. We like to be called “deacon so and so”, or “elder so and so”, or “pastor so and so”. In an Asian setting where there is respect for authority and older people, this temptation is even stronger. When I was chairman of the board of elders in our church, twice I had to ask an elder to step down because the rest of the leadership and I felt that the person was more interested in the status rather than serving God by doing what is best for the congregation.
So remember what Paul means: serving as a church leader is a noble task, a noble job, not a noble status.
Notice also the 14 qualifications that a person needs to have in v2-7. Out of these 14 qualifications, only two are a skill: in v2 able to teach, and v4 able to manage his own family well. All the other 12 qualifications are related to character. This is in stark contrast with the secular world where a job advertisement will specify the skills and competencies of the candidate but they don’t care about their character or how they live. But the emphasis in Christian leadership is on who you are not what you can do. Character is more important than skill. How often we get this wrong, how often we look at the skills of a person rather than his character. I am sure the Pastor Search Committee is well aware of this as you search for a permanent pastor.
Let’s look at these two skills: able to teach, and managing their family.
After Pentecost the number of Christian believers exploded and the apostles were overwhelmed with work. Acts 6 says that the apostles chose seven men to look after the social welfare of the believers. The purpose is so that the apostles can focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word, meaning teaching and preaching. So this ability to teach God’s word has been a high priority right from the beginning of the church.
How important is the ability to teach God’s word today?
Some may say that with modern communications technology the ability for church leaders to teach is no longer so important. Anyone can get good teaching from Christian resources like books, commentaries, articles, blogs and journals on-line. We can be taught by world renowned preachers through podcasts, the internet or even live TV. Now we can get good teaching outside our own church so the ability to teach inside the church seems less important.
But on the other hand, Biblical literacy is dropping fast. In the old days Christian families sent their children to SS and they all go to church regularly. But in the western world today church attendance has dropped significantly. That is why most people have very low Biblical understanding. So, there is still a great need for Bible teachers in churches, let alone the whole community.
How about us? How good a Bible teacher are we? We may not be a leader in church but everyone has influence somewhere. If a friend asks you to explain a passage from the Bible can you do it? Or if a friend is facing a big problem can you comfort them using the Bible? Can you explain what the Bible says about issues like homosexuality, materialism, suffering? Are you in the Adult Christian Education programme? Why not join it? You are already in church and here is an opportunity to know the Bible better. Let’s use every opportunity to improve our ability to teach God’s word.
The other skill mentioned is managing their family well and that their children obey him with proper respect. This means little children, not adult children. The church is like a big family of Christians. Paul’s reasoning is that if you can’t manage your own, small family, how can you lead a big, more complex church family? The Greek word for “manage” (epineleomai) is only used one other time in the NT when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who “managed” or took care of the wounded person and paid the inn keeper. Managing people with a caring, loving attitude may involve sacrifices but is another valuable skill to have.
Those are the two skills required of an elder or overseer: the ability to teach the Bible, and the ability to manage their family.
Of the 12 characters mentioned I want to raise only three: hospitable, not a lover of money, and have a good reputation with outsiders. I chose these 3 because they are important to most of us even if we are not church leaders.
Being hospitable means welcoming people, opening your home and sharing what you have. In the old days hospitality was important because there were not many safe places for travellers. In the first century AD before churches had full-time pastors there were many travelling apostles, teachers and evangelists. (Sounds a bit like St Andrews: no full-time pastor so you have all these travelling pastors from Australia and other places …). Christians in those days were encouraged to open their homes to such travelling teachers. We can read more about them in the letters of John and Jude.
Today, with plenty of safe hotels and ABnB maybe there is little need for us to offer a bed to strangers. But we can still offer hospitality by inviting people to our homes for a simple meal. This should not be a burden because hospitality does not mean a big dinner party but simply sharing a meal.
Jeannette and I have really appreciated the many times you have
opened your homes and invited us and other people. Such hospitality is a great opportunity to get to know one another, share our lives, pray together and have lots of laughs.
Hospitality is also great for telling unbelievers about God’s love around
a meal. Many people first heard about Jesus through the hospitality of Christians. I myself became a Christian through the hospitality of an Australian family to Asian students.
Hospitality is also wonderful in an age of broken families and relationships, and many lonely people.
And before everyone goes home, spend time together in prayer. You will be surprised how much closer your friendship will become.
Maybe St Andrews can organise a “hospitality Sunday” where several people open their homes and others bring a dish for a pot luck meal. The aim is to get to know each other better so don’t invite friends but people you don’t know. And please don’t focus on the food! I know we Asians love our makan, our food, but that can distract from the aim and put pressure on the hostess. Just simple dishes lah!
Second: Not a lover of money.
Money is a problem for many people including Christians. Next Sunday we will look into this more deeply in 1 Timothy 6. Now I just want to remind us to be careful with our attitude to money. The fact that Paul included this in his list of qualifications for church elders means it was a problem even among the Christian leadership in the first century. Jesus himself talked a lot about money. Do you know that out of His 38 parables, 16 were about money? In the gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) deals directly with the subject of money.
Many Christians have been seduced by the prosperity gospel which teaches that God will bless you with material things. They say; come to church, become a Christian and God who loves you will make you rich, happy and healthy. So if you are not rich or if you are sick then there must be a problem with your faith. That is not what the Bible teaches. Let us not get sucked in by the love of money. Anyway, more about that next Sunday.
Third: Have a good reputation with outsiders
Christians don’t live in a monastery, isolated from the real world. No, we live in the real world where others can clearly see the way we live. And how we live can have a positive or negative influence on others. Has anyone ever told you that they don’t want to become a Christian because they have seen the bad behaviour of another Christian? Have you ever heard people say that somebody is a Christian on Sundays only and the other 6 days they are no different to other people? Those Christians have a bad reputation with outsiders.
What sort of reputation do you and I have with outsiders? We are called to live a life that reflects Jesus. And make sure people understand that we are not just a Mr Nice Guy but that Christ is the One who makes the difference in us. We are like goldfish swimming in a glass bowl with the world watching us. The world notices the way we live and our reputation with outsiders depends on it. Paul says make sure you have a good reputation, not just in church but even with outsiders.
Verses 8-10 and 12-13 look at the next group called deacons. This ministry group probably started from the seven men chosen in Acts 6. In the 1st century the difference between elders and deacons seems to be based on the responsibilities: the elders or overseers focus on the ministry of the word and prayer, while the deacons focus on ministry at tables i.e. social welfare. Deacons handled money and food distributions for widows and people in need. In modern society some welfare responsibilities are done by the government, charities or other Christian organisation, and less by the local church. Today’s deacons often look after the smooth running of the worship services and the facilities, but not so much social welfare. But it is still serving God.
Similar to the requirements for elders, the qualifications listed for deacons are based on character, not skill. The only skill mentioned is that he must manage his children and his household well, v12 for the same reason that the church is like a big family. The other skill of teaching is not mentioned probably because their role is more in practical service. But that doesn’t mean a deacon can be less familiar with the Bible because v9 says that deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith. Deacons too must have a deep Biblical understanding.
The characters for deacons are similar as for elders. Note that the matter of money is also included. For elders it says not a lover of money, for deacons it says not pursuing dishonest gain v8.
In the middle of talking about deacons we have v11 which talks about the wives of deacons.
Again all the qualifications mentioned are characters, no skills are mentioned. One character mentioned is not malicious talkers. Paul doesn’t want women to be gossipers or malicious talkers. He also mentions a second character trustworthy in everything. Today, keeping confidential information is just as important because we all know that too much talk leads to problems. This is a good reminder not just for women but also for men.
Finally let’s look at chapter 4:11-16 which are Paul’s personal commands to Timothy who was left in Ephesus to oversee the whole church. We saw earlier that the qualifications for church leaders depend more on character than skills. He puts it in practical terms in v12: set an example …in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
And in v 16 Paul summarised it: watch your life and doctrine closely. No matter how good our doctrine is, it has to match our life, the way we live.
In the previous chapter Paul wrote about how the church should pray. In this chapter he wrote about church leaders.
The reason Paul wrote this letter to Timothy (3:14-15) is so that
you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God
In other words, this is what Paul expects to see in a normal church.
When we step back and look at the high standard required for elders, deacons and their wives we may well get overwhelmed. The standard seems so high, how can we ever qualify?
God’s standard is very high but …
Yes, God’s standard is high because He is a perfect God, He is a holy God. And He wants us to be Godly. Paul then gives the secret to godliness in 3:16
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels, was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
It is obvious that this verse talks about Jesus.
Thank God that He is a gracious God and sent Jesus to die for us and raised Him from the dead again. When we repent and ask for forgiveness the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and helps us to become more Godly so we can serve as a good Christian leader.
So despite our shortcomings, with God’s grace we can serve Him. We receive this grace daily by spending time with God. Pray for the Holy Spirit to remind us throughout the day that Jesus is with us, helping us in all the decisions we make, how we think and what we say.
Let us watch our life and doctrine and be good leaders who please God.