1 Timothy 3 Commentary

Introduction:

“The Church at Ephesus was troubled by men who taught error and, in at least some cases, lived immorally. Christians, especially women, were harassed and in need of help.  In chapter 1 Paul urged Timothy both to teach truth and to live a life appropriate to his teachings.  In chapter 2 he stressed the importance of conduct that befits God’s truth on the part of both men and women. Now Paul takes another step to address the problem of false teachers by ensuring that the church has leaders who are morally qualified and ‘above reproach.’  This chapter will come to a climax with the exposition of the ‘mystery of godliness’ in verses 14-16.”[1]

v. 1 overseer. In the Greek culture the word was used of a presiding official in a civic or religious organization.  Here it refers to a man who oversees a local congregation.  The equivalent word from the Jewish background of Christianity is ‘elder.’  The terms ‘overseer’ and ‘elder’ are used interchangeably in Ac 20:17, 28; Tit 1:5-7; 1 Pe 5:1-2.  The duties of an overseer were to teach and preach (3:2; 5:17), to direct the affairs of the church (3:5; 5:17),  to shepherd the flock of God (Ac 20:28) and to guard the church from error (Ac 20:28-31).”[2]

“It is noteworthy that here in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul defines being an overseer in terms of function (‘a noble task’), not of status or office.  He is not encouraging people to seek status but responsibility.”[3]

vv. 4, 7 “But, as the early Church saw it, the responsibility of the office-bearer did not begin and end in the Church. He had two other spheres of responsibility, and if he failed in them, he was bound also to fail in the Church.

(i) His first sphere of duty was his own home. If a man did not know how to rule his own household, how could he engage upon the task of ruling the congregation of the Church? (1Tim.3:5). A man who had not succeeded in making a Christian home could hardly be expected to succeed in making a Christian congregation. A man who had not instructed his own family could hardly be the right man to instruct the family of the Church.

(ii) The second sphere of responsibility was the world. He must be ‘well thought of by outsiders’ (1Tim.3:7). He must be a man who has gained the respect of his fellow-men in the day-to-day business of life. Nothing has hurt the Church more than the sight of people who are active in it, whose business and social life belies the faith which they profess and the precepts which they teach. The Christian office-bearer must first of all be a good man.”[4]

v. 6 “The warning is not against doctrinal immaturity, serious as that would be, but against the danger of a character flaw, ‘conceit.’  The false teachers were ‘conceited,’ among other things (2 Tim. 3:4), but here the conceit comes from spiritual immaturity, not from moral depravity.  Nevertheless, the consequences of conceit is somber:  Such people ‘fall under the same judgment as the devil.’ 

This judgment may seem severe, because to ‘become conceited’ (typhoo) probably does not strike us today as serious or culpable.  Yet the same verb appears in Paul’s description of the last days, which include such sinful attitudes as ‘boastful, proud, abusive…treacherous, rash, conceited’ (2 Tim. 3:2-4).  As Proverbs 21:4 asserts, ‘Haughty eyes and a proud heart…are sin’”[5]

“The office-bearer was not to be a recent convert. […] It was through his pride that Lucifer rebelled against God and was expelled from heaven. And this may simply be a second warning against the danger of pride. […] It may mean that, if the too quickly advanced convert becomes guilty of pride, he gives the devil a chance to level his charges against him. A conceited Church office-bearer gives the devil a chance to say to critics of the Church: ‘Look! There’s your Christian! There’s your Church member! That’s what an office-bearer is like!’ […] No matter how we take it, the point is that the conceited Church official is a bad debt to the Church.”[6]

v. 8-12 Deacon means ‘one who serves.’ This position was possibly begun by the apostles in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6) to care for the physical needs of the congregation, especially the needs of the Greek-speaking widows.  Deacons were leaders in the church, and their qualifications resemble those of the overseer.”[7]

v.8 “The word translated deep truths is one of Paul’s favorite words to describe the gospel, literally meaning ‘mystery’ (1 Cor. 2:7; 4:1; Eph. 3:3-9) […] it refers to the essential truth of the gospel, especially the saving character of Christ’s death, which was once hidden (in God) but now revealed by the Spirit (hence the GNB’s ‘revealed truth’).”[8]

“’Worthy of respect’ translates semnos, a word that describes a person of dignity, who both gives and receives appropriate respect. […]  Since non-Christians, perhaps even ‘kings’ and ‘those in authority’ may take note of how the Christians are living, another possible translation, ‘integrity,’ may fit well in that context.  The terminology here portrays a person who can be depended on to act with transparent integrity.”[9]

v. 11 “Christianity emancipated women; it liberated them from a kind of slavery. But there were dangers. She who was liberated might misuse her new-found freedom; the respectable world might be shocked by such an emancipation; and so the Church had to lay down its regulations. It was by wisely using freedom, and not misusing it, that women came to hold the proud position in the Church which they hold today.”[10]

v.15 “Here in one phrase is the reason why the Pastoral Epistles were written; they were written to tell men how to behave within the Church. The word for to behave is anastrephesthai; it describes what we might call a man’s walk and conversation. It describes his whole life and character; but it specially describes him in his relationships with other people. As it has been said, the word in itself lays it down that a church member’s personal character must be excellent and that his personal relationships with other people should be a true fellowship. A church congregation is a body of people who are friends with God and friends with each other. Paul goes on to use four words which describe four great functions of the Church.

(i) The Church is the household (oikos) of God. First and foremost it must be a family. In a dispatch written after one of his great naval victories, Nelson ascribed his victory to the fact that he ‘had the happiness to command a band of brothers.’ Unless a church is a band of brothers it is not a true church at all. Love of God can exist only where brotherly love exists.

(ii) The Church is the assembly (ekklesia) of the living God. The word ekklesia literally means a company of people who have been called out. It does not mean that they have been selected or picked out. In Athens the ekklesia was the governing body of the city; and its membership consisted of all the citizens met in assembly. But, very naturally, at no time did all attend. The summons went out to come to the Assembly of the City, but only some citizens answered it and came. God’s call has gone out to every man; but only some have accepted it; and they are the ekklesia, the Church. It is not that God has been selective. The invitation comes to all; but to an invitation there must be a response.

(iii) The Church is the pillar of the truth (stulos). In Ephesus, to which these letters were written, the word pillar would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the Temple of Diana or Artemis. ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’ (Ac.19:28). It was one of the seven wonders of the world. One of its features was its pillars. It contained one hundred and twenty-seven pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. All were made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The people of Ephesus knew well how beautiful a thing a pillar could be. It may well be that the idea of the word pillar here is not so much support–that is contained in buttress–as display. Often the statue of a famous man is set on the top of a pillar that it may stand out above all ordinary things and so be clearly seen, even from a distance. The idea here is that the Church’s duty is to hold up the truth in such a way that all men may see it.

(iv) The Church is the buttress (hedraioma) of the truth. The buttress is the support of the building. It keeps it standing intact. In a world which does not wish to face the truth, the Church holds it up for all to see. In a world which would often gladly eliminate unwelcome truth, the Church supports it against all who would seek to destroy it.”[11]


[1] Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary Series CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 115.

[2] The NIV Study Bible, study notes  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985)  1838.

[3] Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary Series CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).

[4] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series CD (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1960).

[5] Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary Series CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).

[6] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series CD (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1960).

[7] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991).

[8] Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA; Hendrickson Publishers 1988) 87.

[9] Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 133.

[10] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series CD (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1960).

[11] William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series CD (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Saint Andrew Press, 1960).

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