BIBLE STUDY


Paul's Letters To Timothy
by Greg Williamson (c) 2014, 2019
Featuring the text of the New American Standard Bible *
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Intro | 1 Timothy 1:1-11 / 1:12-17 / 1:18-20 | 2:1-8 / 2:9-15 | 3:1-7 / 3:8-13 / 3:14-16 | 4:1-6 / 4:7-12 / 4:13-16 | 5:1-16 / 5:17-25 | 6:1-2 / 6:3-10 / 6:11-21 | 2 Timothy 1:1-7 / 1:8-12 / 1:13-18 | 2:1-7 / 2:8-13 / 2:14-18 / 2:19-26 | 3:1-9 / 3:10-12 / 3:13-17 | 4:1-4 / 4:5-8 / 4:9-22 ** | Articles & Definitions | Sources

QUALIFIED DEACONS
(1 Timothy 3:8-13)

8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,
9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.
13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

 
The word deacon means “servant.” The deacons assist the elders in carrying out the work of the church. As with the elders, the deacons should be qualified spiritually and set the right example in their homes. - Warren Wiersbe [ref]
 

QuoteWorthy: Priorities
Socrates once asked, “How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him?” [ref]

1 TIMOTHY 3:8 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)
A PRINCIPLE TO LIVE BY
Qualified Assistants

Men and women who assist elders/overseers should, in essence, be just as qualified as those who manage and shepherd the church. (see 1 Timothy 3:8-13) [ref]

This verse tells us that "in their behaviour, speech, use of alcohol and attitude to money, candidates for the diaconate are to have control of themselves." [ref]

Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8)

"From Acts 6 we learn that deacons were chosen because the elders did not have the time and energy to take upon themselves the care of the poor and needy in addition to performing all their other work: governing the church, preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, leading the congregation in prayer, etc. The deacons, accordingly, were chosen in order to 'serve tables.' Their special task is to gather the offerings which God's people in gratitude make to their Lord, to distribute these gifts in the proper spirit to all who are in need, to prevent poverty wherever it is possible to do this, and by means of their prayers and words of Scripture-based comfort, to encourage the distressed." [ref]

"The qualifications for the office of deacon are almost as stringent as for elder because of their public profile in the church and because the servant nature of their work requires strong qualities of maturity and piety." [ref]

men of dignity (1 Timothy 3:8)
"Men of dignity" combines "seriousness of purpose and self-respect in conduct." [ref]

not double-tongued (1 Timothy 3:8)
Being double-tongued means "[s]aying one thing and meaning another, and making different representations to different people about the same thing." [ref]

"A double tongue comes from a double heart; flatterers and slanderers are double-tongued." [ref]

addicted to much wine (1 Timothy 3:8)
Wine was the common drink of the day. Because clean drinking water was not always available, it was common to add a little wine to water as a means of purifying the water.

not greedy for gain (1 Timothy 3:8)
This would be a necessary qualification in light of a deacon's handling of the church finances, including routinely "distributing [money] to those in need." [ref]

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DEACON, DEACONESS

Terms designating an officer in a local church, derived from a Greek word meaning “servant” or “minister.” The term “diaconate” is used for the office itself or for the collective body of deacons and deaconesses. As with many other biblical words used today in a technical sense, the words “deacon” and “deaconess” began as popular, nontechnical terms. Both in secular first-century Greek culture and in the NT, they described a variety of services.

Origins of the Concept
Greek Usage. References have been found in extrabiblical writings where the Greek word “deacon” meant “waiter,” “servant,” “steward,” or “messenger.” In at least two instances it indicated a baker and a cook. In religious usage the word described various attendants in pagan temples. Ancient documents show “deacons” presiding at the dedication of a statue to the Greek god Hermes. Serapis and Isis, Egyptian deities, were served by a college of “deacons” presided over by a priest.

General NT Usage. The same word was used by biblical writers in a general sense to describe various ministries or services. Not until later in the development of the apostolic church was the term applied to a distinct body of church officers. Among its general usages “deacon” refers to a waiter at meals (Jn 2:5, 9); a king’s attendant (Mt 22:13); a servant of Satan (2 Cor 11:15); a servant of God (2 Cor 6:4); a servant of Christ (2 Cor 11:23); a servant of the church (Col 1:24, 25); and a political ruler (Rom 13:4).

The NT presents servanthood in the sense of ministry or service as a mark of the whole church -- that is, as normative for all disciples (Mt 20:26–28; Lk 22:26, 27). Jesus’ teaching on the final judgment equates ministry with feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned (Mt 25:31–46). The entire NT emphasizes compassionate care for individuals’ physical and spiritual needs as well as the giving of one’s self to meeting those needs. Such service is ultimately a ministry to Christ himself (Mt 25:45).

Ministry in church life is based on spiritual gifts distributed to “members of the body” (1 Cor 12:12). The apostles Paul and Peter in their treatment of spiritual gifts made reference to “service” as a form of the Holy Spirit’s ministry (Rom 12:7; 1 Pt 4:11).

Origin of the Office. There is little question that before the end of the first century the general term for service or ministry became a kind of title for a position or office in the church. That development evidently went through several stages.

Some biblical scholars emphasize a relationship between the hazzan of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian office of deacon. The hazzan opened and closed the synagogue doors, kept it clean, and handed out the books for reading. It was to such a person that Jesus handed the scroll of Isaiah after finishing his reading (Lk 4:20).

Other NT scholars give considerable attention to the choosing of the seven (Acts 6:1–6); they see that action as a historical forerunner of a more developed structure (Phil 1:1; 1 Tm 3:8–13; the two specific references to an “office” of deacon). Luke devoted considerable attention in Acts to the selection of a new set of church leaders. Overworked with a variety of responsibilities, the 12 apostles proposed a division of labor to ensure care for the Hellenist (Greek-speaking) widows in the church’s daily distribution of food and alms. “Seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3) subsequently became prominent in the Jerusalem congregation, doing works of charity and caring for physical needs.

Some scholars caution that the diaconate should not be exclusively linked with charitable works, since the Greek word used in Acts 6:2 is related to the word translated “ministry of the word” in verse 4. Those chosen to oversee the care for physical needs were people of spiritual stature. Stephen, for instance, “full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs” (Acts 6:8). Philip, appointed as one of the seven in Acts 6, “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Philip also baptized (Acts 8:38) and is referred to as an evangelist (Acts 21:8).

Deacons in the Early Church
Preliminary Stage. Those who cite Acts 6 as a preliminary stage of the office of deacon refer to the spread of the practice from the church in Jerusalem to the gentile congregations sprouting elsewhere. Many churches probably took the appointing of “the Jerusalem seven” as a pattern to follow, some even adopting the number seven. In a letter of the third-century pope Cornelius, for example, the church of Rome was said to have maintained seven for the number of deacons.

By the time the church of Philippi received its instructions from the apostle Paul (c. A.D. 62), and Timothy had Paul’s first letter in hand, “deacon” had become a technical term referring to a specific office in the churches. In Philippians 1:1 Paul addressed the church in general and then added “with bishops and deacons.” Some interpreters consider that to be a clear establishment of two distinct groups within the larger church body, though no further description is given. Possibly the deacons of that congregation were responsible for collecting and then dispatching the offerings referred to (Phil 4:14–18).

In 1 Timothy 3:8–13 instructions are given about qualifications for the office of deacon. Although that is the most detailed treatment of the subject in the NT, it is actually quite sketchy. Most of the qualifications, dealing with personal character and behavior, are similar to those for a bishop. For instance, a deacon is to be truthful, monogamous, “not addicted to much wine,” and a responsible parent. Verse 11, requiring that “the women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things,” may refer not to deacons’ wives but to deaconesses, as several translations note (NIV, NEB). In any event, it is clear that women participated in the work of the diaconate.

In contrast to the office of bishop (1 Tm 3:2), deacons are not described as providing teaching or hospitality. In fact, no mention is made of any functional qualifications to clarify deacons’ or deaconesses’ roles in the early church. The character qualifications listed are appropriate for those with monetary and administrative responsibilities (as Acts 6:1–6 suggests). Timothy is told that good deacons will not go unrewarded; not only will their faith increase, but also their good standing among those whom they serve (1 Tm 3:13).

The NT writings indicate that to be chosen as a deacon or deaconess is a high compliment and affirmation. Named as “deacons” were Timothy (1 Thes 3:2; 1 Tm 4:6), Tychicus (Col 4:7), Epaphras (Col 1:7), Paul (1 Cor 3:5) -- and even Christ (Rom 15:8, “servant”). Biblical “deaconing” is not characterized by power and prominence but by service to others. In imitation of Jesus’ life, the deacon or deaconess followed the servant pattern. The Christian diaconate thus contrasted sharply with the prevailing Greek thought of service, which was considered unworthy of the dignity of free men. (The Greek philosopher Plato wrote, “How can man be happy when he has to serve someone?”)

The office of deacon differed from the office of elder, which was adapted from a definite Jewish pattern in the OT (see Nm 11:16, 17; Dt 29:10). The diaconate, on the other hand, developed from the strong, personal, historical example of Jesus, the servant who compassionately met concrete human needs.

Later Developments. As the office of deacon became more firmly established, its duties could be defined as those of pastoral care. The poor and the sick received their service, not only physically but also with instruction and consolation. The homes of church members became familiar territory to a deacon or deaconess. A pattern of visitation was established to discover and then meet the needs of the church body at large. Although that included the administration of funds, it went far beyond it. Those who served as deacons and deaconesses undoubtedly became symbols of loving care for the church in general.

Where the office of deacon fits into the larger pattern of church order within the NT is difficult to determine because of the obvious variety present during the formative years. Some church historians conclude that as ecclesiastical structure developed, elders provided congregational leadership. Deacons assisted them, especially in social services and pastoral care. The late first and early second centuries witnessed a distinctive threefold ministry, of deacons, elders (presbyters), and bishops. Bishops or “overseers” began to exercise authority over areas or groups of churches.

Deaconess
Where did women fit into the ministry of the early church? Paul’s inclusion of references to women in ministry is striking when compared with the role of women in general in the first century. He commended Phoebe for her service in the church at Cenchreae, using the word “deacon” to describe her (Rom 16:1). He praised her as a “helper” (Rom 16:2), a word that denotes leadership qualities (cf. Rom 12:8; 1 Tm 3:4, 5). Some scholars have used that reference as an example of early development of the office of deaconess. Others have interpreted it in a nontechnical sense, meaning that Phoebe functioned in a generally serving role and thus was worthy of recognition at Rome. Whether “deacon” was used technically or descriptively, ministry for both women and men in the NT was patterned after the example of Jesus, who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). Because of the large number of female converts (Acts 5:14; 17:4), women functioned in such areas of ministry as visitation, instruction in discipleship, and assistance in baptism. Deaconesses are mentioned in third-century documents as administering baptism to female converts.

Considering the rigid separation of the sexes in the Near East at that time, female participation in church ministry stands out in bold relief. A governor of Bithynia, Pliny the Younger (D. 113?), in his Correspondence with Trajan verified women officeholders in the church. Pliny also mentioned two deaconesses who were martyred for the cause of Christ.

- Manfred T. Brauch [ref]

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1 TIMOTHY 3:9 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)

This verse tells us that "deacons must have orthodox convictions." [ref]

holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9)
A "mystery" is a truth that was previously hidden but has now been revealed (cf. Romans 11:25; 16:25; Ephesians 1:9; 3:9; 6:19; Colossians 2:2). [ref] Put simply, "[t]he mystery of the faith" refers to "the revealed truths of the Christian faith." [ref] Hence "[t]he mystery is not a secret to be kept, but a message to be proclaimed (Rom 16:25; Col 4:3)." [ref]

The NIV renders this verse: "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience." Which means that "[d]eacons must be men with spiritual depth. The seven men chosen to help the apostles in the early church were 'known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom' (Acts 6:3 NIV). While Luke never called Stephen and his companions 'deacons,' they have traditionally been held up as early models of the service orientation of that role. They were men whose outward actions demonstrated that the gospel had taken deep root in their lives." [ref]

In simplest terms, "a clear conscience" means a deacon must practice what he preaches. [ref]

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HOLDING ON

Earlier (see 1 Timothy 2:4) Paul explained that by the word truth he meant the deepest components of the faith (see 1 Timothy 2:5-6). These were: (1) the oneness of God, (2) the uniqueness of Christ Jesus and his ministry, and (3) the ransom that Jesus paid for all people. All other Christian teaching flows from this foundation of truth.

Like those early deacons, we need to have a firm grasp of the basic message of God's Word. Putting what we believe into words and actions helps us grow. Peter described this process: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).

- Life Application Bible Commentary [ref]


FAITH + ETHICS

“Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” is a significant association of faith with ethics. As Weiss puts it: “It is as if the pure conscience were the vessel in which the mystery of the faith is preserved.” The idea is sound and valuable. A merely intellectual attitude toward the mystery which, in every age, attaches to the faith, will result in doubt, questioning, and wordy strife (see 1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9), sometimes in moral laxity, sometimes in despair. Loyalty and duty to God are compatible with more or less ignorance concerning the mystery. An intellect, however powerful and active, joined with an impure conscience, cannot solve but only aggravates the mystery; whereas a pure and loyal conscience, and a frank acceptance of imposed duty along with mystery, puts one in the best attitude for attaining whatever solution is possible. See John 7:17.

- Marvin R. Vincent [ref]

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1 TIMOTHY 3:10 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)

This verse tells us that "deacons must have been tested and approved." [ref]

tested (1 Timothy 3:10)
"The verb dokimazo [= "tested"] has three stages: (1) test, (2) prove by testing; (3) approve as the result of testing. Perhaps all three are in mind here." [ref]

Rather than a formal test or a period of probation, this is an extended period of observation made by the entire congregation. [ref] [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Redemption
In remaining on the cross Jesus was saying there was nothing in all God’s universe He would not do to provide redemption for all who would believe. [ref]

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JEWISH CHARITY

In the early Church the function of the deacons lay much more in the sphere of practical service. The Christian Church inherited a magnificent organization of charitable help from the Jews. No nation has ever had such a sense of responsibility for the poorer brother and sister as the Jews. The synagogue had a regular organization for helping such people. The Jews rather discouraged the giving of individual help to individual people. They preferred that help should be given through the community and especially through the synagogue.

Each Friday in every community two official collectors went round the markets and called on each house, collecting donations for the poor in money and in goods. The material so collected was distributed to those in need by a committee of two, or more if necessary. The poor of the community were given enough food for fourteen meals, that is for two meals a day for the week; but no one could receive from this fund if he already possessed a week's food in the house. This fund for the poor was called the Kuppah, or the basket. In addition to this there was a daily collection of food from house to house for those who were actually in emergency need that day. This fund was called the Tamhui or the tray. The Christian Church inherited this charitable organization, and no doubt it was the task of the deacons to attend to it.

- William Barclay [ref]

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1 TIMOTHY 3:11 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)

The remainder of this section tells us that "deacons must have an irreproachable home life." [ref]

Women (1 Timothy 3:11)
Here Paul is speaking either of women in general, deaconesses (= female deacons), or deacons' wives. The fact that the context is that of church officials rules out women in general. "We know that there were deaconesses in the church in later centuries; but whether there was such an order in the first century is debatable." [ref]

"A Deacon whose wife is wanting in the qualities required in him, is not to be chosen. She would sustain an active relation to his office, and by her ministries would increase his efficiency, and by frivolity, slander, or intemperance, would bring him and his office into disrepute." [ref] And we know that "in ancient society, men were often ridiculed for their wives’ behavior." [ref]

As one source explains in some detail:

 
It is possible that this refers to women who serve as deacons, "deaconesses." The evidence is as follows: (1) The immediate context refers to deacons; (2) the author mentions nothing about wives in his section on elder qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7); (3) it would seem strange to have requirements placed on deacons' wives without corresponding requirements placed on elders' wives; and (4) elsewhere in the NT, there seems to be room for seeing women in this role (cf. Romans 16:1).

The translation "wives" -- referring to the wives of the deacons -- is probably to be preferred, though, for the following reasons: (1) It would be strange for the author to discuss women deacons right in the middle of the qualifications for male deacons; more naturally they would be addressed by themselves. (2) The author seems to indicate clearly in the next verse that women are not deacons: "Deacons must be husbands of one wife." (3) Most of the qualifications given for deacons elsewhere do not appear here. Either the author has truncated the requirements for women deacons, or he is not actually referring to women deacons; the latter seems to be the more natural understanding. (4) The principle given in 1 Timothy 2:12 appears to be an overarching principle for church life which seems implicitly to limit the role of deacon to men.

Nevertheless, a decision in this matter is difficult, and our conclusions must be regarded as tentative. [ref]
 

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1 TIMOTHY 3:12 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)

good managers (1 Timothy 3:12)

 
Like the overseer, the deacon must be a faithful husband. He must also have proved himself a capable manager of his household. As we saw, this was a quality greatly admired in (and also expected of) the householder by that society. If the householder clearly lacked this ability he was quickly criticized. Paul's point is again that one who would lead in the church must first know how to lead in the family in a way that promotes harmony among its members and loyalty to its leader. It is a safe assumption that one who manages his home haphazardly, whether he is a heavy-handed tyrant and slow to listen or simply irresponsible and unconcerned for his family, is likely to leave a similar stamp on the church. To be a leader requires having leadership skills that are tried and tested in the most practical of situations, the home. [ref]
 

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1 TIMOTHY 3:13 - Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (vv. 8-13)

Paul "concludes the list of requirements for office with an encouragement to those who serve well. ... The apostasy of some elders and deacons in Ephesus almost certainly lowered opinions about leaders and leadership in the church and in the minds of outsiders. So confidence in the office and in the people filling that office needed to be restored. Today this same confidence needs to be maintained. Thus Paul reminds us that deacons who serve well will receive a twofold reward. Among people faithful deacons will gain an excellent standing, a good reputation. They will also grow closer to Christ in faith and assurance." [ref]

served well as deacons (1 Timothy 3:13)
"Humble service, which lacks all the rewards the world deems important, becomes a true test of one’s motives. Here one discovers for himself whether or not his efforts are truly prompted by a Christlike spirit of selfless service." [ref]

a high standing (1 Timothy 3:13)
"Some think this suggests promotion to a higher rank (e.g., overseer). Others think it means great respect in the eyes of the church. Still others would relate it to good standing in God's sight. Probably the best interpretation is a combination of the last two." [ref] Not to be overlooked, however, is the need for a high standing, or good reputation, with non-Christians. [ref]

great confidence (1 Timothy 3:13)
"Confidence" (Greek parrēsian) refers to "freedom of speech or boldness before God or human beings. Faithful service will increase [the deacons'] Christian confidence." [ref]

"Integrity and uprightness ... [will] give a man great boldness in the faith, whereas a want of integrity and uprightness will make a man timorous, and ready to tremble at his own shadow" (see Proverbs 28:1). [ref]

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AN HONORABLE CALLING

[T]here is material here [in 1 Timothy 3:1-13] both to encourage the right people to offer for pastoral ministry and to discourage the wrong ones from doing so. The discouragement is that the required standards are high and the task is arduous. The responsibility of caring for ‘God’s church’ (1 Timothy 3:5) is calculated to daunt the best and the most gifted Christians. But the corresponding encouragement is that the pastorate is a noble task, a beautiful undertaking, a laudable ambition (1 Timothy 3:1). It involves giving oneself to the service of others. Besides, the words episkopos and diakonos are both applied to the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. Peter called him ‘the Shepherd and Overseer (episkopos) of your souls’ (1 Pet. 2:25), and he applied to himself the verb diakonein (e.g. Mk. 10:45; Lk. 22:27). Could there be any greater honour than to follow in his footsteps and share in some of his episkopē and diakonia which he is willing to delegate to us?

- John Stott [ref]


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*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) | **This outline is from The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe