1 Timothy 3

The third chapter is a continuation of the same general theme as occupied us in our reading of the second chapter; viz., the behaviour that becomes believers as being in the house of God. That this is the general subject is plainly stated in verse 15 of our chapter.

Now God is a God of order and hence in the Christian assembly where He dwells all things are to be done "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14: 40). For the furtherance of this the two offices of Bishop and Deacon had been established in the church, and are referred to in this chapter.

From the first verse it would appear that there were some at Ephesus who were aspiring to become bishops. The Apostle acknowledges that what they aimed at was a good work but he insists in this connection upon the all-importance of character. It is not that the bishop may have all the spiritual qualifications that he mentions, but that he must. Moreover, before he is appointed to take care of the church of God he must have proved his fitness for such a work by the way in which he has governed the far smaller and humbler sphere of his own household. He must not be a novice, one who though possibly well on in years is only a beginner in the things of God, else being lifted up with pride in his new-found importance he may fall into the very fault that caused the overthrow of Satan at the beginning. Diotrephes, who is spoken of in 3 John 9 and 10 would seem to be an illustration of what is meant.

In many of the primitive churches bishops or elders were officially appointed, in others they do not appear to have been. But even if duly appointed the one thing that would confer real weight upon them would be the character of Christian godliness that Paul here describes. Who would be disposed to pay attention to their exhortations otherwise, or submit themselves to their shepherd care and direction in spiritual things? Moreover there was the outside world to be considered, as verse 7 states. The world has sharp eyes and quickly hurls reproach if there is the least ground for it; and to accomplish this the devil lays his snares.

The word translated "bishop" simply means "overseer." The word "deacon" means "servant." There are many services to be rendered in the church that are not primarily of a spiritual nature, such as those mentioned in Acts 6. But if men are to handle such ordinary matters as these in the service of God they need to possess very definite and high spiritual qualifications, and to be tested first ere they begin.

The wives of deacons are specially mentioned in verse 11. This is doubtless because diaconal service was of such a nature that they not infrequently took part in it. Phebe, for instance, was "a servant [deaconess] of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16: 1), and was highly commended by the Apostle.

We must remember that bishops and deacons were to possess this sterling Christian character inasmuch as they were to set an example to the mass of believers who looked up to them. Hence all of us reading this chapter today must accept these verses as delineating the character which God desires to see in us. Can we read them without feeling rebuked? How about that greed of money, or the slander, or even the being double-tongued-the saying of one thing in one direction and quite another thing in another direction? Pretty searching considerations, these!

The service of a deacon might seem a very small matter, but nothing in God's service is really small. Verse 13 definitely states that such service faithfully rendered is the way to higher and larger things. This is clearly illustrated for us in the subsequent history of two who are mentioned in Acts 6: 5. Stephen advanced to become the first Christian martyr: Philip to become a greatly used preacher of the Gospel, the only man designated an evangelist in Scripture (See, Acts 21: 8). Every true servant of God has begun with small and humble things, so let none of us despise and shirk them, as naturally we are inclined to do.

Notice that phrase in verse 7, "them which are without." At the beginning things were quite sharply defined. A man was either within the church of God or part of the great world without, for the church and the world were visibly distinct. Now, alas! it is otherwise. The world has invaded the church and the lines of demarcation are blurred. Not blurred, of course, to God's view, but very much so to ours. It is consequently far more difficult for us to understand how wonderful a place is God's house and the conduct that becomes it.

Verse 15 tells us that the house of God is the church of the living God. We are evidently to understand that the fact of our being a part of the church, and therefore in the house, is not a mere idea void of practical significance. The living God dwells there and He has said, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Cor. 6: 16). He scrutinizes everything and He operates there as is illustrated in Acts 5: 1-11. Hence we should be marked by suitable conduct.

Then again, the church is "the pillar and ground [or, base] of the truth." Pillars had a two-fold use. They were largely used as supports, but they were also commonly erected not to support anything but to bear an inscription as a memorial. The reference here is, we believe, to the latter use. God intends that the truth shall not only be stated in the inspired words of Scripture but also exemplified in the lives of His people. The church is to be like a pillar reared up on its base on which the truth is inscribed for all to see, and that in a living way for the church is "the church of the living God."

The church then is not the authoritative teacher and interpreter of truth as Rome claims but the living witness to the truth which is authoritatively set forth in Scripture. To differentiate between these two things and to keep them in their right relative places in our minds is of extreme importance. AUTHORITY lies in the very word of God which we have in Scripture alone. The living witness to what Scripture sets forth is found in the church, but at the present moment that witness is sadly obscured though it will be perfect and complete in glory. Compare verses 23 and 21 of John 17, and note that what the world has failed to "believe" now it will "know" when the church is perfected in glory.

If verse 15 speaks of the church as the witness to the truth verse 16 gives a wonderful unfolding of that which lies at the heart of truth, the very revelation of God Himself, spoken of as "the mystery of godliness." There is no thought here of godliness being a mysterious thing. The force of the sentence is rather-that beyond all question great is the hidden spring from whence flows such godliness as is here taught. The godliness displayed by saints in different ages was always in keeping with such knowledge of God as was available to them, and never went beyond it. The New Testament unquestionably indicates a higher type of godliness than the Old Testament. But why? Because we now have not a partial but a full revelation of God.

The godliness then which the Apostle enjoins is only produced as we know God. In the revelation of God lies its great "mystery" or "secret." It is a secret because made in a way not appreciated by the world but only by believers. "God was manifest in the flesh" in Christ, but in seeing Him unbelievers found "no beauty that they should desire Him," only believers in seeing Him saw the Father. Verse 16, then, is a condensed summary of the way God has revealed Himself in Christ.

The verse is one that baffles the profoundest meditation-as we might expect. It consists of seven terse statements, six of them summarizing the great revelation. The first of the six shows us God manifested in Manhood, and the last shows us the Man Christ Jesus, in whom God was manifested, received up into glory. The intervening four give us various ways in which the reality of that manifestation was realized.

God was "justified in the Spirit." Compare with Romans 1: 4. The resurrection justified Jesus, declaring Him "Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness" when the world had crucified Him as an impostor. After all, He was God manifested in the flesh.

"Seen of angels." Had angels ever really seen God before? Certainly not as they saw Him when the great outburst of angelic praise took place at Bethlehem.

"Preached unto the Gentiles" or "proclaimed among the nations," for He had been so really manifested in historic fashion as to become the subject of gospel witness among the peoples who had been far from the actual scenes of His manifestation.

"Believed on in the world." Not by the world, notice, but in the world. Though the world knew Him not yet His manifestation was not an intangible something existing only in the subjective consciousness of the onlookers or hearers, but something real and objective, verified by competent witness and hence received by those in whom faith existed.

The one who knows by faith this real, true, historic Christ, the true God manifested in flesh, and who as Man has gone up into glory, possesses the secret of a life of godliness. No unbeliever can possibly be godly though he may be of most kindly and amiable disposition as a natural man.