1 Timothy 3:1 – A Noble Task

First Timothy 3 and 1 Titus 1 are well-known passages because the describe the qualifications for church leadership. We usually fret the most over the line about “one wife” and perhaps that the leader must have well-behaved children, but there is far more here than those two more controversial points.

TimothyLike the previous section, Paul’s main concern is that the church be organized and led in a way which gives it a good reputation with outsiders. This is also true in business: good reputations are hard to build, they take time. On the other hand, it does not take much at all to destroy a good reputation and develop a bad one.

If you have ever read a restaurant review online, you know that one bad experience can lead to a terrible review and potential lost business. One cranky customer who has bad food or poor service can leave a review (anonymously) online and scare dozens of people away. The same is true for church. A family might visit on a Sunday when things were not quite right in the nursery, the musicians were out of tune and didn’t really know the songs, or the pastor finished their sermon on the way to church. This visitor leaves unimpressed and never comes back, but they tell their friends they tried “that church” and it wasn’t very good.

But Paul is not talking about “church shoppers” in this text because this really did not happen in the first century. Paul is talking about leaders in a local house church who had a bad reputation with the community. Maybe they had some shady business practices or they were quick to bring lawsuits. Maybe they are known to attend the banquets at pagan temples and fully participate in debauchery. If the leader has a bad reputation outside the church, then they will bring their dishonor with them when the “desire to be an overseer.” To remedy this situation, Paul tells Timothy (and by extension, the churches) to appoint people to the office of Elder and Deacon who are qualified spiritually and morally for the task.

First Timothy 3:1 is another “trustworthy saying.” In this case it is not a theological statement, but that the person who aspires to be a leader in the church “desires a noble task.” Desiring to be a leader of a local house church is not a bad thing at all, it is a noble task, or a “good work” (καλοῦ ἔργου). To “desire” something (ὀρέγω) is not necessarily bad, Hebrews 11:16 uses the word for the desire to reach heaven. But the also word appears in 1 Timothy 6:10 for those who crave money and have fallen away from the faith. Josephus used the word to describe John of Gischala desire to set himself as a rule (Life, 70).

It is possible this opening line on  church leaders betrays the problem in Paul’s churches in Ephesus. It appears some people did not want to serve as leaders in the church. There are several possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the false teachers had created a situation where good people were not inclined to challenge them. They did not desire to become involved in leadership because it meant challenging these false teachers. A second possibility is the role of overseer or elder was not considered to be a role people wanted to do. It was not considered a noble task. It is also possible there were some who were capable and qualified but did not see themselves as “up to the task” of leading the church.

One serious problem for reading this passage is that we hear words like “elder and deacon” and immediately think of our modern church office of elder and deacon. This is anachronistic and does not help us understand Paul’s view of church leadership. If at all possible, it is best for us to bracket out modern church practice for a few minutes and try to read Paul in the context of first century Ephesus.

9 thoughts on “1 Timothy 3:1 – A Noble Task

  1. Throughout reading this blog post it has allowed me to think about the perspective of working in fast food. I have had almost four years altogether in the food industry. My first job at the age of 16 was a busser/hostess at a restaurant call Pier 33. The past two years I have been working at Chick-Fil-A. During my time in both places I have seen upset customers and it is over the smallest incidents. Whether it be there is no seating, it is too cold in the restaurant or the guest is in a rush and doesn’t want small talk but just wants their food.
    As a Team Lead at Chick-Fil-A I have learned the proper way to handle situations. I believe that my time in restaurants and as a leader in one, has helped me to respect the work that employees in the restaurant business do. When I go to restaurants I try my best to respect their space and to especially clean up after myself. In Paul’s letter he is expressing that as a leader of the Church you have a special God given role and calling. God is entrusting you with His bride and His people. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task”.
    What a trustworthy role it is to be a leader currently. There is such a revival taking place within this generation. God is calling his warriors to armor up and serve with their entire being. I think it is a good perspective to think on what the church was like during Paul’s time. If one thing was off in the church perhaps with leadership, I do not think there would be as much grace as maybe there would be now. I think the body of Christ is becoming more understanding and discerning. Don’t get me wrong, people do respond in bitter ways but as Christians I think we need to refrain from that. Loving one another is our greatest commandment.

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  2. For many believers and churches today unfortunately, they are sadly associated by many with a “bad reputation” simply because of a single incident or person that was associated with them somehow. This harms our ability as believers to evangelize as well as form new relationships and hopefully eventually fellowship with those outside of the church. An example of this is the crusades that took place hundreds of years ago. While the crusades were done under the auspices of reclaiming the holy lands for Jesus Christ as well as evangelism, the reality of what took place alongside these was quite different. Unnecessary murders, raping, stealing and plundering occurred as well. Because of this, a massive number of Muslims still look upon all Christians with anger and hatred, despite the fact that no one alive today had any part in these past events. For a more modern, hypothetical example. Perhaps a pastor or elder is experiences problems in his personal life but is still attempting to be welcoming to visitors to his church. But because he is stressed, anxious etc., he is simply perhaps not as friendly as he should or could be. Because of this, the visitors do not return, or maybe speak negatively about the church towards other potential parishioners. This can potentially cause some to become jaded or biased when we hear words such as “elder”, “deacon”, or “pastor”. It can lead some to either not wanting to support those in leadership, or to take on the role if it needs to be filled. We must remember though that just because one is a leader in ministry, it does not make them “perfect” or “better” than anyone else, nor does it make one immune to sin. Additionally, they face greater consequences and bear heavier responsibilities from God, and as such we need to encourage, support, and walk with them in times of difficulty.

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  3. In my personal experience, I have found that the limitations on “well-behaved” children do hinder people who want to be in leadership positions. When pastors or other leaders are looking to see if you are a good fit, they may reject a parent with “bad” kids but accept a single person with no kids who have not had to go through that yet. The reasoning is that those who are unable to manage their family will be unable to manage ‘“God’s Church”’ (Longenecker, 2014, p. 278). There are many other examples that can be given, but ultimately, there must be a personal relationship and trust built before people are put in those positions. In my experience, the worst case of bad leadership has been when they elected a leader for the young girls, but those who elected did not let their kids go and be taught by that leader. Fortunately, that person is no longer in the leadership position by their own choice. With that point aside, I will admit that a lot of people do not want to serve in the church, and the need to have people serve in church make leaders bypass some of the issues that someone may have coming in. Another issue is that many times, the same people are serving over and over again in different areas because they are able to do it “best”. This creates this standard that others know they cannot fulfill, so they prefer to watch from the sidelines while the “best leaders” get burned out. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul asserts that we are the body of Christ. Right before this verse, verse 26 explains that when a part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers and when part of it is honored, the whole body is also honored. As a church, we often judge those in leadership and want them to do better, but we are not willing to put in the work that would make everything better. Sometimes, those who are willing to serve are not equipped yet. Sometimes, those who desire to serve are not supported. Sometimes, those who want to serve may need to be in a “conditional” stage and move up as they get better. God cares more about our willingness because he is able to provide wisdom, knowledge, and other people who will teach us. God promises to equip us for doing ministry (Ephesians 4:11-14). Lately, we have been hearing a lot about how church attendance has gone down, but when we look at this issue closer, those who are serving are also those who attend church the most. If only a few people are serving consistently, then only those few people will be in church consistently. It is also important to note that those who are willing to serve are often taken advantage of and are taking on more than they can bear due to necessity. As the body of Christ, we are responsible for what God asks of us, but when we do not fulfill our role, someone else has to do more.

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  4. As I read this blog post I can kind of relate to what he has to say at the beginning with dealing with customers. This is some tough and scary like the passage said with people easily being able to look up reviews and stuff like that. The tough thing about this is people do not realize how much money and work are brought into not only businesses but churches as well. Lots of time and well thought out ideas and plans to try and show or bring up the best business or have the best services takes a ton of time and effort. In my workplace, I have gained experience and gone through situations and do the best I can do to make the customer as happy as I can but I have gained that leadership through experience time and hard work. I believe that people do not understand what all goes into all this work that is done in businesses but churches as well and it is sad because people are easily fooled and like drama and tend to get together and shut things down and not attend things like this for some small mistake. Number in churches I think is gradually getting smaller I remember when I was younger all the pews in the church were packed there would be two different masses but it is not really like that anymore which is sad to see. Churches I think will gain more people soon though because as others may try to tear things down churches can easily use the media to gain members or donations which will help out tremendously.

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  5. Reading this blog I liked the part about having well behaved children. I think many times we look at the minor detail and sort of blow it out of proportion. Not that it isn’t important but we may miss the more important things arguing about minor stuff. We could miss things for the church about having a good reputation like Paul says. I also like how this blog related it to business. I worked at automatic equipment and we sold automatic doors and installed them. We didn’t always install because sometimes they would just buy it. One of my jobs were delivering these doors. Meeting with the boss of a job site were dropping it off too is very important because we want repeat business from certain corporations so I know how much making the customer happy means. Similar to a church you want the people to leave to be happy so that they come back. Having people in your church who are good leaders and workers can help satisfy the community within. It is a noble task to have role within the church. It is important to be trustworthy and have credibility. According to Longenecker elders are specified as three things: Blameless, faithful to his wife and an individual whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. He says “These are but a few of the qualities the Pastoral letters consider necessary for a ministry” (269, Longenecker). I think this is important because these qualities I feel are important but they may be ones we could easily forget, but with a reminder of these we wont forget them as easily when thinking about a role for an elder.

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  6. I had to read this post over a few times because your statement at the end started to concern me. I had never read these texts or heard these texts preached and used for any other purpose than to decide if someone is qualified to be a deacon or elder. I’ve always just known them as the passages you look to before the church votes on these matters. I also had to look up the definition of the word anachronistic, so thank you for teaching me new things! Anyways, I think that the list that Paul creates here, are noble things for leaders in the church today to strive for or to stray from. Understanding a bit more about the context of these verses however, it makes me wonder about how close to these specifications candidates really need to be. Of course, no one is perfect, but should we really deny the man who got divorced on proper terms according to the Bible and remarried? From what it sounds like, much more defiling things were going on in church leader’s lives in Paul’s day. Say a divorced and remarried man becomes an elder, and people in the community know about his role in the church. This may most likely turn away the older generations who were brought up with strict rules, but it may also be seen as awesome to younger generations as the man is not any less effective in serving God and the church. You take a gamble messing up your reputation whatever move you make. Thankfully only God is the ultimate judge, and our task is to properly interpret these texts to the best of our abilities and live life accordingly in obedience to God.

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  7. Building a special bond is harder than you may think. Building and maintaining it is even harder. You eventually go through ups and downs and the strongest bonds are built then. As the blog post mentioned, it does not take long for a relationship to go bad and stay bad with a weak bond. This may remind you of a trickle down affect in life. If there is a bad review left on a resteraunt then it may scare other customers away. This can lead to no business and eventually go out of business as well. This is the same with Churches as well. If a family is not impressed with their time at the Church then the trickle down affect takes place. If the leader brings a bad attitude and reputation in the Church then the rest of the body of the Church is going to feel the same and that is not good. You want things to be positive that so people go back to that resturaunt and that certain Church. It is all about being treated how you want to be treated. As the overseer of the Church you have to hold yourself to a higher standard because you represent a body of people and a Church. If you want well behaved children you first have to be well behaved yourself.

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