Our study of the Pastoral Epistles continued last Sunday with a discussion of 1 Timothy chapters 3 and 4, in which Paul describes the qualifications of overseers (pastors) and deacons (those who serve), and gives advice about following a truly godly lifestyle.
Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 1 Timothy 3:8-11
Deacons are first described in Acts 6:1-6, when seven men were chosen to supervise the distribution of food to widows and other church ministries while the apostles focused on prayer and the ministry of the Word of God. Today we have many names for officers of the church and various ministries, but the requirement still stands that church leaders be men and women worthy of respect and solidly grounded in the faith. It is interesting to note that the Greek phrase translated as “their wives” in verse 11 is a little vague – it means simply “the women”, which makes it unclear whether it refers to the wives of deacons or to female deacons.
A wonderful aspect of Paul’s letters is that the apostle can hardly talk about the law without bursting out with the gospel. In typical fashion, he follows his strict requirements for deacons with a hymn to the “mystery of godliness”, which tells us just how we are able to serve joyfully:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
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. 1 Timothy 3:16
Jesus, the living gospel and Word of God, has made us righteous. By his mercy we are able to serve with joy, helping our pastors bring Jesus to a darkened world. After impressing the gospel upon us again, Paul begins chapter 4 with a warning against false teachers, who hold up an ascetic lifestyle as the way to salvation instead of Christ’s atonement and grace. Whereas Christ-followers have free consciences, secure in God’s loving and abundant forgiveness, Paul says
Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 1 Timothy 4:2
If we reject God’s forgiveness in Jesus, our consciences will not rest. Perhaps, as a nerve that has been seared loses the ability to distinguish sensations properly, a seared conscience may lose its ability to correctly discern good from evil. Paul emphasizes twice in this passage that “everything God created is good”, because the ascetic heresy he is opposing (a precursor to Gnosticism) sprang from a belief that the material world is evil. We study God’s Word and hear it from our pastors regularly, so that by knowing and understanding what is true, we may recognize teachings that are false.
Paul then admonishes Timothy to teach these things to his congregation and to train himself to be godly. Godliness means “good devotion”, a right and proper reverence for God. When we put our hope in Christ Jesus, the Savior provided for us by God himself, and stop trying to earn ourselves a place in heaven, we show a right and proper reverence for God’s way instead of our ways.
Although we strive to follow Paul’s admonitions about righteous living, we know that these are part of our sanctification (being made holy), which rests on our justification (being made right with God) in Christ. Truly good works and godliness follow from a faith that has joy and assurance in Christ’s saving work. In the same way, a tree (faith) produces fruit (good works), not the other way around. As Paul says,
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:9-10
Let us continue to put our faith in Christ, the living God, who loves us and forgives our sins. Please join us next Sunday as we continue our study with a discussion of 1 Timothy 5. To review our recent Pastoral Epistles studies, please use the links below.