1 Timothy 03(08–16)


In the passage we studied last week Paul was writing about the overseers — who are also called elders — who are appointed in every congregation to oversee the Lord’s people. Just as a shepherd oversees his sheep to ensure the sheep are well fed and kept safe, so the overseers or elders are to oversee God’s people to ensure that we’re well fed on God’s word and kept safe from all spiritual danger.

In today’s passage, Paul moves on from writing about the elders to writing about the deacons. Who are the deacons? Well, the Greek word translated ‘deacon’ is the normal Greek word for servant or helper. And so, the deacons are those who serve in the congregation. They help the overseers. They’re the kind of people who, when there’s work to be done, are not looking down at their feet, and who are thinking, ‘Don’t pick me’, but they’re looking straight at you and they’re ready to get to work and to do what’s necessary. The deacons are ready to help.

We can trace this office in the church back to the book of Acts and to the time in Acts 6 when seven men were appointed to take care of the daily distribution of food to the widows in the church in Jerusalem. Those needy widows were relying on the church to provide for them, but some of them were being neglected or overlooked. And so, the apostles suggested that seven men should be appointed to oversee the daily distribution of food so that no one was left out and everyone received what they needed. In other words, it became clear to the apostles and to everyone else that we need people in the church who are willing to take care of practical and administrative matters. In those days, the apostles were busy with their work, which involved prayer and preaching. In our day, the elders are busy with their work to provide spiritual oversight of the congregation. And so, we need other people to take care of practical matters. We need people to manage the money. We need people to take care of the property. We need people to take care of administrative jobs. And so we have deacons to do all of those things and more besides. And as I mentioned last week, in the PCI, the work of the deacons is carried out by the Congregational Committee. They’re the ones appointed to serve the congregation and to help the elders by undertaking practical matters on our behalf.

And so, it’s an important role. And therefore we need to know who should be appointed to this role and who should not. And therefore, in these verses, Paul provides us with a list of qualifications for deacons. As with the elders, the focus is not so much on gifts and abilities and education, which is what employers look for. Instead the focus once again is on character and behaviour.

And before we get to the qualifications, I should perhaps remind you of what Paul wrote about in chapters 1 and 2. In chapter 1, he referred to certain men in the congregation who were teaching false doctrines and who were promoting controversies. They wanted to be teachers, but they were teaching the wrong things. And then in chapter 2 he wrote about how he wanted men to worship without anger and disputing; and he wrote about how he did not want the women to teach or have authority over men. And so, there seems to have been a problem in the church in Ephesus over leadership. They were some people in the church who wanted to take on leadership roles, who shouldn’t be in those roles, because they were teaching false doctrines; or they were causing controversy; or they were angry people who were liable to quarrel with one another; or they were women. And so, it seems there were some people in the church who wanted to be leaders, but they weren’t qualified to be leaders. And so, in chapter 3, Paul lists the qualifications for the elders and he lists the qualifications for the deacons. And it’s important that we have the right leaders in the church, because, as Paul goes on to say in verse 15, we are God’s household and we are the church of the living God and we are the pillar and foundation of the truth. And so, if we’re going to continue to uphold the truth in an unbelieving world then we need faithful elders and deacons.

Verses 8 to 13

Let’s turn to verse 8 where Paul tells us that deacons should be worthy of respect. The NIV refers to men, but the word ‘men’ does not appear in the Greek text. And perhaps I should add here that there are examples in the New Testament of women who did the kind of work the deacons did. And in Romans 16 Paul refers to a deaconess called Phoebe. Furthermore, although the NIV refers in verse 11 to the wives of deacons, the Greek word translated ‘wives’ can mean either ‘wives’ or simply ‘women’. And there are reasons for thinking that Paul is referring in verse 11, not to the wives of deacons, but to women who do the work of a deacon. And so, in the PCI, were say that women as well as men may serve on the Congregational Committee.

In any case, in verse 8, Paul simply says that deacons must be worthy of respect. And that means deacons should have a good name and a good reputation. And they must be sincere. Literally Paul says they must not be double-tongued. The double-tongued person says one thing to one person and another thing to another person. They are deceitful people and you cannot trust them, because they might be telling you the truth or they might not. That’s not the kind of person who should serve as a deacon in the church of Jesus Christ. And, like elders, deacons must not drink too much, nor must they pursue dishonest gain. Since the deacons are looking after practical matters, including the church finances, you don’t want deacons who are dishonest and greedy and who will be tempted to steal from the church. Deacons must also hold on to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. More literally, Paul says they must hold the ‘mystery of the faith’. The ‘mystery of the faith’ refers to what God has revealed to us about Jesus Christ and our salvation. And while the deacons are not called to teach the faith, the way elders are, the deacons must still know the faith and they must hold on to it. And so, they must be believers who are firm in the faith. And holding it with a clear conscience means that their life matches what they profess to believe. There’s a symmetry between what they believe and the way they live. And Paul says deacons must first be tested, which means it must be clear that they’re reliable and they’ve proven their faithfulness in the past.

I said earlier that the Greek word Paul uses in verse 11 for wives can be translated ‘wives’ or it can be translated ‘women’. And there are good reasons for thinking that Paul is not referring to wives, but to women who do the work of deacons. For instance, it seems strange for Paul to write about the wives of deacons, when he didn’t say anything about the wives of elders. And there are other reasons. And so, those woman who do the work of deacons should be worthy of respect, just like their male-counterparts. And they shouldn’t be malicious talkers. That is, they shouldn’t slander people. They’re there to build people up, not to tear them down. And they should be temperate or sober-minded and sensible. And they should be trustworthy in everything.

And then Paul addresses the deacon’s family life in verse 12. Deacons who are married must be faithful to their spouse. And they must be able to manage their children well so that their home life is well-ordered and not chaotic.

And having gone through the essential qualifications for deacons, Paul adds in verse 13 that those who serve well as deacons gain an excellent standing and great assurance in the faith. You see, there are benefits to being a deacon. There are rewards to be had. And that’s important. When people hear about the deacons who are called to serve the congregation and to help the elders, they might wonder who would want that job? Who would want to be a deacon when a deacon is expected to serve others? Who wants to be a servant? But there are benefits to being a deacon. And so, verse 13 is written to encourage the deacons and it’s written to encourage those who might become deacons in the future. Those who serve well gain an excellent standing. That is, they will be highly regarded by the rest of the congregation. And they’ll be highly regarded by the congregation, because aren’t they following the example of their Master who did not come to be served, but to serve? And so, we ought to think highly of the members of the Congregational Committee and praise them for their service to the church. And they also gain great assurance or confidence in the faith. None of us are saved by our good deeds. We’re saved through faith in Christ alone. However, the good deeds which Christ enables his believing people to perform are the visible signs that we have been saved. And so, those who are willing to serve as deacons and who are prepared to love and serve their fellow believers in the church, can see the fruit of Christ’s Spirit in their lives. And it gives them assurance of their salvation.

Verses 14 and 15

And so, Paul lists the essential qualifications for the elders and for the deacons. And it’s vital that those appointed to lead the church as elders and those who are appointed to serve the church as deacons are the right kind of people for the role, because we are God’s household; and we are the church of the living God; and we are the pillar and foundation of the truth. Do you see that in verses 14 and 15?

We’re God’s household. In ancient times, a household contained a man and his wife and their children and their servants and each member of the household had different roles and responsibilities. And Paul is able to refer to the church as God’s household, because God is the Master of the house. And in God’s household, different people have been given different roles and responsibilities. So, the elders have been appointed to oversee the household. The deacons have been appointed to serve the household and to make sure all those practical things are taken care of. And, of course, every other member of the church has things to do as well. And, according to verse 14, the reason Paul wrote this letter to Timothy was to ensure that its members will know how to conduct themselves in God’s household. The elders need to know what to do. The deacons need to know what to do. The other members of the household need to know what to do. We all have our roles and responsibilities, because together we make up God’s household.

And we’re not only God’s household, but we’re also the church of the living God. The Greek word for ‘church’ refers to an assembly which has been called together. And isn’t that what happens on Sundays? All of God’s people assemble together in the presence of God, who has called us together to worship him. And when we’ve assembled in his presence, he ministers to us through word and sacrament and by his Spirit to build us up in the faith. We see a similar thing in the Old Testament, when all of God’s people gathered in the presence of God at Mount Sinai and in Jerusalem to hear his word. And when we gather together on Sundays, God comes to us and he speaks to us as the living God who gives everlasting life to all who believe in his Son.

And we’re not only God’s household and God’s church, but we’re also the pillar and foundation of the truth. A pillar supports a roof and prevents it from falling. A foundation supports a building and keeps it from collapsing. And the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth in the sense that we support and uphold the truth of God’s word. When we gather together on Sundays, we proclaim God’s truth. At our other meetings, we teach God’s truth. In our day to day lives, we tell God’s truth to others. God has made know his truth to us and we are to uphold it and defend it and teach it and proclaim it. If the church ceased to exist, who would uphold the truth and who would defend it and who would teach it and who would proclaim it? And so, God has appointed his church to be the pillar and foundation of the truth in the midst of a dark and unbelieving world. And whereas there are many who do not believe and who suppress the truth by their wickedness, he has called the church to uphold the truth.

And we need elders, because they are called to teach the truth and they are to protect the church from error. And we need deacons, because they are called to take care of all those practical matters which need to be done so that the church can meet regularly to hear the truth. And so, we should pray to the Lord to help our elders and to help the Committee to do their work well so that nothing will happen to weaken the church’s ability to uphold the truth in our day.

Verse 16

And that brings us to verse 16 where Paul refers to the mystery of godliness. When Paul refers to a mystery, he’s referring to some truth which was once hidden, but which has now been revealed and which we must believe. And the word ‘godliness’ probably refers to devotion to God. And so, whoever believes this truth which God has revealed will be devoted to God and they will live their lives for him and for his glory.

So, what is this mystery of godliness which Paul says is undeniably great? It’s the good news about Jesus Christ, which Paul summarises for us in the little poem or hymn in verse 16. It’s about how he appeared in a body. That is, he appeared in the flesh. Paul’s referring to the incarnation, when God the Son came to earth as one of us. And, of course, before he appeared in the flesh, he already existed, didn’t he? He existed as the Eternal Son of God, one with the Father and with the Spirit. But when the fullness of time had come, God the Son took to himself a body and soul like ours when he was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. And so, the Eternal Son of God appeared in the flesh as one of us.

In the second line Paul tells us that God the Son was vindicated by the Spirit. And this line is about his resurrection from the dead, when he was raised by the power of the Spirit. To be vindicated means to be proved right, to be shown to be right. Someone accuses you of doing something, but then you’re vindicated and everyone understands that you were innocent after all. Well, an unbelieving world did not believe that the Lord Jesus was the Christ or God’s Anointed King who was sent to save them. They did not believe in him; and so they condemned him as a wicked man and as a blasphemer and a deceiver. But by raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated that he was indeed his Anointed King and the only Saviour of the world. Instead of abandoning him to the grave, God raised him from the dead; and so, God the Father made clear that everything the Lord Jesus had said about himself was true. And so, he was vindicated by the Spirit when he was raised.

And after his resurrection he was seen. Who saw him? The Greek word Paul uses in line 3 of this poem can mean messengers. And so, some of the commentators think Paul means the Lord Jesus was seen alive by the apostles; and he them sent them out into the world as his messengers to bear witness to the resurrection. However, the Greek word can also be translated ‘angels’ and we know from the gospels that angels appeared to the women at the tomb to tell them that the Lord is not here, but has risen.

And in the fourth line of this poem, Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus was preached among the nations. And so, after he was raised from the dead, he commanded the apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them. And sure enough, with the help of the Spirit, they went from place to place, to bear witness to all they had seen and heard about the Saviour who gave up his life to pay for our sins and who shed his blood to cleanse us and who was raised from the dead to live for ever.

And not only was he preached among the nations, but he was believed on in the world, because with the blessing of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit many of those who heard the gospel message believed what they heard and they called out to him for salvation. And God has promised that whoever calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. Many, of course, did not believe. And it’s been the same ever since, because many continue in their unbelief and rebellion and they refuse to submit themselves to Christ the King. And the Devil continues to blind their minds to keep them from seeing God’s glory in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, while there are many who do not believe, the Lord still calls his people, chosen by him before the beginning of creation, and he enables them to respond to the call and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And so, throughout this dark world, there are many who believe in the Lord Jesus.

And the final line of this poem is about Christ’s exaltation, because after he was raised from the dead, he ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this present age, but also in the age to come. And God has placed all things under his feet and has appointed him to be head over everything for the sake of his church here on earth. The Saviour who died for us and who was buried in a tomb, was raised from the dead and he now rules over all things for our sake.


This message about Jesus Christ is the truth which was once hidden, but which God has now revealed. And God has given this truth to the church and he calls on us to uphold it in the face of all unbelief. And to help us uphold the truth, God has given us elders to oversee his church and he has given us deacons to serve his church. And because of their work, we can come to church Sunday by Sunday to hear the good news of Jesus Christ who appeared in the flesh and who was vindicated in the Spirit and who was seen by angels and who was proclaimed among the nations and who was believed on in the world and who was taken up to glory. We can hear these things; and by hearing these things week by week and month by month and year by year we’ll grow in godliness and in our devotion to Christ our King.