Lessons from I Timothy: Lesson 7– The Offices in the Church and Lesson 8 – The Mystery of Godliness

Written by Rev. Henry Vander Kam, pastor of Grace Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Mich., two lessons on I Timothy appear each month.

LESSON 7 I Timothy 3:1–13

The Offices in the Church

Having dealt with the basic teachings of the church in the first chapter of this epistle aod the public worship of the church in the second chapter, the Apostle now, naturally, deals with the offices in the church in this following chapter. He had made mention of office before but only to state who were not to be considered for these offices.

Of great importance – Again the Apostle introduces this section with “Faithful is the saying.” The importance of the following verses is thus immediately brought to the attention of Timothy. Christ will continue His work in this world through the church and that church is to be organized in such a way as to reveal the offices of Christ Himself so that she may be able to do this work.

Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King and the church will only be revealed as His body if she has these offices to guide her. So the Christ manifests Himself in the church through His threefold office and the church magnifies the offices of Christ through her offices. No offices but those of Christ should be found in the church and none of His offices may be lacking. Timothy will be called upon to ordain men to office in various churches during his lifetime. Paul now gives him instructions concerning the qualifications men must possess to fill these offices.

About seeking office – The Apostle speaks first concerning “bishops” or “overseers” or “elders.” These terms are used interchangeably. In the early church of which Timothy is a minister this office is not yet clearly differentiated into ministers and elders. The beginnings are found (I Tim. 5:17). This must be borne in mind to understand the Apostle’s first statement in regard to this office. He states that if a man seeks the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. Should a man actively seek this office? Should not the office seek the man?

Surely, jf a man would actively seek to become an elder today we would begin to wonder regarding his fitness for this office. However, one does not only express a desire for the office of the ministry but obtains the necessary education to qualify for this office. Because both offices are included in the term “bishop” the Apostle is able to speak in the way he does. It is indeed a good work. There is to be a godly desire to serve in this office. In the early church it often meant considerable sacrifice to serve as a “bishop” and those who are willing to serve despite the persecution are here commended.

Qualifications for elders – What qualities and what qualifications must such a “bishop” possess? He must be above reproach, i.e., he must have a good reputation. Of course, it is not demanded that he he perfect because such candidates could not be found. He is to be the husband of one wife. Bigamy or polygamy was still practiced in the day of Timothy‘s ministry. Those who have more than one wife might be members of the church but cannot serve in office. The prohibition here mentioned is also directed against all immorality on the part of those in office. A “bishop” is to be temperate not one who drinks wine to excess. He must be sober-minded—sincere—earnest. He is to be orderly, i.e., he is to be of a sound mind. He is to have moral strength.

A bishop must also be given to hospitality. This was very important in the days of the early church. Many became homeless because of the faith and were to be ministered to by the “bishops.” Preachers of the gospel traveled from one place to another and were dependent on the hospitality of the “bishops.” He must be able to teach. This presupposes that he has the required knowledge. He must be able to impart that knowledge to others for the growth of the church in grace and in numbers. He should, of course, not be a brawler or striker or contentious. That is, he may not be the kind of person who is quarrelsome or disputatious or who even comes to blows with others. On the contrary, he is to be gentle, considerate, as his Lord has given him an example. Neither may he be a lover of money but is to be honest.

Other relationships of life must also be considered when judging the qualifications of a “bishop.” His home life must be exemplary. He must rule his own house well by having his children in subjection. His “office” as father in the home must be carried out in the proper manner. The Apostle draws a very simple parallel—if a man is not able to rule his own house in the way it ought to be done, how shall he be able to rule the church of God? If he is not able to do the lesser, how shall he be able to do the greater?

A novice, one who has recently been converted to the faith, should not be placed in office. Although this advice may sound superfluous to us, there was a great danger that such people might be inducted into office quite readily in the early church. Many of those who were converted at this time were men of great ability (Acts 6:7). However, Paul reminds Timothy that this would be a dangerous procedure. Such a man would become “puffed up,” pride would fin his heart. He would be in danger of falling into the same error as did satan originally and fall under the same judgment. Besides all this, he should have a good name among “outsiders” so that the church will not be reproached by those who are without. If he is not blameless before those outside the church he will fall into reproach and the trap of satan.

Qualifications for deacons – Having given a rather long list of qualities and qualifications which bishops must possess, the writer now turns his attention to another office in the New Testament church, namely, the office of deacon. This office is not mentioned as often nor is it as well defined in the New Testament as the office of elder. This is quite natural. The term “deacon” is found only in this epistle and in Philippians 1. In Acts 6, where the office is instituted in the church, the term deacon is not used. Perhaps the paucity of passages dealing with this office have led to the mistaken notion that this office is of lesser importance. This office is indeed as important as the others. No one would contend that Christ‘s priestly office is of lesser importance than either His prophetic or kingly offices!

In speaking of the qualities and qualifications of deacons the Apostle mentions some of the same things mentioned regarding “bishops.” However, there are other elements which are to be found in deacons which differ from those to be found in elders. Deacons must be grave—dignified. They must not be double-tongued. They must not say one thing to one person and something else to another. They must not give one opinion on an issue at one time and an opposite opinion on the same issue at another time. This is a real danger for those who are to deal with people in poverty. They too must not be given to much wine. How can they counsel people to live frugally if they do not set a good example themselves? They are not to be greedy of filthy lucre. Although a similar warning was given regarding the elder‘s office, it is indeed necessary to utter this warning concerning deacons because the church entrusts its money to them. Dishonest gain may never tempt them. His conscience must be pure and so he is to hold to the faith. Paul now adds that men should be proved before they are to serve as deacons. This has led to some difference of opinion as to his meaning. However, it seems rather natural that only such men would be chosen who have proved in other fields to be honest and of good judgment.

Verse 11 has been interpreted in various ways. It is indeed strange that the Apostle now speaks of women, not further described, right in the middle of his treatment of the offices in the church. It is quite clear that he is not speaking of deaconesses, but rather of some women in the church who were assistants to the deacons. I believe the most natural interpretation to be that these women were the wives of the deacons. These would help in the work of mercy especially in its ministry to women. These too must have the same virtues as the deacons and must not be slanderers. The condition of the poor and the women‘s interpretation of these conditions may not be broadcast on the streets. Deacons, as well as elders, must be husbands of but one wife and must rule their own houses well.

The office of “bishop” or elder has the ruling hmction and therewith has its own reward. The deacon‘s office is one of serving. This might leave the impression that it is of a lower order and that there is no compensation except the consciousness of having served faithfully. However, the Apostle emphasizes the fact that the deacon receives no small reward. Those who have served faithfully in this office gain to themselves a good standing in the church. The gratitude of the church will be shown to them. This “standing” in the church is one of degree, i.e., they advance in honor in the church. Faithfulness in this office will have the added benefit that it will give them boldness in the faith. Their work in this office will give them the ability to testify to their faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions for discussion:

1. When may a man refuse to serve as an elder? Does the consistory have a responsibility in accepting excuses for not serving?

2. Are the offices in the church held in proper esteem? 3. Must every elder be able to teach catechism classes? 4. Does a wayward son or daughter automatically prohibit a father of such a person from serving in office in the church? Give reasons. 5. Should we have deaconesses? 6. Is the deacon’s office as highly regarded as the elder‘s? Is the deacon’s office to be used as a training school for the eldership?    


I Timothy 3:14–16

The Mystery of Godliness

Paul was living in the hope that he would soon be able to visit Timothy and they would then be able to talk together about the matters concerning the church and Timothy’s place in it. However, the future is always uncertain and Paul is fully aware that he may be delayed for some time. Therefore he is writing this epistle, and more particularly the chapters 2 and 3, because these things are of such importance that there may be no delay in speaking of them. Timothy must know these things so he will know how he is to conduct himself in the church. That, as we stated earlier (cf. Lesson 1), is the theme of this epistle—how to conduct himself in the church.

The church as the “house of God” The church is here called the “house of God.” Timothy is, therefore, not in his own house of which he would be owner and master, but he has to know how to conduct himself in the house of “Another.” The church belongs to God. He will give the orders how His servants are to conduct themselves in His house. Paul has laid down some of the rules to be followed in this position in this and the previous chapters. That could not wait for the uncertain time when he might come to visit Timothy.

One has to be very careful how he conducts himself in the house of this God. We are not dealing with One who is like the idols (Psalm 115) but with the Living God! This is the God who is active—who looks closely at the behavior of His servants. He was not careless how His house was built under the Old Testament dispensation, nor how His servants con· ducted themselves in His service in that house. How much closer will He look on those who are to serve in this house which is the church—the body of His own Son!

The church as “pillar and ground of the truth” – When Paul speaks of the church he uses a multitude of figures to show her many-sided character. She is the mother of believers. She is the temple of the living God. She is the body of Christ, etc. He now speaks of her as the “pillar and ground of the truth.” This figure is derived from the “house” of the living God. In other words, the church is the house and it is also the pillar and ground, or foundation. The concept is so rich that no figure by itself is able to do justice to it. The pillar supports the roof of a building while the foundation, of course, supports the whole structure. It could be argued that the truth needs no support, and that would be true. But, the Apostle is here speaking of the function of the church.

Many no longer uphold the truth but still claim the name “church.” In God‘s sight they have no right to this name. It is high time that churches be evaluated according to the standards given us in the Word of God so that men may not be led astray. Using the standard of the Word of God regarding the true and false church, the last statement of Article 29 of the Belgic Confession: “These two churches are easily known and distinguished from each other,” becomes understandable.

The mystery of godliness – Verse 16 of this chapter is indeed a very remarkable passage. Paul had spoken of the truth which the church is to uphold. This truth is the whole revelation God had given His people. He new speaks of the “mystery of godliness” to further specify what he has in mind. Christ Himself is the mystery which has now been revealed. The gospel has Christ as its content. It is a mystery of “godliness” which includes both the inner and outward religious life of the believer. It also includes the moral life of the believer. It is the keeping of both tables of the law. This mystery of godliness shows us the close relation between the grace revealed in Christ and the life of believers. Great is this mystery of godliness.

In the words which now follow we have a hymn known to the early church with whose teaching everyone agreed. The writer tells us that this truth is “without controversy.” In these six lines we have a summary of some of the great truths of the gospel.

1. First of all, He was manifested in the flesh.

This is one of those great truths to which we have become so accustomed that we no longer see its majesty. He refers to Christ’s coming in the flesh. No doubt about it, this mystery is great. The Creator became creature! The omnipotent became weak. The omniscient One came into a state in which He would have to say that some things had not even been revealed to Him. The Holy God came in the likeness of man and “was made sin on our behalf” (II Cor. 5:21). What a tremendous miracle took place on Christmas morning! God became man! This is the truth the church must uphold. She may not detract from His Deity, but neither may she detract from His humanity. Only by Christ‘s manifestation in the flesh did salvation become a possibility. The salvation of sinners is based on a miracle.

2. He was justified, or vindicated, in the Spirit.

While Christ was here on earth, in the flesh, He was misunderstood again and again. Although He claimed He was the Son of God, it was deemed blasphemy by the leaders of Israel. Even the mighty works He performed did not convince men of His Deity. The Spirit, however, vindicated Him. Even though He was despised and rejected of men, there were those who beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of God. This is the work of the Spirit of God. When God assumes human flesh, man is so blinded that he doesnt even recognize the Savior of the world. The Spirit must convince men of the identity of Christ.

3. Among the mysteries of godliness is now mentioned that He was seen of angels.

This does not seem to have equal importance with the things which have been mentioned before. Yet, these various items are mentioned to show the majesty of the truth entrusted to the church. When was He seen of the angels? Surely, they saw Him at the time of the resurrection. However, there were also other times. An angel was also sent to strengthen Him in Gethsemane. They saw Him in His victorious march from the tomb but also in His most grievous suffering. I do not believe that these words refer only to the resurrection. There is another element we must not overlook. No man has seen God at any time. Although the angels stand before the face of God, the seraphim covered their faces (Isaiah 6:2). Has the angel, also a creature, seen God at any time? Now that Christ is manifested in the flesh, veiled in flesh, He was seen of angels I They marvel. They worship. They serve Him with alacrity.

4. He was preached among the nations.

No longer will the word go out to Israel alone. In His great commission He instructed the Apostles to go out into the whole world. He makes His claims known to all men. The claims of Jesus Christ are tremendous. Disciple all nations. Even though that gospel may be foolishness to the Greeks, proclaim it to all men. This is one of the mysteries now revealed. It had been “hinted” at before

5. He was believed on in the world.

He had to be vindicated by the Spirit even among His own people. This is now the marvel that He was believed on in the world! That gospel which was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks is actually believed on by the world! What a miracle that anyone believes it! This is not man‘s own doing but the work of God. He is the One who must work faith in the heart. He gives the Christ who works redemption and then gives the faith so that men will believe on Him. It is indeed His work from beginning to end.

6. The final line of this hymn reads: Received up in glory.

The ascension of our Lord is here confessed. In that ascension He revealed that everything the Father had given Him to do had been completed. He now again received the glory which had been His before He came in the flesh. The Lord is above. He is on the throne. He is exalted as Head and King of the church. What a marvel that our flesh is now on the throne! The ascension, like His birth, His death, and His resurrection are articles of faith. The gospel is complete.

This is the truth the church must uphold. No part of the truth may be soft-pedaled. God has entrusted that truth only to the church. She must guard it with her life. Therefore it is so necessary that pure doctrine be preached. Therefore the offices must be safeguarded. The truth is so beautiful—nothing may mar it. The instructions for behaving ones-self in the house of God could therefore not wait but had to be spelled out clearly by epistle.

Questions for discussion:

1. What is the primary task of the church? How can the true church be distinguished from the false? 2. Does our view of the church have anything to say about the offices in the church? 3. Is the true Biblical nature of the church stressed enough today? Is there a danger that the church seeks to become all things to all men? 4. Which principles should guide us in our ecumenical strivings? 5. Would you say that the hymn of verse 16 is somewhat of a creed?