Formations lesson for May 25: Noble Tasks
May 9 2003 by David Stratton , 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-22

Formations lesson for May 25: Noble Tasks | Friday, May 9, 2003

Friday, May 9, 2003

Formations lesson for May 25: Noble Tasks

By David Stratton 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-22

"Can you do the job?"

This seems to be the main question in filling a position. Read the help wanted ads and it becomes clear that our task-oriented society emphasizes the duties of a job more than the qualifications for it. Yet our texts have a different priority when it comes to church leadership positions.

In the most detailed New Testament discussion of church offices Paul barely mentions the duties of the offices. Rather than concern with what church leaders ought to do, the emphasis falls on who church leaders should be. Character is elevated above performance.

Three words, two offices

In our texts three terms referring to church offices are used: "elders" (1 Tim. 5:17-22), "overseers (or bishops)" (1 Tim. 3:1-7), and "deacons" (1 Tim. 3:8-13). William D. Mounce in his commentary on the "Pastoral Epistles" in the Word Biblical Commentary makes the case that these three terms are used of two offices. The word translated "elder" is a general term for church leaders applying to overseers, deacons and perhaps others. Overseers provided general oversight to church work and they were distinguished by their teaching function. Deacons on the other hand saw to the day-to-day service needs of the church.

At the early stage of church history, in which these passages were written, a highly structured church leadership model had not emerged. To be sure the New Testament describes definite leadership in the church. However, the evidence suggests a considerable degree of flexibility in the leadership processes of the early church.

In our fast changing times we would do well to learn from the highly adaptable leadership structure of the New Testament.

Qualifications, honor and criticism

In 1 Tim. 3:1-13 Paul lists the qualifications of overseers and deacons. Much debate among evangelical Christians today focuses on whether or not certain phrases in this passage bar divorced persons and women from the offices of pastor and deacon. No matter which side of the argument one may be on we must acknowledge that the debate is a function of our culture, for it certainly was not of paramount concern to Paul. However at the very least, based upon this passage, one cannot say that females or divorced persons are automatically excluded as pastors or deacons. The text simply does not allow such a dogmatic conclusion.

Far more important to Paul than the gender and marital history of overseers and deacons was the character of those who would hold these offices. The complete list of qualifications is too long for treatment here. Yet they may be summed up in the statement that overseers were to be "above reproach." The word "likewise" at the beginning of the list of deacon qualifications indicates that deacons were also to have a good reputation.

In 1 Tim. 5:17-22 Paul indicated that elders (i.e. overseers and deacons) should be honored appropriately and criticized carefully. The passage does not indicate that overseers and deacons are completely above criticism. However, it acknowledges that those in church leadership are "easy marks" and that care should be exercised in leveling accusations.

Reputation outside

Paul was concerned with false teachings circulating among the Christians in Ephesus to whom this letter originally applied. Mounce points out that nearly every quality listed for overseers and deacons has a negative counterpart among the false teachers listed elsewhere. Many try to make 1 Tim. 3 a separate church leadership manual. However, both of our passages must be understood in the context of a particular historical situation in which false teachings threatened the reputation of the church in the community. In that context Paul taught that the church needed leaders with a good reputation. Specifically leaders were to "be well thought of by outsiders" (1 Tim. 3:7, NRSV).

In previous lessons we have learned that the Ephesian heresy somehow burned bridges toward those outside the church rather than building them. In the current passages Paul saw careful selection of church leaders as a key to dealing with the problem. The church needed leaders above reproach who would attract to the church the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) rather than repelling them.

Are church leaders who are attractive to outsiders also attractive to those choosing church leaders today?

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5/9/2003 12:00:00 AM by David Stratton , 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-22 | with 0 comments
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