1 Timothy 3 – Oversee This

1 Timothy 3 Bible with Tonys Chocolonely Milk Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateTony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate

Today’s Passage1 Timothy 3

The qualifications for overseers and deacons comprise Paul’s primary topic in this chapter. Some versions translate the word for “overseer” as “bishop;” the original Greek word is pretty much a direct analogue for the English “overseer,” so as long as you’ve got an understanding that bishops are supposed to exercise oversight for the churches they serve, I’d consider “bishop” a perfectly acceptable translation. But enough translation notes: have at those qualifications.

Overseers and deacons have a few requirements in common. Particularly, there’s a lot of overlap in the area of family and home life. Both overseers and deacons are to have no more than one spouse, which I would be inclined to interpret as ruling out divorcees as well. Given that Jesus himself taught “that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32), I think it’s a reasonable expectation to have. Even if unmarried, an overseer or deacon should be a one-woman kind of man, and a deaconess should be a one-man kind of women. Those serving in such positions in the church ought to exhibit integrity.

Can a woman act as overseer? Given that overseers are required to be “able to teach” (2), and that Paul does not allow a woman to teach (2:12), one can conclude that he wouldn’t permit female overseers, and in fact today’s chapter appears not to allow for female overseers even as it lists qualifications for specifically female deacons in verse 11. Again, I’m somewhat inclined to raise an eyebrow and say, “Really, Paul? Even if they’ve got an M.Div.?” But, less controversially, both overseers and deacons/deaconesses should manage their children well and keep their households out of Zoo Mode (4-5, 12). To paraphrase Paul: how you gonna watch God’s kids if you can’t keep your own kids under control?

Similarly, overseers and deacons can’t let either money or alcohol run their lives. Overseers, Paul writes, should be “free from the love of money” and “not addicted to wine” (3), while deacons should not be “addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain” (8). I’d like to point out that the Bible doesn’t ban alcohol entirely, merely drunkenness and addiction. But I’d also like to point out: what’s a good way to avoid drunkenness and addiction to alcohol? Abstention. Never let it be said that I knocked going dry; teetotaling is an entirely respectable position in my book, and I’d think it’s so in God’s book too. Likewise with money: as a servant in the church, you can’t let it own your life. Your aim in these positions should be service, not lining your own pockets.

Two things strike me about the overseer’s qualifications in particular; they have no analogue in the position requirements for deacons. First, Paul says that an overseer should be “not a new convert” (6). I initially thought to myself: Christianity’s a fledgling religion at this point. Isn’t everyone a new convert? But, according to our helpful friends at GotQuestions.org, Paul likely wrote this letter no earlier than 62 AD. By that point, the first apostles had been at it for almost thirty years. It’s eminently conceivable that as Timothy is considering believers for overseer positions, he can find candidates who weren’t born again yesterday.

Second, while considering an overseer’s requirements, Paul mentions the devil twice in the space of two verses. New converts are to be ruled out precisely “so that [the overseer] will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (6). Moreover, Paul adds: “[H]e must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (7). Satan, it would seem, specifically targets church authorities. As I think about specific church leaders today, it explains a lot.

And that’s not to say that I would fare any better. I’ve been at this Christianity thing for almost thirty years, and I can still be appallingly conceited, which according to Paul could easily make me a prime candidate for the devil’s traps. Would I be able to keep up a good reputation with those outside the church? Or would the devil run interference and conspire to put my worst behavior on display, giving non-christians an appealing excuse to dismiss the faith? Probably.

And it’s important that the church’s leaders lead it well. Paul concludes his stipulations for service by telling Timothy his purpose: “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (15). In humanity’s social cosmos, how will people see the truth about Jesus Christ unless we as the church exhibit it and practice it? God intends for his family to hold up the truth like the architectural framework of a house.

Imagine a marble bust of Jesus Christ. We’re the pedestal God sits it on. Be a good pedestal, fam.

Today’s chocolate is brought to you by Jenny Cook of Life in the Cookie Jar! Thanks to her support via Patreon, we’re able to feature a bar of Tony’s Chocolonely here on the blog, per her sponsored chocolate request. Tony’s Chocolonely aims to put an end to slavery in the chocolate industry once and for all, a rad mission worthy of William Wilberforce himself. Thanks for your support, Jenny! I should have a review of the Tony’s Chocolonely milk chocolate bar up on the blog this Sunday.


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