1 Timothy 3– The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3– The Mystery of Godliness

When Jesus was on the earth the first time, the religious leaders knew many of the right answers.  They had studied the Scriptures.  Memorized them.  Taught them to the people. But there was a huge problem. Jesus said,

Matthew 23:2–4 CSB  The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses.  Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

They said the right words, but their lives didn’t back it up.  Jesus went on to rightly call them “hypocrites.”  The same thing can happen today in a church, can’t it?  Many of us know stories of pastors had some good skills and gifts, but who went off the deep end.   Immorality.  Fighting.  Stealing.  Lying.  It crushes the people….and dishonors God.

And we see leadership like this in our society in many places.  Some government officials say they have our best interests in mind, but they lie.  Some business owners say they live to serve the customer, but they are full of greed.  We all want leaders in our society who walk the talk.  Who, by and large, are genuine.  Honest.  Humble.  Caring.  How much more is this true in the church of God.  Not only do we need leaders like that, God demands it.  Of all places in the world, the church of God needs leaders who are examples to the people.

In a verse we will read later, the Apostle Paul says,

1 Timothy 3:15 CSB  I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul writes this letter to address the behavior of the lives of EVERYONE in the church.  That is a staggering word:  The church is God’s family…which makes this place very special.  Very holy.  And this family of God here on earth is what upholds the truth.  It is like a column with a strong foundation that holds up an entire structure.  And in this case, the structure is the truth of God.  The church is here to represent and hold up the truth of the gospel of salvation for mankind.  The implications are staggering.

The quality of life in the character and behavior of God’s people in the church, including its leaders, has an eternal impact on this world.  The world is watching.   The people are in darkness and need the light of Christ.  How will we live?

This morning, we will read what our Creator has to say about character.  Specifically the character of leaders in the church.  And we will see at the end of our passage that the gospel of Christ is the ROOT of godliness.  Faith in Christ is the ROOT, and our godly behavior is the FRUIT that springs out of it.

We are in Week 3 of a series going through two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy who was a pastor or perhaps an apostle, helping churches to thrive.  These letters are for the churches, giving truth and instruction on how we should live as Christ followers in the church.

This morning we will cover Chapter 3.

Vs. 1-7

1 Timothy 3 (CSB)

1 This saying is trustworthy: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”

2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

3 not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy.

4 He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity.

5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

6 He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil.

7 Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.

On vs. 1-7

Let’s start with some basics.

Paul is talking about “overseers.”  Who is that?   As the word implies, it is someone who “watches over” someone.  In this case, it is a God-appointed leader to “watch over” the church.  As I have studied various passages such as this one and others in Titus, Acts, and 1 Peter, the word “overseer” is essentially equivalent to “elder” and “pastor.”  So I believe Paul here is talking about pastors in the church.

And he says that If anyone has an aspiration to pastor a church, that is a noble, beautiful work he desires.

Then in vs. 2-7, Paul launches into the qualities…the character and behavior…that a pastor or elder in a local church must have.  Paul makes no mention of spiritual gifts or personalities or degrees from a seminary….although such things may be helpful.  His emphasis is on the heart and behavior of the pastor.  Not just what he knows or claims he knows, but how does he live?  This is crucial we all know this.  Every church MUST have pastors who are actually living out what they say they believe. 

Why is Paul mentioning all this?  Likely two reasons:

  1. Genuine faith in Christ will bear good fruit. 

You can know what someone truly believes by looking at his life.  God’s plan for every Christian (including leaders) is that we become more and more Christlike as the years progress.

Romans 8:29 CSB For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

When God saves us, his determined plan is to make us more like Jesus.  More like him in godliness, a word we will see numerous other times in 1 Timothy.  So once we believe in Christ….once we are born again…God begins a work in us to shape us and change us… to have character qualities more and more like Jesus.  Similarly, the elders of God’s church must be growing in godly qualities, and be examples to the church and to the world.  Not perfect, but examples. 

  • False teachers were prevalent in and around the church in Ephesus, so the Lord wants the church to be alert to them.  We can certainly identify a false teacher by his doctrine, as we see throughout 1 Timothy.  But we can also identify him by his life.  We look at his conduct, his attitudes, his interactions with others, and we can see something is off.

This message about character was vital in the 1st century, and it is vital today.  We don’t need to look far today to find pastors who proclaim one thing but live another, whose moral lives are in shambles, whose family life is in turmoil, whose character is weak at best and destructive at worst.  Many of us are familiar with horror stories like that.  If it could happen in a church like Ephesus where the Apostle Paul spent 3 years teaching and preaching, it could happen even at Stonebrook if we neglect the will of God here.  The Lord demands leaders who truly believe the gospel and whose lives reflect the heart and actions of Christ.

Vs. 2-7

Now Paul launches into a lengthy list of virtues…of godly qualities…that must reside in the life of an elder in the church.  In one way, what we will read is a daunting list of virtues.  It’s a high bar.  But it is attainable through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Vs. 2

Above reproach— This means there must be nothing in his life that Satan or people can take hold of to criticize or attack the church.  It doesn’t mean he’s perfect….otherwise no church would ever have pastors.  But he doesn’t have a list of unresolved issues against him.  If/when he does sin, he quickly repents and confesses, and seeks reconciliation, when needed.

Husband of one wife — This literally means, he is a one woman man.   If he is married, he is not giving his heart to any other woman.  He is totally faithful.  He doesn’t flirt.  He doesn’t play the field.

Self-controlled— This means, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he restrains the evil desires and impulses of his flesh.  He “controls” himself.

Sensible— He exercises sober, sensible judgment in all things.  He thinks clearly.

Respectable— He has an orderly life.  Orderly in his thinking and his living.

Hospitable—Literally, this means he loves strangers.  He loves people he’s not met before.  The Good Samaritan in Luke 11 is an example of hospitality, helping a man whom he didn’t know and could be considered an enemy.

Able to teach—This is not about spiritual gifts or communication skills.  This is more about, can the elder in the church teach sound doctrine and refute false doctrine, and do it with the right heart and convictions?

Vs. 3

Not an excessive drinker— Basically, he doesn’t get intoxicated.  Certainly alcohol is in mind here, but we could also include mind-altering drugs.

Not a bully but gentle— The word “bully” actually means someone who strikes someone else physically. It seems obvious a church needs a pastor who doesn’t start physical altercations, but it needs to be mentioned.  Instead, he should be gentle.  Even-tempered. 

Not quarrelsome has to do with words.  He is not to fight with his mouth.  Not argue or insist he is right.  Now there are some things an elder in the church cannot yield on:  core doctrines of the faith.  But even then, he must handle them with grace, not with contentiousness. 

Not greedy— He doesn’t love money.  And he’s not in ministry to get rich. 

Vs. 4-5

He must manage his household well and have his children under control with dignity.

Life at home must be well-cared for.  He’s not neglecting genuine needs.  He’s not so absorbed in ministry with the whole church that life at home is falling apart.  Paul’s reasoning for this is important:  If the man can’t manage a small family well, how can he manage a much larger family, God’s church?

Vs. 6

Not a new convert

No specific timeframe is given here, but a man should walk with Christ for some time before he leads a church.  With a very new believer, pride can more easily creep in and ruin him.  Pride is the basic problem of the devil, so we ALL must always guard against it.

Vs. 7

He must have a good reputation with outsiders

This concerns his relationship with people outside the church.  What is his reputation?  Is it generally positive?  Or do neighbors and work associates see great character flaws in his life and despise him for it?

To summarize:  This is a lofty list, isn’t it?  Almost everything in the list is what every Christian should strive for.  So in that sense alone, this kind of maturity and Christlikeness is something everyone should pray for in his own life.  If you see something here you are lacking in, pray for the power and the help of the Holy Spirit that you might become more Christlike.  The elders of the church must be examples in godliness.  Not perfect, but generally a good example.  As goes the leadership, so goes the church.

Vs. 8-13

In addition to elders or overseers/pastors in the church, there is one other biblical office:  deacons.  Beginning in vs. 8, Paul gives another list of qualifications…this time for deacons. 

8 Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money,

9 holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

10 They must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons.

11 Wives, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything.

12 Deacons are to be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently.

13 For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Vs. 8

The word “deacon” in the Greek language is simply the word for “servant.”   And usually in the NT, it is translated into our English Bibles as “servant.”  Only 3 times is it commonly translated as “deacon,” and two of those are in this chapter.

We don’t have to read too far in the NT to know that every Christian is called to be a servant as we follow in the footsteps of our Savior.  But here in 1 Timothy 3, this same word is translated as a specific role.  An office, called “deacon.” 

Very little information is given to us in the Scriptures as to the role and responsibilities of deacons, but from the Scriptures and church history, the role of deacons seems to be serving to help the church in significant ways to allow the elders of the church to stay focused on the ministry of the Word and prayer.  The office of deacon is one of practical service, NOT about teaching the church or wielding authority over it.  That is the way Stonebrook has approached this.

The requirements for deacons is on godly character, very similar to that required for elders.  Let’s look at some of them.

Likewise— In the same way there are character qualifications for elders, so there are for deacons.

Worthy of respect— This wording is straightforward.  When we look at someone, we respect them.

Not hypocritical— The word can literally mean, “double-tongued.”  He is not like the Pharisees.  He doesn’t say one thing to one person and another thing to someone else.  His behavior and his words are not contradictory.  They line up. 

Not drinking a lot of wine— Simply, he doesn’t get drunk.

Not greedy—This is essentially the same as for elders in vs. 3. 

Vs. 9

Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience

The mystery of the faith is simply a way to say, “the gospel.”  A deacon must believe the core doctrines of faith in Christ…who Christ is and what he has accomplished to bring salvation to this world.  And not only does he SAY he believes it, he LIVES it.  His conscience is clear.

Vs. 10

They must be tested first— This doesn’t mean they have to take a test.  It means their doctrine and their lives must be examined first before they are appointed as a deacon.

If they are blameless, then they can serve as deacons.  “Blameless” is somewhat synonymous with “above reproach” in vs. 2 for overseers.  There’s not an ongoing list of things that people have against them. 

Vs. 11

Now we get into something interesting.  “Wives” can also be translated as “women.”  There has been debate for centuries if Paul means, the “wives of deacons” or if he means, “women”, referring to deaconesses.  What’s interesting is that the word that is translated as “servant” or “deacon” can refer to men or women.  In first century Greek, there was no feminine word for “servant.”  One word referred to both men and women.

Our understanding of this at Stonebrook is that Paul is referring to women as deacons, not the wives of deacons.

Several reasons:

  1.  Paul doesn’t say, “their” wives, as in “Deacons’ wives.”  He just says, “wives” or “women.” 
  • If Paul had meant “deacons’ wives,” why didn’t he give qualifications for elders’ wives in vs. 1-7?  It seems to me that would be there. 

Then Paul gives qualifications for these women deacons.

 Worthy of respect.  We’ve seen this already.

Not slanderers— Not gossiping or tearing others down. 

Self-controlled— The same as for elders in vs. 2.

Faithful in everything— Faithful means “trustworthy.”  They are very trustworthy with whatever they are given. 

Vs. 12

Referring back to all deacons, the qualities in vs. 12 are virtually identical to that required for elders.

Vs. 13

This is intriguing:  Those who have served well acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ.   I believe this means that if deacons serve well, they gain a good standing in the church.  They will be well-regarded.  A good reputation.  And the boldness and confidence they have in the gospel—perhaps both in their hearts and with their lips—this confidence will increase greatly as they serve the church well. 

Let’s step back now and consider what we have read.  Paul, under inspiration from God, has spent considerable time on qualifications for offices in the church:  Overseers and Deacons.  As we all think about leadership—whether in the church, the workplace, home, government—we probably all intuitively realize how important good character is.  And we realize how important it is, partially because of many examples of BAD character.  Cheating.  Lying.  Immorality.  Arrogance.  Selfishness.  Fighting.

If it’s important out in the world, how much more is it in the church.  These qualifications are not merely suggestions.  God gives us these as requirements.  The elders who teach and lead the church must be men of godly character.  Without such character, they are elders in name only.  The deacons who serve the church must be men and women of godly character.

Remember from Romans 8:29 and many other Scriptures, God calls us ALL to holy living.  To godliness.  If we’re ALL called to this, how can the leaders not be called to be examples??  That is what leadership is.

Application for us:

So what does this mean for all of us?  We might think, “I don’t know if this matters to me.”

Let me give some ways we can take this to heart and apply it.

  1. For us who are currently elders and deacons at Stonebrook (and any other church)… as well as for those who aspire to the work, there is much to take to heart here.  Pay attention.  We must be much in prayer.  We must daily abide in Christ, for only in him will we bear much fruit.  Godly character is something possible only through the work of the Holy Spirit, so we must humbly stay dependent upon him.
  • It also means we all should pray faithfully for our leaders. The spiritual war is fierce, the flesh is strong, and the devil is crafty.

I know many of you already pray often and earnestly for us, so thank you so much.  So many of you already offer encouragement and genuine interest in our lives, which is so powerful and gracious.  So thank you.  Pray for our faith, that we would believe what is true about Christ and what he has done.  Pray for our lives, that we would live out according to what we profess.

  • Finally pray that the Lord would help us ALL OF US to walk in godliness. 

Almost everything in vs. 1-13 can apply to every Christian.  God calls us all to godliness.  To Christlikeness.  And secondarily, such godliness in the church is a true joy to the leaders, for that is their great longing.  The Apostle John said of his spiritual children in the churches,

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”  (3 John 4).

Vs. 14-16

Let’s read this last important section.

14 I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.

15 But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

16 And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Vs. 15

As I read earlier, Paul gives Timothy and us a reason for writing this letter.  Paul is writing so that people, that is, you and I, will know how we ought to conduct ourselves in God’s household.  How should the people of God live?

This purpose is connected to Paul’s other purpose in writing, in Chapter 1, verse 4, that Timothy should be alert to false teaching and instead preach healthy (sound) teaching. Healthy teaching leads to healthy living (1 Tim 6:3).

Vs. 16

This verse is a summary of the gospel of Christ. Some have called this confession a sort of creed, a statement of belief. 

It is likely that these 6 lines were an early hymn that the church sang, and Paul is quoting it here. 

What does Paul mean:  “the mystery of godliness is great,”  “Mystery” speaks of the gospel (as in vs. 9), so perhaps we could think of this as, “The gospel of Christ and of his call to godliness is great.”  Paul is presenting the person and work of Christ as the key to godly conduct.  In other words, our salvation through Jesus makes godliness possible.  Godliness is a deep, devout walk with God through Christ that is displayed in our conduct and our lives.

So let’s look at the six lines of this hymn where Paul proclaims this gospel of Christ:

Manifested [revealed] in the flesh

That is, Jesus Christ was revealed to this world in human form.  This is the incarnation, that God has descended to this earth and has taken on a dual nature, both deity and humanity.  Only in this way could Jesus become the sacrificial Lamb of God to die in our place as a substitute.  Our sins deserved death;  but Jesus died in our place.

vindicated by the Spirit

Romans 1:4 tells us that the Holy Spirit declared Jesus Christ was righteous through the resurrection.  That is, the resurrection vindicates Christ.  It shows he was truly innocent.  Sinless. 

seen by angels

Angels witnessed everything about him.  And they even proclaimed who he was at his birth to Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds in a nearby field.

preached among the nations

The disciples took Jesus’ command seriously to go into the world and proclaim him.   They spent the rest of their lives bringing Jesus to the people….so that more and more might find the hope of eternal life. 

believed on in the world

As the disciples proclaimed him over those first few decades (and even to today), people from all over the world have believed in him.  Even a Sunday morning service here at Stonebrook is testimony to that, for each morning we have more than 20 nations represented in this room.

taken up in glory

40 days after he rose from the dead, Jesus Christ was taken into heaven literally and bodily, taken into glory to sit in power and authority at the right hand of God the Father.

And he is waiting for the perfect and planned time to return to earth a second time.

This six-line hymn is a declaration of the core of the Christian faith.  Paul says, “This is the mystery of godliness.”  This is the secret of godliness.  Of deep devotion to God that manifests itself in godly behavior and character.

Listen carefully to this:  That secret… is Christ himself.  The secret is who Jesus is and what he has done.  This is not just for leaders in the church.  This is for all of us.  Paul is not giving us lists of virtues in 1 Timothy for the sake of trying to earn our way into heaven.  He’s not giving lists of godly character so that we can boast.  He’s giving such commands so that we can live in the power of the Spirit, represent Christ well to this world, and to honor Jesus for all that he has done. 

So how do we walk in godliness?

Keep our lives centered on Christ and look to him every day.  Don’t get caught up in following mere lists of do’s and don’ts.  Don’t get caught up in self-improvement.  Instead, get caught up in looking to Jesus.

A passage that has been on my mind in recent weeks is this:

Hebrews 12:1–2 CSB  Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Let us read of him.  Sing of him.  Pray to him.  Worship him. 

Today…tomorrow….and in the week ahead, let us keep our eyes on Christ.

1 Timothy 2