Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the October 2020 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
“Who Is Worthy to Lead?” by David Faust (Lesson Application)
Lesson Aim: Assemble leaders who model Christ, and be such a leader.
By Mark Scott
Jesus prayed all night before choosing the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-13). The Holy Spirit selects the right leaders for the church (Acts 20:28), but prayer (last week’s lesson) is the precursor for that. If Timothy was to be successful in Ephesus, he would need to pray for good leaders to assist him.
Our default setting in the Western world is to organize and categorize. We desire a neat and tidy list of qualifications for elders and deacons. Typical to Paul’s Near Eastern mind-set, he had little interest in neat and tidy lists. New Testament servant leadership was less formal and more fluid than in our world. Paul seemed comfortable to discuss the character of church leaders in terms that were positive and negative, internal and external, grouped and singular, familial and corporate.
1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-22
Having discussed the roles of men and women in worship (1 Timothy 2:8-15), Paul began the discussion of church leaders with yet another of the “faithful sayings.” An overseer (“one who gives compassionate care for” and also a synonym for elder or pastor—cf. 1 Timothy 5:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4) must indicate some level of desire to serve. He must “aspire” to (reach for) it—but maybe not too much (i.e., constrained by humility). If he humbly does so, he will see that eldership is a noble task far more than an office.
Next, Paul built a sandwich (more technically “brackets,” which scholars call “inclusio”). The is to be (v. 2) and the must also (v. 7) act like two slices of bread. Paul insisted the elder must be above reproach (blameless or unimpeachable) from those within the church. And, the leader must have a good reputation (good witness) from those outside the church. A blameless and evangelistic elder then possesses all the other qualities inside “the sandwich.”
If you want to really know what an elder is like, ask about him at home. The first way an elder is above reproach is in his primary relationship (he is in a state of total fidelity with his wife). This qualification heads the list and then has two verses devoted to it later (vv. 4-5). If he cannot manage (stand before) his family, how can he lead the church? The elder is to be a measured person (temperate and self-controlled) who has it all together (respectable means that his whole world is ordered). He loves strangers (is hospitable) and can articulate the gospel (is able to teach). The elder has his passions under the control of the Holy Spirit (not laying down alongside of wine; not violent or quarrelsome, but gentle; not a materialist). Finally he is not to be a recent convert (neophyte). This may explain why Paul told Timothy not to lay hands on a potential elder too hastily (5:22). This level of leadership can be fertile ground for pride. So, avoiding the devil’s condemnation and the devil’s trap are paramount.
Elders who direct the affairs of the church (rule well—“stand before” the congregation in preaching and teaching) are to be honored in respect and remuneration. Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4) and New Testament (Luke 10:7) texts affirm this. Elders are to be given more than a fair shake when accused, but if they sin, they are to be rebuked publicly because of their high profile.
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Were the early deacons just ministers who served at the discretion of those over them (Acts 6:1-7; Romans 16:1-2)? Or were early deacons a recognized group of servant leaders who knew the deep truths of the faith and were willing to first be tested to assess their leadership ability? Either way, they had to meet a similar critique of their lives as did the elders (six of their qualifications overlap with those of the elders).
Deacons do not oversee the church, but they do serve the church, as Christ did (Mark 10:45). Out of all that Jesus could have been, he chose to be a deacon.
1 Timothy 3:14-16
Paul’s letters substituted for his presence. Though absent, Paul wanted the saints to know how to conduct themselves in the church, which was God’s pillar and foundation of truth in the world.
Elders oversee and deacons serve, but all the saints embrace the glorious confession (hymn?) in verse 16. This is a Christocentric chapter. Elders are shepherds like Jesus. Deacons are servants like Jesus. Church members are saints who believe the gospel.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.