If a church were to place an ad in a newspaper inviting applications for church leadership positions, what might it include? From visiting the board meetings of almost any modern church one might get the impression that successful businessmen make the best elders—after all, management is management. On the other hand, books that deal with leadership training often highlight the sense of calling, dependence on God and perseverance that we see in the great biblical characters—Moses, Jeremiah, Paul—to provide a model. Of course, these figures were powerful leaders, and there is much to be learned about leadership from them. But if the question is "Who is fit to lead in the church?" and this decision falls to other church leaders, then the place to begin is with the kind of concerns raised in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
At this point in the letter, the tone changes. What had been a discussion of what the church and certain groups in the church ought to do becomes a discussion of what leaders in the church ought to be. The moral lapse and defection of some of this church's leaders undoubtedly had left the fellowship in a state of instability. And the internal disruption was likely to be met by severe criticism from unbelievers. For these reasons the two lists included at this point describe the necessary qualifications for the offices of the overseer and deacon. In each case the focal point is the candidate's reputation among believers and unbelievers, which is to be computed on the basis of proven moral character and maturity. Duties are hardly mentioned. The standard, above reproach (3:2) or blameless (3:10), is extremely high, but not out of proportion to the importance of the church's mission in the world (3:15-16), which always hangs in the balance.
Who were the overseers and deacons? The term translated overseer in the NIV was first used outside the church to refer to supervisors of various sorts. As a description of one level of church leadership, it appears in Acts 20:28 and, again alongside "deacons," in Philippians 1:1. To judge from the account of Paul's farewell meeting with the elders (presbyters; compare 1 Tim 5:17) of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38) and the instructions in Titus 1:6-7, the terms "overseer" and "elder" referred to the same office. Moreover, church leaders alluded to in Romans 12:8 ("leadership," "govern") and 1 Corinthians 12:28 ("those with gifts of administration") as well as in Ephesians 4:11, "pastors and teachers," would probably hold this office. Among the duties assigned to this office (though perhaps not exclusively) were preaching and teaching and generally leading or managing the church.
The office of deacons (which may have included women; see below on 3:11) probably emerged as the church grew in size and the demands on the leadership required that certain functions be delegated. The table-waiting deacons of Acts 6:1-6 may have been prototypical of the office referred to here and in Philippians 1:1. Teaching and ruling are not specifically mentioned in connection with deacons; they were apparently subordinate to the overseers and generally charged with seeing to the fellowship's practical needs. Nevertheless, some deacons would have been active in preaching the gospel (Stephen and Philip show how widely the preaching ministry extended).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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