Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses will give many who read it pause for thought. 

1 Timothy 3 is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the priesthood and women priests.  You won’t find these Essential Bible Verses in any Lectionary. 

Today’s reading comes from the New International Version.

1 Timothy 3

Overseers and Deacons

 1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

 8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

 11In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

 12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

 14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, 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. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
   He appeared in a body, 
      was vindicated by the Spirit,
   was seen by angels,
      was preached among the nations,
   was believed on in the world,
      was taken up in glory.

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Paul sets out plans for church government in his two letters to Timothy and one to Titus. Scholars believe that Timothy was likely to have been an evangelist — meaning a travelling preacher — who eventually stayed in Ephesus, succeeding Paul, to take care of the new clergy there (Acts 20:28).  Paul had planted the church there, and the Ephesians were disappointed to find that they would never see Paul again (Acts 20:38).  Sensing their concerns about keep their new church pure, Paul arranges for Timothy to take his place.   

In this letter Paul discusses the qualities Timothy is to look for in ‘overseers’ and deacons. The word ‘overseer’ refers to priests, ministers, pastors, bishops and presbyters.  It is also synonymous in the Bible with ‘shepherd’ and ‘steward’.  To avoid any confusion, I shall use ‘overseer’ below.

Paul begins the chapter with the word ‘trustworthy’ (verse 1), meaning that Timothy should have no qualms about following the letter of the law on the type of man suitable as an overseer.  And, yes, it is about men.  This chapter, particularly verse 2 with the phrase — ‘the husband of but one wife’ — provides the principal source of the Christian case for male priesthood. 

Note that Paul says the ministry is a noble task.  He lays out the behaviours for an overseer, which involve one marriage and one wife.  (Serial marriage was common amongst Gentiles at the time.) He must have a temperate nature and not be given to excesses in emotion or drink.  Nor must he fall prey to greed (verse 3). Matthew Henry, the noted Bible commentator, says that this implies that an overseer  should display gravitas in order to be taken seriously. His family must also respect and obey him (verse 4).  Why?  Paul explains in verse 5 that if the overseer cannot manage his household, he will not be able to manage a church. 

Pay careful attention to verse 6.  Today, possibly because of a dearth of vocations or lax policies in seminaries, we have many ordained former atheists.  I can think of at least three and there are many more who have gone on to have large ministries.  Based on those whom I know, I have reason to wonder what the time lag was between their coming to faith and entering the seminary.  St Paul tells Timothy: ‘He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.’  A priest must keep pride and ego at bay.  New converts are not always capable of this because their knowledge and practice of the faith is not fully developed! 

Paul’s final counsel about overseers for Timothy is verse 7: they must not come with any baggage or stories about a questionable reputation.  An overseer must be blameless.  Matthew Henry tells us that the Devil takes advantage of human weakness, which damages the Church. 

The next five verses concern deacons and their wives (sometimes translated as ‘deaconesses’).  Verse 8 states that deacons must be temperate in drink and honest in their business dealings. They, too, must have a sense of gravitas in order to properly help the overseer. They must also be able to believe and practice their faith without feeling guilt or hesitation because of serious sins, past or present. Serious sin and the guilt it causes distracts us from faith in God and trust in His grace.  Furthermore, as the deacon was in charge of church finances, it was incumbent upon him not to have a love of money, otherwise he might embezzle.  Paul tells Timothy that he must test deacons before allowing them to serve a church (verse 10).  In other words, Timothy must be certain that the candidate is worthy of the job of serving Christ’s flock.  Judging good character and ensuring good behaviour is heartfelt and consistent takes time to discern. 

Their wives — deaconesses — must be equally of a serious character, deep faith and godly living (verse 11).  Any bad reflection on them is also bad for the Church.  The deacon’s household must be like the overseer’s (verse 12).  He, too, must have only one wife (again, no serial marriages) and be able to manage his household, including his children.  As Paul says in verse 13, a deacon who serves his church well deepens his faith and finds increased favour with Christ.  Matthew Henry says that a deacon would have the capacity to become an overseer after a suitable period of service to his church. 

So, this is why men of the cloth and their wives are such serious people.  When they are out in public, they are serving in their capacities for their churches and the Lord.  Therefore, please don’t expect them to be life and soul of the party.  Otherwise, how will you be able to take them seriously in matters spiritual?

Paul closes his letter (verses 14 and 15) by saying that he hopes to see Timothy as planned, but in case he should be delayed en route, at least his young evangelist has what he needs for his work in Ephesus.   

Verse 16, concerning the great ‘mystery of godliness’ is one upon which to meditate.  It explains why Christ is Lord — something to remember when people ask you why you are a Christian.  He is God manifested in the flesh; He rose from the dead; angels served Him; He is preached to the world, not a select few; the world believes in Him; He ascended to Heaven in glory.  Paul mentions the Ascension last to signify Christ’s sovereignty as King of Kings at the right hand of God.  On the use of the word ‘mystery’, Matthew Henry advises us:

It being a great mystery, we should rather humbly adore it, and piously believe it, than curiously pry into it, or be too positive in our explications of it and determinations about it, further than the holy scriptures have revealed it to us.

He also has notes about ecclesiastical terminology (link at the end of this post), which might interest you:

Observe, 1. In the primitive church there were but two orders of ministers or officers, bishops and deacons, Phil. 1:1. After-ages have invented the rest. The office of the bishop, presbyter, pastor, or minister, was confined to prayer and to the ministry of the word; and the office of the deacon was confined to, or at least principally conversant about, serving tables. Clemens Romanus, in his epistle to the Christian (cap. 42, 44), speaks very fully and plainly to this effect, that the apostles, foreknowing, by our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would arise in the Christian church a controversy about the name episcopacy, appointed the forementioned orders, bishops and deacons. 2. The scripture-deacon’s main employment was to serve tables, and not to preach or baptize. It is true, indeed, that Philip did preach and baptize in Samaria (Acts 8), but you read that he was an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and he might preach and baptize, and perform any other part of the ministerial office, under that character; but still the design of the deacon’s office was to mind the temporal concerns of the church, such as the salaries of the ministers and providing for the poor.  

For further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary