I had the privilege to speak again this past Friday on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 on the topic of deacons. It was cool,because I picked my passage in Matthew 6 and was assigned this passage, but both dealt with the importance of integrity and character in our faith–something God has really been teaching me this year. I know its long, but if you’re serving in any capacity this coming year, I think this would be a helpful message for you. To him be the glory!
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives–I’m convinced b the argument that this is referring to women deacon– likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. Forthose who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13, ESV)
When I read Paul’s letters, I’ve found that it’s helpful for my understanding to ask the question: How does this passage fit into the rest of this book? Paul writes with a specific purpose for a specific occasion. So as we begin to consider our passage on deacons today, let’s ask the question. How does Paul’s discussion of leadership fit into his overall purpose for writing 1 Timothy? The primary problem, which prompted Paul to write 1 Timothy, was the presence of false teachers in Timothy’s church in Ephesus. We see a large part of 1 Timothy dedicated to dealing with these false teachers within the Church. He warns Timothy about them all throughout the letter.
We don’t know a ton about the specific details of these false teachers. If you read chapter 1, you learn that they have a wrong understanding of the law. In chapter 4, you see that their teaching somehow involved a legalistic kind of asceticism. Other than that, though, we don’t know exactly what kind of message these false teachers were spreading. One thing is clear, however, Paul’s main issue with these false teachers was their character. They wanted all the benefits of being leaders, without doing the hard work of having the character of a leader.
I’ve entitled my message today, True Leadership. I want to approach this passage today by showing you the picture of true leadership Paul describes here in chapter 3 and contrasting it with the leadership provided by the false teachers. My hope is that we’ll be able to apply these lessons in whatever type of leadership we’re in. Today, I have four points or principles that a true leader exhibits and which false teachers fail to exhibit. So let’s get started.
1. True Leaders are Christ-like Servants
Have you ever wondered: Why are the church offices so random? Why did Paul choose overseers and deacons, in particular, to be the positions of leadership? Well, it turns out that, even though we don’t normally use the words overseer or deacon in our normal vocabulary, these offices aren’t random. Both overseer and deacon each follow the example of leadership that Christ himself provided for us when he walked this earth.
Overseers follow the example of Christ by shepherding over the congregation, just as Christ shepherds over his people. In 1 Peter 2:24-25, Peter tells us that Christ is the ultimate leader, the ultimate Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, and Overseer, who watches over his flock. Later in the letter, when Peter tells the human shepherds and overseers how to lead, he tells them to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-3). The false teachers, on the other hand, are the exact opposite of Shepherds. They don’t love the sheep; rather they love themselves. In Acts 20:23, Paul warns the overseers at the church in Ephesus about these false teachers. He says, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock”
Overseers follow the example of Christ in leading like Christ. Deacons follow the example of Christ by serving the congregation, just as Christ serves his people. The word “diakanoi” in the Greek means servant– someone who supplies the needs of others. We find that deacons, too, find their example in Christ. Turn with me over to Luke 22:24-27.
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27, ESV)
What word does Jesus use when he says “I am among you as the one who serves”—He uses the word diakonwn: one who serves. What is a deacon? The Bible really doesn’t tell us too much about what specifically a deacon should do. But one thing is clear, a deacon is to serve like Jesus served. Jesus served in very practical ways. Washing the feet of the disciples. Healing the sick and providing for the needy. And so, deacons are to serve to supply the needs of the church in whatever way is necessary.
So the first thing we realize about leadership within the church is that it’s modeled after Christ. Christian leaders, whether your job is more in leadership or more in service, are to be selfless, humble, loving, and sacrificial just as Christ was. Let’s turn back to our passage 1 Timothy 3:8 and we’ll get back into the text.
–In my message, at this point, I clarified why I thought “gunaikas” in vs. 11 is probably better translated “women” referring to women deacons. But i’ll leave that part out–
So far, we’ve learned that the positions of overseer and deacon both call for someone who will be a Christ-like servant. Now, my question is: if we’re this kind of leadership, what kind of person is qualified for this role. And how do we find him or her? This brings me to my second point:
2. True Leaders show Godly Character
The main qualification for church leadership is not what you can do; it’s your inward character. That’s what Paul is looking to test here in giving these qualifications. Originally, I was going to focus in on each quality individually, but I decided not to since I think most of us have at least a general understanding of what these characteristics mean. The question I want to ask is this: If Paul’s goal is to find men of godly character why does Paul choose these attributes in particular?
I think the reason why Paul chooses these attributes, in particular, can be found in verse 10: “Let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” Now, imagine we’re in Timothy’s shoes and we’re trying to fill this position of overseer or deacon. Paul just gives us one requirement: you’re looking for is someone with character. The problem we run into is you can’t see someone’s character. I think Paul gives these requirements of deacons—and of elders in the previous chapters—because it provides tangible ways to learn about someone’s character from the way they act.
So if we were Timothy trying to figure out who could be a deacon. We could ask: is this person dignified? The word in the Greek means “honorable and reputable”; it also carries the sense of a seriousness. This quality functions like the phrase “above reproach” for overseers. It’s a broad term which the following qualities will flesh out. But if we were looking for a leader that would be a good starting point: Is this person respectable? Does this person have a good reputation? Does he have a sense of seriousness for his faith, or is everything fun and games for him?
1) How you speak reveals a lot about your character. Being a deacon means you’re going to be involved with the affairs of people in the church, so if you’re not trustworthy in your speech you’re going to cause a lot of problems. So Paul says to consider: is this person double tongued? For the ladies, is this lady a slanderer?
2) Is this person addicted to much wine? Or, as Paul says for the ladies, is she sober minded? If someone is addicted to much wine, it tells us something about his character. He lacks self-control. He doesn’t think clearly. She’s not sober-minded with a singular focus on advancing the kingdom of God.
3) Is this person greedy for dishonest gain? What is his or her relationship to money? Is this a lady who is using her riches to glorify herself through her outward appearance (1 Timothy 2:9)? Is he someone who is content or is he always striving for more and more? (1 Tim 6:6-7). Does he put his hope in the uncertainty of riches or does he put his hope in God and use his money generously to do good works (1 Tim 6:17-18)?
4) We’ll come back to vs. 9 in a separate point because I think this is the most important character trait. Look down with me to verses 12. Here Paul says test the faithfulness of a man’s character by looking at his testimony at home. Is he faithful to his wife and to his kids? Does he demonstrate love, patience, kindness as a father and a husband? And for the ladies, at the end of verse 11: is she faithful in all things? Is she faithful in her service at church, and to her family?
Let me give you guys a few points of application here. First, your actions show something about your character. Paul says, “when you’re looking for men of character, look for men who live in a way which shows they have character”. On the flip side, Paul uses some of these qualities to reveal the ungodly character of the false teachers. He calls them out mainly for two qualities: for their speech and for their love of money. Paul says, because I see these qualities in your life, I know you don’t have genuine character. Look with me over to chapter 6:3-5
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” then skip down to verse 9: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruins and destruction.”
How was Paul able to tell that these men had rotten character? He simply tested them by our lives. My first point of application is that your actions show something about your character. And how you conduct yourself in public in private, at church and at home, can qualify or disqualify you from leadership. If Paul or Timothy were to test your life to consider you for leadership would your life qualify or disqualify you?
Second, don’t take shortcuts in leadership but rather pursue godly character. The false teachers here wanted all the benefits of leadership without all the hard work. Character is hard work. It requires you to love the Gospel, to deny yourself and to death sin. Character doesn’t happen overnight. It happens as the result of years and years of following after Christ. Paul tells Timothy, “look at all these guys trying to take shortcuts. Don’t be like them. Do the hard work of cultivating Godly character within yourself.”
Look with me over at 1 Timothy 4:7—“Have nothing to do with irreverent silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Look again to chapter 6:11 where Paul exhorts Timothy, “but as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness”. Don’t take shortcuts like these false teachers. Pursue genuine godly character because that qualifies you for leadership. This brings me to my third point that…
3. True Leaders are Transformed by the Gospel
In my first point, I talked about how the positions of deacon and overseer call for Christ-like servanthood. In my second point, I talked about how the people who are qualified for these positions are people with godly character. The next question I want to answer: where does this godly character come from? There is one characteristic that I skipped over. Look with me at 3:9: “they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. Here, I think we have the key to developing genuine character. Let me try and break this down.
First, he says deacons must hold the mystery of the faith. This isn’t the kind of mystery where we don’t understand something about our faith. The word for “mystery” in the Greek is “musterion”. It’s talking about something that was once hidden but is now revealed. Paul uses this phrase throughout the New Testament to refer to different aspects of the Gospel—God’s plan of salvation which was once hidden, but now is revealed to us. Let me show you a few examples of Paul using this word.
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)
I don’t usually use illustrations, but I think this might help us understand what Paul is trying to communicate when he talks about a mystery. So Jon Ginn, as you may or may not know, really likes movies. In particular, he likes movie with an intricate plotline which builds up to a huge plot twist. Throughout the whole movie, there is a crucial detail of the plot which is hidden and then in the plot twist, it’s revealed. And then your mind-blown, because this plot twist changes the trajectory of the whole movie. And so, if you’re Jon Ginn, what do you do? You re-watch the whole movie and you catch all the seemingly insignificant details and you realize how everything ties together. And then, if you’re Jon Ginn, what do you do next? You run out and tells everybody about how ingenious the movie is.
I think that captures Paul’s sense of amazement and wonder at the mystery of the Gospel. As a Pharisee, Paul knew the story of Scripture really well. And then, he gets hit by the plot twist of the Gospel and it changes everything he knows about God. So Paul is like Jon Ginn. He thinks about it all the time, and he goes and looks through every detail of the Bible, and he sees how Jesus affects everything. And then he’s so excited that he goes out and tells everyone about this mystery—about the plan of salvation which God has revealed. Paul says here that a deacon must hold this mystery. He must be gripped by the Gospel and let his whole life be consumed by it.
The second part of the qualification is that a deacon should hold this mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Now, what does this mean? The word conscience, like the word “mystery”, is one of those words that you wouldn’t expect to be used very much in the Bible, but which Paul uses actually quite a lot. In 1 Timothy there’s multiple other instances where Paul uses this same word conscience.
Look with me over to 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion.” Later, in 1 Timothy 1:19, Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight: “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” And again in chapter 4:1. Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.”
So, the first thing we notice is that having a clear conscience is really important. Paul says that one of the main goals of his entire charge to Timothy is love that comes from a good conscience. As we saw in those verse, Paul points out that the false teacher’s lack of a good conscience is their big problem. Listen to the serious effects of not having a good conscience: they wander away into their vain teaching, they make shipwreck of their faith. He says because their consciences are seared these false teachers depart from the faith.
So what does it mean to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience? I think Paul means this: holding the faith with good conscience means having a consistency between your belief in the Gospel and the way in which you live your life.
Turn with me over to 2 Corinthians 1:12 and notice how Paul uses this phrase: For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (2 Corinthians 1:12, ESV)
Basically, what Paul is saying here is that: “When I think about my ministry toward you guys, I have a clear conscience. I wasn’t someone who preached the Gospel to you but didn’t live it out. But I behaved in a way that was consistent with the Gospel I preached. I had integrity, simplicity, and godly sincerity towards you, and so my conscience is clear.” That’s the idea that Paul wants to get across. A true leader’s life should be one marked by love for the Gospel, and a life in which everything is consistent with that love for the Gospel.
That, in the end, was the false teacher’s biggest problem. Beyond their teaching, beyond their love for money, the false teacher’s biggest problem was that they forsook integrity in their character. They became comfortable with not living out the things that they taught. Paul calls them insincere and liars because they’re preaching isn’t honest about who they really are inside
True leaders are transformed by the Gospel. They are amazed and in awe at God’s plan of salvation, and they let it transform every aspect of their lives. So when they look back over their lives and ministry they can say, with confidence, my boast is this, the testimony of my conscience, that I conducted my private life and my public life in integrity, in simplicity, in godly sincerity.
I’m backtracking a little bit but I want to give you guys a practical point of application here: We see that the formation of godly character comes from a sense of amazement and wonder at the mystery of the Gospel. How can we learn to be amazed at the Gospel like Paul was?
Remember how I used the example of the suspense movie? To extend that analogy, I think, as Christians today, one of our problems is that all we do is watch the plot twist over and over again. And we think because we do that, that we understand the plot twist. Well, actually no, an understanding of the plot twist comes from an understanding of the whole story—all the tiny details, all the setup that built the tension and the drama for the plot twist to happen.
I think Paul was amazed at the Gospel because he understood how it changed everything in the whole story of God’s word. If you check all the references where Paul talks about the mystery of the Gospel, he rarely ever talks about the Gospel in the same way. He’s always connecting it to some aspect of Scriptures. I think the more we understand the whole of God’s story the more we will be amazed at the mystery of God’s salvation plan which he has revealed to us.
We live in a Gospel centered age, where there’s books about the Gospel, and songs about the Gospel, and sermons about the Gospel. But Paul talks about how this mystery is revealed through the Holy Spirit by the apostles and the prophets. Where did they write in? The Bible. If you want be amazed by the mystery of God’s plan then there’s no better book to read. Read the Old Testament and the New Testament and you’ll see like Paul that the Bible is the perfectly woven together story and the Gospel is the plot twist that links it all together.
4. True Leaders have a Better Reward
Being a true leader is tough. You’re called to follow the example of leadership that Christ set. More than that, you need to have godly character. And more than that, you need to have a love for the Gospel that transforms everything you do. Many of us are in that process of trying to be better leaders but struggling with our weaknesses and our sin. Some of us are thinking about future ministry and the qualifications that the Bible has.
And we wonder to ourselves, is it worth it? And, we won’t tell it to anyone else, we wonder in our hearts if we can be a little like the false teachers. It likely isn’t as blatant as the false teachers, but maybe we start to wonder: I know leadership is supposed to be Christ-like servant hood, but I wonder if I can get away with sneaking in a little glory for myself. Or I know requires us to have a godly character, but maybe if I do things well I won’t have to address this flaw in my character. If I do well in leadership, or I won’t have to address the fact that I’ve become dull in my love for the Gospel, or that I’m not living of a life of complete integrity.
True leadership is hard. And the temptations to compromise a life of integrity are great. But our passage ends with a reminder that, though it may be hard, it’s far more worthwhile. In verse 13, Paul promises two kinds of rewards that a true leader receives:
First, he says those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves. Basically what Paul is saying here is that if you serve faithful as a deacon you will gain the respect of the church and those following you. Oftentimes we think of the praise of man as a bad thing and it certainly is a bad thing if that’s the driving factor which motivates our leadership. But as a leader it’s absolutely vital to have the respect of those under you. Paul says, “if you strive after a life of character and integrity, you won’t have to trick people into following you. People will see your example, and they’ll want to follow you.” I think we all understand this. The people I respect most, I respect not chiefly because of their abilities, but because of their character.
Second, Paul says that those who serve well also gain a great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Objectively, we’re saved by grace and noting we do can add to our salvation or make us any more secure. But subjectively, our confidence in our faith varies. If our conscience is not clear, if we feel guilty and far from God, then we have little confidence in our walks with Christ. But Paul says here if you’re deacons who has served well can have a great sense confidence in your walk with God. You know that you’re striving to please him by having godly character, you know that you love him for what he’s done in the Gospel, and you’re living out that love for him in your life. If that’s you, you can have a great sense of boldness—not the self-righteous kind—but an inward confidence that you’re doing God’s will and honoring him, and that God is pleased with you because your life glorifies Christ.