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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: May 28, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:6-10).
We looked at some teachings (church doctrines) from our apostle last week that many people, even Christians, find objectionable if not down-right insulting. These doctrines concern the God-given responsibilities of both “the men” and “the women” in the Church, in the home, and in one’s life (Ephesians 5; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; Titus 2).
Let’s be clear, anything that is of God, for God, or mirrors God is going to attract the negative attention of Satan and that includes the Church of God, the marriage covenant between the man and the woman, and the family model for these institutions were established by the Creator God (Genesis 2:18-25). But in a sea of changing opinion on sexual practices and/or ideals and the definition of marriage and family itself, going back to the beginning in Genesis provides a foundation for biblical teaching concerning marriage and the family that is sadly lacking today. Even the seasoned Believer needs to continue to go back to God’s Word to ensure that he or she is on the right path, “walking as children of light,” in accord with God’s precepts.
Although women have traditionally fulfilled supportive roles in serving the church and some have gained their greatest joy and sense of accomplishment from being wives and mothers, the feminist movement has successfully influenced many women to abandon their God-ordained roles. Unfortunately, this movement has made headway in the Church and in the home resulting in chaos and confusion regarding the role of the sexes both in the grace ministry and in the home. But only in Scripture can God’s design for the sexes be found, of course after that it’s then your responsibility to “walk circumspectly” in God’s Truths (Ephesians 5:8-16).
Welcome back to HBS. Please open your Bible at 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Leadership In The Local Church
The Office Of A Bishop
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
There’s a lot to cover in that section of Scripture and I don’t think we can get it done in just one Bible lesson. We’ll do the best we can. But, after dealing with the God-ordained roles of “the men” and “the women” in the grace Church and in society in general, Paul proceeds to deal with the subject of leadership in the local assembly. A while ago we looked at the subject of authority and rank in the churches, but here Paul deals with the offices of the “bishop/elder/pastor” and the “deacon.”
When I see the word “bishop” I’m reminded of my 20 some years in Catholicism. As I recall he’s the superintendent in his appointed diocese and the priests and the people therein are subject to him for he is the voice of the Vatican in Rome. I mention this because some folks might be turned-off by the idea of “bishops” being in the church. However, because we’re ultimately dealing with God’s Word we need to consider this “office,” not in light of the ongoing ritualistic misuse of it, but in light of its true meaning, which is simply “overseer.”
The “bishops/elders,” in Scripture, were given general, and especially moral and spiritual, oversight in the church, with one of their number recognized as their leader. Here I point out the leading overseer is not given any special title in Scripture, such as archbishop, cardinal, or pope and he was not overly venerated. I say this because it was a common occurrence for the parish priests to acknowledge the bishop and his high office by kissing his ring. I don’t find this information anywhere in Scripture, but again, based on what we do know, the leading overseer did not wield arbitrary authority. He was a “workman” who worked closely with the other overseers in the local church.
As Paul begins to give Timothy instructions as to the qualifications for this church office, please bear in mind he is nearing the end of his life on earth. What’s more, the supernatural gift of prophecy has “passed away” (1 Corinthians 13:6-13). Soon there will be no further instructions or revelations directly from heaven, not even through Paul. Therefore all those who say, “Thus saith the Lord” will have to base their words on the written Word of God alone.
The Biblical Terms: Elder/Overseer/Pastor And The Deacon
Before we consider Paul’s words re: “the office of a bishop,” in the local church, it would be prudent to define the terms and address an unwarranted tradition. The term “bishop” is the Greek word episkopos, pronounced: ep-is'-kop-os, Strong’s Greek #1985, and means: overseer. Whereas its corresponding part is the Greek word presbuteros, pronounced: pres-boo'-ter-os, Strong’s Greek #4245, meaning: “elder,” or one who is older and more mature. These two terms are interchangeable and refer to the same individual. For example, I present Paul’s words to pastor Titus:
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (presbuteros) in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop (episkopos) must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; (Titus 1:5-7).
As for the aforementioned unwarranted tradition re: this office, some denominations point to Paul’s usage of “the office of a bishop” to establish a hierarchy over their churches but this instruction does not appear anywhere in Paul’s epistles. I take the time to point this out because denominationalists essentially believe that a bishop presides over other ministers and has a superior rank in the administrative affairs of their assemblies. But, again, the terms “bishop” and “elder” are synonymous, but the “bishop” was the "office" or the position of authority, whereas the "elder" was the man. Thus, “the office of a bishop” simply refers to the function of overseeing the affairs of the local church and/or assembly:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
Notice that the Holy Spirit refers to the “overseers” (plural) as ones who were jointly working together to manage the assembly at Ephesus. The responsibility of those who hold this church office, especially those who labor in the Word of God and its related Church doctrines, is “to feed the church of God” (the Believers) a steady diet of God’s Truths, rightly divided (1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:15). Therefore, the elder/overseer is one who provides spiritual leadership for the assembly.
To help us understand the term pastor let’s first take note, again, of Acts 20:28 above and then the three Bible passages below:
“And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17).
“The elders (plural) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;” (1 Peter 5:1-2).
“And he (Christ) gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Ephesians 4:11).
In Paul’s epistles he only mentions two offices in the local church: elder/overseer/ pastor and the deacon (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-10; Philippians 1:1). It wasn’t until early in the 2nd century that the church began to adopt a hierarchy of bishops, deacons, and presbyters. But, the term “pastor,” Paul used in the Ephesian passage is the Koine Greek word poimen and only occurs once in the N.T. It’s a noun and refers to a church officer (one man). We note in the above passage the Apostle Peter identified himself as “an elder.” The verb form of this word is used more commonly to describe the function of pastoring or shepherding the local church. Thus when Paul affirms that the man who aspires to the office of overseer “desires a good work,” he is referring to the one office of leadership within the local church and that is the elder/overseer/pastor. Although it might appear that he’s donning three hats, as it were, it is but one church office.
“Likewise must the deacons (diakonos) be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;” (1 Timothy 3:8).
The “deacons” are those leaders who attend to the physical needs of the local assembly.
Joseph Henry Thayer (November 7, 1828—November 26, 1901), an American biblical scholar, described those who hold this office as “one who executes the commands of another…a servant, or attendant. One who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use.”
Under the direction of the pastor (overseers) the deacons (helpers) are responsible to attend to the offerings, distributions to the needy, building and grounds, etc. They too are to be spiritually-minded as they carry out the duties of their office to the glory of God (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:9, 13).
Administratively, the positions of elder/overseer/ pastor and deacon are the only two offices found in the divine revelation given to Paul and we see this in Philippians 1:1:
“Paul and Timotheus (Timothy), the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (See also Acts 20:17)
Keeping all the above in mind, I believe we’re now ready for verses 3:1-2.
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;”
Based on all we’ve learned so far it ought to go without saying Godly leadership in the local church is essential to its spiritual life and its spiritual growth. But one must not assume that the “desire” to be a “bishop” is necessarily “a good work.” For Paul implied almost the opposite by cautioning the men not to desire this office unless they are ready to meet all of its qualifications. That’s because those who hold this offices are given the moral and spiritual oversight of the church, which is something that should never be taken lightly. Many men of God with notable abilities have failed in this endeavor because they lacked one or more of the moral standards which Paul outlines in this epistle. I could name a few names in that regard, but that’s not what we’re about here. Instead of dragging people through the proverbial mud, we prefer to enlighten them with “the truth.”
Paul underscores the biblical truth above in verse 3:15, so let’s consider his words to pastor Timothy: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave (conduct) thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (support) and ground (foundation) of the truth.” In other words, if the Church and it’s affairs do not conform to the standards set forth in the Word of God, rightly divided, the bulwark of “the truth” will be seriously undermined, if not lost and forgotten, such as during the 900 years of intellectual darkness in Europe that has been labeled the “Dark Age.”
Now let’s look at the phrase, “a good work” because that which is considered good must be determined by the nature of the thing being identified as good. For example, a good foundation is a solid foundation, a good soldier is a brave soldier and one who willingly endures hardship, a good steward is a faithful steward, a good hamburger is one that has been prepared per your instructions, and good works are those works which are morally right in the eyes of God. Knowing this should help us understand Paul’s use of the word “then” in verse 3:2. We now know the office of a bishop is a sacred trust, involving high moral standards and spiritual responsibilities. So Paul cautions his readers against casually “desiring” this position without careful and( prayerful consideration.
A man must “desire” to be a spiritual leader (pastor), which is what the word “bishop” signifies. One of the problems with saying God calls some men to the ministry and not others is that most pastors don’t know or won’t recognize the revelation of the mystery Paul refers to over and over again in his epistles. Does it make sense then that God called them to be pastors? The short answer is, “No.” What God does is use His Word to instill a “desire” in men to be a pastor, and if he doesn’t know about “the revelation of the mystery” along with its significance for this dispensation before he enters the ministry, it is God’s will that he come to a knowledge of the truth soon thereafter (1 Timothy 2:4).
Paul called the ministry an “office” (3:1), i.e., a position of authority. The priesthood was an office (Exodus 28:1), and Israel also had officers who ruled in civil matters (Deuteronomy 16:18). Being an apostle was considered an office (Romans 11:13), but Peter called Judas’ office a “bishoprick” (Acts 1:20). But Paul can’t be talking about desiring the office of an apostle, for apostles were chosen by the Lord Himself (Luke 6:12-13; Acts 9). From the rest of what Paul says in this passage it is obvious that the “bishops” he had in mind were pastors.
Paul proceeds to list the qualifications of this church office saying, “If one should desire the office of a bishop, …then, they must be…”
“Blameless” (3:2) – the very first qualification Paul cites is that of an unimpeachable character and conduct. The individual being considered for this office must be above reproach lest the name of Christ and His ministry be tarnished.
“the husband of one wife” (3:2) – here I point out Paul means to say, “the husband of one wife – at a time. This doesn’t mean a pastor can’t be divorced and remarried.
“Wife of one man” (1 Timothy 5:9) can’t disallow women who were widowed and remarried, it must mean she had to have been the wife of one man - at a time. In the O.T., when a woman slept with a man she became his wife (Genesis 16:3), so Paul is saying the church should help widows who weren’t married with a man on the side. And “husband of one wife” must mean the same thing. In saying this, Paul was announcing a dispensational change from the days of old when spiritual leaders often had a wife and a woman on the side, a concubine, or even many wives. That doesn’t mean a pastor has to be married any more than verse 3:4 means he has to have children. It means if he has children he must “ruleth” them well and if he is married it must be to one wife – at a time. In short, those who hold the position of pastor must not be a womanizer. He is to be the husband of one wife, forsaking all others.
While we’re here let’s address a concern of some who believe Paul’s statement means only a married man can be a pastor. While it is preferable, per Paul, I don’t believe this is a prerequisite and I base this on Scripture. As far as we know, Paul was unmarried during the entirety of his apostolic ministry (I Corinthians 7:7-8). It also appears that both pastor Timothy and pastor Titus were unmarried, yet we note both were greatly used of the Lord. The other thing worth mentioning is this Bible passage, and others, utterly obliterates the Roman Catholic tradition re: the celibacy of their priests.
A pastor must be “…vigilant, sober, of good behavior” – the term “vigilant” conveys the idea of being alert and watchful of danger (See 1 Peter 5:8-9). In that passage Peter is talking about the danger of the Antichrist in the Tribulation. Today Satan poses as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), but pastors must be “vigilant” of him in this lest men stray from the mysteries of God. Being “sober” helps with this (3:2), a word that just means a pastor must be serious about dispensing God’s mysteries, and not think too highly of themselves in doing so (Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 12:3).
Pastors must also be “of good behavior,” (i.e., orderly in life, habits, and work) but not all are “given to hospitality.” This suggests that in the measure a man has these things, in that measure God can use him. For instance, God blesses all faithful teaching of His Word, but He can bless and use those who are “apt to teach” more (3:2). When spiritual gifts were given, some were given a gift of teaching (Romans 12:6-7), but since these gifts were gone (passed away) by this time Paul said pastors must have an aptitude for teaching, an ability to give men joy by helping them understand God’s Word, rightly divided (2 Corinthians 1:24).
“Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;”
“Not given to wine” – the battle has longed raged between those who believe it is wrong to partake of an intoxicating beverage except for medicinal purposes and those who hold that drinking alcohol in moderation is sanctioned in Scripture. The former base their stance on Bible passages such as Proverbs 20:1, which is a strong statement on the subject, while the latter argue from passages which appear at least, to imply that drinking of wine was an accepted custom in Paul’s day, which it probably was in lands where uncontaminated water was in short supply.
The following important Scripture on this subject is often overlooked, however: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; Nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, And pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:4-5).
That Scripture says what it means and means what is says. If drinking of strong drink is to be indulged in, at least let kings and princes refrain from it lest they fail to act “soberly” i.e., responsibly. Does this not apply with greater force to those who occupy places of leadership in the local Church? This most likely is the reason why Paul prescribed “a little wine” for pastor Timothy’s “often infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23). The implication is that Timothy would have refrained from using any wine at all in spite of his ailments. Knowing all this, Paul’s injunction in verse 3:3 becomes clear. The bishop should not be “given to wine,” that is, addicted to wine.
“no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;” (3:3).
A “striker” is, of course, one who physically strikes another, and a “brawler” is one who is abusive and quarrelsome. Adding Paul’s concern re: the drinking of wine to this charge, we understand this to mean: refrain from drunken brawling. Why is this concern necessary? Paul knew from experience that many a man of God came from a backdrop of paganism which is anything but conducive to godly conduct. In times of anger a bishop, being human, might revert to his old ways. Clearly, settling things with one’s fists is to be avoided lest the gospel of Christ, and one’s reputation be sullied.
“not greedy of filthy lucre” – many people will tell you this means money, and “filthy lucre” means ill-gotten gains (Proverbs 10:2). But that’s not what Paul’s saying. “Lucre” is simply gain and any lucrative enterprise is a gainful one. Thus, Paul’s warning the prospective bishops against taking any course of action for base personal gain. This command was largely ignored in Paul’s day, as it is today, and Paul’s comment in verse 6:5-6 underscores this truth: “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Although some will say evidence of financial gain in one’s ministry is proof-positive that God is blessing their ministry, Paul clearly disagrees with that attitude. He could say for himself and pastor Titus in writing to the Corinthian saints: “Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps…” (2 Corinthians 12:17-18).
The Corinthians knew for a fact that Paul worked with his own hands as a tentmaker when he was with them. That's when he met and partnered with Priscilla and Aquila in tent-making and in the ministry of leading others to Christ (Acts 18:1–5; 18, 20:34; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). And he did this so that the gospel of Christ would not be hindered or slandered (1 Corinthians 9). You see, back then, people knew there was money (lucre) to be made in the religion business and that could be said for today as well.
I mention the above because the idea of “money” is found in this verse for “covetous,” here, is literally, “loving money.” In 1 Timothy 6:5-11, where our apostle deals at length with this subject, he counseled pastor Timothy saying, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things;” (6:11a). It’s a sad thing indeed for a pastor (spiritual leader) who has become wealthy through the financial offerings of those whom he has taught them not only to give (tithe) but to give sacrificially to support their ministry. Truly, the “love of money” is a “root” that is “all evil.” It produces no good whatsoever.
Paul’s exhortation to be “patient” is in a way the most important of all the qualifications in this verse, for “patience” speaks of the denial or abasement of oneself, and overall this is what this verse is all about. The overseer in the work of the Lord, whose care is not for himself but for others, will be blessed of God and loved and respected by those in his care.
We’ve run out of time, just as I suspected earlier, so, per the usual we’ll pick this lesson up from where it left off next week. I pray y’all remain in good health, both physically and spiritually, and that you’ll share the gospel of Jesus Christ with at least one person this week to the glory of God.
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