1 Timothy 3:1-15: February 10—The Character of Leadership
Feb 3, 2013

Wiley Richards is a retired professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville.

The whole concept of leadership in the local church has undergone some radical changes in the last two generations. In our little church of my youth, ministers of music had not been invented. A member of the choir who had a loud voice announced the hymns. We all understood we would sing the first second and last verses. 

Fast forward to the present in which larger churches have multiple ministers. The question rises about which ones should be ordained, an issue made even more complex by the tax exemptions allowed for “ordained ministers.” At any rate, two offices rate to be ordained in the New Testament, pastors and deacons.

We begin with the requirements for ordaining a bishop (v. 1). We have seen a rise in some Baptist churches in changing their organization to include ruling elders. 

We can observe that the phrase “ruling elder” does not occur in the Bible. The expression “elders that rule,” found only in 1 Timothy 5:17, is not the same. Here it alludes to the fact that elders have a responsibility to guide the church as one of its duties. To see this, read Acts 20:17 where Paul at Miletus called for the elders of the church for a meeting. When they met, he cautioned them to care for the flock by feeding them, a pastoral role, and to function as oversees, an administrative function assigned by the Holy Spirit (v. 28). The local leader is an elder, pastor, and overseer (bishop). Titus 1:5 uses the word elders whereas 1:7 calls the position a bishop or overseer. In 1 Peter 5:1, the aged apostle calls himself an elder commanding his reader to “feed the flock,” taking the oversight, bishop, freely (v. 2). We can also observe that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he commands the church to handle the problem of church discipline, making no mention of “ruling elders.”

The leadership by a pastor in the congregation relates directly to his character (vv. 2-3, 8-12). Most of the moral requirements for a pastor cause no problems in a church thinking about ordination. 

The prohibition about “not given to wine” may give a slight pause. Southern Baptists traditionally have taken a strong stand against drinking any alcoholic beverage because of the devastating impact alcoholism has had on the person, family, and culture. Alcoholism arises among social drinkers, not from teetotalers. Wine, of course, was used for medicine (1 Tim. 5:23).

However, the biggest hindrance against ordination comes from the phrase “the husband of one wife.” The man who remarries after his first wife has died poses no problem. If he is divorced, an insurmountable barrier is raised, particularly if he remarries, because he is said to be “living in adultery.”  A similar charge is raised against the man if his wife is a divorcee. 

Without delving further into this difficult and divisive issue, we can inject one relevant social practice common in the general culture of that time, namely, that a man, properly married, often had mistresses to fulfill sexual or social obligations. The biblical mandate prohibits such a travesty. It maintains the standard of one man committed to one woman for life.

Closely related to the importance of a man’s character is the role in his family (vv. 4-5, 10-13). Enforcing the requirement for the pastor (v. 4) and deacon (v. 12) to control children becomes extremely problematic in today’s society. Families often exist without a man in the house. Children frequently are reared by grandparents or other relatives. Societies practicing multiple wives face unique adjustments in trying to apply biblical standards.

Also, leadership must extend beyond the family into the world of business (v. 7). One whose business practice is unethical may shatter the chance of a successful witnessing encounter at a time when it is least expected.

Finally both pastor and deacons must prepare to establish the belief in the church in sound doctrine (vv. 14-15). The repetition of “a faithful saying” found here and 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11 and Titus 3:8 introduces a truth which is worthy of being widely preached and taught.

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