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Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Timothy to his young ministry associate dealing with difficult problems within the church at Ephesus. “I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). In our focal passages thus far in this book, Paul highlighted the importance of proper doctrine, proper worship, and now proper service.
What does behaving proper in service mean in the life of a church?
First, proper service begins with qualified, spiritual leaders (1 Tim. 3:8-13). In discussing proper service, Paul began with leadership. A church rises no higher than its leadership. Baptists affirm two officers of the church—pastor and deacon. The qualifications for the two offices are humbling and demanding qualifications. Further, the qualifications are similar. A pastor must have two qualifications that are not necessary for deacons: hospitality and aptitude in teaching. The term “likewise” in verse eight points to the deacons role as one of coming alongside the pastor in service.
Rather than providing a job description for deacons, Paul focused on the type of persons deacons should be. The job description of a deacon, then, is to serve in whatever capacity they can. The Scripture sets forth three categories of qualifications for a deacon servant. First, the Bible highlights four personal qualifications. Deacons must be men of integrity as demonstrated by the respect people accord to deacons. In speech, deacons are not “double-tongued.” They do not insinuate, manipulate, exaggerate, or fabricate. They must not be addicted to intoxicants. The term translated “addicted” means “to turn the mind to, to occupy self, or to devote oneself to” wine. Because the deacon may assist in the distribution of benevolence, he must not be greedy. Second, the Bible emphasized two church qualifications. With clear conscience, they hold the mystery of faith meaning a deacon knows the Lord and know Bible doctrine. As well, a deacon must give evidence of faithful, effective service prior to assuming the role. Third, the Bible focuses on family qualifications. The deacon must demonstrate faithfulness to his wife and provide leadership in the home.
Second, proper service involves personal discipline, training, and habits (1 Tim. 4:6-10). Paul applied an athletic imagery to the discipline required in the Christian life; the word “train” in verse seven could literally be translated “gymnize.” Athletic training involves proper bodily discipline, diet, and strenuous exercise. Proper training in the Christian life involves the same practices. First, proper Christian training involves proper diet. Rather than the spiritual junk food of false doctrine of “irreverent, silly myths,” Christian discipline involves training in “the words of faith and of the good doctrine,” that is, sound biblical doctrine. Second, proper Christian training involves exercise. Like an athlete a Christian servant, “toils and strives” in the practice of spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, Scripture memorization, journaling, active church involvement, and witnessing. Paul does not downplay the importance of physical health; rather he uplifted the superior value of godly disciplines in light of the supremacy of the kingdom of God. Even people in poor physical health can practice healthy Christian disciplines.
Third, proper service results in continuous spiritual growth (1 Tim. 4:11-16). An old saying states, “You can not stand still, you either progress or regress.” This maxim expresses a spiritual truth. The key word is “progress” (v. 15). In his second letter to Timothy, Paul noted that false teachers fail to progress because of a lack of knowledge (3:9), progress in ungodliness (2:16), and progress in evil (3:13). Paul encouraged Christian leaders to progress by paying careful attention to their life (speech, conduct, love, faith and purity – v. 12) and teaching.
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