Proof in the Life - 1 Timothy 3:1–13

There’s an old story of a young American engineer many years ago who was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant. It was a two-year assignment that he accepted because it would enable him to earn enough money to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned.

Proof in the Life - 1 Timothy 3:1–13

They corresponded often through letters, but as the lonely weeks went by, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her with many young ladies around him. So, the young engineer wrote her back, declaring that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. He wrote, “I admit that sometimes I'm tempted. But I fight it.”

Well, shortly after that, he received a package in the mail. It contained a note from his girlfriend - and a harmonica. She wrote, “I'm sending this to you so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those other girls."  The engineer quickly wrote back, “Thank you for the harmonica. I'm practicing on it every night and thinking of you.”

At the end of his two-year stint, he was transferred back to company headquarters in the states. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl, who came the airport to meet him. As he got off the plane, he saw her waiting for him. But as he rushed forward with arms wide open to embrace her, she held up her hand, urging him to stop, and she said sternly, "Just hold on there a minute. First, let me hear you play that harmonica!" 

The girlfriend didn’t just want to hear him say that he spent all that time thinking of her. She wanted to see some kind of evidence. His ability to play the harmonica was the proof.

All of us are prone to saying one thing and then doing something else. We naturally say we believe things while showing no evidence of that belief in our lives. And so, God commands that the church be cared for and served by men who not only profess to believe the truth, but whose lives clearly display evidence of true belief.

In Romans 5, the apostle Paul says “suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character.” What we translate here as “character” could also be translated as “proof” or “evidence.” Suffering leads to endurance, and that endurance produces visible evidence of true faith.

We must choose officers who not only profess sound Biblical belief but who also display visible evidence of true belief in their lives. But what does the life of their faith confirm? Two things, which you can see there on page 6 of your worship guide. 1. The life of a potential elder will confirm that he can be trusted to oversee the spiritual needs of God’s people. (v.1–7) And 2. The life of a potential deacon will confirm that he can be trusted to serve the physical needs of God’s people. (v.8–13) Now let’s look at each of these.

As I said last week, “elder” and “deacon” are the offices to which men are appointed for governing the church. This two-office model is the clear Biblical model stated plainly in the NT and having roots in the OT. Here in 1 Timothy 3, qualifications for the potential elder are listed first. The words “elder” and “overseer” are used interchangeably by Paul.

Notice verse 1, he says it is commendable to aspire to the office of overseer. It is not inherently prideful to want to be an elder. It’s not necessarily a power grab, although it can be. Not all men who aspire to the office have good motives. And so, personally, I think a little hesitation is probably a good thing, because it is such an honorable role. It is a high calling. Therefore, a man should look inward and examine himself. It is not a thing to take lightly.

Verse 2 says, “Therefore,” - for that reason - an overseer or elder, must be blameless, above reproach. Of course, perfection is not required, otherwise only Jesus could fill the office. But there must be no obvious case against him, so to speak, in regard to any of God’s moral law. There can be no easy accusations toward him. He must be “the husband of one wife” which doesn’t mean single men are disqualified. In fact, elsewhere, Paul commends singleness. It seems clear that he has in mind sexual purity and marital faithfulness.

And so, along those lines, verse 2, an elder must be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable.” He must be temperate, measured, not gluttonous. He should not demonstrate a lack of discipline or willpower, whether in his words or behavior. He must be modest and admirable. People should have great respect for the man because they recognize a well-ordered life. Again, not a perfect man, but a man who is stable and steady.

People are drawn to a man like that. And as people are drawn to him and want to know him, he must willingly receive folks. Notice the end of verse 2: he must be “hospitable.” He should be warm, inviting, welcoming. The kind of man from whom people want to learn. The kind of man whom people listen to because they are eager to hear what he has to say. They want his advice, his wisdom, his perspective on a situation.

And it makes sense, then, that he must be, verse 3 says, “able to teach.” He walks closely with God; he desires, above all things, for the kingdom of God to come; he treasures the Word of God and the rich doctrines of the faith. And so, he must be able – apt and skillful - in sharing it all with the people of God, the church. People look up to him, even those older than him admire him. They approve of him. They accept him as an able and knowledgeable teacher. They respect him.

Therefore, he can’t be someone, verse 3 says, who gets drunk, who flies off the handle, or who is controlling or manipulative. The man should be strong, but he must also be gentle. He should be firm and resilient, but not harsh. The elder must shepherd the people of God, therefore, there must be a tender place inside him. And so, he must be patient, and “not quarrelsome.”

He cannot be contentious, argumentative, antagonistic. He can’t be a hot-head. So, he doesn’t have a lust for debauchery, or a lust for power and control, or a lust for money, verse 3 says. This means that he must be a content man. He must be content with what the living God has given him.

Now notice verse [4] He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, [5] for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? We see this method of argument repeatedly in the Bible: arguing from the lesser to the greater. “If he can’t do that, how will he do this?” Because this is like that on a larger scale.

The behavior of a man’s children, especially as they get older, tells us a great deal about the man’s leadership. Children are always learning and absorbing, and they will display what they are taught. No man should think he can consistently behave in an ungodly manner privately toward his family, while putting on a godly front in public, and get away with it. The truth will come to light; if nowhere else, it will evident eventually in his children.

So, an elder, as the head of his home, must be able to manage and lead well in his house if he would care for those in God’s house. This “head of household” language contributes, in part, to our understanding of why these offices are reserved by God for men only. Also, the Scripture clearly says “men” and not women. But in Ephesians 5, also in the NT, the husband is described as the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his church. Men are called to be the leaders of their homes.

And I must say, this is not patriarchal. It’s not male domination. Look back at verses 2 and 3. They tell us the kind of leader that a man should be.He should be like Jesus Christ, laying down himself for his wife and his children. You who are husbands and fathers, you may never be an officer in the church, but your wife and children should see you this way. I’ve heard it said, and it makes perfect sense, that all Christian men should bear these characteristics, but officers should be exemplary in these areas.

Our elders and deacons must be model believers in the body of Christ. And as a result, notice verse [6] “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” When great authority and leadership are given to a man who is spiritually immature, it will likely cause him to become prideful. And notice this interesting phrase: he may, “fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Not that the devil condemns him, but that the recent convert will be condemned for what Satan was condemned for: pride.

And verse 7, coming full circle with the necessity to be above reproach or blameless,

Paul says, “he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. The man should never bring disgrace to the name of Jesus and his church. He cannot speak and behave in a way that will cause people to say, “Oh see there, Christianity is nonsense. Their leaders don’t even live what they say they believe.” The devil sets a trap, and when the man is caught in it, the outside world says, “They believe those things? Then where’s the proof? Where is the evidence of their belief?”

Each of us here today should consider this: if you were on trial for claiming to be a faithful follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What if an investigator came and sat quietly in your home, observing you with your spouse, or with your children or other loved ones? What if someone observed you by yourself – your internet browsing, your TV watching, your music or reading? What about your language when you’re angry?

What if the investigator came and observed you at your job? What if someone came to see how much you drink when you’re alone, or how much you eat? What if the investigator took note of your actual efforts to pray for and share Christ with those around you? Would there be evidence of faithful obedience to King Jesus and a desire to do all things for his glory?

The goal is that all who claim to be born-again would be found guilty, beyond the shadow of a doubt, of faithfully following Jesus. This must be the case for those who would care for God’s flock with shepherd, ruling, and teaching. They will handle the Word, make key decisions, oversee the spiritual needs of the congregation. There must be proof of true belief. Proof in their lives. Not just in what they know or say they believe.

Likewise, the life of a potential deacon will confirm that he can be trusted to serve the physical needs of God’s people. Verse [8] “Deacons likewise must be dignified.” The requirements for a deacon are similar to that of an elder. Deacons must be reverent, honorable – in other words, dignified. Much of elder-description is applicable.

In addition, verse 8 says, “not double tongued.” A deacon cannot be the kind of man who says one thing to one person and another thing to another person. They are supposed to show sympathy and care. Obviously, they can’t be viewed as a fake or a phony. Like elders, they can’t be getting drunk, drinking too much either in private or public. Also, they can’t be “greedy for dishonest gain.” Why? These are men who will handle the church’s resources. A greedy man might steal from the church or perhaps be stingy with the Lord’s resources.

We looked at verse 9 last week. These men must hold to the Word of God just as the elders should. But noticeably, they do not have to be able to teach, although, they could teach in some settings. There is nothing prohibiting them from teaching. But they should probably not do a lot of teaching in order to give time to sympathy and service. These men are especially gifted in serving physical needs and managing resources. But how would we know that?

Here, it’s clear that Paul has in mind some kind of testing – probably time for the members of the congregation to observe that they are worthy servants. This is important. Men with these gifts, just like those with the elder gifts, can be observed doing these things long before they are appointed to an office and given a title. A leader leads. And over time, there should be evidence to prove that they are blameless and worthy to serve, as verse 10 says.

Now notice verse [11] Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. The wife of a deacon will likely accompany him in some aspects of serving, so she should be honorable and Christ-like, even though she is not an appointed officer. She will be caring for people and shouldn’t go gossiping about people’s business. She must be a faithful follower of Jesus.

And like elders, verse [12] says, “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.” The role of deacon is reserved for men also, and they must be pure and faithful in marriage, able to manage their homes. After all, they will be managing key aspects of the church.

And finally, verse [13] For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. What does this mean? Why does Paul add this? Well, deacons can be overlooked perhaps, because their role is not as prominent and noticeable as the elder. But we see here a great promise for deacons. Are they less important than elders? No. Their humble service pleases the Lord and gives them assurance of their own salvation.

Enron was one of the world’s major providers of energy such as electricity and natural gas. From 1995-2000, Fortune named them “the most innovative company in America.” Their stock went up 90% in the year 2000 and had gone up over 50% the year before. But during that time, their business was a charade. Around 1990, the leadership of the company had big, impressive ideas for new ways to make money in the energy industry.

However, the money didn’t come in the way they expected, and so, key executives began creating the illusion that they were making money, when in fact they were losing money. One investor noticed irregularities in the financial statements and suggested to a Fortune magazine reporter that she look into it. In 2001, she wrote article titled “How Exactly Does Enron Make Its Money?” And about eight months later, Enron filed for bankruptcy.

One news article described Enron as “possibly the largest accounting fraud in history.” The guilty executives were indicted and received prison sentences. Enron employees lost their jobs and most or all of their retirement or pension funds. One analyst summed it up by saying, “Ultimately in Enron the fatal flaw was the sense that brains and wileyness could outthink the way that the system eventually will work.”

The fallout was inevitable for Enron. Their leaders were smart, savvy, strategic, dynamic, but they lacked something essential: they lacked character. Because of Enron and others companies like it, today there are numerous books and training programs that address the importance of character in the professional world. The world is prone to choosing leaders based simply on their words, skills, looks, and personality. But when leadership is chosen based on superficial qualities, the fallout is inevitable. This is why God gives us clear, recognizable qualifications for elders and deacons.

As we go now to the Lord’s table, I want to say one more thing about Romans 5. Paul writes,

“Suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As much as anything else, our officers must lead us in hope. They must be hopeful and confident in the person and work of Jesus.

Certainly, any elder or deacon will know that he is not perfect. But he hopes in the only One who is perfect. He hopes and rests in the finished work of Jesus. Jesus is a trustworthy Savior, and we know this because there was proof in His life. Only Jesus embodies these elder and deacon qualifications with absolute perfection. He alone is the ideal to which these lists point. No one ever has or ever will serve in Word ministry and Deed ministry as the Lord Jesus and continues to. Each of us must turn from our sin and trust in him alone to save us from the wrath of God against sin. Do you know Jesus in this way?

Let’s pray together.