The word of the day is “rule” In our reading of 1 Timothy 3:1-13, St. Paul continues his directive for good order in the church. His topic in today’s passage is the qualifications and conduct of bishops (vs. 1-7) as well as deacons (vs. 8-10) and their wives (vs. 11).
In 1 Timothy, Paul speaks about three categories of church leaders. He outlines the qualities and duties of the bishop[i] (epískopos.) (3:1-7, the priest or elder (presbyter) (1 Timothy 5:17), the deacon (diakonos) and his wife (vs. 8-13).
When we review the qualifications for each of these leadership roles, we find one thing in common. They are to “rule” their households well (vs. 4, vs. 12, 4:17). The Greek word has the basic sense of “standing before” (Strong’s #2476, 122). We might say that the term refers to having a “good standing.” But this term also combines that meaning with the sense of taking the lead or managing (Strong’s #4291, 211). The complete thought is that the leader must have a respectable reputation in the management of his affairs. In this way, he sets an example for others.
A Good Testimony
Paul also says that a leader “must have a good testimony among those who are “outside” the faith and life of the congregation (vs. 7). The original Greek word for “testimony” means “a good witness.” It is the same word that is used for “martyr” (Strong’s #3141, 157). The point is that the leader’s public standing should give a strong witness to the honesty, goodness, hospitality, and charity of the Church. By no means should he bring disgrace to himself or discredit to his congregation by his soiled reputation.
But these two things, the leader’s respectable management of his household and his honorable reputation among in the society, are related. Our modern society makes a distinction between our public and private lives. Except for those who hold public office, we do not evaluate workers on how they manage their private life. Even for public officials, our society sets the bar quite low.
No Distinction Between the Public and Private Spheres
But Paul suggests that he does not recognize the difference between the public and private spheres. Thus, the management of the leader’s household should witness to his faith and his good character. Those standards apply to his reputation both inside and outside the congregation. Note that Paul even gives instructions for the wives of deacons, and, by extension, other church ministers. The Apostle directs that the wives of deacons must be “reverent, not slanderer, temperate, faithful in all things” (v. 11). While The Orthodox Study Bible says that wives must be “reverent,” the original Greek word suggests that a better translation is that they must be dignified. (Strong’s #4586, 225-26). The requirement that wives should be worthy of respect is in accord with Paul’s instructions that church leaders lead admirable lives and manage their affairs properly. Thus, the public reputation of church leaders among outsiders to the Church should reflect their private character “inside” the Church.
In summary, Paul directs that church leaders be above reproach and respected both by believers and the citizens of the larger society. Thus, the result of their honorable lives would be that the mission of the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel would be advanced.
Today we have studied Paul’s instructions about church leaders. But though church leaders bear the burden of care for the flock, there is no substantial difference between the clergy and laity in the manner of life to which both are called. In 2 Peter, the Apostle writes, “Therefore since all these things [of this world] are to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God because of which the heavens will be dissolved and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Peter 3:11). The Apostle’s question should prompt us to reconsider our way of life during this Nativity Fast. How can we align the way that we live with our hope in the coming of Christ?
[i] Clarity about the distinction between the epískopos (bishop) and presbyter (elder and priest) came later than this epistle when St. Ignatius referred to the threefold office of ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon.