Explore the Bible

with Anne Maniscalco

Sunday,  June 16

Setting the Example

1 Timothy 3:1-13

A favorite Facebook picture features a pastor and his wife enjoying a genuine belly-laugh. Dr. John Marshall, still active in preaching ministry after 52 years, shepherded a thriving Missouri church for 22 years before retiring from this full-time pastorate. Undoubtedly, he endured moments of agonizing tears during these decades, and he surely learned to balance these with times of laughter.

In this week’s Scripture, we’ll consider the qualifications for pastors and deacons (the words “pastor”, “shepherd”, “bishop”, “elder”, and “overseer” are synonymous in the New Testament). Take a moment to read the short section of Scripture. Just as my pastor friend’s joyful spirit is a desirable asset, this list is comprised of such essential character traits, as opposed to an actual job description.

Paul begins by saying, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (v.1 NKJV). Such aspiration results from God’s pressing, inescapable call. Paul declared, “preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it… (1 Corinthians 9:16 NLT)! Those who answer this call invariably find it to be “a good work.”

Verse 2 requires God’s man to be “blameless” (“above reproach” in CSB). Although not perfect, those shepherds strive to model an exemplary Christian life others find hard to criticize. Dr. Marshall, heeding his pastor-father’s admonition, says, “he taught me the need to be careful to guard against sin in my life. My life mantra became ‘Holiness matters most’. [That] has been the guiding star of my ministry.”

You’ll note similarities between the qualifications for pastors and deacons, as both are held to a high level of accountability as servant-leaders. Verse 2 contains one such: “the husband of one wife”. In the Greek, this phrase literally means “one-woman wife”. Many highly-educated and well-respected Bible scholars differ on the meaning and application of this Scripture portion. John Bisagno, respected pastor-emeritus of First Church, Houston, writing in his “Pastor’s Handbook”, offers this take: “The best thinking today of Greek scholars is that it is impossible in the Greek for the expression ‘husband of one wife’ to refer to a status. It is not a status. It is a trait [as, he points out, are all the other listed qualifications]. It is not what one is, (i.e. married or divorced); it is what one is like (faithful to his wife).”

Verses 2-3 list several traits that result from a Spirit-filled life (Galatians 5:22-23). Pastors are also called to be “hospitable, [and] able to teach” (NKJV). Dr. Marshall and wife Ruth practiced hospitality, often hosting up to 50 collegians for a Thursday night Bible study. They “learned the value of sharing life with people at a personal level.” As for teaching, he called the pulpit “the sacred desk”, placing a high priority on this “equipping of the saints” mandate from God (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Pastors and deacons are not to be “given to wine” (CSB: “not an excessive drinker”). Proverbs 20:1 and 31:4-5 clearly warn against the use of alcohol; it can cause one to become uninhibited and lose control of his ability to make good decisions. And equally important, it tarnishes one’s testimony (Romans 14:21).

In verse 4, Paul compares the responsibility and ability to govern one’s family with proper oversight of the church. Wise is the pastor who is a proper father-figure, making a loving, stable family life a high priority; wise is the church that provides her pastor the freedom and encouragement to do so.

Verse 6 calls a pastor to have “a good testimony” among those outside church. His Sunday behavior should be seen by the community every day.

Deacons (meaning “one who serves”) play a vital role in our churches. Their qualification list (verses 8-12) varies slightly from the pastor’s, but still demand a godly lifestyle; the words “reverent”, “pure conscience”, and “blameless” are used to describe them (vv. 8-10). The church is to test these men before placing them as deacons. Likewise, their wives should model Christian virtues (v. 11). As deacons live faithfully, they earn the respect of the church and can develop “great boldness in the faith” (v. 13) for gospel-sharing.

Hebrews 13:17 (NIV) calls Christians to “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden….” As we serve under their leadership, let’s faithfully support them with encouragement and fervent prayer.

Maniscalco is a member of Emmanuel Church, Ocean Springs.