“The study of God’s Word for the purpose of discovering God’s will is the secret discipline which has formed the greatest characters.” James W. Alexander
Scripture & Devotion: Scriptural focus: 1 Timothy 3:1-4, 7, 9
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being a spiritual leader, he desires a noble task. Now, the leader must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect… He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap… Deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.
Leaders, one and all
In several of Paul’s letters, he gives very detailed instructions about how Christian workers should behave, especially those who are involved in positions of leadership. All of these “shoulds” and “should nots” might make us wonder who could ever hope to live up to such high standards. But rather than chastising ourselves about the ways we fall short of the ideals mentioned here by Paul, some of which (such as his comments about specific roles and behaviors for the sexes) cause people to question their validity because they appear tied to a specific culture and time in history, I propose that we take a closer look at the list of attributes contained in this passage of scripture and how they can serve to guide us as we live out our faith in this current age.
First of all, it is important to understand that we all lead, even if we do not hold a position of authority within the church. Our families (spouses, children, brothers and sisters, etc.), our neighbors, our colleagues and fellow employees, even the people at the grocery checkout or in line at the gas station or post office, are potentially influenced by our demeanor, the way we conduct ourselves, what we say and do on a daily basis. A previous assistant pastor at our church used to tell a story about an incident where he made a mistake while driving that almost caused an accident. His little six-year-old daughter, who was in the passenger seat of the car, turned to him and tearfully asked, “Daddy, does this mean we are the jerks now?” Her father was immediately convicted about his need as the family’s leader to set a better example of being “hospitable, self-controlled, and gentle” in all circumstances.
Some of the characteristics mentioned in this passage of scripture do not seem like much of a problem for us today. For example, a man having “but one wife” is the norm in our culture. But if we look at the spirit behind Paul’s prohibition against plural marriage, this would also forbid becoming involved in extra-marital affairs or other relationships that would compromise one’s ability to serve God effectively. Likewise, having enough money to meet basic needs is not detrimental to our witness, but if a person makes the acquisition of wealth his/her primary priority in life and becomes a “lover” of money, the time and energy available to dedicate to God’s service would undoubtedly suffer.
Some of the characteristics mentioned here with regard to being “above reproach” include honesty, sincerity, temperance, not drinking to excess, not being quarrelsome or violent, and having the respect of one’s family. Paul recognizes that the devil would like nothing better than for Christians not to reflect the grace of God, which is such a powerful attractant for a world so in need of it. Knowing this can help us to be more mindful in striving to cultivate these traits. But Paul makes an equally important point in verse 9 when he says that deacons “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” Living an upright life will benefit our witness for Christ because our conscience will be clear. There will be no internal struggle or conflict about how we should act in different circumstances, such as when we are at home with the family versus when we are out in public. For example, if we practice temperance, we need not fear having made a drunken fool of ourselves; if we practice honesty, we need not concern ourselves with trying to remember what we said to whom to avoid getting caught in a lie. God’s guidelines, as it turns out, benefit our witness to those outside the Christian faith by helping us to know what is good for ourselves and for our families, as well. What a wonderful gift of wisdom and grace!
Would you magnify Your ways in us so that others are drawn to Your love and grace.