1 & 2 Timothy - Lesson 4

By John Harrison

Self-control among the Church's Teachers and Workers

(1st Timothy 3:1-16)

Objectives: By the end of this session the learner will be able to: 1. Identify what Paul's major concern was when he described the ethical characteristics for elders and deacons. 2. List several ethical characteristics that we should seek in elders and deacons that will show they have a godly reputation among non-Christians.

Teaching Aids and Materials:

  1. Easy to understand Bibles for every student (CEV, RSV, NAV, NIV, NRSV, etc.).
  2. A marker board and/or chalkboard.
  3. An assortment of blank notecards and envelopes.
  4. List of addresses for the church elders and deacons for each student.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (5 minutes)

  1. Begin class by welcoming members and any visitors; make all necessary class announcements.
  2. Have the class led in prayer. The prayer should include a request that God lead the class into a better understanding of the truth within his Word and for elders and deacons to serve as models of godly behavior.
  3. Explain to the class in today's lesson they will learn the following two things:
    1. The church's authoritative teachers (elders) are to model behavior that would even be respected by non-Christians.
    2. The church's designated servants (deacons) are to model behavior that would even be respected by non-Christians.

Learning Experiences: (30 minutes)

Part I: What behavior should Christians and non-Christians see in Elders?

Have someone read 1st Timothy 3:1-7.

Paul uses the word "overseer." The Greek word behind this is episkopos, which is the word from which we get the English word "Episcopal." "Episcopalians" are people who attend a church that is governed by officers known as "overseers" or "Bishops." The term episkopos was used in the first century to describe a city manager, someone who was responsible for the physical and financial well-being of the city. Paul uses the term to describe a person who is responsible for the well-being (including financial well-being) of Christians, but with special attention to their role as the church's authoritative teachers. This is why Paul says overseers have to be able to teach (v. 2). Q: According to Paul, why should someone aspire to become an overseer?

A: So that they can be involved in "a good work."

Q: What do you think Paul meant by "a good work" and why do some not aspire to this office?

A: Allow time for three or four responses before moving on. Be sure to appreciate and comment positively or constructively on each response given.

Teacher's Note: It seems that Paul used the term "overseer" and "elder"interchangeably (see Titus 1:6, 7). And just because Paul here mentions a single overseer, it doesn't mean that Paul believed that each church would only have one overseer. In other places in the New Testament (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5) a plurality of elders serve "the church."

Explain to the class that the list of virtues that Paul gives for overseers in verses 1-4 and for deacons in verse 8 are not distinctively Christian virtues. In other words, they are not virtues that would have been unique among Christians. They are virtues which would have been advocated by ancient moral philosophers to encourage all citizens, especially leaders,to behave ethically. So Paul is not calling on overseers to an ethical standard that is above the standard used in Greco-Roman society but rather to meet that standard. This suggests the possibility that some of the church's overseers and servants in Ephesus were behaving in ways that were below the ethical standard shared by the general populace. They shouldnot serve as elders and godly men should be appointed to replace them. What Paul is doing here is not giving an exhaustive list of virtues but an illustrative list ofthe general type of person who should be the church's authoritative teachers.

Q: What is the first ethical quality Paul gives?

A: Class members may give several different answers depending on the translation they use. "above reproach" (NASB; NIV; TNIV; ESV; NLT; NET); "without reproach" (ASV); "blameless" (KJV; NKJV); "good reputation" (CEV); "not give people a reason to criticize him" (NCV). The basic idea behind the word in this passage conveys not the idea of moral perfection but the idea of a person whose moral behavior is respected as virtuous within society generally.  Explain to the class that the phrase "husband of one wife" in verse two is literally "one woman man". It is an usual phrase which has no parallel in ancient literature outside 1st Timothy and Titus. Caution should be exercised when trying to interpret what this phrase meant. It should be interpreted within the larger context of what Paul intends to convey in the entire letter. While some commentators have claimed that this expression prohibits men from serving as elders who become widowed or divorced, it is unlikely that Paul has in mind specific situations of widowers or divorcees. Nor is Paul concerned about polygamy since polygamy was virtually unheard of in Greco-Roman society. Paul is more interested in church teachers having a reputation of being sexually faithful to their wives and not involved in promiscuous behavior. It seems that the false teachers in Ephesus are teaching that social institutions like marriages are no longer necessary (4:3, see also 1 Corinthians 7where Paul is dealing with some Christians who believe they are free to leave their marriages). Paul believes that married men must demonstrate sexual faithfulness to their wives.

Q: Why does Paul say a new believer shouldn't become an elder?

A: Paul states that a recent convert might become arrogant and fall into the judgment of (better to read "by") the devil (v. 6). Paul is expressing the idea that the devil will judge the elder's sin as worthy of punishment and then will seek to bring harm to him for sinning.

Part II: What behavior should Christians and non-Christians see in deacons?

Explain to the class that our English word "deacon" is a transliteration of the Greek word diakonos. This word was used in the beginning for people who served others at a table but by the 1st century it was used to convey service in general. An accurate translation of the word would be "servant." While all Christians should serve one another, Paul is here talking about an office of "servants" who carry out tasks on behalf of the church. There is no indication here or elsewhere in the New Testament that these servants had any authority over anyone else. They were simply identified by the church as servants in charge of carrying out specific duties. Since these individuals would be known by the church and outsiders as people entrusted with carrying out certain responsibilities, it is important to Paul to make sure that these servants are people who behave in ways that would be respected by outsiders. Q: This list of behavior qualities for deacons was obviously created with the specific concerns of what was thought of as decent behavior by Christians and non-Christians at that time and in that culture. What would be some behavior qualities that you think would be very important for deacons to show in addition to sincerity and self-control? A: There are lots of different answers that could be given for this question.Allow time for 3 or 4 responses. Be sure to give positive, constructive responses to those who give their answers.Explain to the class that some may notice a footnote in their Bibles for verse 11. Some translations will read "Likewise also their wives must be blameless" and others will read"Likewise also women must be blameless". The reason for this is that in the ancient Greek language there was not a word for "wife." Greek speaking people simply used the generic word "woman" when they wanted to talk about a man's wife (They would also use the word "man" when they wanted to talk about a woman's husband). Verse 11 therefore could be interpreted to mean either 1) the wives of deacons or 2) female deacons (since there was no Greek word "deaconesses"). There are several good reasons based on the text for both interpretations. If there is enough time in class for a discussion of the pros and cons for both interpretations, you may want to allow for it. However, make sure that the discussion concludes with the reminder that either way Paul's major concern here is that these Christian women in particular ought to behave in ways that non-Christians would see as godly.

Application: (5 minutes)

Handout the notecards and envelopes around the class and give people time to write a note of encouragement to elders and deacons in how they are appreciated for all of their service to the church. Get one or two people in the church to address and mail the cards.

Lesson Wrap Up: (5 minutes)

We learned that Paul's major concern in this chapter is that elders and deacons behave in ways to be seen as godly even by non-Christians.

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