The Teaching Task of the Church

I. Having limited the office of bishop in the church to men, Paul now describes what qualifications such a man must have. This office is designated with several different words in light of the different elements of this stewardship. – overseer, or bishop, the same office as elder or pastor and teacher –cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Ephesians 4:11. This particular “work” is limited to men, but it is not for all men.

A. It is intrinsically good. [“A good [fine] work”] as an office Christ has ordained for the church. Its goodness relates to its origin, the content of it labor, and its end. It arises in the special designation of God as a gift of Christ’s ascension. Its content is the exposition and application of the revealed truth of God that came through the apostles and prophets. Its end is the continued growth of Christ’s people in likeness to him until the time of perfect conformity. (See Ephesians 4:7-13). The pastor teacher is a gift Christ ordains for the perfection of his people in true knowledge. Both in Ephesians and in 1 Timothy the doctrinal responsibility of this office is heavy.

B. Qualifications consistent with the holistic nature of his witness

  1. The Functional qualification is aptness to teach. This is only one word in Greek [didaktikon] but constitutes a pervasive concern through the pastoral letters. At first glance it might seem strange that only one word is used to state the main functional qualification for the bishop. This qualification is defined in detail throughout 1 and 2 Timothy. This qualification includes at least the following three ideas.
  • Coherent and systematic knowledge of revealed truth – cf. 1:7; 3:15, 16; 4:6, 11, 15-16; 5:17; 6:3, 4, 17, 20-21; 2 Tim 4:2, 3
  • Ability to communicate confidently and clearly 1:18, 19; 4:6; 6:3, 4; 2 Tim 1:8; 2:14, 15; 23-26; 3:14, 15.
  • Trustworthiness and appropriateness in interpersonal relationships: 1:3; 3:5; 4:6; 5:1, 2; 6:1, 2,17
  1. Personal morality
  • “Above reproach” covers the entire scope of character. Some will seek to misrepresent the character of godly men by making unwarranted accusations. This the enemies of Christ did to him. We find it also in the life of Paul (Acts 21:28, et al.), but the point is that their conduct in all affairs must be honest, forthright, sincere, and incapable of demonstrable duplicity.
  • Sobriety in conduct and relationships – He must not be a drunkard or fighter at the most basic physical level. In addition, this includes sober-mindedness; he is not to be not giddy, silly, irreverent, or shallow-minded in spiritual things.
  • Not covetous – cf 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 5:2 – The attraction of worldly wealth can be a snare and cause a person to minimize the true riches that are eternal and imperishable in Christ Jesus. Paul later will argue for the sufficient payment of a man who gives his life to the care of the flock of God (5: 17, 18). He argues this also in 1 Corinthians 9:3-12.
  • TheSecond London Confessionstates: “The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word, and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs. And may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.”
  1. Reputable for all the right reasons (Verse 7) – Though non-believers might not like the world view of Christians, they should have no reason to accuse one, especially an elder, of dishonesty, deceit, impurity, impoliteness, or lack of compassion. Cf. Titus 3:1-3 and for the same truth from a different perspective 1 Peter 2:12
  2. Hospitable – to his own flock but also to Christian teachers away from home, cf. Philemon 22; Hebrews 13:2, 3; 3 John 5-8 but, 2 John:10, 11; also contrast Diotrephes, 3 John 10.
  3. Experienced and not susceptible to flattery and pride 6 cf. 5:22 – “avoid the condemnation placed upon the devil.” As a greatly gifted angel of light, pride and covetousness of position entered the sensibility of the great angel Lucifer, and he was cast out of Heaven. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus saw this and warned his disciples against a prideful possession of gifts for which they can take no personal credit. (Luke 10:18-20)
  4. Proven as a manager of his household 4, 5 – His family serves as a microcosm of the church family. The consistency and wisdom shown in the one will be evident in the other. [See the concern in verse 15 about the “house of God.”]
  • One Wife (2) – not a polygamist either in the past or the present {Calvin} “What is here forbidden is digamy under any circumstances,” [Expositor’s Greek Testament] prohibiting not only polygamy, or bigamy, but divorce; not prohibiting, however, remarriage after death of a spouse.
  • The children are disciplined and show proper deference to authority – parental, legal, and societal. “The argument is from the lesser to the greater, and it is quite clear that a man who is not fit to rule his own family will be quite incapable of governing a whole people.  Besides the fact that he obviously lacks the necessary qualities, what authority could a man have among a people when his own family life brings him into contempt.”
  • The pastor (elder, bishop, teacher) does not have the power to bring true conversion to his children; that is solely the prerogative of God. Titus 1:6 uses the word believer, meaning in this instance faith, or assent, to the standards set forth in the Christian household. A congregation has the biblical right to expect respectful conduct of a bishop’s children while they are under his authority in his household.



II. Necessary Facilitators of The Teaching ministry

A. Deacons – Notice that the arisal of need for deacons in the first instance was the necessity of the apostles to keep teaching Acts 6:2-5

  1. Same qualifications of dignity and morals.
  2. Knowledge of Christian truth in depth: 9 “holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” [They might not be “apt to teach” but from their clear experimental acquaintance with the truth, they will sympathize with the importance of the task of the pastor and thus serve with greater faithfulness and zeal]
  3. They must be tested for qualification (Verse 10). Deacons should be asked theological questions as well as examined concerning their life of service and spiritual and moral uprightness.
  4. The whole process of selection and service functions as a means of grace (13). Service of God’s people for the sake of the truth reinforces spiritual perceptions and convictions and increases one’s clarity and boldness in witness. Observe the knowledge as well as the boldness of Stephen in Acts 7.

B. Women – This probably is not deacons’ wives, though a deacon’s wife certainly could qualify, but a simple recognition of the need for similar service in situations appropriate for women as opposed to men. See Titus 2:3, 4 for the kind of activity women were encouraged to do. Some delicate areas of servant ministry might be more appropriate for women than for men.



III. The importance of this order 3:14-16

A. Urgency (14-15a; cf. 4:13) Even though he hopes to come soon, he wants the instruction to arrive even sooner, especially in case he is delayed.

B . The church is the creation of a new family relationship – This is why verses 5 and 12 are so important.

C. Its relation to God (15)– this is not merely a human institution, founded by humans, for human well-being, but a place established by God’s revelation and call, the redemption purchased by The Son of God, and the quickening and gifting work of the Spirit of God [“household of God . . . church of the Living God” See this in light of Mt. 16:13-21; Rev. 1:4-6; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22]

D. The truth of God’s word has been placed in the church and constitutes its most basic calling. It is constructed by God’s truth and it is called on to protect and proclaim God’s truth. Its content comes from revelation and its substance concerns a reality proceeding only from the infinite wisdom of God, a substance impossible for any philosophical, intellectual, or political power of this age to conceive or produce 15:b, 16a “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness.” Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

E. A confession summarizes the importance of these instructions as well as outlines a summary of the message

  1. He summarizes truths concerning the Lord Jesus Christ in whose person and through whose work the church came into existence. The church is his body [Eph. 1:22, 23; 5:18; Col 1:18] his bride [Eph. 5:25 cf. Rev. 19:7] purchased with his blood [Acts 20:28]
  2. It is a hymnic presentation with internal rhyme created by six verbs all in the same tense [revealed, vindicated, seen, proclaimed, believed on, taken up]
  3. Apparently two stanzas of three lines each, the key ideas standing as a parenthesis [revealed in the flesh . . . Taken up in glory]
  • The first stanza begins with the incarnation, affirms the presence and necessary work of the Spirit [see Lk. 2:52; 4:1, 2; Rom 1:4;Heb. 9:14] and the observation of angels of these amazing events of the Son of God, their Master, dwelling among men [in a nature inferior to the angels but soon to be exalted above them] for man’s redemption [1 Peter 1:12; Hebrews 1:4, 14 notice the presence of angels from the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist all the way through the ascension [Lk 1:11-20; Acts 1:10, 11 and many appearances at pivotal events in between]
  • The second stanza begins with the effect of Christ’s appearance. Though angels saw him throughout, he was preached among the nations by men, God-gifted and ordained apostles whose revelatory word now is the substance of the bishop’s preaching task. As he was vindicated by the Spirit in his life, even so now is the message vindicated by the Spirt so that it is “believed on in the world.” The confession culminates with the affirmation of his ascension, marking the certainty that his work of redemption was accepted in heaven and the giving of gifts to men for the establishing of the church in the truth. [Ephesians 4:8-13]



IV. Pressing the Points

A. Churches must see the sober nature of calling a minister or of setting aside others to gospel ministry. Their character must support the content of their teaching ministry.

B. Deacons must facilitate this teaching task by being in full sympathy with it since they understand the greatness of its content.

C. The adoption of a confession of faith that clearly reflects the attributes and purpose of God, the person and work of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the form of the church would be a good thing, consistent with a biblical view of the duties of a church.

D. In all of this the church thrives or declines, honors Christ or dishonors him, on the basis of its faithfulness to the things that are revealed. God himself established the qualifications for church ministry of all sorts. His revelation establishes the doctrines we are to believe (“The mystery of godliness”) and that the minister is to proclaim and defend.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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