7/11/2021: Message: The Undivided Heart | Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-13 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
The fullness of the gospel is displayed in an orderly church, and an orderly church is comprised of two main offices: those who preach and teach—elders, and those who serve the congregation’s other needs—deacons. Both offices, however, require the same character. All who aspire to eldership, and all who serve as deacons, must be thoroughly Christian. Their hearts must match their actions, and their actions must not bring any incrimination upon Christ’s bride. Those who stand out in displaying the effect of the gospel are those who ought to be distinguished. Some, and this is the primary distinction, are to be distinguished in their preaching and teaching for the good and health of the church. It is preaching and teaching that is paramount to the life of Christians—we are people of the Word. To be an elder and to aspire to the office is a noble thing because they receive the privilege of proclaiming the excellencies of the King of kings. Others are called to be distinguished in a different, although vitally important, way. Those who set the standard for what it means to be Christian both internally and externally through various means of congregational service are to be honoured as deacons. This includes both men and women. But there is one qualification applied specifically to men (either elder or deacon), and it to raise up your children in godliness. There is no compromise on this, and it is a charge for all men (since all should aspire to exceptional Christian service)! Church, take up this opportunity to grow in the way you lay yourself down for the good of God’s people.
- According to Pastor Stephen’s sermon, what is the fundamental prerequisite for anyone to serve as either an elder or deacon in the church? Define what that prerequisite is (how does one get it, and how does one keep it?)
- In evaluating your own life, would you say that these lists (minus the specific qualifications for an elder) describe the type of person you externally? Would you say that they describe the type of person you are internally? If yes (to either question), why? If no (to either question, why?
- Why is preaching and teaching made the essential and unchangeable role within the church?
- Are future deacons called to be deacons in the same way that aspiring elders are called to be elders? Why or why not?
- Do the elders of your church match the qualifications you see here in 1 Timothy 3?
- What is the role of elder in saving lost people, and what role does God play? What is the role of deacon in saving lost people, and what role does God play?
- Do the deacons of your church match the qualifications you see here in 1 Timothy 3?
- If you’re a husband and a father, do you seek to raise up your children in the fear of the Lord (or did you seek to raise up your children in the fear of the Lord)? Why or why not?
- Are you generally excited or desirous to serve your church and the people of God? Why or why not?
- What stops you from willing service? Explain (more than “laziness” or “sin”).
- How has God challenged you in the way you think of your life and role within the church through this sermon?
On their album Rattle and Drum, Bono, lead singer of U2, sings a song entitled God Part 2, and in it, he sings about a conflicted man who believes one thing, but lives in a way completely different. The first three verses go something like this:
Don’t believe the devil, I don’t believe his book,
but the truth is not the same without the lies he made up
I don’t believe in excess-success is to give
I don’t believe in riches, but you should see where I live
I believe in love
Don’t believe in forced entry-I don’t believe in rape
But every time she passes by wild thoughts escape
I don’t believe in death row, skid row or the gangs
Don’t believe in the Uzi-just went went off in my hand
I believe in love
Don’t believe in cocaine—I got a speedball in my hand
I could cut and crack you open-did you hear what I said?
Don’t believe them when they tell me there aint no cure
The rich stay healthy the sick stay poor
I believe in love
For us Christians, there’s a kind of sadness to this song. Its main character is a person who lacks individual integrity, and because he lacks this integrity, he realizes that he is no Saviour to anyone, least of all himself. This is why each line ends with “I believe in love.” He can’t save the world because he’s flawed, but love can.
Well, Bono is sort of right—love is what saves the world, but this love isn’t one that disregards our character or leaves it lacking integrity. Instead, true love changes a person. When we love something or someone, we are compelled to that something or someone. When I love a certain ice cream, I’m compelled to that ice cream until I can’t eat it anymore. When I love my wife or son, I’m compelled to protect and provide for them. When I love and am loved by God, there’s a decided shift in what I do. He becomes my object of affection. In other words, my character—my heart—is recreated to live in such a way that desires to please him. And it is character that is the focus of our text this morning. So, read with me 1 Tim 3:1-13. TWoL
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
This week, we’re finishing our mini-series on elders and deacons as we approach implementing this change in our bylaws. In the last two weeks, we’ve answered why we make the distinction between the two offices, and what the main duties of these offices are. This week, we want to look at who—who is to fill these offices? And the overwhelming response from Paul is that they are to be individuals with their heart set on pleasing God. In other words, our proposition this morning is that Leaders in God’s House Live with a Heart of Integrity. I have three points to explain what I mean by this:
- All leaders are to possess a common/unwavering heart;
- Some are called to distinguished oversight; and
- Some are called to tested service
1) A Common/Unwavering Heart
Where I want to start this morning isn’t in verse 1. Instead, I want to go over those qualifications that both deacons and elders are to possess in common. I’m making this my priority because most of these character traits are simply repetitious. Yes, there are some differences, but even in the differences, their meanings are pretty similar, or at least, implied for the other office. For example, deacons are called to be sincere—not double-tongued. This isn’t said specifically for elders, but I can hardly think that Paul wanted elders to be insincere. Or in Titus 1:8, it says elders are to be upright and holy. This isn’t listed for deacons, and, yet again, I’m pretty sure Paul desires deacons to be upright and holy. Thus, most things in these lists overlap either explicitly by using the same words or implicitly by using synonyms or common sense. Remember, writing back then was an extremely expensive thing to do—so it makes sense for Paul to save some ink and assume that his readers know that many of these qualifications are shared.
And one of the characteristics that Paul calls both elders and deacons to possess is the quality of being above reproach. It says this in verse 2 and verse 10: An overseer, or elder—and I’m going to use these words interchangeably—elder, overseer, presbyter, pastor, elder, bishop, shepherd—they all possess a similar meaning—“an overseer, then, must be above reproach.” Like elders, in verse 10, deacons are said to be tested first, and then they serve because they are found to be above reproach. The testing that comes before a deacon is called as such is to evaluate if they are above reproach. If they are found above reproach, then they are to serve in an official capacity.
I want to spend a little extra time on this one, because being above reproach is really a summary for all the main character traits that both elders and deacons are supposed to possess. In fact, what is true about most of these qualifications is that they are traits that every Christian ought to pursue, the only difference is that elders and deacons are held to a higher standard because they set the example. Thus, it is non-negotiable for an elder or deacon to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, not addicted to wine, not contentious, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, those who stand before and over their households well, those who are tested in their faith and have a clear conscience, not being new to the gospel, not falling into the trap and judgment of the devil, and having a good reputation with others, including those outside the church.
Perhaps you’ll notice with me that not only have I listed nearly all the qualifications for elders as those for a deacon and vice versa, but also that all of them have little to do with gifts and talents. Instead, these qualities place a tremendous emphasis on one’s moral character. It is the emphasis on morality—being good, despising what is evil—that Paul is concerned with above all, and this is what he means when he says that both elders and deacons are to be above reproach. They are not to bring incrimination upon the church. They are not to make it seem like there is even a hint of moral ineptitude. Why? Because, as chapter 1 of this book tells us, false teachers surround the church. If those in leadership are immoral or carnal, then they threaten to bring in the very thing that’s to stay out.
Now, I don’t want to overemphasize the “doing” aspect of morality. Yes, elders and deacons are supposed to look the part, but looking the part is only the result of possessing the heart, the character, the integrity. The outward moral character is to be matched by the inward change of desire—they do good things BECAUSE they desire the things of God. This is why under the section on elders Paul writes that they aren’t to be new converts and must have a good reputation, and why he writes that deacons are to be tested—their lives are to be first and foremost saturated with faith in the gospel. It’s not enough to look the part, they are to actually be the part. The church and its leaders are only as effective as the gospel that affects us. If the gospel does not properly affect us, if it does not move our inclinations, then moral elders and deacons will simply become a cancer that kills us.
I had the pleasure two weeks ago of reading through Mike’s testimony of overcoming cancer, and it paints such a good picture of the gospel. When we see cancer in our lives, when we know there’s something killing us, our reaction is to take every measure, to see every doctor, to consult every expert, so that we can get it out of our system! The gospel changes our hearts attitude to sin, like a patient finding out he has cancer. Because you know what’s good for you, you make every effort to weed out what’s bad so that your insides match your outside!
Here in 1 Timothy 3, the indictment and qualification for leaders is this: don’t be negligent in your leadership. Don’t be those who simply look like elders or deacons on the outside—make sure that you truly love the gospel and the Holy Spirit on the inside. Be above reproach by possessing a common heart for the gospel—rest in Jesus. Let what he’s done for you upon that cross change you.
Now, this is not a call for perfection. But character and integrity are about a track record. We need to be asking ourselves, do our leaders have a track record of godliness? Do they not only flee from the devil but run to the throne room of a compassionate God? Do they point us not only to good works but to possessing hearts that long to make much of God? This is the house of God, and its leaders are to live lives of integrity within it. This starts with being above reproach—by possessing a gospel that changes their lives.
2) A Distinguished Oversight
Now, there might be a lot of similarities between deacons and elders in terms of what character they ought to have—this is because they’re Christian, and Christians everywhere ought to have a desire to live lives that reflect the truth of the Cross. However, there are also a few key differences between the two offices. Look with me at verse 1: “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”
This is the first difference—they take up the office of overseer. There isn’t a lot in this passage about what either elders or deacons have to do. In fact, other than the general call to serve in verse 13, there is no specific task that deacons are called to do in the church. Elders, on the other hand, have specific tasks, and the first task is to oversee their people. The concept of overseeing a church is more rightly stated in Hebrews 13:17, which says, “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they KEEP WATCH over your souls as those who will give an account.” Elders are, above all, to keep watch over your souls. This is, ultimately, what it means to partake in the ministry of the Word—the ministry is for the benefit of your souls. We are to wash your souls in nourishment, we are to care for your souls in biblical counsel, we are to preside over and protect your souls through prayer, we are to set an example for your souls by guiding and shepherding. Why? Because unless your soul is cared for, only hell and torment await you.
Thus, implicit with any idea of overseer is that we take up a position of authority—to stand over you in a protective way. Our job is to safeguard you! This is what we see in 1 Timothy 2:12—the role of the elder in church is to teach and exercise authority. Deacons, women, other men who aren’t elders—these groups are not supposed to exercise authority in the formal gathering of the church because they aren’t called to the office. Your elders and overseers are, and so we exercise authority not to abuse our power but to make sure your soul sees nothing, but the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the second distinguishing feature of eldership is that they are to preach and teach—this is the outlier qualification in verse 2, which isn’t communicated or implied in any other qualification listing for the church. Pastors are supposed to be able to teach. I’ve already talked about this in previous weeks, so I won’t belabour the point—but I’ve met men who want to be pastors, or aspire to eldership, but are unable or afraid to teach, and it’s often with a heavy heart when I tell them that they shouldn’t aspire to this position. Why? Because an overseer is one who is burdened with the desire to proclaim the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It is a compulsion. It is something that we cannot refuse to do. Verse 1 says that the preaching or teaching man is one who both aspires and desires to do this work. There’s a difference here between aspiring and desiring. Aspiration implies an external effort towards a goal. Desire, on the other, hand is an inward motive or drive to do it. Thus, an aspiring elder works outwardly towards this goal because there is an internal obligation to do it—nothing else will do. We don’t aspire or desire eldership for the office or the power or the authority—that’s something we’re given for your benefit. No, we aspire and desire eldership because of the work. We want the work of making the gospel known—there is no other option for us, but to answer the call.
And it is a good work, a noble work. It is, as John Wycliffe writes, “the highest service that men may attain to on earth—to preach the Word of God.” Elders are, first and foremost, “heralds of the great King” (Will Sangster). This is what it means for pastors to have a distinguished oversight—they are men set apart because their function in the church is necessary and vital to the work of the gospel. They are set apart because they have disciplined themselves for the purpose of godliness and have fixed their hope on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of believers (1 Tim 4:7 & 10).
They are called noble here in 1 Tim 3 because good elders recognize that they serve a good King, and that they emulate him as they await his return. It’s about Jesus and the Father who sent him and the Spirit that empowered him. It’s about making much of God in his life-changing, character-exposing, sin-destroying work through sending his Son to die on a cross for our sin. For us elders, there’s nothing else more important than to know Christ crucified. There, in that cross, our sins have been laid bare. There, upon that cross, our debt has been paid. The nobility, the goodness for us, as your elders, is that we get to stand this close to glory and royalty. We get to proclaim its marvels. It’s our joy! It’s our lifeblood! What else can we do but proclaim Christ crucified, risen, and reigning?
But it is also a noble work because it is not a light or easy work. This is actually why Paul makes sure to include verses 6 and 7. I’m sure that deacons are not to be conceited and that they are to have a good reputation, but elders, particularly, are supposed to have these qualities because if they fall into reproach—if they are guilty of misleading the church—if they abuse their preaching or their exercise of authority, then the devil will have his way. Not only is the pastor’s heart compromised in falling, but by his false teaching and leading, he compromises the heart of everyone who sits under his care. There’s a deep gravity here, and those of us who aspire to a role such as this need to know that there is also a great risk. We are called to live lives of deep integrity—to have a character resolute about the work of the gospel, because the gospel is what’s at stake in the life of the church!
Brothers and sisters, this is not a work that I take lightly, and I hope your other pastors and your future elders, including those of you who aspire to it, feel this way as well. Also, church, I hope you know this by now, but you need to be praying for us, your pastors and your future elders, regularly. You need to be praying that God raises up new leaders among us. You need to be contending for us when you speak to your friends, family, and colleagues. You need to uphold and affirm us as those who have been called because it is not only our lives that are on the line but yours as well. If you care about us, if you care about yourselves, and if you care about your loved ones, then you will distinguish and honour your overseers as men of integrity as you sit under their authority and preaching.
3) A Tested Service
As for deacons, there are two particular “qualifications” that stand out. The first is the statement that they’re to be tested. The reason it stands out is because it’s not a moral qualification, it’s something that’s conducted by other members of the church to determine one’s moral qualification. There’s an action being done to the deacon from the outside in order to determine their internal fitness. In other words, the church is called to judge deacons. And they aren’t only to judge and evaluate him once. The verb used is a present tense verb, which means it’s an ongoing action—the deacon’s life is to be always evaluated and watched. Just as an elder is to be regarded well by outsiders, a deacon is to be regarded well by those who surround him—the church must be able to see his life. They have to have access to it. He must be known to them.
This is why when we select deacons, we don’t select people who hide their lives, or who are afraid to be kept accountable. This qualification might seem only like a passive action being done to the deacon, but it is just as much the deacon who actively seeks out the congregation to serve them, to get to know them, and to be known by them. The testing is not a formal evaluation, but an honest assessment of whether the deacon is known by those he intends to serve—can he be trusted with their well-being—and does his life accord with the gospel? A deacon who is afraid to live in sacrificial love towards his congregation, or who is one thing at church and another thing everywhere else is not fit to take up the office.
Secondly, a deacon must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. I hope you see the correlation with the testing. Not only is a deacon someone who is found qualified by those external to him, but he is one who is found qualified within himself. He is vetted by his people, and he vets himself. Why? Because he grasps the gospel. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, elder and deacon alike—in fact, all Christians—are those transformed by the gospel in their whole person.
Some of you in this room might say, “I do not aspire to be a deacon, and thus, I do not have to evaluate myself or be evaluated by others in this way.” But to think this would be to mistake the application of this passage. A deacon is not someone who competes for the position like a politician running for office. No, a deacon is simply a member who stands out as one who lives the Christian life in a way that others can observe and follow. You’re not compelled to become a deacon. You don’t have a burning passion to deaconhood like elders do. No, being called a deacon is an honourary title. Every Christian ought to have a fire and a passion to serve one another because Christ has come and served you with his own life. Elders are everything the deacons are only they go one step further in teaching and exercising authority. Thus, the logic is undeniable: what the deacon should be, the Christian should be as well. So, Christian, if you are courageous enough to call yourself that, ask if these qualifications describe you, or if you aspire in your heart to them? Because if you do not, it doesn’t only mean that you shouldn’t become a deacon, it also means that you should be asking yourself if you truly believe the gospel.
I’m not trying to scare you. I’m not telling you that you have to work for your salvation, as if this list of qualifications was a checklist for getting into heaven. What I am saying is that a true Christian is one who believes in the gospel through-and-through. It moves the heart, and then it moves the hands.
And this is why verse 13 says that those who serve well, those who are called to the honourary position of deacon, they will gain a high standing and receive great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Serving well is not a prerequisite for salvation, it’s the result. And they’re to receive honour for it—not only in their church, but I believe this points to an eternal honour because Christ is honoured above all because of his service.
Additionally, great confidence is given as a bonus in a world where false teachers seek to divide the church with increasing poison. The true Christian who serves doesn’t do so for the worldly gain, as false teachers do, but because they’ve fixed their eyes on Jesus. There is a joy in your service that the world cannot comprehend, and that joy only grows and manifests itself in greater service because you see it: you see the Saviour coming in white upon a cloud of glory to bring his people to himself. You see that day where you will be with the saints singing Hallelujah to the God of heaven and earth. You see the reward laid at your feet because of your faithfulness. You see Christ, himself, who comes to clothe you with everlasting life. You see it, and you savour it, and you serve out of joy because of it. This is a deacon who has proved himself or herself true. He or she is one who lives in the house of God with utter integrity because they get it. They have been brought in by the love of Christ, and they are moved to bring others in so that they, too, might taste and see that the Lord is good.
Allow me to say a brief word here, as you hear me saying that deacons may be a he or she. Some in the church argue that deacons can only be men, and that the reference to women in verse 11 really means wives. But without getting too technical, I’m telling you here that I believe women should also be called to deaconhood. One proof of evidence is the presence of the word “likewise,” which is in both verse 8 (referring to men) and verse 11 (referring to women)—just as it is with elders, so too should it be with male deacons and female deaconesses. Second, when Paul discusses elders, there is no section on how wives ought to act, so it would make no sense for there to be a stricter requirement here in verse 11 for a deacon’s wife. Lastly, the qualifications for deaconesses are the exact same as they are for deacons. Deacons are to be men of dignity, deaconesses are to be women who are dignified (literally, to possess dignity). Deacon men are not to be double tongued, not addicted to wine or money, holding to their faith. Women are to abstain from gossip, temperate (for example, not addicted to wine or money), and faithful. It’s the same list! So, let us put this to rest, and let us honour those in our congregation who display an excellence in their service—both men and women.
However, after talking about deaconesses, Paul returns to discuss deacons in verse 12. What he’s telling us here is that there is one additional factor for deacon men and elders that is not applied to women, and it is this—that they manage their children and their households well. Men, you’re singled out here because you have a special duty to your families to raise them in love for the things of God displayed in the person of Christ. Some think that this means that your children must be converts, but I do not believe this is what Paul means—we do not control who believes. Rather, the context is about children. Fathers, as long as children are children. As long as they are dependent upon you, living in your house, impressionable in their thoughts, you are to raise them in the fear of the Lord. In other words, you are to manage them as those who will have no excuse when they stand before God Almighty. Children are not to have an option in this. My professor in seminary said it this way, “Just as the United States does not negotiate with terrorists who do not know better, so too, Fathers, you do not negotiate with your children on this because they do not know better.” There is only one thing in this world that is better—in fact, there is only one thing that is best—than everything else, and it is Jesus Christ who died on a Christ for the wrath we deserved and the guilt of our sins. There is one risen Christ. There is one Christ who now sits enthroned in heaven interceding for those who labour on this earth as servants with hearts full of joy. Fathers, elders, deacons—Christians—live a life that is full of integrity. Call your children, call your brothers and sisters, call one another to that same life, and serve one another! Why? Because God has not sent you a Saviour who merely died for you, but who hid his glory in heaven to take on the fullness of humanity in order to redeem and reconcile you to himself. We serve him and each other with our whole heart—our whole being—because we have a God who has done the same for us.