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Bishops and Deacons
Summary —The Qualifications of Bishops. Of Deacons. Their Wives. The Reason for Writing to Timothy of These Matters. The Mystery of Godliness.
1. If a man desire the office of a bishop. Here, for the first time in the New Testament, is there a delineation of the qualifications and duties of bishops and deacons. Both offices have been alluded to in Acts, and both are named in the first verse of the Epistle to the Philippians. To form a correct idea of the New Testament bishop we must get away from modern episcopacy. The New Testament bishop was not diocesan, but in charge of a single church. Each church had a plurality. Elders or presbyters, and bishops were only different designations for the same office. This arrangement was not changed until after the close of the first century and the death of the last of the apostles. Of these statements, admitted by the candid learned even of episcopal bodies, the following proofs may be submitted: (1) Paul (Acts 20:17) summons the “elders” of the church at Ephesus, and in verse 28 calls them “bishops.” (2) In the church of Philippi the “bishops and deacons” are named as the officers (Phil. 1:1). (3) Paul in this Epistle names bishops and deacons as the officers (chapter 2), but in 5:17–22, names “elders” as officers intrusted with the same duties already named as those of the bishops. (4) In the Epistle to Titus, Paul commands (1:5) to “ordain elders in every city,” but in turn describing the qualifications of an elder he calls him a bishop (1:7). (5) Peter (1 Peter 5:1, 2) addresses “elders” and commands them to exercise the office of “bishops” over the flock. The Greek word as well as the word bishop, etymologically means to act as an overseer, or to take the oversight. (6) I might add that Clement of Rome, who wrote to Corinthians about the beginning of the second century, uses the terms interchangeably. Desireth a good work. A very important duty. 264
2–7. A bishop then must be blameless. None must be appointed because they desire the place. None are eligible unless they fill the following qualifications. Blameless. Not under charges; of good repute. The husband of one wife. A married man, and having only one wife. In those loose times of divorce, men might be converted who had successively several wives. Divorce for unscriptural reasons would not free a man from his first, lawful wife. Hence the limitation to those who had only one living wife. I do not think there is any reference to re-marriage after the death of a wife. Vigilant. Temperate. See Revision. Sober. Sedate. Given to hospitality. Often saints by persecution were made homeless. The bishops must set the example of receiving such. Apt to teach. Men who have the knowledge and discretion which fit them to teach the flock. 3. Not given to wine. Not a drunken brawler, is the idea of the Greek. We must always bear in mind that the church had been formed of Gentiles whose morals had been at a very low standard. 4. One that ruleth well his own house. This implies that he must be a man of family. Having his children. He must be a father with obedient children. 5. For if a man know not. The order of his own house will show whether he is fit to have a charge in the house of God. The sins of Eli's sons showed that Eli, though a good man, was unfitted to rule. 6. Not a novice. One recently converted. Those chosen for bishops must be old and tried. Paul and Barnabas did not ordain elders until their second visit to the churches (Acts 14:23). Lifted up with pride. A novice, suddenly exalted, was in danger of undue elation. 7. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without. Have an established character which speaks well for the church among the unconverted. Lest he fall into reproach. Into some snare of the devil, some improper conduct, which will bring reproach on the church.
8–10. Likewise must the deacons. The ancient church understood that the seven appointed in Acts, chapter 6 were the first deacons. They were not called deacons, but filled a diaconate. In Phil. 1:1, we find deacons existing. Their office seemed to have been to look after the temporal matters of the church, and especially to care for the poor and the widows. Not double-tongued. Not saying one thing to one man, and another thing to others. Not greedy of filthy lucre. Men who are covetous and unscrupulous as to modes of getting money are not to be chosen. 9. Holding the mystery of the faith. The gospel, God's revealed mystery to all believers. 10. Let these also first be proved. Not novices, but men fully tested. Before they use the office of a deacon, their character must be thoroughly examined, and they must be found blameless.
11. Even so must their wives. The word in the Greek may mean women or wives. It is 265rendered wife in verse 12. The Revision says, “Women must be, etc.” I believe that the Old Version is nearer right. The duties of women generally are not spoken of in the midst of a discussion of elders and deacons. Either deaconesses are meant, or the wives of bishops and deacons; more likely the latter. We know that an injudicious wife may mar the work of a church officer. Not slanderers. Not given to tattling.
12, 13. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife. The same word is used in the Greek here for wife that is used in verse 11. See notes on “one wife” under verse 2. Ruling their children. See notes on verses 4 and 5. 13. For they that, etc. These demands for the office are high, for those who exercise it well purchase a good degree. Secure a high position in the church and in God's favor. And great boldness in the faith. To fill these duties well gives strength, and often fits for higher duties. Stephen and Philip became evangelists.
14–16. These things I write, … hoping to come unto thee shortly. It is not certain that he was ever able to visit Ephesus again, though it is thought that he did on his way to Crete. 15. But if I tarry. In that case he wrote that Timothy might understand how to act. Behave thyself in the house of God. Conduct thyself in the management of the church. Which is the church of the living God. The house of God is not the temple of Diana, which stood there at Ephesus. The pillar and ground of the truth. The church is the pillar and support of the truth because it preaches it to the world, preserves it, and transmits it from generation to generation. 16. Without controversy. Undoubtedly. Great is the mystery of godliness. The mystery that God has revealed to us in the gospel in order to make men godly. The great things revealed in this mystery are next named, certainly wonderful things, well called great. God was manifest in the flesh. Was manifested in Jesus Christ. Justified in the Spirit. When, after his condemnation to death, the power of God raised him from the dead. Seen of angels. The angels were at the open tomb and told the women of his resurrection. Preached unto the Gentiles. A wonderful fact in the mind of a Jew like Paul, who had been trained to believe that the Gentiles were accursed. Received up into glory. At the Ascension. Six elements enter into this mystery of godliness, elements all of which were fully revealed in the gospel. The mystery is not something incomprehensible, but the hidden wisdom of God revealed in the gospel; a sense similar to that in which mystery is always used in the Scriptures. Compare Matt. 13:11; Rev. 1:20; Rev. 17:5, 7. 265
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