1 Timothy Bible Study (Faith Foundations)

1 Timothy 3:1-13, Godly Leaders and Servants


After talking about the godly devotion that God desires from God’s people, Paul turns his attention godly leaders and servants. We need godly leaders to shepherd the church and we need godly servants who can serve the church. Like the last section in 1 Timothy, it is easy to get lost in the details of chapter 3 and not see the big picture of what God wants. We can become so granular that we will appoint people who should not be leaders or servants because we see Paul simply giving a checklist. But we should not read the apostle Paul saying that if a person has these 14 characteristics then they should be appointed. We should look at what Paul is teaching and consider the kind of person that is being described and what is the work these people are to do.

Overseers (3:1-7)

Paul begins by declaring the work of being an overseer is a honorable work. It is worth noting at this point that the titles that are used in the scriptures simply give us a better picture of the work that these godly leaders perform. Paul uses the word “overseer” in 1 Timothy 3. We see the same word used in Acts 20:28, describing the overseers as caring for the church of God. But they were also called “the elders of the church” in verse 17. Paul also tells them to be shepherds of the church of God in verse 28. The point is that though we see different titles, these are referring to the same leaders. The picture is that they are watching over God’s people in a spiritual capacity and supervising the spiritual work of the church.

Paul begins by saying that godly leaders are above reproach. This does not mean that the leaders are above approach. They are not high, lofty, and separated from the church. Rather, since the work is spiritual, it is necessary for overseers to be spiritual. Paul does not want us looking for people who are successful by worldly metrics. One great mistake that can be made is to think that simply because some is successful in their career or in their life that they should be appointed as a leader. But we are to look for people who are full of integrity and spirituality. You will notice that this is what all of these characteristics depict in the following verses. A shepherd is to be a husband of one wife, meaning that he is a married man who has been faithful to his marriage vows. He has avoided inappropriate relationships with other women. In verse 2 we also see that he is level-headed, sensible, free from excess, free from passion or rashness. He is alert and careful, orderly, and well-mannered. Being hospitable means that he loves and cares for people, even strangers. He must also be a spiritual teacher.

In verse 3 we see Paul declare that godly leaders are not drunk but have sober judgment for spiritual leadership. He is not violent, not a bully, or a browbeaten. He is not a fighter, but is gentle. He is not argumentative or contentious. He does not love money. Money is not a concern for him and is not his life goal. In verse 4 we see that his leadership is observed in how he managed his house with dignity. The experience for the work of being a spiritual leader for the church is observed in his work with his home. The children are not out of control but listen to the father. Further, how he manages the home is not out of control but honorable. In verse 6 we see that godly leaders for the church are to be spiritual experienced so that they are not arrogant. Finally, outsiders think well of him, which indicates that he is not a hypocrite but lives his faith every day.


It is important to note that Paul does not describe the designation of authority to the overseers. Nothing here says that the overseers get to tell everyone what to do. In fact, if we consider the qualifications that we have just read, a true overseer would never act in this way. He would not say that he is in charge, above approaching him, or has power. Peter confirmed this picture in 1 Peter 5:1-5. In this passage Peter tells the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”

Think about what is said about godly leaders. They do this work from their heart’s desire for the flock. They do not lead for the money. They do not lead to have power or to be domineering. Rather, their leadership is in being a spiritual example to the flock. Shepherds lead by example and watch out for the flock spiritually. The qualifications that Paul gives make sense when we see that leadership is through example and through teaching. Even Jesus, who Peter calls the Chief Shepherd in verse 4, did not dominate, exert power, or exert authority. Jesus led through his life example and through his teachings. Why would the shepherds of the church lead any differently?

Deacons (3:8-13)

The word “deacon” is not one that we use in the English language. It is a transliteration of the Greek word but the word simply means servant. It probably helps us to stay away from the word “deacon” since it is not a word that helps us understand the role or work. But this is a servant of the church. Notice that they are to be dignified, well-respected, sincere, have integrity, not be devoted to alcohol, not greedy, not spiritually inexperienced, hold on to the truths of God’s word, be level-headed, faithful to their wives, and manage their household well. I hope that you will see that these qualifications are very similar to the qualifications for overseers. These servants are to be trustworthy and faithful in character so that they can be entrusted with various serving works for the church without anyone having concern about the work they are doing. This is what we see in Acts 6:1-4 where men were selected who would be trusted by the Jerusalem church to handle the daily distribution to the widows. The only real difference that I can see between the qualifications for overseers and the qualifications for servants is that the servant does not have teaching authority. You will see that the servants do not have to be able to teach like the overseers. So the ability to teach the church is not required. Remember that we saw that the overseers lead through their example and through their teaching. But the servants (deacons) are not leaders. So their life of integrity is not for teaching or leading the church, but to instill confidence in the church that they are faithful for the work given to them. Their work, therefore, is not for making sure the doors of the church building are locked or to change the light bulbs in the building. A person does not need qualifications for these tasks. Rather, while the overseers are teaching the flock and rescuing the flock, the deacons are serving the needs of and administering to the flock.

The Wives/Women (3:11)

Now you may notice something interesting in verse 11. The ESV reads “their wives” (cf. NLT, CSB, NET). The word “their” is not in the original, as the CSB has “wives.” However, many translations read “women” (NASB, NIV, NRSV). The Greek word for “wives” and “women” is the same and only context can tell us if we are referring to women or wives. So much ink has been spilled trying to determine if this is saying that there can be women deacons or is this saying something about the wives of deacons. The translation “wives” seems unlikely to me because the text does not say, “their wives.” If this was referring to the wives of the deacons, then the Greek would read, “Their wives.” But it does not. Also, why would the wives of deacons need qualifications when the wives of the elders do not? This is another reason why “wives” seems unlikely. But there is a problem with reading this to say “women deacons” because of verse 12. Verse 12 clearly says that the deacons must be the husband of one wife. Therefore, deacons are faithful married men. So is there a way to reconcile verse 11 so that it does not refer to wives but women, without breaking the command of verse 12?

In the midst of talking about servants of the church, Paul mentions women who will serve, not in a formal capacity for the church, but will carry out good works for the needs of the flock. Such women should also be trustworthy like deacons. They are to be dignified, not slanderers, level-headed, and faithful in all things. There are works that women would be far more appropriately equipped to handle than male servants. For example, it is far more appropriate for a woman to go to the house of a single woman to offer care and help than it would be more a man. Having women carry out such important tasks for the church would not be violating verse 12 because it is not a formal position, nor would they be violating 1 Timothy 2:11-12 because they do not have authority but are serving. They are serving under the overseers’ authority. I believe Romans 16:1-2 fits this picture well.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1–2 ESV)

You will notice that Paul is commended this sister in Christ to the church in Rome, as she has been a faithful servant to the church at Cenchreae. Paul tells the church in Rome to help her in whatever way she needs because she has been a helper and benefactor to many Christians, including Paul himself. I think Phoebe fits the picture found in 1 Timothy 3:11. She is serving the church and she possesses these faithful characteristics so that she can even be sent to other churches to help the work that is going on there.

It is unfortunate that we see two extremes when it comes to role of women in the church. Frequently we can see women considered unable to do any work for the church or we see women given teaching authority over the church, which violates 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Is there a middle ground? I believe there is. I believe that we see that women can serve the church in very important works and roles without placing them in charge over the church. We must not fall on either extreme. The legacy of this church is great when it comes to thinking about all the faithful women who served this church in such important works. Harriett Butts, Jean Schmidt, Jean Fielding, Helen Russell, and June Saleeby are just a few names of faithful women who served this church that I have seen in my lifetime. I believe this is what the apostle Paul is picturing. Let the women also serve the church and let those who do be faithful and trustworthy in their character.


The picture that Paul is presenting a faith foundation is that a church needs spiritual leaders and spiritual servants. The church needs people who will give themselves for the good of the flock. We live in a time that is all about being a consumer. We just take what we want and need. Sometimes the church is looked at in the same lens. You come and get what you want out of it, whether it be singing, kids bible classes, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, or fellowship. You come for what you think you need or what you think is important for you. But who is going to give these things? If all of us come here all looking to take, then there will be no godly leaders or godly servants. None of these would exist without all of us giving of ourselves for the good of each other. We will get to this statement in the next lesson but notice verse 15. Paul is writing these things so that we will behave rightly as the church, the people of God. A church desperately needs godly leaders and godly servants.

We need more spiritual leaders and more spiritual servants in the kingdom of God. We need people who will live their lives ready to step up to the work of leading God’s people in the future. We need men and women who will be so faithful to the Lord that they will be trusted by the church to carry out good works and serve the flock faithfully. But this means preparing yourself to be a person who does not sit on a pew, receiving what the church has to offer. We will not be about doing the minimum or even trying get out of doing particular works or fulfilling particular needs. If we are not preparing ourselves for being such servants and leaders, then there will not be anyone to offer spiritual help and service to be people in the future. Who will people come to for spiritual teaching, spiritual help, and spiritual guidance if we are not the ones who become that for the world? We must not go to church. We must be the church. We must be the servants and leaders that God wants us to be. What can you do today to move your life in that direction to fulfill your purpose to be the image of God to the world?

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