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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The Church needs godly leaders if it is to conduct itself well.
Text:1 Timothy 3:15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Hymn 24:1-3

Psalm 25:2,3

Psalm 134:1,2,3

Psalm 86:4

Hymn 24:4-6


Read:  1 Timothy 3

Text:  1 Timothy 3:15

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If the first letter of 1 Timothy can be summed up in one sentence, it could not be summarized better than what is written in 1 Timothy 3:15.

“I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

All that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and to those who would read this letter was to teach them and us how we are to behave, how we are to conduct ourselves in the church of God.  And in chapter 3 we learn that in order to conduct ourselves well in the church, we need the right leaders.  We need elders and deacons who fit not the qualifications that the world might set for them but the qualifications that God sets for them.

And when it comes to the qualifications for both elders and deacons as we read them in 1 Timothy 3, what is striking is that they concern not so much with what these men are to do, but who they are. 

Sometimes we are tempted to forget that.  There are two things that we look for in a leader, any leader that is – and we can take our prime minister as our example.  We want to know that he is competent, that is, that he is able to do everything that is expected of him.  And we want to be sure about his character: that he is a man of integrity, that we can trust him, that in both his personal as well as his private life he displays the moral character that our country needs in a leader.  But while character and competency are both needed, what we tend to focus on is competency – until, that is, there is some form of sin or moral failure committed at which time the leader is quickly dumped in disgrace.


In the church, even more than in the world, we need to be careful of this.  We need to be careful that we do not emphasize competency in our leaders over their character.  Now of course we want our minister to preach well, to teach well and to lead well.  We want our elders to speak well, to visit well and to rule well.  We want our deacons to serve well, to encourage well and to manage things well.  But what our elders and deacons do must flow from who they are.

And that is the focus that we see in 1 Timothy 3.  First Timothy tells us remarkably little about what an elder or deacon is to do but focuses instead on their godly character, and how their godly character is to be seen in all that they say and do.  And that is the kind of leader that the church needs if it is to conduct itself well.  I preach to you the word of God from 1 Timothy 3 under the following theme:

The church needs godly leaders if it is to conduct itself well. 

  1. The need for godly leaders.
  2. The qualities of godly leaders.

1.  The need for godly leaders.

We normally read 1 Timothy 3 at the time for the election of elders and deacons.   That is appropriate as this Bible chapter clearly outlines the qualifications needed for one who is to be an office bearer – a minister, elder or deacon – in the church.  Our office bearers should know this Bible chapter well and earnestly pray to God to cause them to grow in godliness so that they might display these qualities more and more.  And as a congregation we need to pray for – and vote for – godly men to be our minister, elders and deacons.  It is better to be short an elder or a deacon than to elect to the office a man who does not meet the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3.

However when writing about the kind of man who is to ordained the apostle Paul was not just thinking about the church’s leadership but about the church itself.  We need to remember what the church is and what it is here for.  In 1 Timothy 3:14,15 the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy,

“These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

The apostle Paul hoped to come to Timothy and the church at Ephesus soon, but he did not know when that might be – in fact he might be delayed and might never come at all – and the situation was too urgent to wait until Paul might arrive.  The things that were wrong had to be put right, and quickly, since the church is “the house of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  The church is God’s house:  this is where He lives.  The Bible teaches us that not only are we as individuals temples of the Holy Spirit but so is the church.   In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul wrote

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you [that is the church at Corinth] are God’s field, you are God’s building.”

And 1 Corinthians 3:16,17

“Do you not know that you [that is you plural, the church at Corinth] are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him.  For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

And 2 Corinthians 6:16,

“For you [the church at Corinth] are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, “I will dwell in them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

We need to have a high view of the church, also of the local church here in Baldivis.  We are God’s people, we are His house.  He lives in us and among us.  And more, 1 Timothy 3:15 says, we are “the church of the living God.”  We are not some “religious group” that happens to think or to act in the same way: we belong to God.  And our God is alive.  He is great, He is awesome, He is sovereign, He rules over heaven and earth.  And this church belongs to Him.  It is not for us, therefore, to change and to do what we feel like.  It is not for us to make a church that suits us rather than that which pleases God.  We belong to Him and, verse 15 says further, we are “the pillar and the ground, [the foundation, the bulwark] of the truth.”  The truth of the gospel, therefore, must be preserved in us, upheld by us and proclaimed through us.  As the church of the living God, as His house, we are a gospel church, a community that is shaped and governed and lives out of our identity in Christ.  And that is how we are to conduct ourselves:  as the people of God, His church, both preserving and proclaiming the true doctrine, the mystery of godliness (as verse 16 describes it) and what 1 Timothy 6:4 calls “the doctrine which accords with godliness.”

It was both necessary and urgent that Paul should address these things and instruct Timothy to act by seeing that godly elders and deacons be appointed because the church at Ephesus was in danger of turning its back on the gospel, being led astray by false teachers and leaders.  In contrast to the qualities for elders and deacons as described in 1 Timothy 3, the church of Ephesus was plagued with men whom Paul had described in Acts 20 as savage wolves and men who spoke perverse things, drawing people away after themselves.  (Acts 20:29,30.)  These people, Paul had warned, would not just come from outside but from within the congregation – and that was what had now happened.  These false teachers – some of whom would have been considered leaders, perhaps even elders and deacons – these false teachers called themselves Christians but they had pushed the gospel concerning Jesus Christ to the side to the point that the church of Ephesus was in danger of no longer being a gospel community – let along a pillar and foundation of the truth.  These men, and perhaps some women, taught a false doctrine, they pretended to be teachers of the law and made up rules that God had not given such as forbidding people to marry and forbidding the eating of certain foods, they caused quarrels and disputes to arise over matters that did not concern the true gospel and they appear to have lost their missionary vision and their understanding of what the church is here for.  And if this was to allowed to continue, the gospel would be lost, the truth would be denied and the church would cease to be the house of God. 

And that is why Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.  He wrote in order that the church at Ephesus might be brought back in line with the truth of the gospel, the message of salvation.  Timothy himself was told to wage the good warfare and to have faith and a good conscience in chapter 1:18,19.   In chapter 4:6,7 he was told to instruct the brethren in the good doctrine that he himself had carefully followed, rejecting profane and old wives’ tales and exercising himself towards godliness.  He was to be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).  He was to meditate on these things, giving himself entirely over to them, that his progress might be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15).  And he was commanded in 1 Timothy 4:16 to

“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

It is clear then that both what Timothy was to teach and also how he was to live and conduct himself in the church was of great importance not just for himself and his own salvation but also for the whole church. 

And the same applies to elders and deacons in the church.  In 1 Timothy 2 Paul told Timothy what had to be done in order for the church at Ephesus to live once more out of the true gospel of salvation.  The men had to let go of their anger and quarreling and instead with all godliness pray to God.  The women were to dress and live in all modesty, godliness and submission.  And the congregation was to pray for all people, including kings and those in authority, that all kinds of people might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  And now in chapter 3 Paul says that for this to happen the church needs to have the right leaders.  They need to have godly leaders, elders and deacons who are blameless in conduct, reverent, and who hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.  It is not just for themselves that elders and deacons must be godly, but for the sake of the church! 

And if Timothy and the church at Ephesus had to beware of this in Paul’s day, we most certainly have to understand this today.  We live in an age of performance and progression, where we keep on having to strive to improve, to do better.  We live at a time when abilities are praised more than attitudes and where competency is valued more highly than character.  But we can not do this at church.  This church is the house of God, it is the church of the living God and the pillar and foundation of the truth of God.  That is who we are and so that must determine how we are to conduct ourselves, how we are to behave.  Since we belong to God we are to be godly.  And for the church to be godly its leaders must be godly.  And it is in that context that 1 Timothy 3 teaches us about the qualities of godly leaders. We will see that in our second point.

2. The qualities of godly leaders.

 “This is a faithful saying:  If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.”  (1 Timothy 3:1)

The word “bishop” in the New King James Version of the Bible is not a helpful translation and the word “overseer” which is used in both the NIV and the ESV is better.  Overseers are elders, both teaching elders (whom we call ministers) and ruling elders.  As an overseer the elder is responsible to oversee both the doctrine and the godliness of the congregation.  He is the guardian, the watchman, the protector of the church. 

  The deacon, on the other hand, has a role that is characterized more by service.  Deacons mainly assist the congregation in tangible ways and how they function in this church is that they are visit, help and encourage where there is need, urge the church members to render assistance where necessary and collect and distribute gifts where there is need. 

As such both the elders and the deacons are there to manage, guide, assist and oversee the congregation so that we might conduct ourselves well in the house of God, the church of the living God. 

With respect to the qualities of the elders and deacons, we can group them into three main categories: they must be godly in their persons, godly in their families and godly in their doctrine and ministry.

First of all then, both elders and deacons must be godly in their persons, that is, they must be men of spiritual integrity.  Elders are to be blameless and deacons are to be reverent.  This does not mean that they are without sin or weakness, nor are elders and deacons to be separated from the rest of the congregation by an aura of holiness, as though they are more godly than the rest of us.  The fact of the matter is the minister, elders and deacons also struggle with various character flaws and daily sins of weakness – and for that reason please to remember to pray for your office bearers, that they might grow in godliness.  But to be blameless is to have a good reputation, to be above reproach and to consistently live out your faith in such a way that no one is able to sustain a charge against you.  To be blameless is to live in both doctrine and in life in a manner that is consistent with the gospel.  And to be reverent is to be dignified in both speech and conduct, living as one who loves and fears the Lord. 

  1 Timothy 3 goes on to give some examples of what it means to be blameless and reverent in practice.  The elder is to be temperate, sober-minded, and of good behavior. (Verse 2)  Although he may drink small amounts of wine (provided that it does not cause another brother to stumble) an elder or a deacon may not be given to wine: he can neither be addicted to it nor be may he over-indulge.  

  Being men of spiritual integrity, elders are to be gentle and not quarrelsome.  They must speak well, in a manner that reflects the beauty of the gospel, winning their neighbor for Christ rather than driving them away through a quarrelsome spirit.  In the same manner, deacons are not to be double tongued but they have to speak well and be honest in what they say.

  Both elders and deacons must also show integrity when it comes to money and material wealth.  1 Timothy 3:3,8 teach that are not to be greedy for money; rather they are to be content with what the Lord has given them. 

  But it is not only the men and not only the elders and deacons who are to be godly in their persons, showing spiritual integrity, but also the women.  1 Timothy 3:11 says,

“Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.”

Just who these wives or women are has been answered differently by different people.  Some think that this refers to female deacons who are to be office bearers just as the men are.  That is not likely, however, for if Paul wished to say this we could have expected him to call them deaconesses rather than the more general word “women” or “wives”.  It is more likely, therefore, that this refers to the wives of the deacons or else to other women in the church who were to assist the deacons in their task.  The point is that anybody, male or female, who are given a task to do in the congregation are to live a life that is consistent with the gospel. 

In the second place, elders and deacons are to be godly in their families.  They are to be the husband of one wife and they are to rule their own house well, having their children in submission with all reverence.  For, verse 5 points out,

“if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?”

Marriage is a holy institution, ordained by God.  An office bearer must be faithful to his wife and live out of his faith with respect to his marriage.  And with respect to his children he is to raise them in a manner that promotes godliness in the homes.  Elders and deacons – and indeed all of us – must teach our families to live out of the gospel.  And if we observe consistent rebellion, wild, drunken or disobedient behavior, or general godlessness in the home, this should be reason for us to refrain from appointing someone to the office of elder or deacon. 

  In this context, however, when we consider who is eligible to be an elder or deacon in the church, we do not look at a single event or even at a single child, but at the pattern that we see in the way the brother raises his family.  We do not look for a man who has a perfect marriage and a perfect family.  We do not look for an elder or deacon who never had, nor has, any marriage or family problems.  But what we should consider is this:  when problems occur, how are they managed?  Do we see faithfulness and godliness in the household of the one to be appointed an elder or a deacon?  Is he governing his family in the fear of the Lord and in a manner that is pleasing to Him?  For the way that he manages his own household will reflect in the manner in which he manages the household of God.

And then in the third place elders and deacons are to be godly with respect to their doctrine and ministry.  The elder is to be hospitable, having his home and life open to others.  He should have an eye for the visitor, whether a fellow Christian or not, so that people feel comfortable when speaking to him, asking questions or seeking help.  And the elder is also to be able to teach.  Now although we distinguish between teaching elders (the office of minister) and ruling elders (the office of elder), a distinction we take from Bible passages such as 1 Timothy 5:17, all elders must be able to know God’s Word and be able to use it.  An elder might not be comfortable to teach a catechism class or the whole congregation, but he should be ready and able to bring God’s Word into our homes and call us to believe it and live our lives according to it.

  The deacons also are called to love Scripture, holding the mystery of the faith.  Deacons also must take the gospel to the congregation so that no one remains physically or spiritually empty.

Those then are the qualities of elders and deacons who are to be appointed so that through them we the congregation might conduct ourselves in a right and godly manner in God’s house.  But do you see where the emphasis lies?  The emphasis is not so much on what he does but on who he is:  a Christian, a child of God who lives for Him, to serve him, who love God and who loves his neighbor as himself.

  To be an elder is, 1 Timothy 3:1 says, a good work, a noble task.  And those who serve well as deacons are blessed, for they obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  (Verse 13)  It is a daunting task but a blessed one.  For it is one in which elders and deacons are to care for the salvation of souls whom the Lord Himself purchased with His own blood.  Elders and deacons are called to minister to the house of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.  We need these men, we need our office bearers.  And we need them to be godly if we are to conduct ourselves well in the church.

It is a high calling that God gives to the office bearers of the church.  An elder or a deacon might look at these qualifications in the light of how he conducts himself and in light of his own marriage and family, as well as his understanding of the gospel and his ability to teach it, and conclude that he is not worthy of being an elder or deacon of God’s church.  And as members we might want to aspire to be all that an elder or deacon is to be but conclude “I’m not that good; I can’t live like that.  The Bible sets such a high standard for holiness and I can’t do it.  But 1 Timothy 3 should not drive us to despair but to hope.  Remember how this chapter ends.  Verse 16.

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.  God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.”

Great is the mystery of godliness.  Not a mystery that we don’t know but a mystery that has been revealed to us. And the mystery is that we have a Saviour, the Son of God, who became a man, who died but who rose from the dead, who has been preached in the world – including to us – and who is now exalted and at the right hand of the Father.  And so we all, minister, elders and deacons, look to Him, our Risen and Exalted Lord and Saviour.  We praise Him for the salvation that is ours in Him.  And we both thank Him and we ask Him for His Spirit through whom we may now live and move and have our being.  We look to Him and we grow in Him.  And it is in that way that we conduct ourselves in the house of God, the church of the living God.  And so we live in the gospel today while looking forward to the blessed hope of life in the presence of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ forever.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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