1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©


'The saying is sure: if anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condensation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil' (3:1-7)

We have here another of' the key sayings, like that in 1:15, which Paul introduces with the words, 'the saying is sure'. This one surprises us. Is it right for a person to seek to become a bishop? We might rather say, 'If a man seeks the office of a bishop, he is ambitious and thinks too much of himself.' Before we do say that, we must think of the work of a bishop in those days. Fifty years after Paul died, it seems that most churches had just one bishop; in the eyes of other Christians and of non-Christians, he was the leader of that church. At the time of this letter, however, there seem to have been a number of bishops in a single church (see Philippians 1:1), and there was no difference between the elders or presbyters and bishops (see Acts 20:17, 28 and Titus 1: 5-7). The elders or bishops were responsible for the ministry of God's Word and the organizational life of the congregation. Theirs was a position of responsibility, and when Christians were persecuted, a position of danger. There were few thanks and fewer honours about being a 'bishop' then. We would be nearest to the spirit of verse 1 if we put it today in this way, 'If a person wants to offer for the work of the ministry, it is a fine work that he has in mind.' So in studying what these verses say about the qualities of 'bishops', we can think of them as the qualities needed in any man in the ministry, and needed also in any person who is willing to accept Christian responsibility and to lead others in the way of Christ. We may sum up what is said about these qualities by putting them into four groups - those that deal with his character or personal life, those that refer to his home life, those that refer to his work in the church, and those that are concerned with his position in the community.

a. His personal Life

Three words in verse a describe the character of the person who gives a lead in the service of God. Firstly, he should be 'temperate'. The word often meant 'temperate' in strong drink, but probably has a more general meaning here - controlled and steady in every part of life. Secondly, he should be 'sensible'. The word is almost the same as that used in 2:9, 15 and there we understood it as meaning sound common-sense, not easily led into foolish actions. 'Thirdly, there is a similar word, which the Revised Standard Version translates as 'dignified'. Other translations put it as 'orderly', 'of good behaviour', 'a man of disciplined life'. Perhaps we think that these three words do not give a very high standard. If so, we need to ask how well our lives are disciplined - our prayer, our Bible study, our use of time, our eating and drinking, our conversation, our personal habits, the way we work? Are we disciplined, controlled by the Spirit of God, or undisciplined'

b. His home life

First, he must be 'the husband of one wife'. Does this mean 'not a polygamist'? Yes, but more. The Bible in the beginning (Genesis 2) teaches that God intends one man and one woman to be partners together in marriage. It never speaks well of the polygamy of the patriarchs or of Solomon - rather it often shows the trouble caused by this behaviour. Nor does the Bible approve divorce - husband and wife are intended to be faithful to each other as long as they live. The 'bishop' must have one wife, and be faithful to that one wife. He must also 'manage his own household well'; his children must be disciplined and brought up in the fear of God. If he cannot lead his children in the right way, how can he hope to lead the church of God? Then thirdly, his home should be a 'hospitable one'. This was especially necessary in those days, when there were many Christians travelling about to minister God's word, or travelling because they were persecuted - and the only inns or hostels then were usually evil places. Christian hospitality is no less important today. The Christian's home can be a joy and comfort to many, and a glorious witness to the light and love of Christ.

c. His work in the church

The bishop was to be an 'apt teacher'. He had to know well the doctrine of Christ, and also be able to make it plain and simple for others to understand and believe. He had to be experienced as a Christian before he tried to lead others, and not 'a recent convert'. Too much responsibility given too soon easily makes a person proud, and 'Pride goes before destruction' (Proverbs 16:18). Then verse 3 says there are four things that a leader must avoid, if he would be a Christian example to others - the love of strong drink, the habit of acting harshly towards others, the habit of quarrelling, and the love of money. These things must have no place in his life. Rather he must be 'gentle' in character, and the original word is one that means 'kind', 'peace-loving', and 'patient'.

d. His position in the community

The Christian is a marked man in the world, especially if it is known that he is taking any leading part in the life of the church. Those who are not Christians are quick to see and to speak when he fails to live up to what he professes. So the apostle says, 'he must be well thought of by outsiders'. Otherwise he will come under criticism, and the devil will spoil his work. In this matter verse a gives us the highest standard, which is the only standard we should aim for - 'above reproach'. We may have failed in the past, but if we are to be known as Christ's men and women in the world, our aim must be so to live that those around us cannot point the finger at us and say, 'Is this the way a Christian behaves?'


Lord, may nothing in my life turn others away from Christ, neither love of self, nor love of power, love of money, careless talk, or careless living. By thy grace may my character, my work, and my home show forth Thee and what Thou hast done for me, through Jesus my Saviour and for His sake. AMEN.

Note In verse 6 some have taken 'the condemnation of the devil' to mean that the devil himself suffered, because he fell through pride. More likely it means that the devil leads us to sin by tempting us to be proud and puffed up, and then we come under God's condemnation on sin and on Satan. Verse 7 then similarly speaks of the devil trying to ensnare us.

Further Study Consider other passages - both in the Old and New Testaments - which emphasize the importance of the 'good report' that the people of God should have from those around them (verse 7). In Paul's letters note especially Colossians 4:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:12