You know, all these qualifications of leadership that he gives here—not only in 1 Timothy 3, but also in Titus 1—are more or less the same for the office of elder and the office of deacon. But there is one qualification that’s given for the office of elder that is not given for the office of deacon, and that has to do with teaching. You find it here in verse 2, where he uses the expression “able to teach.” Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the elders must be orators. Nor does it mean that all the elders must be preachers. It doesn’t even mean that all the elders must teach Sunday school classes. But it does mean that by the ordination of God, they must have an aptitude for sharing the truths of the Word of God with the people of God, and be able to do that in such a way that they and those in their charge might be guarded against the false doctrine that is prevalent in every age. 

Though in this passage Paul uses episkopos, he is actually incorporating both ideas. Those who have oversight—what the bishops do—are to be those who are mature in the faith, the elders. Likewise, those who are the elders in the faith are to exercise this kind of spiritual rule. You get a very good statement of what the elders are to do in Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders, which we have recorded in the twentieth chapter of Acts.

Therefore, as we think about church leadership, it is right to begin with the deaconate because it’s in the office of deacon that we see this servanthood of Christian leadership most exemplified. You remember that the office of deacon is instituted in the sixth chapter of Acts, and it’s a very interesting passage to study because it teaches us certain principles of Christian leadership. It teaches us, for example, that there’s to be a division of responsibility. The problem that needed to be addressed in Acts 6 was that the apostles were doing everything because they were the only acknowledged leaders. There was too much work to do, and other needs kept coming up that kept the apostles from their primary focus. They needed others to help with these other matters. And so deacons were elected for those particular responsibilities. 

As Paul is writing to Timothy, he encourages Timothy to seek out in the churches those who are able to assume the positions of responsibility in order that the work of God might go forward and not be hindered. And in our passage, he talks about elders and deacons—the two offices of leadership within the church. Speaking of the office of overseer, or elder, he says that anyone who desires to serve in this way pursues “a noble task.” The King James Version translates it as “a good work.” Paul commends those who want to serve as elders, and deacons as well. It is far better to aspire to leadership in the church than to leadership in politics or some other secular avenue of leadership, though God may give Christians the calling to do that as well. Poor is the church that doesn’t have a liberal sprinkling of those who can assume these positions of leadership. 

Therefore, having spoken in the first two chapters about strong doctrine, he goes on in chapter 3 to speak about strong leadership. This is important because the doctrines need to make their way in the church through those whom God calls to particular forms of service. So when we think about the church, whether in Paul’s day or in ours, leadership is an area in which we want to concentrate as well.