SHORT NOTES ON THE BIBLE
The Two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy
Chapter 3 (contd.)
2- Concerning deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13)
The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word diákonos, meaning “servant”, “waiting-man”, “minister”, or “messenger.” The practice of appointing deacons dates back to the first Church, once the load of serving the saints had increased, and widows complained of being neglected: “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; …” (Acts 6:1-3) Among those appointed was Stephen, who wrought great wonders and signs (Acts 6:5, 8) and became the Church’s first martyr (Acts 7:54-60). Philip was another – he preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8) and he converted the minister of Candace, the Ethiopian queen (Acts 8:26-35) – this minister then brought the Gospel to his country. Philip eventually settled in Caesarea, and he “… had four virgin daughters who prophesied …” (Acts 21:8, 9). On his way to Jerusalem, following his third journey, Paul, along with his companions, stayed with Philip (Acts 21:8).
The founding of churches in various cities led to the deacons having their share of the service1, alongside presbyters and bishops. Recognizing the deacons’ rising prominence in the service, as helpers to presbyters and bishops, St. Paul laid down some rules for them, since, “… those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 3:13) In addition to the spiritual principles which the disciples had outlined (Acts 6:3), a deacon shares with the bishop and presbyter character traits: “… not given to much wine [this was widespread in those days], not greedy for money, …” Thus, they must be content with whatever the service provides, without seeking more. And deacons should not be light-headed or unruly, but “deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued”, their speech should be free from deceit, silliness or frivolity, since they deal with the church’s entire congregation and, throughout their service, they aim to please their heavenly Master, Who is above all. At the spiritual level and the knowledge of the word of God, deacons should hold “… the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.”
It is quite important for deacon nominees, to pass a period of probation, to ascertain that they indeed are blameless, and satisfy all the requirements, prior to their ordainment. This would guard against relapses and offences that could arise, when someone is ordained but turns out to be unsuited for such a renowned service.
St. Paul subsequently mentions the deacons’ wives (or likely “deaconesses,” who deal with the church’s women, especially during their baptism); he says that they “… must be reverent [humble and dignified, not rowdy or boisterous], not slanderers [they must not gossip or spread rumors], temperate [they must be alert and not subject to laziness], faithful in all things [especially when serving God, performing their duties, and when accounting for time, money and promises].”
Similarly to bishops and presbyters, “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well,” in order for them to be worthy of serving in the house of God.
3- Great is the mystery of godliness (3:14-16)
Through his epistles, St. Paul was in constant communication with the churches that he had established, as well as with their servants. Nevertheless, he always sought to reach out to them in person, whenever circumstances permitted. He states in his current letter that he hoped to see Timothy soon, and any delays would be because he (Timothy) needed to know what to do relying on the grace of God, while acquiring experience, and shouldering the responsibility that God placed upon him to serve “… the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” This is the Church that faithfully keeps the Christian Faith which Paul summarized in this passage, and which was part of the early Church’s hymns: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness” – God’s new testament: “God was manifested in the flesh”, the promised woman’s Seed has come, crushed the head of the old serpent, and wrought salvation of such a magnitude for those who believe, “Justified in the Spirit [this probably means that Christ was sinless, and that He was righteous through the power of the Spirit Who filled Him, and that the Spirit revealed His righteousness and Divinity through His triumphant resurrection, after the shame of the Cross and His submission to death] , Seen by angels”, who surrounded Him starting by the annunciation, then through His birth, His flight to, and return from, Egypt, His temptation on the mount, His prayer in Gethsemane, His resurrection, and His ascension. He did not come exclusively for the Jews, rather, for the entire world. His disciples preached Him among the Gentiles, and the world believed on Him. Upon completion of His mission, He ascended to heaven and was received up in glory. This glory was His before the foundation of the world; He sits at the right of His Father.
1- Resisting departures from the Faith (4:1-12)
St. Paul reiterates what he had said at the beginning of this epistle (1 Tim. 1:3-10), pointing out that departures from the Faith represent one of the end-time signs2, and are due to the influence of “deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” He describes those departing from the Faith, through Satan’s work, as “having their own conscience seared with a hot iron [like slaves and animals].” Furthermore, they practice lies and hypocrisy, they reject holy matrimony, and faithful spousal commitment, sanctified in accordance with the Christian Faith, they condone fornication to satisfy their lusts, and they command abstention “from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth,” despite the fact that: “every creature of God is good,” (1 Tim. 4:4), “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15), “there is nothing unclean of itself” (Rom. 14:14) and “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)3
God created for us, before our creation, foods for our consumption with thanks and contentment. Those who believe and know the truth should not reject anything, on the basis of its being unclean or defiled, since all “… is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Any deviation from these words of faith and sound doctrine constitutes “profane and old wives’ fables” – in other words, worthless gossip by those who have nothing better to do.
St. Paul then presents an amusing comparison between two types of exercise: while “bodily exercise” is appropriate, it “profits a little,” in other words, its benefits are confined within the limits of the body; on the other hand, spiritual exercise, or godliness, “is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Put differently, spiritual exercise and piety cover the wide area of prayer, repentance, worship, and helping others; its far-reaching consequences include peace, joy, enduring trials, vanquishing temptations throughout our life on earth, and reserving for us our eternal place in the Lord’s kingdom.
St. Paul concludes this segment of his teaching with the statement: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance.” This statement, equally valid as an introduction (1 Tim. 1:15) and a conclusion, means that everything he said is true and worthy of being accepted and followed. He points that what supports him, and all servants to accept “labor and suffer reproach,” is their trust in the “living God, Who is the Savior of all men” [Paul’s message is addressed to the entire world], but He becomes a savior actually to “those who believe.” (To be contd.)
- In subsequent generations, other ranks were instituted in the deaconate hierarchy; hence reader, sub-deacon, and archdeacon. All of those are mature deacons. Novices are “chanters;” they participate in chanting liturgical hymns with the congregation. ↩
- He also mentioned this in his second epistle to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:2-12), and the Lord stated this in Matthew 24:11 and Mark 13:6. ↩
- In Corinth, the issue of eating what was offered to idols had been raised. Some believers did not care, saying, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.” (1 Cor. 8:4) But those having a weak conscience considered that meet to be unclean, and would not touch it, although the apostle had told them: “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” (1 Cor. 8:8) At the same time he alerted, for love’s sake, the strong and knowledgeable against offending those in doubt: “And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (1 Cor. 8:11) and “Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.” (Rom. 14:15) Paul even went so far as to say: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8:13) ↩