You’ve seen it many times on the side of a police officer or sheriff’s deputy automobile. It is the simple motto: “To protect and serve” or some version of that. Though he was not a sheriff, perhaps no American has ever filled that role more consciously and effectively than our first President of the United States, George Washington. His reputation as a soldier and later a statesman are both the stuff of legend. Yet, underneath the accomplished career of the public figure, lay a gentleman of sincere character and stern self-discipline. Today we want to look more closely at a pattern set in Scripture of leaders…
Key Principle: Effective leadership flows from intentional focus on character to deliberate actions of practical service.
He was born in Colonial Virginia, the son of a wealthy tobacco plantation owning father. Both his father and older brother died when he was still young and Washington became mentored primarily by William Fairfax, a professional surveyor. Washington seemed to be adept in army service, and joined the ranks of a fighting Provisional British force, rising to become a senior officer in the early stages of the French and Indian War. Much later, he was selected in 1775 to become commander-in-chief of the Continental Army of the American Revolution, and the rest, as they say, is history. Yet those were his accomplishments, not a survey of his character. Look closer at his portrait. Peel away the layers of mythology and veneration, and what appears to remain is a picture of a good man who understood the value of humility and hard work.
One particular value statement may be found in the hand written record that Washington kept from his school days – a document that survives to this day and offers a window into his value system. The document called “One hundred ten Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” is a manuscript from the Jesuits of the sixteenth century, copied by a young Washington, thought to be at age sixteen. It is worth reviewing a few of the points found on that list (and linguistically updated for modern understanding):
• Rule 1: Treat everyone with respect.
• Rule 3: Don’t frighten people.
• Rule 5: If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkerchief or Hand before your face and turn aside.
• Rule 6: Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
• Rule 35: When you speak, be concise.
• Rule 40: Do not argue with your superior. Submit your ideas with humility.
• Rule 45: When you must give advice or criticism, consider the timing, whether it should be given in public or private, and above all be gentle in the manner of delivery.
• Rule 47: Do not make fun of anything important to others.
• Rule 50: Do not be quick to believe bad reports about others.
• Rule 56: Associate with good people. It is better to be alone than in bad company.
• Rule 68: Do not go where you are not wanted. Do not give unasked-for advice.
• Rule 70: Do not correct others when it is not your place to do so.
• Rule 79: Do not be quick to talk about something when you don’t have all the facts.
• Rule 110: Don’t allow yourself to become jaded, cynical or calloused.
There are many others that I found helpful, but these are sufficient to make clear my point: Behind great men and women of accomplishment are thoughtful and deliberate disciplines of character. That was the main point of the first part of 1 Timothy 3 that we looked at in our last lesson. In this lesson, we want to finish the words of that third chapter, and move from character to service, particularly as we engage the words of Paul concerning the Deaconate in 1 Timothy 3:8-16.
The text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, when taken as a whole, makes an important argument.
The desire for character must precede the display of competence. We must learn to think and prioritize rightly before we learn how to respond rightly. What we accomplish should be an extension of what we know is truly important. Character should precede competence in construction, but it always supersedes accomplishment in importance.
Let me say it another way: Whatever we produce in life is of little lasting value if we don’t take into account the model we are displaying as we craft it. The greatest leaders are the ones that keep a focus on the model they are creating for followers. Our chief accomplishment won’t be a product we invent, but the people we impact with our value system and character. Accomplishment is, in many ways, less important than example. The most impacting people in history, the people who REALLY were the game changers over the long haul, were the ones who knew that their leadership wasn’t just about the goal in front of them, but about the team around them. They wouldn’t simply be measured by the thing they created, but the lives they sculpted in the process. That is the message behind verses one to seven…
The second half of the chapter (directed at the office of Deacons) builds on the character argument.
Paul explained that because the currency of leadership is trust, we must build the trust to lead people. The way to deposit trust in a relationship is meeting the needs of those we would lead. In other words, people need more than theory to trust those who would lead them – they need actions that are designed to meet their needs. People need leaders that SERVE THEM.
The passage on the Deaconate is obviously offered by God to settle what kind of people should be called to that post by the congregation. At the same time, the principles offer something all believers can identify with – the CONDUCT, CAUSE and CONFESSION of the Godly servant. The motto of a vibrant believer should be “serving Jesus by serving others”. How do godly servants act? What should stir them? What singular cause grips their heart and spurs them to action? These are the questions answered in the next few verses…
The Conduct of a Godly Servant (3:8-13)
What does a true servant of God look like? With all the hucksters and fakes around us, is there some way to sketch out what a godly servant should strive to be? Look at the passage:
1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Since both men and women are mentioned in these verses, and because Scripture often divides the commands and requirements along these lines, let’s look at them separately for a moment…
To be a godly servant, men must be:
1. Careful in action: Dignity (8): semnos is august, respectable from sebomai for reverenced or treated with great respect and care. The idea is that a servant is one who has a spiritual depth about them that causes others to have a sense of deep respect when around them.
2. True in word: not double-tongued (8): di-logos or “two words” as in duplicitous – saying one thing with one person another with another (with the intent to deceive or avoid clear presentation of the truth). He speaks with integrity, consistency, and grace.
3. “Uncrutched”: (not) addicted to much wine (8): addicted is the word “prosecho” – to attach one’s self to, hold or cleave to a person or a thing.
4. “Biblical value” focused: (not) fond of sordid gain (8): the phrase is found in a compound word – “ai-skhro-ker-dace’” or eager to gain things of this world, as in greedy for money. Godly servants see only temporal value in money and should not use the respect they garner from service to gain an advantage in business. They serve to honor God, not worship gain.
5. Grasping deep the truths of God: holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (9): mystery is “musterion” – hidden thing, a secret, used in pagan rites as “religious secrets confided only to the initiated”; the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly.
6. Examined and Proven: first be tested, then serve (10): tested is from the word dok-im-ad’-zo, was a metallurgy term to heat a metal and see whether a thing is genuine or not; to examine, prove, place one’s self in a position of scrutiny and be measured. Servants must not have a blot on their lives for which they could be accused or disqualified.Obviously in the context of Deaconsthis is required, but in a general sense it is the goal of all true godly servants.
7. Intentionally Vetted: beyond reproach (10): this is NOT the word ‘unhandled’ as in the leadership quality in 3:2. The word here is “asan-eng’-klay-tos” – an adjective that means “cannot be called into to account, unreproveable, unaccused particularly in relation to the examined testing mentioned above. Since the Deacons were vital to the handling of assets and resources in the early church, they needed to be impeccable. Should a godly servant on any level of ministry strive for less? No.
8. Unquestionably Faithful: husbands of only one wife (12): the phrase is the same as with the leaders above in 3:2, but is posed in an emphatic style preceded with “Let them be (estosan)”. This is an important marker of a danger area, apparently because of the depth of contact in meeting needs. When a servant has an ulterior motive of the flesh, their service is for SELF and not godly at all.
9. Properly Prioritized: Servants should be good managers of their children and their own households (13): the key word here is manager, or “pro-is’-tay-mee”, a verb used to denote ‘to set or place before’, to superintend, preside over, be a protector or guardian over.
10. Standard Bearer: obtain high standing and great confidence in the faith (13): to obtain is to peripoeomai – a verb to make to remain over; to reserve, to “lay away” or purchase in time. The term “high standing” is two words that can be translated “Beautiful threshold step” (from kalos and bath-mos’ ) figuratively meaning they raise the bar of all.
To be godly servants, women must be:
1. Careful in action: likewise be dignified (11): in the same exact way, act in “semnos” is august, respectable from sebomai for reverenced or treated with great respect and care.
2. Slow to Conclude: not malicious gossips (11): diabolos: a word from with the title devil comes, it means “prone to slander, false accuser.
3. Clear thinking: temperate (11): nay-fal’-eh-os is sober, abstaining from cloudy thinking particularly associated with wine and its immoderate use.
4. Reliable: faithful in all things (11): as consistent about responsibilities as one could expect. Not rash or given to impulsive directions.
It isn’t clear if the women in this passage are the wives of the Deacons, or if they are women selected for the position apart from that relationship. Scholars disagree on that point, but do agree that the women are evaluated carefully, as is obvious by the writing of such standards in the text.
The Cause of a Godly Servant (3:14-15)
There is more to godly service than simply a shopping list of ideals. There is a driving passion that must also be present. Some will serve to be noticed and personally affirmed – that isn’t Godly. Others may serve in public, but be sloppy in private – making more a show out of a title than a true dedication to serving with their best effort. Paul offered another element – they need to have a PASSION to do things the way God said, and to the limit of their ability:
1 Timothy 3:14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (upright column that supports the protective covering over) and support (hed-rah’-yo-mah: building term for “stone course that supports”; from the word for firm, immovable, steadfast) of the truth.
Three important truths to consider that are revealed in the verses:
1. There is a standard in God’s Word as to how we ought to act in relation to one another. When churches don’t behave, it isn’t because God didn’t offer us instruction on how to behave, it is because we don’t immerse ourselves in learning His Word, or we refuse (whether passively or defiantly) to do what He commands.
2. When servants of Jesus act as we should in the church, we hold the roof on the protective covering over the tent in which we live. It will have many holes, but one less for every believer that upholds the godly standards marked for a servant we have just annunciated.
3. The foundation of the church is the work of God in us and through us – it becomes a stable influence and example as we become a firm course that supports His work among others. Soft foundations in the church lead to collapses in the society!
We must be passionate about serving, to do God’s work God’s way. Haphazard service for the King must be rejected. Do what God called you to do with all your might. At the same time, regulate the HOW from the directions of Scripture. You aren’t SERVING when you enable people to do wrong – even if that makes the NEEDY HAPPY. The test is simple: “What did God say?”
The Confession of a Godly Servant (3:16)
It is very easy to get caught up in the requirements and passion for the Word and miss an absolutely essential element of godly service – the energy source of a well-spring of thankfulness for God’s goodness in meeting our needs. Look at this reminder of what God did for each of us.
1 Timothy 3:16 “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.”
Jesus came as a SERVANT to any of us who claim to be servants of God today. His service SAVED us, and RESTORED a crushed relationship with the Father leftover from the mutiny in the Garden of Eden. Without what Jesus did for us, none of us would be servants of God today – because we wouldn’t know Him.
To grasp the text, we need to grab hold of what a confession truly is. A confession is a unified statement. It comes from “hom-ol-og-ow-men’-oce”, an adverb that modifies a “given word” and adds this sense – something that is spoken by consent of all, confessedly, without controversy. It is the word in the phrase of a judge to the unanimous verdict of a jury, “So say you all?” which is matched by the response, “So say we all!” Paul had in mind, “What the church says together about the truth”.
Six truths held in common by the church include:
• God’s truths are private to the family: Note the term “mystery of godliness”: Deep revealed private markers of how God works in our life to set us free are given through God’s Spirit and His Word that cannot be understood by unbelieving people.
• Jesus perfectly showed who the Father is, and what He desires. Revealed in the flesh: The church believes and knows that God was accurately and wholly revealed in Jesus. He is not an imposter, nor one of us. He came as God in human skin. The high place of Jesus is central to the whole Christian message. Mess with Jesus and His place and you destroy the heart of the redemption message. He is not the illegitimate son of a young Israelite girl raped by a Roman soldier. He is not a “good man” Who came to show us how to love one another. He was, and is, God revealed by putting on human skin (Hebrew 1:1ff).
• Jesus’ work was God’s plan, not man’s device. Vindicated in the Spirit: vindicated is “dikao-o” meaning to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, or show as he wishes himself to be considered. Within the work of the Spirit of God, Jesus was shown to be exactly Who He is, and how He wishes you to see Him. Without the Spirit working in full within your life, there will be a marred view of Jesus.
• All Heaven gasped at the Father’s plan as it unfolded. Seen by angels: horao is “gazed at in wonder” by angelic beings. A truth of the church that was common was the knowledge that every power in Heaven was amazed as they observed what Jesus did for man. It was completely beyond their expectation!
• The Gospel’s power is known. Proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world: persuasively preached (kerudzo) or officially heralded, with authority which must be listened to and obeyed. The church does not own the message. It cannot decide the necessity of lost men to come and be saved. It is God’s message and has become powerful in nation after nation, when they bowed to Christ.
• The disposition of our Savior is as a Heavenly contractor! Taken up in glory: It sounds like the historical passage in Acts 1:11 “and they also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” The Ascension was part of the early church’s unified statement concerning what happened to Jesus. Jesus said He was “going to prepare a place for us.” When mine is ready, He will send for me!
That is the text. It offered notes on the CONDUCT of Deacons, which we applied to godly leaders in a general way. It offered a CAUSE, a burning passion to do the right thing by the right standard, and it offered a glimpse at the glorious CONFESSION – the heart of the message of the servant.
I wanted to save a few paragraphs at the end to address some practical aspects of servant hood that should be grappled with while we are in the text and exploring the subject. I think in a day when we are trained to look at life through eyes of convenience and BEING SERVED, we need to remember why SERVICE IS SO VERY IMPORTANT in the cause of Christ today…I am offering three thin-lined sketches that offer my best understanding of what true service looks like:
First, when we truly serve people, we expose the value system of our heart reflected by the hours we serve faithfully and dutifully with no strings attached.
We need to guard our hearts…Our world is filled with causes, and many of us are in danger of an emotional “heart attack” that will diminish our effectiveness. Follow the wall posts of people on social networks, and you will see some of your friends are driven more by rage than by love. They float from one injustice to another, projecting anger as though they are just now learning that life isn’t fair, and a fallen world isn’t just. Now continue down the page and look at the posts of the “hurt-related” causes. There are puppies that are abused, dear victims of terrible weather systems that are pictured sitting on a pile of rubble, and truly heart-wrenching stories of those nearly shattered by the hardships of a broken world. For all these, we are invited to hit “like” or offer a witty comment. Hitting “like” may make us believe we are making a public statement of values – but it is a cheap substitute for action by an overwhelmed population that finds itself unable to invest much more emotion in all the injustices, let alone able to “ante up” cash for tragedies. Sometimes it feels like a global hurting village is too large a chorus to pick out individual voices and really hear them.
What we can do, what we MUST do, is pick out the call of God for each of us and serve people according to that call. The call is directly connected to our GIFTEDNESS by the Spirit of God. We are personally empowered by God’s Spirit to do what God has called us to do, and His voice will tug on us to get it done – if we don’t drown it out with the screeching sounds of the many other good causes we are NOT called to be involved with personally. Service requires the ability to prioritize and protect a call. When we do that, we will be able to invest emotion, energy and effort into serving specific people in places that need our help – and our effectiveness will increase.
• We will work at a pet shelter five hours a week instead of simply looking at pictures of abused animals online for the same amount of time.
• We will serve in a soup kitchen one day a week instead of reading articles about America’s struggling populations and wishing somebody would help.
• We will look at the buildings and assets of the local church not as projections of our corporate importance in the community, nor as our private clubhouse, but as a base of service to meet the needs of our town. We will look for ways to use what God has given us to care for people around us, and we will drive that involvement not simply to grow the number on Sunday, but to let those who live in the shadow of our church to see Jesus in action in their lives, no matter what they do on Sunday morning.
• We will search for the needy who are near where we live that have a need instead of being enraged about some injustice done to someone far away. One homemade meal for an elderly person delivered one afternoon does more direct good than one thousand “likes” on social media.
• We will set aside time to deliberately work in a children’s ministry instead of spending our time grousing about why “these kids today” don’t think the way we believe they should.
• Some who are talented will initiate a gathering of like-minded friends to learn a specific piece of worship music to lift others instead of sitting Sunday after Sunday in the congregation allowing those abilities to grow lethargic. You will prepare well, and then share that blessing with the rest of us.
• Some who are deeply wounded by the tragedy in the Philippines or troubled by the horror of the storms in the Midwest will gather to pray for the needs of those regions, and ask God how they can be engaged in the coming months to help.
• Some who have weathered a personal storm, a divorce or the passing of your loved one, will look for others who are currently passing through that stormy season, and offer some help in the practical ways that only YOU can – because you know what it takes to get through.
My point is this: A generation of programmed church events seems to have left local church people anemic in ministry – unable to serve without a sponsored slot in the bulletin and a meeting room. Why? Why can’t a mechanic give one night a week to caring for specific people that need help with an oil change without having a committee turn it into a program? Why can’t a nurse just decide to stop in and check on those who are high risk without anyone telling them to do it? Why can’t a small group of people form to meet a need, and seek God as to HOW they should tackle it without any specific move from leadership.
I want my life to reflect my values. I want the hours I spend to line up with a life message that my children can see, my wife can perceive, my friends can recognize. If I believe that discipleship and mentoring is truly important, if I believe equipping believers by use of the gifts bestowed by God in my life is really what honors Jesus, then that is where I should spend my life’s energy.
Now let me ask a pointed question: What is YOUR CALL in service to the King? What gifts have been given to YOU to be stewarded, and what are YOU doing with them? Is God getting back on His investment of gifts a good return from you? How do YOU serve Jesus with your life?
Second, when we truly serve people, we expose an essential truth – that God made them with intrinsic value, and we should long to help them restore themselves in that instilled dignity.
When we see them slumped against the wall of trouble and despair, we have an opportunity to sit with them and befriend them. When we do, we are not standing above them talking down, but sitting beside them reaching over. We communicate that they are NOT our project, on the order of some stray pet or some sad reason for pity. They are God’s creation. His image is stamped in them. They are a “work in progress” by a Master hand. They are worthy of love because they hold within them the breath of the Divine One. The weariness they project is a plea for a strong hand to hold. We must seek ultimately to place that hand in our Master’s hand, but we are going to need to lovingly and deliberately clasp it ourselves first. People find the tenderness of God when believers model that tenderness. Hurting people learn to trust God when they first feel the trust of people who claim to know and represent Him.
Finally, when we truly serve people we remind ourselves that the most important things in life are found in relationships, not in the accumulation of accolades, awards and diplomas by those who barely know us.
It isn’t awards that are life’s true reward – it is real connection to people that honors a REAL SAVIOR. That was the point of Paul including the CONFESSION in the text. When Jesus is served, life is valuable. Where Jesus is served, He will look like a small child that is hungry, a lost co-worker who is crying because his wife just walked out, an abused woman who needs our protection and our love. I would rather make a friend that touches my heart than win a trophy that collects dust.
The believers must be the ones in a “society gone crazy over stuff” that make it clear that life is MORE than the accumulation of estate sale items. I don’t want a trophy case in the room where I lay dying. I want my family, my friends, notes and cards from real people that mean a great deal to me. Plastic trophies given by jealous co-workers applauded by anonymous onlookers are no comfort them. The hand I hold is worth more than the money in my wallet.
Jesus is about serving – and I want to be about Jesus. He was about sacrificial giving of Himself for my need and yours. Can I claim a faith in His name that does less? No, or I should call myself by a different name.