By Adam Brown –
God’s vision for the structure of the church is quite simple. Overseers are entrusted with headship under Christ, and with headship comes the responsibility to teach and exercise authority (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Servants are called to help the overseers in the implementation of ministry (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Herein lies our seventh instruction for the church: Appoint qualified servants.
The two foundational planks to this instruction come in the parallel verses, 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:11:
3:8: Διακόνους ὡσαύτως σεμνούς, μὴ διλόγους, μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας, μὴ αἰσχροκερδεῖς.
(Deacons, likewise, must be dignified, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.)
3:11: Γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν.
(Women, likewise, must be dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, faithful in all things.)
Notice the word for word symmetry of these two verses:
Διακόνους // Γυναῖκας (Servants // Women)
ὡσαύτως // ὡσαύτως (likewise // likewise)
σεμνούς // σεμνάς (must be dignified // must be dignified)
μὴ διλόγους // μὴ διαβόλους (not double tongued // not slanderers)
μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας // νηφαλίους (not addicted to much wine // sober-minded)
μὴ αἰσχροκερδεῖς // πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν (not greedy for dishonest gain // faithful in all things)
Six observations about the comparison of 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:11:
- By his carful attention to their shared grammatical structure, it would seem that Paul expects these two verses to be read in light of one another.
- The women (Γυναῖκας) in 3:11 are put in a parallel position to the male servants(Διακόνους) at the head of each respective clause, making them equivalent subjects syntactically.
- The word “likewise” (ὡσαύτως) in 3:8 introduces the male servants as a group that is distinct from the male overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In the same way, the word “likewise” (ὡσαύτως) in 3:11 introduces the women as a group that is distinct from both the male overseers and the male servants. Thus we have three groups: (1) male overseers; (2) male servants; and (3) women.
- What is true of the male servants in 3:8 is true of the women in 3:11. Both groups are to be identically qualified. Both must be dignified. Both must be careful with their words. Both must be sober. Both must be trustworthy with material resources.
- Qualifications imply certain tasks. For example, male overseers are expected to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and to keep their children submissive (1 Timothy 3:4-5). These qualifications suggest that male overseers are expected to teach and exercise authority. Neither of these qualifications is given for the male servants of 3:8 or the women of 3:11. Thus, even while we have three demographic groups (male overseers, male servants, and women), there seems to be two functional positions in view. Male overseers lead while male servants and women help by serving.
- There is nothing in 3:8 or 3:11 that contradicts 1 Timothy 2:12, which reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Thus, there is no inherent contradiction between 1 Timothy 2:12 and the view that qualified women should be permitted to serve alongside qualified men in the role of servant in the local church.
Of course, the passage is more broad than these two verses. If we fill in the passage, might we discover that women are prohibited from serving as servants in the local church? Let’s take a look.
First Timothy 3:9 tells us that servants are to be BELIEVERS, not teachers:
They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
Both men and women are equally called to hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Contrary to 1 Timothy 3:2, this qualification does not suggest the role of teacher, but rather of believer. Thus, both men and women are appropriate candidates for this verse.
First Timothy 3:10 suggests that servants are to be HELPERS, not leaders:
And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
These servants are to be tested before being permitted to serve. Context suggests that it is the male overseers who exercise authority over the servants, by both qualifying them for service and then overseeing their ministry. There is no indication from this verse that servants in the local church will be exercising authority. Thus, both men and women are fit to serve in this manner.
First Timothy 3:12 envisions servants as FAITHFUL MANAGERS, not governors:
Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
Male servants are to demonstrate their faithfulness by being one-woman men. They are also to demonstrate their managerial acumen by how they organize their children and their own household. Whereas male overseers are to keep their children submissive (1 Timothy 3:4), it is not explicit that same expectation applies to male servants. This might have to do with the necessity of male overseers to exercise authority in the local church. By contrast, male servants are to be good managers, without the same call to authority.
This verse is clearly directed to the male servants. The question is whether or not it can also be applied to the women mentioned in 3:11. Fidelity in marriage is true for both men and women. Thus, on the level of principle, women are also to be one-man women (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:9). Moreover, women are called to be good managers of the home (c.f. 1 Timothy 5:14). The words for “manage their own households” (προΐστημι. . . τῶν ἰδίων οἴκων) in 3:12, is not the same as the word for “manage their household” (οἰκοδεσποτεῖν) in 5:14. Nevertheless, both mean to “rule the household,” which is a task given to men as well as to women. Thus, even while the verse is primarily directed to male servants, the principles espoused are also applicable to women without any risk of contradicting 1 Timothy 2:11-15.
First Timothy 3:13 encourages servants to be MEMBERS in good standing with confidence in their salvation in Christ:
For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
There are two ideas in this verse. First, those who serve well are a ready addition to any local church. Other members in the church recognize their good contribution, which gives these servants a good standing. Second, good service contributes to a person’s assurance of salvation. By serving according to the Scriptures, these servants make their election sure. Both of these concepts are equally appropriate for men and women.
Having surveyed 1 Timothy 3:8-13, it seems best to appoint qualified men and qualified women to serve as servants in the local church. As servants, these men and women are not to teach or exercise authority. Thus, the church is not in contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Rather, these men and women are appointed to help the male overseers to do the work of the ministry. Servants are believers, not teachers; helpers, not leaders; faithful managers, not governors. And, by serving, they establish themselves as members in good standing with much confidence that their salvation is real.
* Note: At Southshore, we call these servants, “stewards.”