1 and 2 Timothy—Fine Counsel for Overseers
THE two inspired letters to Timothy (as well as that to Titus) have special meaning for men in Christian congregations today. How so? In that today, even as at the time when these letters were written, we are faced with very perilous times—times when godlessness and apostasy are threatening the pure worship of Jehovah God.
Moreover, at First Timothy 3:1 the apostle Paul had written that anyone reaching out for the office of overseer was desirous of a fine work. But for a time until September 1972 there was a congregation servant who exercised general oversight in each Christian congregation, and ostensibly the one best qualified held that office; some congregation servants, in fact, holding that office for many years in succession. So how open was it for any other men in such a congregation to reach out for that work? Of course, there were also the assistant congregation servant and other assigned servants.
However, when it was appreciated that there could be as many overseers or elders as were needed in a congregation, as noted at Philippians 1:1, the office of overseer was made available to all brothers who qualified. All dedicated men were invited to reach out for this office. So what Paul wrote to Timothy came to be broadened out and more closely examined for our time.
Who was this Timothy? The Bible tells us that he had an unbelieving Greek father but a believing Jewish mother and grandmother. From earliest infancy he had been instructed in God’s Word by these women. As quite a young man he was asked by Paul to join him on his missionary tours. And so as to avoid problems in preaching to the Jews, Timothy the half-Greek was circumcised. Not only did he accompany the apostle on these tours, but time and again he acted as an envoy for Paul. Timothy is also mentioned as accompanying Paul at the time that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians, Corinthians (the second letter), Colossians and Philemon. Like Paul, Timothy was imprisoned because of his ministry, for, at Hebrews 13:23, we read of his release from prison.
Timothy started out relatively young to journey with Paul. However, when counseled by him not to let any man look down on his youth, Timothy must have been already in his thirties. (1 Tim. 4:12) It is quite likely that Timothy was somewhat diffident or hesitant about asserting his authority. This seems implied in Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian congregation: “See that he [Timothy] becomes free of fear among you, for he is performing the work of Jehovah, even as I am. Let no one, therefore, look down upon him. Conduct him part way in peace.” (1 Cor. 16:10, 11) It appears that he did not have a robust constitution—which would help in accounting for his diffidence—for he had stomach trouble and “frequent cases of sickness” for which Paul advised his drinking wine rather than water. It could well be that the drinking water back there was not especially pure. (1 Tim. 5:23) But there was no question about Timothy’s being a loyal, devoted friend and co-worker. Paul wrote of him: “I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you.”—Phil. 2:19, 20.
OVERSEERS AND MINISTERIAL SERVANTS
In writing to Timothy the apostle Paul discussed the office of overseer. What are some of the qualifications that a man must meet who would be an overseer? First of all, he must be free from blame, have only one wife, be sober, self-controlled, hospitable and qualified to teach in the congregation. He may not be a heavy drinker of wine, nor a violent, belligerent man, but gentle of disposition, peaceable. He may not be a lover of money, materialistic, and must be able to manage his own family or household well. A newly converted man would not qualify, for he likely would swell up with pride. Moreover, an overseer should be a man respected by those outside the congregation.—1 Tim. 3:1-7.
Those qualifying as assistants to the overseers, the ministerial servants, should first be tested as to fitness. They also must be free from accusation, serious, not double-tongued, not overly fond of wine, not greedy for dishonest gain but holding the truth of God’s Word with a good conscience. And they, too, should be husbands of not more than one wife and manage their families well.—1 Tim. 3:8-10, 12, 13.
In addition to outlining qualifications of men serving in the congregations, Paul’s letter to Timothy deals with their duties, with matters of congregational discipline. Timothy as an overseer, as well as a special representative of Paul, was to see to it that the truth from God’s Word was taught and not false stories and other things that do not build up. He was also to encourage prayer concerning those in high station so that Christians might lead a calm, quiet and godly life. It is God’s will that all sorts of men be saved, for which reason God has provided a Mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ.—1 Tim. 1:3-7, 18-20; 2:1-6.
As regards women in the congregation, Paul admonished that they should dress modestly, manifesting soundness of mind, letting their adornment be their fine dispositions and works. Further, women are not permitted to teach men or to exercise authority over them but are to be submissive; for was not Adam created first? Women should also be serious, not slanderous, moderate in habits and faithful in all things. Widows needing support should be assisted by the congregation, provided they have been exemplary Christians over the years and do not have relatives that can care for them. And any man who would refuse to care for his own family would be worse than an unbeliever.—1 Tim. 2:9-15; 3:11; 5:3-16.
Timothy is also to give special consideration to the older men. Those who preside in a fine way are to be accorded double honor by the congregation, with due recognition being given to their hard work in speaking and teaching. Older men are not to be severely rebuked but entreated like fathers. And accusations against them should not be admitted except on the testimony of two or more witnesses. Any who continue in sin should be reproved before all onlookers.—1 Tim. 5:1, 17-20.
It appears that quite a few slaves became Christians, and so Paul also instructs Timothy regarding these. They should give due respect to their masters so that God’s name is not reproached. Should slaves have Christian masters, they should not take advantage of this. They should give them even better service.—1 Tim. 6:1, 2.
Overseers are also to be alert to the snare of materialism. So Paul stresses the value of godly devotion with contentment. After all, we brought nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it. So, having food and clothing, all should be content. Those who are determined to get rich get into all kinds of trouble, for the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things. Those who are rich should be reminded not to boast because of their wealth but to seek to be rich in good works, generous, ready to share with those in need.—1 Tim. 6:6-19.
In all of this Timothy is to do his utmost to be a workman approved by God, handling God’s Word aright. It is most valuable “for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,” enabling God’s servants to be “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16, 17.
In both First and Second Timothy, Paul was inspired to give prophetic warning of future worsening conditions. At First Timothy 4:1-3 Paul tells of some falling away from the true faith in later periods of time, forbidding to marry and teaching doctrines of demons. At Second Timothy 3:1-5 he foretells the perilous last days in which we find ourselves, when men will be lovers of themselves, of money, proud, fierce, without natural affection, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, hypocritical. Then, at Second Timothy 4:3, 4, Paul warns of the time when men will not put up with healthful teaching but will gather to themselves teachers that will flatter them rather than teach truth.
PAY CONSTANT ATTENTION TO YOURSELF
With inspired wisdom, Paul not only counseled Timothy on the qualifications of elders in the Christian congregation and how these should discharge their duties, but also showed concern for the personal conduct of his friend. Repeatedly Paul likens the Christian to a soldier. “Go on waging the fine warfare; holding faith and a good conscience.” “Be training yourself with godly devotion as your aim.” “Fight the fine fight of the faith.” “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” “As a fine soldier of Christ Jesus take your part in suffering evil.” And Paul speaks of himself as having “fought the fine fight” of faith.—1 Tim. 1:18, 19; 4:7; 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:3; 4:7.
Also, Paul repeatedly counseled Timothy to display such fruits of God’s spirit as love, faith, righteousness, godly devotion, endurance, mildness of temper. (1 Tim. 4:12; 6:11, 12) Additionally, Paul instructed him in his duties as an overseer: “Keep on giving these commands and teaching them.” “Continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching.” And indicative of Paul’s appreciating just what is involved in discharging an overseer’s duties are his words: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed; as perhaps God may give them repentance.”—1 Tim. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:23-25.
Truly the two inspired letters of Paul to Timothy are filled with fine instructions for overseers! But not just for overseers, for these letters also contain excellent admonition for all in the Christian congregation regardless of their sex or station in life!