As long as you live in this house, you will abide by my rules!” Many of us have heard this line a time or two and, hopefully, have adjusted our behavior accordingly. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul describes the assembly with our fifth metaphor: “the household of God” (ESV) and emphasizes proper behavior therein. The Greek word oikos is found three times earlier in the chapter (vv4-5, 12) and “household” is contextually a better translation than “house.” “All references to oikos in the Pastorals imply the thought of ‘household’” (Jim Allen, What the Bible Teaches).
In Paul’s day, a household was much larger than the typical western household of the 21st century. Father and mother, unmarried children, married children with their spouses, grandchildren, and slaves (with their children) were often all contained within a single household. The likelihood for disorder and misbehavior was high.
Proper Rule in a Household
Paul devotes the first part of this chapter to an emphasis of proper rule within the assembly, and claims similarly, proper rule must be demonstrated within a household. Qualifications for overseers are given (vv1-7), many described with a single word. But the most comprehensive qualification is in relation to a man’s ability to manage his own household. Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (vv3-4, ESV)
Without proper rule, a home will be in disarray. When boundaries are unclear or non-existent, when standards suddenly and inexplicably change, or when rule is applied with partiality, everyone in the home suffers. Similarly, without proper rule, an assembly may also suffer. Sadly, we may all have witnessed elders ruling in the flesh, treating some believers (often family members) with a different set of standards than others, failing to demonstrate love for the Lord’s people, or refusing to stand for the clear truth of God’s Word. When this happens, why should we be surprised when people leave the “household”? When teenagers suddenly leave home, rebellion is usually labeled as the culprit (as it might be). However, if we were honest, improper rule could be blamed in more cases than we care to admit. Hopefully, we would be just as honest about the reason why some have left the assembly. Perhaps healthy self-reflection on our leadership, without being accusatory, would benefit us and lead us to pray for God to raise up qualified men who will rule effectively.
Thankfully, God does raise up such men to administer careful, clear, and consistent rule within the assembly. This does not guarantee they will lead perfectly, but a plurality of them working together makes it more likely there will be proper rule in the assembly, God’s household. The fact that the household is “God’s,” adds serious weight to the work these men have been called to do. They need our prayers as well as our cooperation and submission to their rule. As far as their rule is concerned, we do not need “elders’ rules” but we need “elders to rule” consistent with the truth of Scripture. If you are being led by such men, why not take a moment now to thank God for them?
Proper Roles in a Household
For a home to function properly, everyone must be aware of and properly fulfil his/her particular role. The father’s work is different from that of his wife. As we have five children, my wife can attest to the truth, “A mother’s work is never done.” The children also have their assigned and age-appropriate tasks. When roles are recognized and carried out, there is order, harmony, and security – a great atmosphere for development and growth.
Every believer in the assembly, God’s household, has a role to fulfill, not just the overseer. Paul refers to the deacons along with their wives, stating their expected qualifications (3:8-13). Deacons are simply servants entrusted with spiritual responsibility within the assembly. The role of all men to pray in assembly gatherings is emphasized in 2:8 (“I desire then that in every place the men should pray,” ESV), while the women’s role is articulated in 2:9-15, drawing attention particularly to good works, modesty, submission, and work with children. These are obviously not exhaustive examples, but are enough to remind us that we all have our roles to fulfill in God’s household. Knowing what your role is in the assembly and implementing it with God’s help will add to the order, harmony and growth desired of all within the household.
Proper Relationships in a Household
Paul’s desire for each within the assembly was that “you may know how one ought to behave” (ESV). What type of behavior did Paul have in mind? Some have taught that the behavior relates to when we are gathered together as an assembly (e.g., reverence for God displayed in our speech, dress, and attitude). While this is definitely true, I believe the behavior extends beyond this. The word for “behave” (Greek, anastrepho) is a comprehensive word “and describes, not isolated actions, but a whole manner of life” (Jim Allen).
Much of the content in the second half of this epistle is focused on godly behavior to be displayed in our relationships with one another in God’s household. Paul gives instruction about proper behavior toward older and younger men (5:1), older and younger women (5:2), widows (5:3-16), elders (5:17-21), servants and masters (6:1-2), and the wealthy (6:17-19).
When relationships in a home sour, people often take sides, and additional relationships are damaged. A home, which is intended to be a haven in a world of strife, can easily end up just like this world when we misbehave. The assembly, like a well-ordered home, should be a haven from a world filled with friction, fighting, and fear. Paul’s instructions to these groups are given to promote healthy, godly, and orderly behavior within the assembly. After reading the whole epistle of 1 Timothy, we should all have a good idea of how to behave.
May we all recognize our roles, submit to proper rule and do what we can to promote healthy relationships in the assembly, which is, figuratively speaking, God’s household.