In 1 Timothy 3, the Bible describes qualifications of Christian leaders. This is one of perhaps 20 texts that I have thought about constantly through 45 years of ministry, and in reading it, tried to understand how the writer thought. It has been my experience that if I can understand how a Biblical writer thought, and change my own thinking process to his, then I can much more easily apply the text in my daily life.
Understanding what the writers meant to say via hermeneutical principles helps to have an accurate understanding of God's revealed truth, but entering into how the writer thought helps me better understand how to do the text. This does not require mindreading, but looking at the process and patterns of behavior involved in what is written.
Let me suggest three thought patterns found in these two lists of qualifications in I Timothy 3. All of these thought patterns are appropriate for understanding how to work in living social systems, and all apply to dealing with either individual relationships or in a much broader context.
- Paul was thinking in relational patterns.
The text is permeated with qualifications that are relational qualities: “Temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, not quarrelsome, not malicious talkers, manage his children and his household well.” Paul, I am sure, believed that being able to preach God's word and having other administrative abilities were also important, but here, he was thinking very relationally.
- Paul was thinking of how to remove hindrances.
To do God's work, the servant of God is to be “not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, not given to much wine, not a recent convert” so as to not have conceit. The absence of these problems and their ramifications will help keep Christian leaders from getting in the way of what God wants to do through them and His church. Here Paul is seeking to remove obstacles from a church ministry so it can be more effective in doing God's task in the world.
- Paul was thinking concentrically.
The husband, wife and family relations are mentioned four times in these 13 verses. Verse 5 goes so far as to say, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" This text focuses on the Christian leader's home and only then goes to issues about ministry in the church. All this suggests to me a core of the home from which ministry moves out in concentric rings to broader areas of involvement in church and community.
If we also think relationally and concentrically, we will always make sure that the core out of which we develop a ministry effort is very solid. The core, such as a marriage or a team of people, models the way things can be developed in the broader arena. These patterns are timeless: we learn, plan and work together in healthy relational ways that remove hindrances as we work concentrically out from our relational core to the broader world.