He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?
As I pondered what text I might open for you on the first Sunday of Family Week, I thought that I would like a text that connects the family of God and the families of man. Or to put it another way, a text that brings together the family which is the church, and the families which are in the church.
The text that commended itself on those terms was 1 Timothy 3:4–5. To open this text for our understanding let's begin at the end of verse 5 and move backward through the text.
The Church Belongs to God
From the phrase "God's church" I would make the first point that the church belongs to God. The church is not man's creation and it is not man's possession. It is God's.
We can be more specific by looking carefully at the rest of the verse. In what way does the church belong to God? Is it his the way the moon and stars are his? Is it his the way the nations of the world belong to him?
Listen to the flow of the verse: "If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's . . . " What do we expect him to say? God's household. So I would say that the precise sense in which the church belongs to God is that we are his household, his family. He is the Father and we are all children to him and brothers and sisters to each other.
A Word About Singleness
Right at this point is where a word about singleness should be brought in during family week. The apostle Paul was single. So was Jesus. But neither of them was a loner. Paul had his Timothy and Barnabas and Silas and Luke. Jesus had his twelve and his Peter and James and John. He said once that if you leave your brothers and sisters and mother and father and children for the sake of the gospel, you get back a hundredfold brothers, sisters, mothers, and children (Mark 10:29–31). I take him to mean that the spiritual family makes up the sacrifices that might sometimes be necessary in the natural family.
So singleness did not mean friendlessness or lovelessness for Jesus and Paul, though it did mean chastity. Both of them stayed single and stayed chaste, and both of them commended it for others.
For example, in Matthew 19:12 Jesus spoke of those who "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." I take it that he is referring to people who consciously choose the disciplined sexual constraint implied in a life of singleness devoted to the cause of Christ.
Paul went so far as to say in 1 Corinthians 7:6 that he wished everyone could be single like he was. But then he said that not everyone has the gift for that. Some have one gift, and some another (7:7—implying that the ability to marry is also a gift!). The reason he gives (in 7:32–35) for cherishing his singleness (and wishing it for others) is that it allows him an undivided devotion to the mission of the church without the burdens of coordinating schedules and appetites and tastes and relationships with a wife and children.
Now of course Paul has lots of good and exciting things to say about marriage right here in 1 Corinthians 7:4–5 and especially in Ephesians 5:21ff. It is God's ordinance. It is the nest for begetting and rearing children for the Lord's glory. It was instituted as a living illustration of Christ's relation to the church, and so it holds some secrets of union and commitment and love that are unique in all the world.
But for all that, Paul would not surrender his singleness, nor even allow it to be despised. It had its unique advantages of freedom for Christ, and he wants others to join him in it. Singleness was not curse; it was an opportunity. The biblical implication is that sexual intimacy is not an ultimate need for a full and well-spent life. Jesus Christ never experienced it. And when our culture says you can have it all, married or single, it not only contradicts the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 15:19) but makes him out to be a fool for choosing chastity and claiming to give fullness—mark the word, FULLNESS of joy—to all who trust him: " . . . that my joy might be in you and your joy might be FULL" (John 15:11).
God's Will That Leaders Care for the Church
Let's come back to our text now in 1 Timothy 3:5. We are at the end of the verse and moving backward. The church belongs to God not man. And the focus in this context is that it belongs to him the way a family belongs to a Father. And that idea of the church being a family is filled with implications about what it means to be single in the cause of Christ. We've tried to draw out some of those implications from the life and teaching of Jesus and Paul.
Next we notice the phrase, " . . . how can he care for God's church?" So what we learn here, very simply, is that God wills that there be in the church a group of leaders who care for his family, the church.
That is what this whole paragraph is all about. Verse 1 says, "If anyone aspires to the office of bishop [literally, "overseer"] he desires a noble task." This group of overseers is virtually synonymous with elders in 5:17 and Titus 1:5, 7 (where the word "overseer" and "elder" are used interchangeably). So even though all Christians are brothers and sisters, and on level ground before God, nevertheless God intends that there be men set apart for the spiritual care and oversight of his family.
Leaders' Ability to Manage Their Homes Well
Now the third thing to notice, as we move back to the front of the verse, is that one crucial evidence of fitness for being an overseer in the family of God is that a man manage his own natural family well. "If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?"
The word "manage" is a wonderful word with at least two dimensions of meaning to it. It means literally "to stand before." And you can stand before as one who leads, and as one who protects or provides. The focus in this verse is care. You can see that at the end of the verse. The verse starts with a reference to managing or leading the home, but it ends with a reference to caring for the church.
So what we have here is another biblical illustration that leadership in the church is to be servant leadership or caring. The aim of leadership is not coercion but care. It's just what Jesus said in Luke 22:26, "Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves."
So what Paul is saying is that the way a man manages his own household is a good test of whether he can provide what the church really needs, namely, leadership that has a caring heart, and a caring heart that has the strength to lead.
Children as Evidence of a Leader's Fitness to Lead
Now if we move back to verse 4, what we see is that Paul focuses specifically on a man's children as the evidence of whether he provides this kind of leadership at home and can provide it in the church. He says, "He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way."
The Children's Responsibility to Honor Their Parents
Here is something very important for children and parents, especially fathers. In the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) the fifth commandment says, "Honor your father and mother." Don't treat them or talk about them in a way that makes them look foolish. Don't talk back to them as though they were just another kid.
Instead, the Bible says (Ephesians 6:1), "Children obey your parents." Do what they say. Don't lie to them. Next to God the instruction of your parents is the most sacred and important thing in your life. Treat them with great respect. The Bible promises that things will go far better for you if you do.
So on the one hand the Bible says that children are responsible to honor and obey their parents. If they don't, there will be trouble, and if they do, there will be reward. Children are addressed and children are responsible for their submissiveness and respect.
The Father's Responsibility for His Children's Behavior
But on the other hand our text says that fathers are responsible for the behavior of their children (1 Timothy 3:4). "He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way." If he succeeds, he will be judged more fit for church leadership, and if he fails, he will be judged unfit for church leadership. The fathers are addressed and the fathers are responsible for the children's submissiveness and respect.
How Do the Two Fit Together?
How are we to put these two things together: that the children are responsible to obey, and that the fathers are responsible to have obedient children? I'm not sure what the answer is. I've tried to think it through, but I can't see it clearly yet.
So in respect to the Scripture I am simply going to let the two truths stand, and urge you to take them very seriously. Children are responsible before God to honor, and obey, and respect, and be submissive to their parents. And parents—especially fathers—are responsible to have honoring, obedient, respectful, and submissive children.
Very practically what this means is that if one of my four sons were to ever rebel against me and become totally insubordinate and defiant and became delinquent or criminal, he would be responsible. He would have to reckon with the judgment of God, and with the inevitable consequences of conscience and social stigma and legal repercussions. He is accountable.
But that would not be the whole story. The text teaches that I am responsible for my son's submissiveness and respect. I am responsible that they be obedient. If one of them rebels against what I teach and becomes insubordinate and defiant and delinquent, I too would be held accountable. I would have to reckon with God's discipline and with the consequences for my own ministry, which could be interrupted or even ended.
The Seriousness of Being a Responsible Parent
So the impression I want to leave you with this morning—especially you fathers—is that being responsible parents is a serious business. Far more serious than most of us think. When we see ourselves as responsible for our children's submissiveness and respect as 1 Timothy 3:4–5 says we are, our response should be to go to some private corner of the house and fall on our knees before God and cry for the salvation of our children and for their protection from the Satan and their perseverance in faith and obedience to the end of their days.
And for ourselves? What should we ask for ourselves? What should we do to win from them what this text says we are responsible to win? Well, that is what we will talk about next week. If God is going to hold us accountable, does he tell us how to go about it?
Ponder this week whether there is not already a partial answer in verse 5 where we saw that what the church needs from its fathers is leadership that cares and caring that is strong enough to lead.