1 Timothy 3:6 Let’s Get Growing


In the early church, at least around the time of Chrysostom who lived around (C 350AD) they recognized at least two stages in a Christian's early life. First you became a catechumen which meant you were being instructed in the ways of Christ and were likely to have received Christ. But first it was required for a time that the catechumen would learn the principles of the faith and prove by evidence of life the sincerity of their fledgling faith. When that catechumen underwent baptism he was called a Neophyte which literally means seedling or "new growth1." It was longer still before that neophyte would be considered a mature Christian. In the context of 1 Timothy 3, it is imperative that an overseer be mature and be seen as holy lest he fall prey to the Devil's schemes. In these two verses we have the two final requirements for an overseer and three results of them being broken.

It all begins with ensuring that the overseer had time to Grow.

Time To Grow

Paul continues the passage saying that the candidate for overseer must not be a new convert. If you've ever heard the word Neophyte2 than you've go the idea of what Paul means by new convert here. The imagery is of a seedling which has only just germinated and burst from its seed. In computer terms we talk about someone like this as a NOOB which means you know very little about computers and are generally at a loss. Paul's use is set somewhat in juxtaposition against the concept of being an "elder" which by definition demands maturity.

When it comes to maturity – nothing takes the place of time. Time in and of itself does not mean maturity as is evidenced in Hebrews 5, but maturity doesn't happen overnight. It's true enough that it takes only a few months to raise a large zucchini; but an oak tree can take decades. But which one would you rather build your house with?

Maturity

At minimum maturity includes time but "The point, of course, lies more in length of experience than of age.3" Initially this is obvious since a neophyte is precisely the opposite of someone who has matured. Timothy himself provides and excellent demonstration that this doesn't mean merely age, but indicates something more in depth namely: maturity. Failing the maturity test, it's almost certain that an immature believer thrust into leadership will quickly become full of himself.

Arrogance

The quite natural result if he fails to have time to grow is arrogance. In brief time he will start to believe that he has arrived and that he among all the others is the one true shining example of what a believer is supposed to be. Oh how proud God must be of me, he will say to himself. And being full of his own arrogance, blinded by pride he will fall into the devil's judgment.

To "become conceited" translates a word that means "wrap in smoke."4 The image is of smoke rising to conceal. Figuratively it means to be overcome by your own self importance as if being blinded by a smokescreen – in brief you just plain become full of yourself because you lack an accurate point of reference.

When new pilots are training, they learn the mechanics of the aircraft, principles of flight – familiarity with the controls and so forth. They undergo dozens of hours of instruction with a trained instructor beside them and initially they will train for many hours under clear skies and simple environments until they grow in their confidence and capability to pilot an aircraft. The whole while they will continually reference the many gages and readouts available in the cockpit. In time they will increase their training to the point that they can fly without sight, relying exclusively on their instrument panel to guide them safely even in the densest fog and harshest weather.

New Believers rarely have the tools to fly on instruments so to speak. Only through length of training familiarity with the word of God over a period of time does a new believer gain what is truly needed to not only "fly solo" but also to pilot the plane with passengers. If you would be afraid to fly with a fledgling pilot how much more should we be wary of immature elders?

Moreover, the danger to the church is one thing but there is an enormous danger to the overseer as well. Paul warns that conceited man will fall into the judgement of the devil.

judgment

But what exactly does that mean? Actually the phrase can be taken one of two basic ways.5

It could be taken one of two ways and differing Bible translations go towards one side or the other.6

  1. Receiving the judgement which the devil received.

  2. Receiving judgment at the hand of the devil.

Condemnation or judgment as it is used here is a courtroom term meaning the judges final decision. This is the "verdict" if you will.

In the context of scripture (Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28) we find that the Devil's first sin was pride. It was Lucifer's7 beauty and his job's duties which filled him with pride and formed the root of his rebellion against the Almighty. The comparison is thus that a new convert pushed suddenly into the pastoral position will become enamored with himself and will soon fall into judgement.

We might be left holding the bag trying to figure out what kind of judgment is meant except that scripture gives us some context to help us figure it out. Two passages in particular give us an example while a third helps to tilt the argument clearly towards interpreting this as God using the devil to punish an arrogant elder.

First in Second Corinthians 12:7 we see Paul who himself was taken up to heaven and who saw there magnificent visions which he was forbidden to share. God knew that Paul would thereafter be prone to pride and so in his great love and wisdom he permitted an evil spirit to torment Paul as a thorn in the flesh.

The next passage is back in 1 Timothy at 1:20 passage, Hymenaus and Alexander were turned over to the hands of the evil one in order to teach them a lesson – in other words that horrific punishment was remedial not punitive. Neither God nor Paul was hopefully for their destruction but rather they were hoping that they would be so miserable in their state that they would return with humbled and repentant hearts.

Finally we have the immediate context in the next verse. There is a significant parallelism in verses 6 and 7.8 And parallelism, or repeating things only slightly differently was a very common rabbinic teaching method with which Paul was certainly familiar.

Application

A simple application: don't appoint as a pastor someone who has not had time to mature. Don't seek to be a pastor until you've had time to mature. But let's look at an application that works for everyone else here… How is your pride quotient? James 4:6 is clear enough: …"GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."

Does not the very simple prescriptive of "not a neophyte" demand that every Christian be busy about the business of growing in Christ? Growing is a result of intentional work in the grace and faith of Jesus and in knowledge of and obedience to the scriptures. Are you growing? Far too many Christians are little different from the frustrating lot found in Hebrews chapter 5 who after these many years should be qualified to teach but they require still the milk and simplicity of the gospel. Forty year Christians still wearing diapers and bibs is a travesty of ignorance in our age and day.

Let us press on towards maturity!

1Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002), 4:231-232.

2νεόφυτον neophyte

3A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Logos, 1919; 2006), 664.

4 τυφωθεὶς Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker's Greek New Testament library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), 386.

5There is no shortage of potential interpretations. Others which I have not focused on include (A) being slandered by others, in which case the word for devil is translated according to its meaning rather than as a name devil. (B) Falling under the slanderous accusations of the devil (whereas Satan is elsewhere called the accuser of the brethren) (C) The phrase means that Satan places judgement upon you. Admittedly this last one is quite weak since Satan doesn't judge, he in fact is judged. Also it sounds too much like B above it.

6Those translations which opt for a subjective genitive translation (God using the devil to discipline you) are the: (ESV, NET, NLT, Tyndale, The Message)
those translations which opt for an objective genitive translation (getting the same judgement the devil got) are the:( NASB95, NAS, CSB, CJB, NIV, NJB, NKJV, Moffat, Good News, NCV)
While the following translations either stick strictly to a literal and thus somewhat foggy translation which enables both options or choose some other possible translation: (ASV, Darby, BBE, DRA, ERV, Geneva 1599, KJV, MRD, NAB, NRS, Bishops, RSV, RWB, WEB, YLT, ETH, MGI, HCSB)

7The name lucifer is derived from the Latin for "bearer of light" or "Shining one" which occurs in Isaiah 14:12

8Refer: I. Howard Marshall and Philip H. Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 483.