1 Timothy 3:4-5 Managing His Household Well

What happens at home stays at home! Well, not exactly. One of the key issues during President Clinton's term in office was the divide created during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A great deal of ink was spilt arguing both for and against the point that the quality of a person's private life weighed significantly upon their capacity for effective public service. From the perspective of scripture it becomes clear, however, that the home life is far from unrelated to the public life it is at essence a microcosm which exposes the real person.

I want to rephrase that another way because, much like a surgeon's scalpel serves to provide an opening so that he may repair what is broken inside – I want to peel back for you the layers so that you can see the areas of your own life which is most in need of surrendering to God. Do not take this as an opportunity to think to yourselves, "Ah this is a sermon that (so and so) needs to hear!" Rather this is a personal message for you.

It is relatively easy to "put on the plastic Jesus" when you get out of the car on Sunday morning and pretend that everything is alright. But your performance in front of other people really isn't all that impressive to God. Because your performance really isn't an insight into your heart. But something happens when you live in close proximity to other people; we tend to let our guard down and in many ways expose who we really are to those in our own households when the doors are closed and the curtains are drawn.

When that happens who are you?

When it comes to church leadership this is even more important. It is amazing how very seldom the clear requirements for elders / pastors are even considered with regard to hiring a pastor. Humanly speaking we are very good at measuring Education and Experience but those play small roles (though not entirely insignificant1) in the Pastoral letters. But the one quality that we're not very skilled at is in evaluating Spiritual Maturity.

Measuring Spiritual Maturity is exactly the point of setting out these requirements for Leadership in the church. Any child is capable of pretending to be a grown-up. But as soon as the game is over they go back to being a child. In a very real sense what happens at home is truly living where "the game is up".

Open your Bibles Please to 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and read that passage, once again with an ear towards not only who the pastor must be, but also towards who every Christian ought to be maturing to become.
"He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…" (1 Ti 3:4-5, NASB95)


In the first Clause we read that he must "manage" his own household well. The household refers not just to the building but rather to the family which lives there. The word "manage"( προί̈σταμαι) means "to so influence others as to cause them to follow a recommended course of action".2 The way it is written indicates that the Elder has put himself responsibly at the head. In other words this is a man who takes charge of the leadership of the household.

It doesn't mean he's an arrogant autocrat but it does demonstrate order in the household.


τέκνα meaning children is an adverbial accusative of reference modifying the participle ἔχοντα. It could mean children in the broadest sense of the term beginning with the very young and limited only by the concept that those meant are still living under the household of the overseer.

A Mature Christian man takes the lead in his house; which means that he goes where he wants his family to go. A leader by definition is out in front; he cannot take someone where he himself is not willing to go. But it's not just the result of how he guides his household, nor is it mainly the fact that his children obey him which is in view. The greater emphasis is upon the character of the man doing the leading and specifically we are to look at the manner in which his leadership happens.


A Godly man leads his household with dignity.

There are many different ways of translating that phrase, "With all dignity". And the greater question is really about who is acting dignified. It could refer either to the children obeying with Dignity as the NIV translates it, or it could be taken to mean that the Pastor is dignified in the way he rules. When a translation can go either way you must return to context in order to determine it's meaning and here it is plainly the pastor/ Elder who is in view.

The English Standard Version (ESV) renders it correctly I think by saying,
"He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive," (1 Ti 3:4, ESV)

Given the context of the passage it seems much more likely that the requirement applies to the overseer himself. It is, after all, possible to beat a child into submission but that's not the method of a man of God.

The dignity in view here is well described as the kind of behavior that causes people to give respect willingly.3 We've all been exposed to certain people whom we have had difficulty respecting. They may have been good leaders but they lacked either the credibility or the consistency which would cause you to honor them in your heart. But the dignity with which a man of God would govern his own home must be of the kind that would cause his own children to honor him. This is not a dignity which is forced or contrived so as to appear for the pleasure of other people. Much rather it is "rightness" for rightness sake.

The children of the mature Christian man obey him because he is worthy of respect4 The children of an elder submit not out of cowering terror but rather because they are driven to willingly submit by what is proper in their father. He is a man worthy of respect – thus they give it to him. The methods he uses for keeping his children in submission do not destroy his dignity. It seems rather clear that an abusive father is unfit for the office.

Gentlemen ask yourselves in your heart of hearts if you are worthy of respect at home.

An overseer must be the kind of man who takes the leadership of his home seriously. It's not enough to leave it to chance. Active, intentional and effective leadership at home is a must. A key manifestation of that leadership at home will be children who submit to his authority. But their submission is one born of respect rather than out of cowering fear of the bully who rules with an iron fist but rather submitting with dignity and respect for the man who guides them lovingly and well.

The man who wants to be an elder must be able to care for his own family in the sense that he provides for it, directs it, corrects it, governs it and demonstrates self-sacrificial leadership for it.

The man of God is required to rule well at home if he is to be able to take care of the church church. To get an idea of what it means to take care of the church, look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan who spent time to nurture and care for the wounded man he found on the road.

Now Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Look into the next verse (1 Timothy 3:5) and you see the question which makes sense of the requirement.
(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)"

The simple phrase, "Does not know" is what is called an "intensive perfect". It means that the failure in knowledge is not a single event but rather it describes something that is constant. This is to say that the man in question not only failed "once upon a time" or even occasionally (as we all do) to know how to lead his family but indeed he demonstrates a continuing lack of the capacity to do so. If you're completely without a clue at home, you have no place in church leadership.

But now here's the good news for us as Fathers. The Lord our God is a perfect father and he desires to train you and to mold you into this mature man. He wants to train you through your own exposure to His word to lead your households. To begin with it is as simple as first getting yourself underneath the authority of the Word of God.

Open the Bible and read it, through Prayer take what you read and apply it to your own heart and then if you don't know what else to do, take that same passage and read it to your family. Teach them to pray through the passage and to submit themselves to God according to what you have read.

Gentlemen, do you lead your family well?

Perhaps a simple and yet necessary follow up question would be, "what do you need to bring into fresh submission to the Father?"

  1. Questions for Further study or discussion:

  2. Do the family requirements mean that a single man is actually unfit for leadership? (Based upon Paul's status as an unmarried man (1 Cor. 7) and presumably then as a non-father I think not. Yet it does pose an intriguing question and serves to make us look more carefuly for the principles at work in real life. Being mindful that this was written at a time when marriage was much more traditional than it is now perhaps might be a clue to understanding and properly interpreting this passage.
    On the topic St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) writes
    And if he speaks of a Bishop "being the husband of one wife," and "having his children in subjection" (1 Tim. iii. 2, 4), this is not said, as if it were necessary he should have a wife and children; but that if any should happen from a secular life to be advanced to that office, they might be such as knew how to preside over their household and children, and all others committed to them. For if a man were both secular and deficient in these points, how should he be7 entrusted with the care of the Church?

    Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XIII, Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 399.)

  1. In light of question #1, does this comprehension of principle -vs- hard letter shed more light on Paul's statements concerning women in Ministry in Chapter 2:9-15? (While we can point to principles at work behind the letters written in this chapter, Paul actually did that for us in the passage concerning women in the pulpit. He based his prior argumentation on two issues (Chronology and Headship) while this is about to be based upon the principle of measuring his capacity (3:5) because of this I stand by my firm resolution in the prior passage and equally rest upon the principle understanding of the current passage under discussion.)

1See for instance 2 Timothy 2:15, 4:2; Titus 1:9; and of course 2 Tim 3:7

2Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989), 1:464.

3σεμνός Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 7:193.

4Ibid TDNT 7:195.