The Greatest Women Are the Servants (1 Timothy 3:11)

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The Greatest Women are the Servants

Paul describes women who serve–1 Timothy 3:11, part two

Today, in the midst of radical feminism, women’s rights, gender confusion, women preachers and lady elders, I’d like to expose what the Bible says about women. I’ve no desire to share my opinions, my interpretation or my thoughts, but to teach and explain God’s perfect Word. “But,” you ask, “Chris, why must we look at this today?” Because 1 Timothy 3:11 makes a confusing statement about women and since at FBC we teach every verse with no burping and moving on allowed, then today I must tackle this verse.

Sadly, the role of women is abused and ignored by the vast majority of churches–or worse, modern views have overruled and maligned the teaching of Scripture. You ask, “What’s your attitude toward women, Chris?” I like ‘em–one in particular! Men need women and women need men. That’s why I am neither a chauvinist nor a feminist–I am a Biblicist.

I don’t care what the popular opinion of our day says–all I really care about is what the Bible says. And to truly embrace God’s will, you must reject what the world says, what churches say, and stick only with what God says through the Scriptures. There are benefits to this.

There isn’t a young single woman here who doesn’t have some problem with the New Testament teaching on women, for even if she heartily agrees with the Scriptures, she still needs to find someone to try them out on—a man. And that’s a struggle. Others wonder how they can possibly apply this New Testament truth while they’re going to school or pursuing a career?

Many married women wonder if the New Testament teaching isn’t all cultural and doesn’t apply to today’s liberated woman. Yet for any marriage here to experience God’s power and blessing, that marriage must follow God’s blueprint. For any parent to raise godly women or teach their sons what to look for in a woman, they must embrace God’s design.

So before we tackle 1 Timothy 3:11, lets briefly look at God’s beginning blueprint. Turn to Genesis 1. The overall teaching of Scripture is men and women are equal beings before the Lord, but they differ in the responsibilities which God has given to them. In Genesis 1:27 we see both the woman’s equality of being and submission in responsibility.

Look at Genesis 1:27 and 28, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Both men and women were created in the image of God. Neither received more of God’s image than the other.

Many of you don’t get it. Men and women are made in God’s image. First Corinthians 11:3 explains this dramatically, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” God is the head of Christ? What?

Here is a profound reminder. God is one but exists in three distinct and equal persons–God the Father, Son and Spirit. Even though fully God and equal to the Father, at the incarnation, the Son submits to the Father. Paul says it this way, “God is the head of Christ.” In the same manner, Paul says a woman submits to her husband, like the Son submits to the Father. Equal but different functions.

The roles of man and woman are not cultural. The roles of man and woman are based upon the very nature of the godhead. Men and women are made in His image. Now turn over to Genesis 2:18. Even though man was created first, he wasn’t complete on his own. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” Helper means a helper like him, suited to him, worthy of him, corresponding to him.

Verses 19 and 20, “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.”

God shows the animals to Adam to expose his need. There would be many animals that could help him, but none that could be his life companion, his soul mate. He sees the elephant—no, it’s too big. And the giraffe–too tall. The gorilla–well, maybe. Verses 21 to 25, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said, Wow! This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. 24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

God created Adam, and for a short time he was the only human being on the earth. God pronounced Adam’s aloneness as “not good”, emphasizing the need to create a partner suitable for him–one corresponding to him. Where’s her name come from? When he saw her for the first time he said, “Whoa-man!”—wo-man (literally the Hebrew indicates, “This is it”).

God’s second human creation was Eve, and she was brought forth from Adam’s body, not independently as he was. Why? To show them their need of each other. So the purpose of woman’s creation was for man. She was made to be a helper for him. The woman was created to be suitable for the man and verse 24 tells us God’s plan for them was to get married–so God marries them.

Turn to the next chapter, to Genesis 3 and the fall into sin. While woman was created to be a helper to the man and thus to submit to his leadership, Eve took the lead when the serpent tempted her and made a bad decision without consulting Adam. But before you get too uppity, men—remember, even though Eve was deceived, Adam sinned willfully.

So God cursed Adam, Eve, creation and the serpent, resulting in mankind being sinful at the core and in desperate need of salvation from a sinless God, proving we need Christ. The curse upon Eve resulted in three serious consequences. Look at 3:16, “To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, [1] in pain you shall bring forth children; [2] yet your desire shall be for your husband, [3] and he shall rule over you.”

The same word, desire, is also used just one chapter later in Genesis 4:7, with the obvious meaning of control. Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Because Moses wrote both verses only one chapter apart, the word desire in 3:16 and 4:7 have the same basic meaning–control.

Therefore, the curse of women results in a wife’s desire to control or rule over her husband, but he will, in fact rule over her (which is the root of all marital conflict). Now admittedly, this rule of men over women throughout history has often been harsh and abusive, so many have sought to excuse what the Bible says.

But a study of Genesis 2 before the fall, shows the submission of the woman was present at creation, in that the woman was created for the purpose of being a helper to the man. When the apostle Paul teaches the submission of women in marriage and in the Church in the New Testament, he uses the creation account of Genesis 2 as his foundation, proving that submission was, in fact, present at creation, not just the result of the fall.

Now it’s also true, that while the cross does not wipe out all effects of the fall (like pain in childbirth), it does return harmony to a Christian marriage. A oneness can be achieved, but not by abolishing the submission of the wife–that’s what God designed from the beginning–His blueprint. In the New Testament we rejoice as Christ exalts and appreciates women like no other. Christ treats the Samaritan woman with respect, traveled with a band of women, was close friends with women, and women were the first to see Him when He resurrected from the dead.

The New Testament teaches in Galatians 3:28 that women and men have an equal standing before God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul is not talking about male and female roles here, but our equal standing before God found in Jesus Christ. Salvation brought a freedom to women, slaves and Gentiles.

Both men and women are also equally exhorted to exercise their spiritual gifts in ministry. At the same time, wives are told five times in the New Testament to submit to their own husbands. Even Christian women married to non-Christians are to submit to their husbands. And the New Testament affirms that men not only lead their homes, but men are also required to lead in the Church. Just as Paul instructed Timothy, as the church gathers, 1 Timothy 2, affirms women primarily learn, not lead, in the Church.

First Timothy 2:11 and 12, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” With this backdrop and blueprint, open to 1 Timothy 3.

#1  The POSITION of women in service

In our study, Paul tells us in 3:15 he writes 1 Timothy to instruct believers how to behave in the Church. We’ve called our study HOUSE RULES. What are the house rules? Chapter 1 was reject false doctrine, accept true doctrine. Chapter 2 was about how men, then women behave when the Church gathers for worship. Now chapter 3 is who can serve as elders and verses 8 to 13, who can serve as deacons and the importance of service.

During the first century, servants and service were not esteemed. Only slaves and the lowest people of Roman society served others. In contrast to this attitude, Jesus taught in Matthew 23:11,”the greatest among you shall be your servant.” The greatest Christians in this room are the servants. A servant is a believer who functions as a waiter, serving others according to Christ’s Word.

Christians measure greatness in a totally different way than the world does. For the believer, greatness is not bucks, brains, beauty, fame, personality or power. The measure of a man’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves. Our aim should be service, not success.

Think about this–some of the most tender, even emotional, moments of your life occurred when someone served you. I recall being at the bottom of the barrel of life and will never forget being served by Jean Sharpe. At another point, it was John MacArthur. These are never to be forgotten memories because serving others is an expression of love.

Remember, service is nothing more than love in work clothes and every single Christian is called to be a 24/7, from the heart, servant. Galatians 5:13b, “through love serve one another.” Service is so important to the Church, Christ created an office of servant.

The Bible teaches there are two official offices in the Church. Philippians 1:1 introduced us to both. “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons”–two offices, elder and deacon. And now in 1 Timothy 3, verses 1 to 7 describe those who can be overseers/elders and verses 8 to 13 describe those who can be deacons.

Last week, verses 8 to 13 taught us deacons are men of character, men trusted by elders and the church family, men who adore their wives and men who will grow in faith and receive honor from God’s people. Yet right in the middle of Paul’s instruction to Timothy on who can be deacons, Paul makes this radical statement about women in 1 Timothy 3:11, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

Who are these women? Is this describing deaconesses, wives of deacons or women who assist with deacons? It’s funny that deacons were originally designed to alleviate tension in the church in apostolic times in Acts 6, but the office of deacon today often causes amazing tension and controversy in the church. Time will limit my ability, but allow me to persuade you to arrive at my conclusion.

Look carefully at this passage and allow me to be a little technical with you. This 2,000 year controversy will not be resolved simply, and you will have to think. Read verse 11, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” Allow me first to highlight key words, phrases and verses to help you understand 1 Timothy 3:11. Like a jigsaw puzzle, these are all the edge pieces, which then help us bring into focus the full picture of this unique passage.

In chapter 2 Paul establishes, women in the church are to be learners, not leaders. Chapter 3:8 to 13 is about male deacons, but right in the middle of his description of male deacons, verse 11 describes serving women. In verse 11 itself, the Greek word women is not wives or female deacons, just the common word for women.

It can be wives, but nothing in verse 11 requires wives. In verse 11, the word likewise introduces a new category, but because it’s placed in the middle of a paragraph describing male deacons, it is unique. Turn to chapter 5:9 to 10–these verses describe the unique widows who are supported by the Church, who also could be in view in 3:11. “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.”

Finally, Philippians 1:1, and it seems 1 Timothy 3, describe only two offices in the Church, not three. Those make up the framework of the meaning–so what does verse 11 mean? Is this describing deaconesses, wives of deacons or women who assist with deacons? Verse 11 is not describing wives of deacons for the following reasons.

1  Seems odd Paul would discuss the wives of deacons, but not the wives of elders. Yes, deacons’ wives could do more of the ministry of a deacon than an elder wife could do the ministry of an elder, but it is odd there’s no mention of elders’ wives if this is truly describing wives of deacons.

2  The subject of the verse, women, can be translated wives, but the context does not demand the meaning wives. The word can be translated widow, bride or any adult woman, married or unmarried. Plus, if it were deacons’ wives, Paul would have normally used a qualifier. He would have said, “Your wives”–but he does not.

3  The Greek word “likewise” indicates a new category–but if it were wives, Paul would give more clarity and make a separate paragraph, like he did for elders and deacons.

4  It isn’t deacons’ wives, because it changes the very nature and affirmation of deacons. If it is deacons’ wives, the church should be not merely looking at potential deacons, but looking at their wives as to whether they can serve alongside them in deacon type functions. This is not taught and it changes the nature of the body of Christ and the nature of being married to a deacon, forcing wives of deacons, especially those with children, into a ministry most wives are not designed for. And if verse 11 is deacons’ wives, it does place them in a leadership role in the church.

5  The actual discussion of deacons’ wives is covered by verse 12 with the deacons’ household and the deacon marital relationship, making verse 11 unnecessary if it is actually describing deacons’ wives. (It probably is not referring to deacon wives.)

Verse 11 is not describing the office of deaconess for the following reasons.

1  Deaconesses didn’t show up in church history until the third and fourth century

2  Philippians 1:1 names only overseers and deacons as the only two offices of the church.

3  The Greek word used to describe Phoebe in Romans 16:1 (used as evidence for deaconess) is more often translated minister or servant in the New Testament, not deacon.

4  Even though the Greek word likewise in verse 11 points to a third class of minister, it does not force the Greek word women to mean female deacon, but merely a reference to women in general.

5  The placement of this verse, 11, in the midst of the description of male deacons, minimizes the idea that this is describing an entirely new category of deaconesses. It is not its own paragraph, like elders and like deacons, therefore it is not a separate office–not deaconesses.

Verse 11 is describing women who assist deacons for the following reasons.

The other two positions are not without value–but to me, this third position makes the most sense in the context and in the practical work of the church and actual ministry.

Elders and deacons carry Christ-delegated authority in the church. Therefore, to affirm an office of leadership for women in the church in chapter 3 contradicts what Paul just taught about the role of women in chapter 2 concerning their function in the gathered church.

2  To limit the service of verse 11 exclusively to the wives of deacons changes the nature of deacons. Now we have to evaluate a deacon and his wife for deacon duties–she can no longer function uniquely the way God gifted her, but the way the deacon ministry demands. She must also be pre-children or post-children or no children in her home in order to carry the responsibilities of a deacon. Plus no wife of a deacon with young children could assist her deacon husband serving the church without violating her role as a wife and mother described in 1 Timothy 2.

3  The Greek word likewise introduces a separate group, clearly of women–but the likewise is introduced in the middle of a description of male deacons, making the group appear secondary or under to the larger discussion of male deacons.

The wedging of verse 11 in the midst of the discussion on male deacons minimizes the idea of an office of deaconess. If it was truly a separate office, it would have its own paragraph (like elder or deacon) and not stuck in the middle of a male deacon discussion. Plus Paul didn’t title them deaconesses, but women.

4  The women in Ephesus were having a hard time fulfilling their role of wife, mother and home despot according to 1 Timothy 2 and 5. If the women of verse 11 had to be wives of deacons, wouldn’t Paul have given a lot of direction concerning the home and marriage? And if deaconesses were in view, wouldn’t there be warnings about violating the home for deaconess? But there are no such explanations or warnings.

5  If verse 11 is describing godly women who come alongside deacons to serve the church, it alone best supports the description of the role of women in the church from 1 Timothy chapter 2. Women who serve alongside deacons, serving the church also is a position that best fits Paul’s discussion of widows who serve the church, coming up in chapter 5.

Also, if women who serve alongside deacons is the view, it also allows wives of deacons who can minister alongside their husbands to function in ministry, but does not force wives of deacons to serve alongside their deacon husbands in ministry. Only qualified women, but all qualified women, married to a deacon or not married to a deacon–widow, single, empty nester who are qualified can function in this role.

The functioning of Titus 2 women to work alongside deacons and elders in the context of the church is crucial. Even in church history, women were described as visiting the sick, distributing provisions among the poor, aiding women in baptismal ceremonies, visiting Christian women in pagan households, assisting the ill, visiting those in prison, praying and more. Godly Titus 2 women are absolutely necessary for a church to remain healthy and for godly male leaders to not cross the lines of propriety as they minister to Christian women in general.

I like this position best, and it just happens to be what we practice at FBC unintentionally–not planned. This third position views godly women, which can include the wives of deacons and elders and godly widows, but is not limited to those categories, serving the church alongside deacons and elders. These women are often directed by deacons or elders to care for a specific woman in the church.

They are also asked to lead various ministries to women. These Titus 2 women disciple students, serve women in need and share the Gospel with lost women in the world in awesome ways. We have women who assist leadership here. Men minister to men and women minister to women. And Paul reminds Timothy, as well as the elders and deacons of Ephesus, these women who minister to other women should be qualified in four important ways. Verse 11, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

#2  The PRACTICE of women in service

The word dignified is the same word found in verse 8, “worthy of respect.” Dignified is a woman focused on Christ, His Word and ministry to Christ’s Church. Dignified is also translated honorable–it is used in Philippians 4:8 to describe what Christians are to think about. You are to dwell upon honorable things—the same word.

Like verse 8 taught us, we wrongly make dignity a personality issue, like the Russian pastor I talked to who defined dignity as never laughing. Dignity is an internal character and conviction quality. The word dignity means worthy of respect, honorable and serious about Christ. They are sincere, genuine, trusting and sober in speech–slow to speak.

In fact, “not malicious gossips”–that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Godly women ministering to other women in the church have to guard their tongues. If they gossip, they create division, hatred and suspicion. Gossip spreads bad rumors, makes innuendos, causes criticisms, creates negative attitudes and lies about people.

Gossip causes individuals to think the worst about someone, not the best. I’ve watched inappropriate discussions about someone literally destroy them. I’ve seen malicious gossip erode a church family, altering it from vibrant to apathetic. Godly women do not gossip. Godly women are careful what they say and godly women are never malicious.

We don’t think of gossip as a God-hating, devil-loving and deadly, unsaved behavior. But the word “malicious gossips” is the same word for the devil in the singular. The word “malicious gossips” is where we get our English word diabolical. Slanderous talk hurts people, divides unity and destroys churches and women who minister to the church family. They must stop talking to others about what they see and hear as they care for others in their lowest, darkest time.

But temperate” is tough to translate. It’s best understood as stability. Women who serve other women in the church must have a mental and emotional stability. They’re to be self-controlled in behavior, balanced in their judgments, and freed from debilitating preferences. They are clear-headed, make good choices and rarely melt down emotionally. As they minister to the women of a church, they must be stable.

Faithful in all things”–true godly ministry women are dependable. A woman who is flirtatious, neglects her family, is casual in obedience, fickle in loyalties, changes her mind, or breaks commitments is unfaithful. Solomon says, “Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot, is confidence in a faithless man [or woman] in time of trouble” (Proverbs 25:19).

Women who minister must be faithful. Faithful in all things is a beautiful phrase. When you look at a face, most often you are drawn to the eyes or the smile. When our Lord looks at believers, He is drawn to see the quality of faithfulness. Being trustworthy, reliable and dependable is high on God’s valued qualities. These women who minister to women alongside deacons and elders are to have an unshakeable loyalty.

In the throes of ministry, they’ll not only witness the sins of God’s people, but the weaknesses, shortcomings, struggles and bents of leadership and believers in general. Therefore, to be gracious, they must not only be faithful to Christ, to their families, and to those leaders, but also faithful in all things. This Titus 2 woman is faithful in every relationship and every sphere of life.

A  Women in Christ rejoice in their role as they imitate the GODHEAD

Submission is an attribute of God, found in the submission of the Son to the Father. A godly woman delights in the truth that her submission glorifies God. A godly single woman seeks to display submission to her father just as much as a godly married woman seeks to display submission to her husband–all to glorify God.

In order for this to happen, a woman must be a woman in Christ. She must be born again, with a new heart which desires God’s will over her own. Have you submitted to Christ? Because, until you do, you will never be able to submit to government, church leadership, a husband, a father or to one another.

B  All who are genuinely MATURE faithfully serve others

Some choose to serve for a season, others serve to fill a need–but the mature serve others as a way of life, 24/7. They serve those who need it and those who don’t deserve it. They minister to the lost and the saved. The mature, “through love, serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b).

They serve others in the church in the way the Lord gifted them to, 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another.” The office of deacon itself is proof that the mature are those who serve. And Titus 2 reminds us mature godly women serve younger women.

Titus 2:3 and 4, “Older women … teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children.” Genuine spiritual maturity never moves away from service, but grows deep in service.

C  Do all you can to honor and submit to your spiritual LEADERS

Regardless how you view verse 11, all believers are to submit to their leaders, appreciate them, and literally make their role as elder and deacon a joy and not a grief. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

The word grief here means groan and sigh. Get the picture? Your goal is to not be one of those Christians who causes the leadership to groan then sigh, but to actually encourage their very souls with joy.

First Thessalonians 5:12 adds, “We request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor [deacons] among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction [elders].” Submission to those whom God places in authority is submission to God Himself. Honor to those in leadership is to honor God Himself. Thank him for all the authorities God has placed in your life. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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