What I Epistle to Timothy relates about the organization of the church of Ephesus

Chapters 18 and 19 of the Book of Acts tells us how the Apostle Paul came to Ephesus and planted the church in that city. After spending more than two years in Ephesus, teaching those who believed in Jesus Christ the way of the Lord, before departing for Macedonia, Paul let Timothy to watch over the good progress of the ministry and gave him advice how to organize or to put the church in a good order. In the first letter to Timothy, the Apostle speaks much about how the church should be organized and in this article I want to follow these things only within this epistle.

Apostle Paul

As one who planted the church in Ephesus, Paul knew people from this church and their problems the best. He was watching their condition and spiritual growth and at his departure, he entrusted this authority to Timothy, as written at the beginning of the epistle:

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3-4)(NASB)


Even if Paul does not specify the competence he has given to Timothy in Ephesus, it is very clear from reading the epistle, that Timothy was to act in the same authority that Paul had had in the church. In this authority, Timothy was to put in order several things.

The bishop

It seems that the church in Ephesus was to choose a bishop, who had to receive that authority which Timothy had received from the apostle Paul. But, given the great responsibility and authority that the bishop would be given, the Apostle writes to Timothy to pursue well and to entrust this service only a man who had a beautiful and righteous character and thus, he would be able to bear the responsibility. Here’s what Paul wrote to Timothy about the bishop’s qualities:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 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?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)(NASB)

Timothy had the responsibility to choose and put in service the bishop and the deacons.

The deacons

The establishment of a deacon’s service is well presented in the book of Acts and it was a necessary service in all the churches of old times and in those of nowadays. But the Apostle Paul insisted on his son in faith to recall him again in details the qualities required from those to be ordained to the service of a deacon:

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)(NASB)

The elders

The word “elder” in Greek means old and it shows not only the physical age, but the spiritual maturity of the person and the role he had in taking important decisions. The church had several elders and they were laying on their hands (were ordaining) the new ministers. This happened in Timothy’s case, too, as Paul writes:

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14)(NASB)

Elders were also preachers, teachers and those who administered the church, as we see the following verse:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17)(NASB)

The list of widows

If we see today the other categories, this one is missing in most churches and no one puts great emphasis on restoring it in the organization of the local churches. This was a list of women who were widows and who were taken care of by the local church, it fulfilled their needs after they were passing the age of 60 years, only if they had served faithfully the saints of the church.

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, 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. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)(NASB)

The truths emphasized here are the following:

  • The success of the first centuries church was due to the quality of the leader’s character and not due to the sophisticated organization system.
  • The organization was simple but directed to meet the needs.

Translated by Felicia Rotaru