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It ought to be no surprise that the wives of church leaders are given such prominence in 1 Timothy 3. When the Lord calls a man into leadership, He calls his wife to accompany and support him. The role of “helper” in Genesis 2:20 presupposes a task for which the man requires assistance. He can’t do it alone; hence God makes provision by creating a perfect human companion. Her skills are not the same as his, but she will be part of what he needs to fulfill the commission that God has given. It is obvious from 1 Timothy 3:11 that this “complementarian” duo finds expression in the church where, by sharing with his wife, an elder can benefit from a more nuanced perspective that would be foolish to dismiss. He may leave her behind when he goes into an elders’ meeting, but for the most part, as he fulfills his regular responsibilities, she is right there beside him playing a vital role. God has united elders and deacons to wives who complement them in character and gifts.

If we assume, by good and necessary consequence, that the female virtues listed in 1 Timothy 3:11 apply to the wives of elders as well as those of deacons, the qualities sought should be identical in both of the wife cohorts. The same key passage also reveals that the combined qualities required in elders, deacons, and their wives are remarkably similar. Instead of dissecting each attribute as it is assigned to elder, deacon, or respective wife, perhaps a more holistic perspective of 1 Timothy 3 might be the recognition of a big glorious picture of the “household of God,” overseen by a group of men who are chosen, along with their wives, to serve in continuous, natural, pastoral care. Singleness is no impediment to eldership (indeed, in some circumstances, it is an advantage); nonetheless, in general, “two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil” (Eccl. 4:9).

Their qualities can be described in four descriptors: “dignified, not slanderers, sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 3:11). The dignity expected from an elder’s wife is no less than what is expected from her husband: they are to be examples of maturity in the Lord, conducting themselves in a patient, Christlike manner. Such a demeanor is most evident at stressful times when there is a temptation to react impulsively. The consistent behavior of officers and their wives will often make the difference between unity and disintegration, peace or unrest.

The consistent behavior of officers and their wives will often make the difference between unity and disintegration, peace or unrest.

The elder and his wife will also be discreet, “not slanderers” (1 Tim. 3:11), which of course means that their words are all important. It is always sobering to remember that one thoughtless conversation or one idle rumor can mean the difference between unity or ruin. The harm that can be done to even the most vibrant fellowship by a throwaway remark is incalculable. As elders and their wives interact with others, discretion means the discernment to know what to say, when to speak, and when to keep quiet.

By virtue of his office in the church, an elder will sometimes possess sensitive information. The issue of confidentiality is a tricky one that has to be worked out by means of elders’ policy, prudent judgment, and godly common sense. There are, of course, deeply delicate scenarios that are best not shared, but these should be obvious, and a discerning wife will be content not to know what is judged unwise to divulge.

Thankfully, such situations are rare. In reality, potentially difficult situations can often be resolved early by natural interaction as the leadership, with the support of their wives, take seriously their responsibility to provide meaningful pastoral care in a visible role model of consistent Christian marriage. Healthy church discipline does not begin when charges are drawn up, but it takes place naturally and regularly over lunch and coffee, where wise words can make the difference between healing and harm, growth and backsliding. In these preemptive scenarios, the unique contribution of wives is absolutely indispensable.

Wives are also called, with their husbands (1 Tim. 3:3), to be “sober minded.” This quality describes a state of mind that is clear and levelheaded, particularly in unforeseen and difficult challenges where an important balance needs to be struck by the meeting of two minds. Wives often can provide the kind of levelheaded, objective assessment that is often vital to “sober” judgment.

Likewise, a wife who displays “faithfulness in all things” will actively share in her husband’s pastoral vision for the church and his deep and genuine concern for the people in their province. She will, along with her husband, provide the stability and reliability that will stay focused on the centrality of the church and what it represents.

In the complexities of today’s church, the combined wisdom of a husband and wife is often essential to provide balanced counsel, particularly in relational matters. While men are assigned to specific “offices” of leadership, it would be a foolish man who would not listen carefully to the wisdom of the godly spouse whom God has given as a partner in the work of the gospel.

Finally, it should be remembered that wives often bear the indirect stresses that inevitably arise as a result of the difficulties connected with church leadership. Moreover, whatever sacrifices are required of those in ministry, wives are often willing to make greater ones as they put aside their interests and comforts to support their husbands. God sees their steadfastness and patience and assures them that their labor is not in vain in the Lord.

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From the February 2021 Issue
Feb 2021 Issue