8 Leadership Principles from 1 Timothy

The apostle Paul was one of the greatest leaders in church history. He loved his disciple Timothy, and wrote multiple letters filled with excellent leadership advice for the young evangelist.

When a great spiritual leader like Paul describes leadership principles, we should take note. In this article, we will discuss 8 Leadership Principles from Paul’s first letter to Timothy:

  1. Good Doctrine is an Essential of Good Leadership
  2. Leaders Own Their Mistakes
  3. Spiritual Leaders Pray for Others
  4. Leaders Must be Above Reproach
  5. Leaders Must Care for Their Family
  6. Spiritual Leaders Must be Humble
  7. Leaders Seek to Unify and Prevent Strife
  8. Leaders Pursue Righteousness over Riches

Although these leadership principles were written directly to Timothy, they are timeless principles for leaders in your church, place of work, and community.

Good Doctrine is an Essential of Good Leadership

This leadership principle in 1 Timothy gets four mentions throughout the text: Paul urges Timothy to rely on good doctrine.

Our doctrine, what we believe, has a direct impact on our leadership. Good doctrine produces good leaders, and bad doctrine produces bad leaders.

Paul opens the letter in 1 Timothy 1:3-7, urging Timothy to teach good doctrine:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Paul is quick to point out the futility of bad doctrine and speculations. It serves as a distraction, pulling people away from the heart of issues and sincere faith.

But he doesn’t stop there. In 1 Timothy 4:6-16, he has this to say:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Truth is of the utmost importance for leaders. Once again, Paul calls Timothy to reject “silly myths,” and commends him to pursue the truth.

Good doctrine is not something that comes naturally to us. It is not something we achieve and then have forever. Rather, good doctrine and knowledge of the truth are like exercise. We must work to maintain a good knowledge of the truth, keeping a close watch on ourselves, or else we are prone to wander away from the truth. This is why Paul encourages Timothy to “practice these things,” to “immerse yourself in them,” and to “persist in this.”

Good doctrine is not something that comes naturally to us. It is not something we achieve and then have forever. Rather, good doctrine and knowledge of the truth are like exercise. We must work to maintain a good knowledge of the truth, keeping a… Click To Tweet

Paul continues to push for good doctrine, and even defines the source of all good doctrine in 1 Timothy 6:3-5,

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

Where does good doctrine come from? It aligns with the teachings of Jesus.

If we try to alter that doctrine, it demonstrates our own pride and a desire for chaos. The truth should set us free, so when teachings instead create friction and slander and envy, we know that it is not good doctrine.

Lastly, Paul concludes his letter to Timothy with one final admonition to focus on the truth 1 Timothy 6:20-21,

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Good doctrine is so important to Paul that he both begins and ends the letter with a reminder to to hold to the truth. Why is the truth so important? Because when people teach or hold to false doctrines, it leads them to swerve from the faith.

How do we apply this truth to our daily lives? Obviously, if you are in a position to teach the Bible (as a pastor, small group leader, or teacher) then you should take great care to continually learn and know the truth. Remember that knowledge requires ongoing study and “exercise.”

Second, recognize that all believers are called to represent Christ and preach the gospel to their neighbors. In order to preach the gospel, it is important that you seek to learn it and know it by heart.

What is truth?

Third, recognize that truth is vital to effective leadership everywhere. Lying at work or covering up the truth may seem beneficial at times, but it only causes destruction. False narratives cause confusion and strife, and these are not qualities you want to experience at work or in your community.

Fourth, recognize how easy it is to believe something that is not the truth. We live in the misinformation age, and so must humbly and continually return to Scripture to sharpen our abilities to recognize and take hold of the truth.

And so, as Paul said over and over again, pursue good doctrine and truth at all times.

Leaders Own Their Mistakes

There are some who think Leaders need to appear perfect. After all, any mistake by the part of leadership could lead people to question their ability to lead.

The truth is, however, that everyone makes mistakes, and the mistakes that leaders make can affect a lot of people.

When leaders attempt to cover up a mistake or pretend nothing bad happened, they often think they are protecting their reputation. This kind of cover-up is a temporary solution with potentially devastating consequences.

Eventually, the truth will come out. People are perceptive, they will see the problems at some point lose respect for leaders who continue to cover-up mistakes or sin issues.

The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest leaders in church history, but he had no problem admitting to his faults. Look at the words he speaks to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12-17,

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul highlights a pretty intense list of sin issues. He even calls himself the foremost of all sinners.

A religious leader might seek to hide this past, but not Paul. He knows that by admitting his weaknesses, he only highlights the love and work of Christ in his life.

The same is true for all of us. If we rest in the love and work of Christ, we don’t have to worry about protecting our reputation. Jesus has saved us, and our reputation is secure in him, despite any mistake we make.

So whether at work or church or the community, we don’t need to cover up our mistakes. We can confess our sins. We can take ownership of faults, and we can lead the way in correcting those mistakes as well.

Spiritual Leaders Pray for Others

This is a simple and obvious principle for leadership, but it is so easy to ignore. Most leaders want to focus on planning and action, but Paul reminds Timothy that prayer is essential.

He starts in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 by saying,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

There are quite a few applications in these 4 verses. First, we should be praying for all people – not just our people or those closest to us.

pray for your leaders

We are called to pray that God would act to help others, and we are called to pray with thanksgiving for the things he has done.

We are called to pray for our leaders, for kings and others in high positions so that we may live peaceful lives.

Finally, Paul reminds us that our prayers are pleasing in the sight of God. If you love God, then it is natural that you would want to please God. Praying for others pleases Him, so we would do well to make time to pray.

He continues to teach on prayer in 1 Timothy 2:8-10,

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

In these verses, Paul speaks to our attitude about prayer. We should pray in all places without anger or quarreling, seeking to bless those we pray for. Don’t like the leaders in your country or place of work? It doesn’t matter – God calls you to pray for them without anger or quarreling.

Prayer does not require flashiness either. In a time where temple priestesses wore elaborate and sensual outfits to “attract” the attention of the gods, Paul calls us to be respectful and modest. Jesus has completed the work, and God does not require extensive ritual. He does not ask for gold or pearls to get his attention, rather, he simply asks for us.

Good leadership does require action, but it also requires prayer. So make time to pray, not just for yourself or your people, but for all people and for the leaders in your life.

Spiritual Leaders Must Be Above Reproach

Paul provides Timothy with several qualifications for the “office of overseer.” In most churches today, we would refer to overseers as elders.

These qualifications certainly apply to the role of overseer, but following these principles will allow you to be a better leader in any area. We are called to be a light in the world, and this is certainly true when it comes to leadership roles in our place of work and the community.

1 Timothy 3:1-3 says this,

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

This is a high calling. Leadership is a noble task, but it is not for the faint of heart. Paul says an overseer must be “above reproach.”

In other words, great leaders have great moral character. You should be bearing good fruit, caring for others, and humble.

In 1 Timothy 3:7, Paul takes this idea even further:

“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

It’s not enough for the people in your church to think highly of you. Your moral character should be strong enough and visible enough, that even non-believers think highly of you!

The light of the world

Too often, the church rewards leaders who are prideful or selfish because they seem confident and strong.

Biblical strength, however, is demonstrated through humility. Immoral leaders may provide you with some benefits, but eventually, sin always destroys. There are too many churches today that have collapsed because a superstar pastor has fallen to sin. May we, as leaders, seek to live as Paul instructs instead.

Furthermore, moral character does not simply matter for believers who are leaders in church. Moral character matters in the corporate world, it matters in the political world, and it matters in your community.

Leaders Must Care for Their Family

Paul speaks to the way a leader should care for his family multiple times. Both deacons and elders should be able to “manage his own household well.”

This is a fairly logical principle, because as Paul points out in 1 Timothy 3:5, Paul says this

For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

This is not always easy, however, and it is often because the priorities of a leader get mixed.

I used to work for a church, and my boss (Randy) was the Pastor of Students at the time. He once said, “my biggest goal as a pastor is to ensure my children don’t hate the church because of me.”

He had seen too many pastors neglect their duties as husband or father “for the sake of ministry.” And while pastoral care for the church is important, leaders still need to prioritize caring for their own family.

In fact, Paul has pretty harsh words for people who do not provide for their family in I Timothy 5:8,

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

He is speaking in the context of caring for widows and children, but also members of your own household. If you are capable of providing for your family but choose not to, then not only are you unfit to be a leader, you are worse than an unbeliever!

leadership principles from 1 Timothy- care for your family

There is certainly an application here in regards to physical needs (shelter, food, clothing), but I would argue Paul is also speaking to emotional and spiritual needs as well.

The best leaders take care of their family. They do this because it is the right thing to do, but it also equips them to be better leaders in other areas of life. So manage your household well and provide for the the different and unique needs of your family!

Leaders Must be Humble

One of the major foundations of moral character is a humble heart. And yet, perhaps no position makes humility more challenging than leadership.

When people trust you or look up to you, it’s easy to become conceited. Our hearts are prideful and power can be a dangerous idol.

In 1 Timothy 3:6, Paul warns against the dangers of conceited leaders:

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Again, in 1 Timothy 6:3-5, Paul warns about conceited leaders and what it can lead to:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

As soon as we become conceited, as soon as we begin to believe ourselves greater than we should, we put ourselves at risk of even greater sin.

If you’ve paid attention to Christian news lately, this should really hit home. There has been a flood of stories about leaders who were trusted with power and then used that power to exploit others for their own personal gain.

The stories are devastating. Spiritual leaders should be trustworthy and above reproach, but conceit has led many to sexual abuse, greedy financial gain, and countless controversies that distract and even discourage people from the faith.

The Biblical definition of leadership demands that we serve others and care for them, not abuse our power to take advantage of them.

So how do we stay humble? How do we prevent this from happening to ourselves? First, by avoiding leadership until we have a proper understanding of the gospel and our desperate need for Christ.

Second, by continually preaching the gospel to ourselves. We must remind ourselves of our sin and great need for Christ. We must remember that His grace is responsible for both our justification and sanctification. He must increase, and we must decrease.

Third, by seeking accountability from others. Too many leaders surround themselves with “yes men” who ignore, or even encourage, conceited behavior. Ensure there are people in your life who will hold you accountable and encourage you towards humility.

Leaders Seek to Unify and Prevent Strife

The social media era has ushered in new heights of controversy. When hundreds of news stories are available at your finger tips, which are you more likely to read?

The one about the people who got along and had a normal day? Or the super offensive one that you can hardly believe?

Many believe that if you want to be heard today, you have to be loud and controversial. For many others, it’s just easy to get caught up in the moment. When others are outraged, we are tempted to jump on the band wagon.

It’s unbelievable how much of the news today is filled with controversy, slander, dissension, and evil suspicions. What’s even more unbelievable is how many Christians are promoting and pushing these stories without and real attempt to discern if they actually true or not.

And yet, this is exactly what Paul warned against in 1 Timothy 6:4b-6a

He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.

This is a negative behavior that Paul warns us against, but what is the alternative? In Romans 12:18, Paul explains:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

We are called to do everything in our power to live peaceably with all. The word “all” here would include your neighbor, people from different religions, people with different political beliefs, and people with ideas that you think are just crazy.

leadership principles from timothy - unity

Now that is not always possible – some people refuse to be peaceful no matter what you do. But as believers, we should do our best to seek peace and unify others together, even if it might come at personal cost.

I’ve heard the counter arguments – “Jesus was offensive! Sometimes the truth is controversial!”

The truth can be controversial, and we should not deny it for the sake of unity. But we should also, like Jesus, communicate the truth in love. Gently guiding someone to Christ is not the same thing as “owning them” by showing how much smarter you think you are.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that his church would be unified. Why? “So that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Unity in the church was of the utmost importance to Christ, and so we should actively work to promote unity and peace, and work against enmity, strife, and controversy that so often tears churches apart.

Leaders Pursue Righteousness over Riches

In 1 Timothy 6, we find one of the most frequently (and incorrectly) quoted verses in the Bible.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

People often say that “money is the root of all evil,” but in actuality, the “love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.” In other words, there is plenty of evil in the world that has nothing to do with money. Furthermore, money itself is not evil and can even be used to do good works.

But these verses contain a massive warning for leaders who are developing a love for money. It can ruin your faith and cause tremendous pain to yourself and others.

leadership principles in 1 timothy - avoid greed

Many Christians today are happy to point out sins like murder and sexual sin as bad things, but tend to ignore greed. This is problematic: greed has just as many (if not more) warnings in the Bible. It can devastate entire communities or countries, and leaders are often given the most opportunity for financial gains that can lead to greed.

So once again, how should leaders protect themselves from the love of money? One practical measure is to practice generous giving. I know this sounds obvious, but giving to others is the opposite of taking, and actively works against greed.

Paul provides a more broad answer in 1 Timothy 6:11-12 that applies to greed and many other areas of life:

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Instead of pursuing riches, pursue righteousness. By focusing on godliness and growth, you will not be distracted by the things that are not of God.

This is not a passive thing. Growing in the faith takes work and dedication and the grace of God. But if you are growing in righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness then you will become a better leader.

Conclusion

1 Timothy contains a lot of incredible leadership principles from the Apostle Paul. Many of these principles sound nice and basic on the surface, but practically speaking they can be extremely difficult to live out.

The bottom line is this, if you want to be a great leader, then seek Christ. He was the greatest servant leader who ever lived, and His Spirit transforms our hearts to be more like his own. We desperately need Jesus if we want to be a great leader, and we need him every day.

If you enjoyed this post, then I would encourage you to read all of 1 Timothy. It’s a great book, and the whole thing is actually shorter than this blog post. If you see any leadership principles that resonate with you in the text, then share them here in the comments below!

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  1. Avatar for Ebenezer Allwin Maben Ebenezer Allwin Maben October 22, 2021

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