Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6 NKJV).
Paul is writing to Timothy in what are commonly known as the "pastoral" epistles. Perhaps a better description would be "leadership" (overseer) epistles. Nevertheless, in our passage above, Paul expressly forbids Timothy from setting a novice in a leadership role within the churches. He says, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. The verb "pride" means primarily to make a smoke: hence, metaphorically, to blind with pride or conceit. Neither the A.V. (KJV) nor RSV's "puffed up," preserves the radical sense, which is the sense here intended — a beclouded and stupid state of mind as the result of pride. (Vincent) What could be so potent that it blinded the devil into a recklessness that is incomprehensible and brought ruin upon the Creation of God past finding out? What drove his desire to ascend- even into Heaven to be like God. What was driving him to be God's enemy? One simple little word, "Pride."
The Greek word for novice (meœ neophuton or our neophyte) comes from two words that mean new and plant. That is, a newly planted Christian. Christians and young Christians are devoid of the Christian experience and knowledge of God necessary to conduct oneself rightly if given responsibility. One must have time to bring ones mind under the absolute authority of God and His word before ever hoping to lead God's people in anything related to Christianity. Otherwise, they risk leading after their own imaginations and what is right in their own eyes. Observe here in particular, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. The devil has destroyed himself through his pride. To set a new or young believer in a leadership role within the churches of God is to solicit the same devilish destruction of that person. It would be akin to handing a child a loaded revolver. They do not possess the wisdom or the maturity to handle the power that has been placed in their hands and almost certainly will in some way abuse it.
Leading When its Time to Listen and Learn
Paul was concerned that neophytes would be placed into positions that would destroy both them and potentially the church they were associated with. New converts have not had time to learn and as Matthew Henry has said, "the more ignorant men are the more proud they are." Many who are in leadership today would have benefited to have spent a number of years learning before they began leading. To function within the kingdom of God is to desire to know God's will and perform it. The devil, lifted up with pride, sees no sense in learning God's will and ways but rather seeks to implement his own will. The proud are notorious for confusing their will with God's. Paul has warned us in no uncertain terms.
Everyone is familiar with how people can get on a "power trip" and abuse others once they are able. It happens in the workplace and even, regretfully, in the churches of God. Paul said that Christians need the mind of Christ, who being in the form of God did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself even to the cross. (see Philippians 2:5-8) Power and authority in proud hands is very dangerous. Giving authority to lead to individuals who are young and or "young in the Lord" is a recipe for destruction. (Proverbs 16:18)
Falling into the Condemnation
Obviously, over the centuries Paul's words have been ignored, and people have been placed, as novices, into positions of authority and have fallen into the snare and condemnation of the devil. They are blinded by their pride and are locked into that state. What can be done for them? This is a tough question, in part, because pride is the one sin for which the devil will never make you feel bad for committing (D. Prince). So pride is tough to flush out.
A World at Enmity With God
Pride has also been defined as "excessive self-esteem." It is excessive confidence in ones own worth or abilities. Excessive self-esteem or excessive confidence in ones own abilities leads to self-exaltation. This is common sense. In the kingdom of God the stakes are much higher. We risk having a person use their God-given talents for their own self-exaltation in the midst of the congregation and not even sense for a single second that they have sinned.
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. (Eccl. 5:1 NKJV)
No ability; no talent; no gifting; is of any use to God whatsoever until it has been put through the cross of Christ. A "cross-less ability" (an ability not put through the death of the cross) is a weapon in the hand of the devil. The world says "use your talents" and "use your abilities" to exalt yourself and often Christians echo such sinfulness as if God is glorified by my pride. God wants humility and meekness in His people. He hates a proud look. (Proverbs 6:17) If He gave abilities to a person beyond measure- He would expect them to walk in meekness and humility. We must humble ourselves even as a little child. The snare and condemnation of the devil is when we take what God has given us and exalt ourselves against Him or before Him. When we use our talents to draw attention to ourselves in self-exaltation; when we divide the worship between Him and us in the midst of the congregation - we have greatly sinned. We must humble ourselves. This can only come as we consciously surrender to God and His word and allow Him to teach us His ways. Then and only then can we ever hope to come before Him to minister or lead in the kingdom of God and avoid the snare and condemnation of the devil. As John Baptist said it, "I must decrease and He must increase." Not just words- but reality.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon