Avoiding the snare of the devil is an important quality when it comes to selecting leaders among bodies of Christians. In fact, the need to avoid falling into the snare of the devil is such a key element that it occurs twice, in slightly different wording, when Paul discusses the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7: “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, when Paul later speaks about leaders who have fallen away, he again uses the term “snare of the devil” to discuss their fate in 2 Timothy 2:14-26: “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
At the start, there would not seem to be many connections between a discussion of the qualification for godly leaders and a discussion of those who have strayed because of various doctrinal errors, but Paul uses the expression “snare of the devil” in discussing both, and it is therefore worthwhile for us to ponder the shared context involved here. On the one hand, it is important that leaders in God’s church have the godly character that will allow them to avoid the snare of the devil. We will discuss what particular qualities are involved shortly. It is also noteworthy that after discussing those who have departed the truth that Paul expresses his wish that those who have fallen away will repent and escape the snare of the devil, while also providing a set of qualities that ordinary believers can cultivate to help them avoid the same problem themselves. There are a great many layers of meaning to discuss in these passages, but let us limit ourselves in the present discussion to those things which relate to Satan, as that is enough for our present purposes.
It should not be surprising that Paul would connect Satan with the pressures faced by leaders in the Church of God. As we have seen, Paul reflected often on the workings of Satan and pondered how to thwart them, and it should not be surprising that this would be a concern of his pastoral epistles as it is a concern of all of his other letters. If you wish to bring shame and dishonor upon God’s people it is pretty easy to use the behavior of leaders to bear as a sign of how ordinary believers deserve to be treated. Since there is no shortage and has never been any shortage of people who have ambitiously sought positions and titles and offices despite (or because of) a complete unworthiness to hold such positions, who indeed are themselves servants and children of Satan rather than children of God, it would make sense that Satan would use the failures of his own followers who happen to be a part of Church of God organizations and congregations as a way of bringing dishonor upon the name of God and His people. This is a predictable long-term strategy that Satan has had from the beginning, and Paul is knowledgeable enough about Satan’s ways to point out the need for being wise about who to select as leaders in order to avoid this taking place as best as possible.
What qualities of an elder does Paul indicate would help one escape the snare of the devil? Being blameless, honorable in one’s marital relationships (not engaging in divorce and remarriage), temperate (in control of one’s moods and behavior), sober-minded, of good behavior (and not bad behavior), hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent or greedy, gentle and not quarrelsome, not covetous, someone who is able to keep their own house in order. Now let us compare what, in the next chapter, he says about ordinary believers and the qualities that they should cultivate so as to avoid falling into the snare of the devil: fleeing youthful lusts, pursuing righteousness, being faithful and loving, being peaceful, avoiding foolish and ignorant disputes, not being quarrelsome, but being gentle, able to teach, patient, and humble. Indeed, there are a lot of areas of overlap in the qualities that Paul views as being suitable for all believers and those which qualify one to be in positions of leadership. Indeed, the ordinary believer who demonstrated himself as able to teach and in pursuit of righteousness as someone who avoids foolish quarrels will have attained the qualities that would make one suitable to be a leader within the church, which at least provides a subtle indication that being a godly believer and preparing for leadership are close to being identical in the eyes of Paul, which has a great many implications that will be worthwhile for us to ponder on and explore at a later time.