This exercise is a continuation of a series we started at Grace with our leadership while I served as interim there. For those who are not pastors or deacons, but who lead in some capacity in any arena of life, these books are a tremendous resource in Scripture. I encourage all of those who would be called leaders or who oversee to take advantage of these notes geared specifically toward leadership or roles with much responsibility.
1 Timothy 3
After giving the qualification for elders (which represented their specific calling before God), Paul wrote concerning the qualifications of the deacons in the church. This is the second office that is given and serves a very important purpose in God’s church today. The sad reality is that this is a role that is often neglected even by those who hold the title of Deacon. What, according to God instruction, is a deacon? What is the deacon’s role in the life of the local church?
- Acts 6:1-6; In Acts 6, the apostles are preaching and praying for people and a complaint arises. It is written that it would not be right for them to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables. The word used to describe waiting on tables is διακονια (deacon), which means serve or servant. Seven men were selected to perform these other ministerial needs so that the apostles would not sin by neglecting the ministry that God had called them to. This is the only text in Scripture where the role of a deacon is described. Deacons were selected to take care of ministerial needs, to do what is commonly referred to as pastoral care, so that the preaching and teaching of God’s word would flourish.
- In Romans 16:1-2, Phoebe is mentioned and is described as a deacon, or servant. By every indication, she worked in simple service to others.
- In Philippians 1:1, the deacons are addressed along with the overseers as a part of the body of saints, indicating that these are two different offices in the body given to fill two different and specific roles.
This means that anyone filling any position of service at any local church is a biblical deacon. Small group leaders are deacons biblically. Those leading ministries are deacons. Those who administrate, handle church finances, organize the media ministry, serve as secretaries, and so on, are biblical deacons who have taken some responsibility in simple service so that the elders, or pastors or overseers or bishops, can focus their time and energy on the ministry of the word.
The church desperately needs this. More often, those with the title of deacon are trying to fill a role that is not described in Scripture. As a result, the ministry of the word through the local church suffers and not much, if any, fruit is produced through that local church.
Considering this, Paul gives the qualifications for those who would operate as deacons.
- Worthy of respect- The first qualification is an embodiment of the others. Notice that the text does not say that deacons are to be respected. Anyone can be respected because of outward appearance, because they are people pleasers, because of their secular positions, or because of their money. They are to be worthy of respect, which speaks to a condition of the heart, not necessarily what society’s opinion of them might be. The remaining qualifications speak to what it means for anyone to be worthy of respect.
- Not hypocritical- Some translation will even say, “not double-tongued.” The deacon, as part of the person’s character, should be honest, genuine, real, and not make different claims to different people in order to try and achieve a certain end. Openness, honesty, and consistency in speech and action reveal a non-hypocrite character.
- Not drinking much wine- Like the qualification for elders, this is not a prohibition of alcohol, but a recognition of the need for balanced thinking and judgment at all times. If the deacon does anything that would impair judgment and does not repent, that deacon has disqualified self from service as a deacon. If his judgment is impaired because of the degradation of his mental facilities, age, or an accident, he should resign with all dignity. He has served Christ faithfully.
- Not greedy for money- Again, self-explanatory.
- Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience- This qualification is given to deacon and not elders, just as the qualification of being an able teacher is given to elders and not deacons. This is because of their differing roles as described in God’s word. Elders are to seek understanding in order that they might teach. Deacons are to seek understanding in order that they might apply the truth of God to their service in the body. They should have such a demeanor as to hold the mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience, holding to a true gospel and trusting the biblical teaching unlike the false teachers mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy. The deacon’s conduct reveals his faith.
- Must be tested first and prove to be blameless- The deacon’s character is to be tested because the role of the deacon is so important in the local church. Deacons are not merely to be trained, but they should be found to have these character traits before being placed in a position of service. While everyone is encouraged to volunteer and help, those leading ministries and handling finances and doing regular visitation and checking on members who are absent should be found to be blameless regarding these character traits. Just as with pastors, deacons are not going to be perfect people because there are no perfect people. Instead, having a character or Christ-likeness produced in them, the deacons will strive to be blameless with proper accountability. When that deacon fails, and he most definitely will, he will be quick to repent, reorient, and continue following faithfully after Christ. Any deacon who refuses to repent and, instead, elects to live in sin disqualifies self from ministry, but cannot separate self from the love of Christ.
- Women, being worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything- Here, there is a translation issue that readers need to be aware of. The word usually translated “wives” (γυναικες) is actually a general term that means women. It could refer to wives, but could also simply refer to women who are being considered as servants (or deacons) in the church. In the same way as men, women were to be tested, found to be worthy of respect, not slanderers (or double-tongued), self-controlled, and faithful in everything. They must have this type of character, which matches the character qualification given to men.
- Husbands of one wife- The exact same language is used here as with the qualifications for elders. Within the one who desires to be a deacon, Christ produces the character of marital commitment. In essence, a deacon is to be a one-woman type of man. In the case of the women referred to in verse 11, a one-man type of woman. A past sin, which is forgiven by God, cannot keep the deacon from serving, and singleness is not to keep that person from being a deacon (else neither Jesus nor Paul nor any person who has had a spouse pass from this life would qualify to serve as a deacon). If one is single or divorced, it will be the case that this person is not given to lust or youthful passions, but self-controlled (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul also wrote that it is good for a person to remain single because singleness itself is also a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). The character of the deacon is then resistant to sexual immorality. It does not prohibit remarriage or singleness. It would, however, prohibit polygamy since polygamy is the opposite of sexual purity and commitment.
- Managing their children and their own households competently- Just as with elders, the deacon is a good manager over what God has given, this can be seen particularly in the family. If the deacon does not know how to manage his own household, how will he or she help care for God’s church? This is not a prohibition of childless people becoming deacons. It is a recognition that good and wise management is necessary. It also sheds some more light on the role of the deacon. They are also managers in the church. Whereas the pastors are to be concerned with the ministry of the word, deacons are to be concerned with the ministry of physical service.
There is a promise, here, because of some obvious temptation (not only for deacons but for those who serve in any capacity). Those who serve well according to God’s calling, here particularly the deacons, acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. The reward that God gives for our service will be according to our faithfulness to serve as He has directed.
We are here and have been called to a position of service in order to serve Christ and His purposes. Christ desires that we strive to be faithful to fulfill the role that He has given. When we fulfill our own ministries faithfully and according to Christ’s instruction, there is great reward, Christ is glorified, and His word flourishes through the local church.
These things were written so that we will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, in the local church. God himself is truth, which means that the household of God is charged with standing for that truth; not conforming to the ways of the world or inventing new church structures that God has not given. God’s administration is by faith (1 Timothy 1:4). It is Christ who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory. Christ is preeminent, not the pastors or the deacons. Therefore, we resolve to follow Christ’s instruction. After all, we are His servants.