The Ministry of Deacons
By Brian Anderson

You know Lord how I serve you with great emotional fervor in the limelight. You know how eagerly I speak for you at a Women's Club. You know how I effervesce when I promote a fellowship group. You know my genuine enthusiasm at a Bible study. But how would I react,I wonder, if you pointed to a basin of water and asked me to wash the calloused feet of a bent and wrinkled old woman day after day, month after month, in a room where nobody saw and nobody knew." Those words by Ruth Calkins, I believe, really capture the essence of a true servant. To be content to give sacrificially of yourself even where nobody will ever notice or give you praise -- simply because you are doing it unto the Lord.

You know, that is a perfect description of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for many. The Lord Jesus did not go about healing the sick, preaching the gospel, and ultimately die upon a cross for the sins of His people because of all the notoriety, publicity, and wonderful kickbacks He would get out of it. He did it out of obedience and love for His Father. He is the greatest example of a True Servant who has ever lived.

I want to introduce you to an order of men and women in the church of Jesus Christ, who are recognized as true servants. They are called to model for the rest of the church what true servanthood is all about. They are The Servants - or to use the technical word: The Deacons.

Today there are many different models of Deacons in the church of Christ:

The Baptist Model - In that paradigm, the Deacons are the ruling body of the church, and the Eldership is ignored altogether. Instead, there is one pastor and many Deacons. In this model, the Deacons are the employer of the pastor who works for them.

The Liturgical Model - In this model, the Deacons are a suborder to the priests. They help with communion, vestments, and the facilities of the church.

Enforcers of Church Discipline Model - Dr. E.V. Hill, Pastor of the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, talks of growing up in Sweet Home, Texas. In that church, a man beating his wife was told by the Deacons "we don't want you to beat your wife no moe. If you do, we will come and beat you up ourselves". He beat her up again, and they came and beat the man to a pulp. In the words of Dr. Hill "and he don't jump on his wife no moe".

With all of these various models of Deacons, and all of our various backgrounds in different churches, we probably have a great many different ideas of what Deacons are, what they do, and what their qualifications are. Therefore, we must collectively go to the Scriptures to allow them, and them alone to inform us (not our past traditions or church experiences), so that when we talk of deacons, we all mean the same thing.

Let's examine three questions that relate to the ministry of deacons:

  • What is a Deacon?
  • What is the function of a Deacon?
  • What are the qualifications of a Deacon?

1. What is a Deacon? The use of the word Deacon in the New Testament comes from three similar Greek words:

Diakonos - servant; Diakonia - service; Diakonew - to serve.

They are mentioned 101 times and the vast majority of times these words refer simply to general service. The root idea is to "wait on tables", like a waiter in a restaurant. John 2 speaks of servants (diakonos) who filled stone water pots with water. In Luke 4, Peter's mother-in-law arose and began to serve (diakonew) them. Romans 13:4 speaks of those who are "ministers of God to you for good". In this context the "diakonos" is a civil magistrate, similar to our State soldiers or our policemen. We speak of serving a wonderful meal; taking a car to the service station; joining the military so we can serve our country. This is what the Greek word speaks of -- general service.

Only 2 out of 101 times that the word is used in the New Testament does it refer to the office of a Deacon (Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8). The million dollar question is "How did the word come to be known as an office in the church?"

Well in order to answer that question, I have to explain the difference between translation and translitertion. Translation is taking a word in one language and explaining its meaning in another (uno, dos, tres = 1, 2, 3). Transliteration is simply inventing a new word in the English that sounds the same as the word in the first language. For example, our word baptism is a transliteration from the Greek word baptizw, which means "to dip". This word was invented by the King James Version translators because they were afraid of offending the churches that sprinkled. Translators recognize in 1 Timothy 3 a word which refers to more than general service. It refers to an office in the church. Thus the translators have invented a new word. They have transliterated "deacon" from diakonos. These are the official servants of the church. They are servants with a capital S; deacons with a capital D -- a specific, recognized group of people who served in an official capacity under the Elders of the local church.


There are three levels of service mentioned in the Bible:

A. Service Required of All Christians

1 Peter 4:10 says "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." All of us who are Christiains are deacons with a small d. All believers are called to serve, not just the Elders and Deacons. You are in the ministry, placed in an army under the banner of Christ and enlisted in service for advancement of His kingdom. The New Testament makes no mention of a believer who willfully chooses not to serve. Too often we have servers and spectators. We shouldn't think in terms of a leadership level (Elders), a serving level (Deacons), and a spectator level (all the reast). Ephesians 4:11-12 says "And He gave some apostles, some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ".


B. The Gift of Service

Some are supernaturally gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve. They derive joy and delight in it. Romans 12:7 speaks of the gift of service. Those with this gift enjoy serving behind the scenes, out of the limelight, where not many see or know. We have such in our own church body. You will see these people serving by cooking meals, running the sound board, working on work days, typing and printing the bulletins, and working in the tape and book library.


C. The Official Office of Deacon

These previous two levels cover every use of the word in the New Testament except for two. These other two references are translated as "deacon". Why are there moral qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 of the Deacons? Because they are the Official Servants who provide a moral example for everyone else to emulate. Why has God set them apart in an official way to do what everybody else does in an ordinary way? Because we all need models to follow. Their example teaches us how we are to live while serving. You see, leaders lead by example. Their lives are to be the embodiment, and the incarnation of the truth.


What is a Deacon? As we have seen, he is an official servant in the Church, called by God to provide an example for all the rest to follow.


2. What is the Function of a Deacon? It's important to note that nowhere in the New Testament are we given a job description for him. Evidently, Deacons occupy a very fluid ministry. There are very specific job descriptions for Elders: God has called them to oversee, rule, lead, shepherd, and protect the body of Christ. But what do Deacons do? Very simply, they are to do anything the elders need them to do! Right about now you are probably thinking, "Wait a minute! I thought Deacons handled the physical needs of the church and Elders handled the spiritual needs!" Well, let's take a look at it.

In Acts 6, the church is exploding. A conservative estimate is that 20,000 baby Christians have been added to the church since Pentecost. The early church took it upon themselves to feed their widows. But at this point, the non- Palestinian, Greek-speaking Jewish widows are being overlooked in the daily serving of food. This was a major problem! How were they going to deal with it? Acts 6:2-4 reads "and the 12 summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word'." The Apostles knew God's call on their lives -- the ministry of the word of God and prayer. That line of demarcation must be protected and they must not misdirect their energies. God had called them to a specific function. They were in danger of getting sucked into other tasks that God had not called them to.

Notice that they were never referred to as Deacons, but always as The 7. In fact, they exercised ministries more like Elders. Philip evangelized, performed miracles, and healed the sick. Stephen preached fearlessly before the Sanhedrin. Both had speaking gifts. One of the distinctions between Elders and Deacons is that Elders must be able to teach, whereas Deacons don't have to. We've assumed these 7 are Deacons. Since they handled physical needs, we assume that's what Deacons do. But wait! They are never called Deacons. Thus, we can't assume Deacons only handle the physical needs of the church.

Thus, we have sought to answer the question, "what is the function of a Deacon?" Our answer is, "to serve the Body of Christ by doing whatever the Elders delegate for them to do". This can be overseeing the women's ministry or men's ministry, providing meals for the sick and needy in the body, building maintenance, overseeing the Sunday school ministry, and so on and so forth.


3. What are the Qualifications of a Deacon? Well, to find out, let's take a look at the only place in the Bible that lists them -- 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Notice, first of all, that the Deacons are to possess the same basic moral qualifications as Elders. In no way does Paul refer to the Deacons as morally inferior to Elders. The character qualifications are exactly the same, but their function is distinct. The Elders rule and teach. The Deacons serve. We can't just let anyone be a Deacon. We can't lower the standards for the sake of convenience. Deacons are to be models of spiritual virtue. We should never say "This man's life is not in order. Let's make him a Deacon because he can't be an Elder" or "He's got one little blemish in his life; let's make him a Deacon. When it gets cleared up we will make him an Elder". We can't lower the standards for the sake of convenience. Deacons are to be models of spiritial virtue.

These moral virtues can be listed under 3 main headings.


1. Personal Holiness

1 Timothy 3:8 "Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain." "Likewise" must refer to another office than that of Elder (compare 3:1). This verse could read "Just like the office of an Elder, a Deacon must be..."

Dignity: 1 Timothy 3:8 - Dignity is defined as "the quality of a man's life that inspires awe because of the integrity of a spiritual life". It carries with it the idea of being stately or royal. It inspires awe from people who witness their life. It includes the idea of someone who is serious-minded. It's not that they aren't fun or can never crack a joke, but they are serious about serious matters. They aren't flippant or flighty, but deadly serious about spiritual matters.

Not Double-Tongued: 1 Timothy 3:8 - It literally means "a person who says one thing to one person and something else to another to achieve their own goals". A Deacon can't be a gossip. A Deacon must have integrity of speech and be consistent in his speech. Why is this so important? Because Deacons will deal with people. They will be involved in the lives of people and must be able to handle personal information without gossiping.

Not Addicted to Much Wine: 1 Timothy 3:8 - The Deacon must not be known as a "christian drinker". He never gets drunk. We can't say that it is a sin for a Deacon to have a drink because the Bible doesn't say that. But the Bible does say he is not to be a person who drinks to excess. He should also not be abusive with drugs. A Deacon must be able to think on a moment's notice. His mind must not be clouded, because he is involved in God's work.

Not Fond of Sordid Gain: 1 Timothy 3:8 - The word sordid means "filthy". Leaders must deal with the church funds and therefore must not be money-motivated. The issue of materialism is a done deal in their lives and not a present issue that they are working through. If they are still dealing with this issue, they won't be able to give wholeheartedly to the service of the church but will always be hankering after the things of the world and spending their energies there. A Deacon must be a trust-worthy person.

Women Deacons: Verse 11 says "Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things". Women Deacons have the same qualifications as male Deacons. These four qualifications correspond to the four qualifications of their male counterparts in personal holiness. Temperate means wineless; and faithful means trustworthy or not fond of sordid gain. Who are these women? How do we know if it is speaking of deaconess? It may mean wives of Deacons, or wives of Deacons and Elders, but the following difficulties occur with that interpretation:

  • The word "likewise" is used to introduce a second or third in a series. Here it refers to a list of church officials. Therefore, it would be natural to use it in listing the qualifications of Deaconesses, but unnatural to use it to refer to Deacon's wives.
  • There is no possessive pronoun: "their women" would be needed if these women were the wives of the deacons. But it just says "women".
  • The Elder's wives are not mentioned: why then should there be a reference to the Deacon's wives?
  • This section is dealing completely with church officials and qualifications -- not spouses of church officials.

For these reasons, I believe it is best to see Paul speaking of an office in the church. Phoebe, in Romans 16:1, may have functioned as a Deaconess. What are the qualifications for women Deacons? 1 Timothy 3:1 tells us that they are the same as for their male counterparts: dignified, not malicious gossips, temperate (which means wineless), and faithful in all things.


2. Spiritual Maturity

"But holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience." 1 Timothy 3:9

Holding to the mystery of the faith: Mystery means something once hidden but now revealed. It refers to New Testament truth. This person must understand the Gospel, be committed to New Testament theology, and to sound doctrine. The word "hold" means steadfast adherence to. Why must they hold stedfastly to the truth? Because there is no spiritual maturity without Biblical knowledge. Of course one can know much and be immature, but one can never have maturity without knowledge.

With a clear conscience: That is, a conscience that doesn't accuse. They don't just know the truth, but they obey it. A Deacon is a person of spiritual integrity. There is no hypocrisy between what he says and how he lives.

Beyond reproach: There is nothing to accuse of him. He is blameless and irreproachable. There is no obvious defect in his moral character or sin which taints his reputation or puts his character in question.

First tested: 1 Timothy 3:10. The word "also" refers us back to the Elders. The Elders also have to be tested. The Deacons are given responsibility and then the Elders watch their lives to see how they are performing. Are they faithful and beyond reproach? Do they meet the qualifications? Then after a period of time, if they are found faithful, they can bring those people before the body, and the body can ratify that these are people God has raised up so that they can be publicly put into office within the church of Jesus Christ. The word "tested"refers to "metal cast into a furnace to see if it is good and genuine, or whether it is mixed with impurities". It would not be right to say "let's make Harry a Deacon - maybe he'll come to church more often" or "If we make him a Deacon, maybe he'll start coming to prayer meeting". These men are supposed to be of such character that they are already tested. You already know of their quality, and because of their sterling quality, they are set apart in the church to act as models for the rest of the congregation.


3. Godly Home Lives

The husband of one wife. 1 Timothy 3:12 is refering to male Deacons who are married. In the original it means "a one-woman man". The emphasis is on the quality of his relationship to his wife, not on his marital status (single, divorced, or widowed). He is completely committed to one woman alone. He's not a flirt or a ladies' man, but solely devoted to his wife. He is a person of integrity when it comes to people of the opposite sex. He doesn't give opportunities for people to make allegations against him by his meeting with people of the opposite sex alone when other people could misconstrue what is happening.

A good manager of his family. 1 Timothy 3:12. How does he handle his children? Do his children respect him or does he have a child-centered home? Who's in charge at home? Are the finances in order or does he have five charge cards charged to the hilt? Is he ready to declare bankruptcy? Does he delegate to his wife areas where she's stronger than he is? Is he overseeing the functions and responsibilities within the family? Does he take a leadership role at home? The home is the proving ground for leadership in the church.

What are the qualifications of a Deacon? Personal holiness, spiritual maturity, and a godly home life!



Conclusion

  1. Pray for God's will in the selection and appointment of Deacons here at Milpitas Bible Fellowship.
  2. Aspire to the office of Deacon. There is nothing wrong in desiring the work of a Deacon or Elder as long as your heart's motivation is right. It is great if you are aspiring for the right reasons. Don't aspire to the office for personal profit, ambition, recognition or applause, but for the glory of God and the good of His church. 1 Timothy 3:1 says "It is trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do."
  3. Follow the example of your leaders insofar as they follow Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 reminds us "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ". Imitate the faith of those in leadership. Let their example stir you to be like them and to serve sacrificially.










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