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
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
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
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
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
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
What are the qualifications of a Deacon? Personal holiness, spiritual
maturity, and a godly home life!
- Pray for God's will in the selection and appointment of Deacons here at
Milpitas Bible Fellowship.
- 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."
- 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.