Last week, we began our look at the topic of deacons and we’re going to conclude that study this morning. But first, I want to remind you that next Sunday morning, we will have a church family meeting in place of our Bible class at 9:30 and we need for all of you to make an effort to be here.
At that meeting, the elders will go over all of the details regarding exactly what the responsibilities of our new deacons will be, we’ll hand out the deacon nomination forms and explain how that process is going to work, and then we’ll answer any questions that you may have regarding this process. There’s no way to over-emphasize just how important it is that every family in this congregation is present for that meeting.
But, for now, let’s turn to the Bible. As I said last week, we’re taking a look at two passages that deal extensively with the topic of deacons. Last week, we looked at Acts 6:1-7 and we talked about what it is that deacons do. We said that a deacon is a servant. But all of us are supposed to be servants, so what makes a deacon a deacon? We said that it’s not a title or a position. It’s a responsibility.
Specifically, a deacon is someone who is given a set of responsibilities so that he can take care of things that threaten to distract elders from their primary responsibilities. In other words, the deacon’s job is to take things off the plate of the elders so that the elders can concentrate on what they should be doing.
I said last week that our elders are looking for three deacons here at Cruciform whose responsibilities will be in the areas of building and grounds, children’s education and fellowship and meals.
This morning, we want to turn our attention to I Timothy 3 as we focus on who deacons are, what their qualifications are. Keep in mind that we already noticed in Acts 6 that there were three qualifications that the church in Jerusalem was looking for in their deacons:
(1) “Of good repute” — which means they had a good reputation in the church.
(2) They were to be “full of the Spirit” — which means that these were spiritual men with a spiritual focus.
(3) They were to be “full of wisdom” — these were men who were able to make good decisions.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul goes into a little more detail. In chapter 3, beginning with verse 8:
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless….Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 3:8-10,12-13)
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this passage is that Paul totally ignores what abilities these potential deacons should have. This list is not about a skill set. There’s nothing here about how a deacon needs to be a good handyman or a good businessman. This passage is all about what kind of person the deacon is.
Don’t miss this point — God is more concerned about a person’s character than he is about their talents. Choosing our deacons is not about choosing the person who’s best at fixing things. It’s about choosing people who have the heart of God.
And so, the first qualification for a deacon is that he must be…..
Looking at several different translations, deacons must be “dignified” (ESV), “worthy of respect” (NIV), “well-respected” (NLT), and “serious” (CEV)
The ESV says, “Deacons…must be dignified.” I’ll be honest, I don’t really like that word. Because, to me, it conjures up an image of somebody who’s very serious and proper and doesn’t ever cut up and have fun, and I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about at all.
The Greek word here can mean a couple of different things. On the one hand, it can mean that a deacon is someone who is “well-respected”. And if that’s what it means, then it’s basically the same quality that the church in Jerusalem was looking for when they selected their deacons – men “of good repute”, or men that they had a lot of respect for.
A deacon is someone who should be worthy of our respect, someone who lives out their Christianity in a way that others in the church admire.
But the Greek word here can also mean someone who takes things seriously, so a deacon should be someone who takes his responsibility before God very seriously, and someone who takes any responsibility he is given seriously. We don’t want deacons with the attitude, “Eh, if it gets done, it gets done, I’m not going to stress out about it.” Deacons are given a job to do and they shouldn’t take that job lightly.
In the end, I think both of these meanings go together because a person who has the respect of everyone in the church is going to be someone who takes their Christianity seriously, someone who is serious about serving God and fulfilling any responsibilities they may be given.
2. Not Double-Tongued
Again, looking at several different translations, deacons should “not be double-tongued”, (ESV), they should be “sincere” (NIV), they should “have integrity” (NLT), and “must not be liars” (CEV)
We don’t really use the term double-tongued today. What we say instead is that someone is two-faced, which describes a person who says one thing to one person and another thing to another person.
Or maybe they say one thing to you while knowing that something different is really true. They tell you what you want to hear instead of telling you the truth because they don’t want you to get upset with them.
Someone like that can never be trusted because you never know whether they’re telling you the truth or not. A deacon needs to be someone you can depend on to be honest no matter what.
But I think there’s another concern here. Someone has said that flattery is saying to someone’s face what you wouldn’t say behind their back, whereas gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you wouldn’t say to their face. So, gossip is really a form of being double-tongued, and that would have been a particular concern for those deacons in the first century.
Keep in mind, deacons basically only had one job in the early church. The church didn’t have a deacon of building and grounds because, well, they didn’t have a building and they didn’t have any grounds. They didn’t have a deacon over children’s education. They didn’t have a deacon over fellowship and meals. What they did have were deacons who were in charge of taking care of the widows and the poor, and the way they did that was to go around from house to house, getting meals out to everyone. And that meant that deacons were around a lot of different people.
And I’m sure that if deacons were around people all day long, they were often tempted both to listen to gossip and to share gossip. “I was just over at sister so-and-so’s house and you won’t believe what she said about brother so-and so.” Gossip would have been a constant temptation, so deacons needed to be men who were not double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and saying something else behind their back.
3. Not Addicted to Alcohol
Deacons must not be “addicted to much wine” (ESV), “not addicted to alcohol” (GW), “must not be heavy drinkers” (NLT), “not given to excessive drinking” (NET)
I think it’s significant that a lot of the qualifications for deacons have to do with self-control. They needed to be able to control their tongues, and they also needed to control what they put into their bodies.
Again, I think this was especially important for the deacons of the first century because serving wine may have been a common gesture of hospitality in some homes. Deacons traveled from house to house caring for different members, and if they were addicted to wine, it would have been very easy for them to drink too much. So, deacons had to be men who showed moderation with alcohol, if not complete abstinence.
I would argue that this qualification applies to deacons being addicted to any addictive substance, whether that’s wine or anything else. As Paul said in I Corinthians 6:12, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (NIV). All Christians, but especially deacons, will avoid anything that might master them and cloud their judgment. Self-control is needed.
4. Not Greedy for Money
Deacons must not be “greedy for dishonest gain” (ESV), “not greedy for money” (NKJV), “not dishonest with money” (NLT)
I think the use of the term “dishonest gain” in the ESV is unfortunate because it seems to suggest that a deacon can be greedy as long as he’s not greedy for money obtained dishonestly. But the Greek word here simply means to be greedy, to obsess over money. A worldly, materialistic person will always struggle with greed, which in turn will create the temptation to get money by whatever means necessary.
This would have been an important qualification for deacons in the first century because if they were in charge of getting food to the widows and taking care of the needs of the poor, that means they would have been in contact with the church’s money, and that would have been a serious temptation for someone who was greedy.
When our elders were talking about how a deacon is different from all of the other servants in the church, I somewhat jokingly said, “What makes a deacon different is that he gets the church credit card.” Obviously, that’s not the only thing that makes someone a deacon, but it is true that a deacon is going to take care of a wide range of responsibilities that will require making a budget and handling the church’s finances, so you don’t want someone in that position who will be tempted because of their obsession with money.
Members of the church need to have confidence that their deacons are handling the church finances with honesty and integrity. There should never be any suspicion that there is any sort of mismanagement of the church’s money.
5. Hold the Mystery of the Faith with a Clear Conscience
That’s the English Standard Version. As the Good News translation puts it, “they should hold to the revealed truth of the faith with a clear conscience.”
It can be easy to assume that deacons — given the practical focus of their work — don’t need to know much about the Bible. We tend to think of deacon work as physical labor so it doesn’t require a lot of Bible knowledge. But deacons are not exempt from knowing scripture. In fact, they will often be in situations where they will have an opportunity to talk about their faith
When Paul uses the word “mystery,” he’s not talking about something mysterious. Rather, that’s the term that Paul often used to refer to divine truth that was once hidden but is now revealed. Specifically, Paul used it to refer to the gospel message – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, because that was something that no one understood for centuries, it was a mystery, but now that mystery has been revealed.
So, Paul is basically saying here that deacons need to have faith in Christ. They’ve got to stand firm on their belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Not only that, but they’ve got to live out that faith. They are committed to being followers of Jesus.
Because, again, deacons are going to be around a lot of different people. They will have many opportunities to talk about or to demonstrate their faith in Christ. So, deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
6. Tested and Proven
“Let them be tested first. Then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” (ESV) “First, a person must be evaluated” (GW) “Let them be closely examined” (NLT) “They must first prove themselves” (CEV)
I think it’s unfortunate that, in some churches, they put people into the office of deacon with the hope they will step up and become a servant. Their reasoning goes something like this — “Brother so-and-so doesn’t come to church all that often. I think maybe if we made him a deacon he’d be more faithful in his attendance.” No!
Potential deacons need be tested before they become deacons. That means that they have served the church in some way in an unofficial capacity and they’ve proved themselves to be faithful. I think evaluating potential deacons includes seeing if they faithfully attend worship and if they volunteer to serve whenever there’s a need.
If you’re considering making someone a deacon, give them some responsibility and see how they handle it. If they show that they can get things done before they’e appointed as a deacon, that’s a pretty good indication that they’re going to get things done after they become a deacon. As Jesus said in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”
I like what one commentator has said: “The church is not, in a sense, choosing [deacons], they are simply recognizing who God has chosen, as manifested by their works. Deacons excel in serving and therefore the church simply recognizes what God is doing through them.”
Deacons must be tested and proven.
7. Faithful to His One Wife
Deacons must be “The husband of one wife” (ESV), “Must have only one wife” (GW), “Faithful to his wife” (NLT)
This is one qualification that I think most churches get completely wrong. Most churches I know use a check-list of qualifications for potential deacons and one of the items on that list is, “He has to be married.” But simply being married to someone doesn’t make a man more qualified to do the job of deacon.
Paul is not even concerned here about whether a man has previously been divorced or widowed and then remarried. By my count, anyone in that situation still only has one wife.
But the Greek word here literally means that a deacon must be a “one-woman man”. They must be faithful to their wife and they must be pure in their conduct with the opposite sex. This qualification is not about marriage. It’s about self-control, which as we’ve seen, is so very important in so many aspects of the deacon’s life.
Paul is saying that a deacon shouldn’t be what we sometime call a “ladies’ man.” A deacon ought to be completely and utterly devoted to his wife.
Again, keep in mind that the deacons in the first century went around from house to house taking care of the needs of the widows. There would have been a lot of opportunities for those deacons to be tempted to act inappropriately or immorally with some of the women whose homes they went into. So, it was very important for a deacon to be someone who was a one-woman man, committed and faithful to his wife.
8. Must Manage Their Homes Well
Deacons must “Manage their children and their own households well” (ESV), or as the Holman Standard puts it, they must “Manage their children and their own households competently.” (HCSB)
Again, I think this is a qualification that most churches get wrong. On their checklist for potential deacons is usually a line that says, “he has children.” But anyone can have children and that doesn’t qualify you for much of anything, other than a tax deduction.
The emphasis in this qualification is not on the fact that this potential deacon has children, but on how he manages his household. If you’re going to ask this man to handle a long list of responsibilities in the church, you might want to take a look at how well he handles his responsibilities in the home. If you’ve got a man who sits around all day and watches TV, and doesn’t really provide for his family and neglects all the things that need to get done around the house, that might not be the kind of person you want in charge of responsibilities in the church.
Deacons are to manage their children and their own household well. They’re to lead in their homes, to provide for their families, and to take care of their responsibilities.
So, there’s eight things that we want to look for in the men we’re going to choose as our deacons here at Cruciform. But I want you to notice something.
I find it interesting that when you look at this list of qualifications for deacons, they’re very similar to something we find in the book of Ephesians. And what makes this especially interesting is that when Paul wrote I Timothy, Timothy was in the city of Ephesus. And just a few years before that, Paul sent a letter to the church in Ephesus.
And in that letter – Ephesians — Paul wrote about how Christians should live. In chapters 4 and 5, he said that Christians need to control their tongue, not be addicted to alcohol, not be greedy for money, hold the mystery of the faith, be faithful in marriage and manage their children well.
Which means that when Paul gives Timothy the qualifications of a deacon, he’s basically saying that a deacon simply needs to be a faithful Christian. All of these things that I’ve talked about this morning describe the kind of character that’s expected of all Christians. So, deacons are the people in the church of whom we should be able to say, “Do you want to know how a Christian ought to live? Watch them.”
So, now that we’ve covered the qualifications of a deacon, we need to talk about whether or not women can serve as deacons, and to do that, we need to go back to verse 11, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”
You might say, “Wait a minute! That verse doesn’t say anything about women deacons, it’s talking about the wives of deacons.” And you’re right – that’s the way it reads in the ESV. But that’s not what it says in the original.
The Greek word here is “gune” which simply means “women”. Now that word can sometimes refer to wives, like when scripture talks about husbands and their women, that obviously refers to wives. But, most of time, the word “gune” simply means “women”. So, a more accurate translation of this verse is found in the NIV: “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”
So, that raises the question — who are these women that Paul is talking about in verse 11? There are four different interpretations that have been put forth:
- Paul may be talking about women deacons who serve along with the men deacons.
- Paul may be talking about deaconesses, which may have been a separate office in the church from deacon.
- Paul may be talking about women in the church who assisted the deacons in their work.
- Paul may be talking about the wives of the deacons.
So, which of these four interpretations is the correct one? In connection with that, we need to look at Romans 16:1 where the apostle Paul sends greetings to “our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.”, at least, that’s how it reads in some translations. Which raises the question — was Phoebe merely a servant in the church like all of us, or was she a deacon in that church?
It’s difficult to say. The truth is, good arguments can be made for both sides. We know from historical records that the church had deaconesses as early as 112 AD. In the years that followed, we find them mentioned in writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen of Alexandria, and we know that the women deacons did the same thing that the men deacons did – they took care of the widows and the poor. They also assisted with the baptism of women.
But did the first-century church have women who served as deacons? Scholars are divided on this subject. Some say there were women deacons, others say there were not. So, the elders studied this question rather extensively and the answer we came up with this – some of us think there were women deacons in the first century church and some of us think there were not!
We don’t agree. But here’s what I want you to know – it’s okay for elders to disagree with each other. I’m not talking about critical issues like whether Jesus was the Son of God. I’m talking about matters of interpretation. We don’t always agree. But we do always treat each other with respect even when we disagree.
And it’s important for all of you to understand that, because the truth of the matter is, none of you will agree with everyone else all the time. There may be times you disagree with the elders. There may be times you disagree with one another. There may be times you disagree with your spouse. And that’s okay. But whenever you disagree, make sure that you always do so a way that shows respect for one another. I want you to know just how much I appreciate the fact that we have an eldership that operates like that.
But, on the topic of women and deacons, what have the elders decided to do for this congregation? While we may disagree with one another about whether the first century church had women serving as deacons, there are some things that we do agree on:
(1) We want to make the very best use of everyone’s gifts and abilities in this congregation, whether you’re male or female. Every single one of you has something that you bring to the table, and we want everyone to use your God-given talents to his glory.
(2) We don’t want to do anything that would violate scripture or threaten the unity of this congregation.
And so, on the basis of those two statements, here’s how we plan to proceed:
(1) We will appoint only men as deacons here at Cruciform, but those men will be married and they will have a wife who will work with them as a team (in much the same way that our elders and wives operate as a team).
We will expect the deacons we choose to have wives with the qualities mentioned in I Timothy 3:11. Those wives, like their husbands, must be worthy of respect. They’re not women who slander — they don’t gossip or talk bad about people. They’re women who are serious-minded and faithful in all things
(2) As announced last week, we will select three deacons for this congregation who will be appointed in June. These deacons will have a rather long list of responsibilities. They will not be expected to do all the work themselves, but they’ll need to delegate some of those responsibilities.
But, after we’ve gotten our deacons in place, there is still a long list of things that need to be done around here, and so we going to try to find 10-12 men or women to fill those responsibilities. These will be things like operating the A/V booth, preparing communion, making bank deposits, picking up food from the food bank, maintaining the church website and maintaining the picture board.
Many of these are responsibilities that are already being done by different men and women in the congregation, but we want to make these official assigned responsibilities. We’ll talk a little bit more about that at our family meeting next week.
But, for more now, our focus is on the deacons. If you haven’t already been thinking about which men and their wives in this congregation meet these qualifications, I hope that you will give this some serious thought over the next week.
And let us all be reminded that all the things we’re looking for a deacon are things that we need to be developing in our own lives. May God help us all as we strive to be people who are well-respected because of our commitment to God, people in whom it is evident that God’s Spirit is working, and people who are filled with wisdom.