As we continue with our study on 1st Timothy here at Servants of Grace, I have the pleasure of defining for us the office and function of deacon as it relates to the local church.
There is a lot of legalistic baggage with this office steeped in the traditions of men. Therefore, I think we should have a definition for deacon in order to ensure that we’re speaking the same language in a study like this.
Here is my definition:
Simply, the Greek noun, diakonos means “servant” or “minister” and is sometimes translated into the English word “deacon” as it is in our text. This person is a trusted officer of ‘helps’ and service inside the local church. A deacon works alongside of the pastors/elders by implementing through serving- the preaching, teaching, and oversight into the practical life of the church.
In other words, if the pastors and elders are faithfully executing their job and the deacons are faithfully executing their job- the gospel will be tangible to the church and those outside the church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is my position that the office of deacon can include both men and women unlike the office of pastor and elder as was discussed already in this series.
Now the Bible, for the most part, is silent on deacons being an actual office except in our 1 Timothy text and possibly one other passage of Scripture (Phil 1:1).
1st Timothy 3:8-13 (And I’m using the NASB because I believe it’s more faithful to the original language of this particular passage and I’ll explain why in just a little bit) states:
“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of only one wife and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
We are going to go through this particular passage piece by piece, but I hope you pick up what I am about to write as we work through the text: Paul here is describing the character any follower of Christ should aim for regardless of the office held within the local church.
V8a– “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity..”
Paul is laying out leadership structure within the local church setting in chapter 3, and he uses the word “likewise” to distinguish from the office of eldership.
Deacons should be men of dignity.
A deacon should be serious in mind and behavior. He should be serious about his character. This type of seriousness is worthy of honor and respect. Now many of the qualifications of an elder found in the first seven verses of chapter 3 will overlap with the qualifications of a deacon with the exception of the gift of teaching. An elder should according to 1st Timothy 3:2 be able to teach. That qualification isn’t given to a deacon.
I believe that a dignified man or woman of God is characterized primarily in two ways:
- by how seriously they take sin
- and how faithfully they proclaim the gospel.
A dignified person is someone who is humbled daily by remembering that he/she serves a gracious and loving God who applied the perfect works of Christ to his/her life.
A dignified person is affected daily by the gospel. We are dignified because we are compelled to serve the only true dignified person to ever walk the earth- Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Paul had tunnel vision when it came to being a man of dignity. He states in Philippians 3:8-9 (ESV), “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
A dignified person counts all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Next.
V8b– “not double-tongued…”
This is a lack of sincerity and truthfulness. It literally means to say one thing to one person and the opposite to someone else. Puritan, John Bunyan gives a priest in his book Pilgrim’s Progress the name Mr. Two Tongues to describe this kind of Christian.
V8c– “not addicted to much wine…”
The Apostle Paul here is clearly condemning drunkenness as sinful and a disqualifier for the office of a deacon, but I will also commend to you Paul in both Galatians 5:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 and commend to you that our Christian liberties should be subordinate to our gospel witness and calling.
V8d- not… fond of sordid gain.
This means “not greedy for dishonest gain” (some of your translations may say this). One of the roles of deacons in the early church consisted of distributing food and material needs to the needy:
Acts 6:1-7 (ESV), “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Greek word for “distribution” shares the same root word that translates as deacon). And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
Now, I’m not sure if the men set apart for this task fulfilled the office of a deacon, but they certainly labored in the tasks of deacons.
Pastor and Theologian, John Piper says, “The deacon office exists to assist the leadership of the Church by relieving the elders of distractions and pressures that would divert them from the ministry of the Word and prayer and the general visionary oversight of the Church. It seems that deacons would care for the building and grounds; supply the communion and baptismal needs, as well as all other food and fellowship materials; administer a fund for the manifold material needs of the people and be ready to step in during crises of all kinds; handle the greeting and welcoming ministries; provide practical assistance in job-hunting, housing matters, legal-aid, child-care, etc. In general, they would be ready to assist the elders of the Church in any “service” that would support and promote the ministry of the Word.”
Because of the vast responsibilities of the deacon, it is vital that he or she is not greedy of dishonest gain.
V9- “…but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”
Mystery of the faith is the salvation through Jesus Christ that is revealed by the Holy Spirit to all who will believe.
Today in our culture the word “mystery” means “knowledge withheld.” In the Bible, it means, “truth revealed.” God has revealed to us in His Word that we are dead in our trespasses and completely incapable of changing our position. Even our best day falls short of God’s glorious standard.
And we serve a God who doesn’t look down at us with cold indifference and give us what we deserve which is hell- eternally separated from Him. But He looks down at us with love, and He set His affections on us before the world began and provided salvation for us by providing the One whom every word on every page of Scripture testifies about- Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity. Fully God, fully Man. He lived the only life pleasing to God the Father and God the Father poured His wrath out on His Son on the cross so that His wrath didn’t have to be poured out on us. And three days later Jesus rose from the dead, certifying His claims about Himself and His payment made to God on our behalf.
The deacon will hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience because his conscience has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ when he/she repented of sin and believed the gospel.
V10- “And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach…”
This is a careful examination of character and commitment to sound teaching. At the local church, I serve in we have worked very hard at improving our process of examination. If you are a member in good standing at our church (which means you have completed the membership class, met with an elder, signed an annual commitment letter, give generously and are connected to a small group and serve in a ministry and mission), you will have had the opportunity to be examined at some point. This ensures that folks have the capacity to serve as deacon as the Lord allows.
V11- “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”
I told you earlier in this article that I used the NASB intentionally. The reason is because I believe this translation gets this verse more close to the original language and that’s very important for our study. Paul includes women in this passage because it was understood in the early church that women were also deacons. I’ll give you three reasons why I believe this:
- I chose NASB because it doesn’t translate this verse as if Paul were addressing the wives of male deacons (some translations do translate it that way) however, the Greek word for “wives” in the New Testament is the same as the Greek word for “women.” In this passage, there is no definite article (The translation shouldn’t read “their women or their wives” because in the original language there is no “their.”) it simply needs to say, “women.”
- The context of this passage lends itself to that interpretation. For instance, in the qualification for eldership, Paul doesn’t give a charge to the elders for how their wives should conduct themselves. Why would the Apostle Paul give instruction to deacon’s wives, but not the elder’s wives? That doesn’t make sense. If anything, because the office of eldership is reserved for men only- certainly there should be a verse in there about the conduct of their wives if that’s what Paul is doing in our particular text.
- There were clearly women deacons in the early church- Romans 16:1 the Apostle Paul states, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant (same Greek word for deacon in our text) of the Church at Cenchreae…”
So Paul is giving particular instructions to female deacons that include the need to be dignified as we already discussed, not malicious gossips which is similar to being double-tongued, but the Greek word “diabolos” is used. It means slanderer- which is actually used to describe Satan himself- when you gossip- you take on the satanic role of the accuser- not a lot of things can distract other people from the word of God as quickly as malicious gossip can). While both men and women can struggle with this, I believe Paul understands how prone a woman is to fall into this sin.
Malicious gossips are life-takers, and they secretly rejoice at the destruction of someone else.
Paul exhorts- “temperate, faithful in all things.”
Trustworthy, gentle, godly, loving- in a word (or two)- above reproach– just as he charges pastors, elders and male deacons.
V12a- “Let deacons be husbands of only one wife…”
This isn’t excluding those that are single from being deacons. Paul is rebuking marital infidelity in this passage. A Christian’s sexual conduct must be exemplary in purity whether he is married or not.
V12b- “… and good managers of their children and their own households.”
I find the Apostle Paul’s logic to be spot on. Isn’t it something that being a good manager of your children and your home comes immediately after being the husband of only one wife? How can one serve the local church faithfully if one’s home is disordered and chaotic?
Finally, for those that seek to serve as a deacon (and again, I want to argue that the character qualities of a deacon should be the aim of every Christian), The Apostle Paul gives us two promises.
V13- “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
First Paul says deacons will receive a high standing.
There are a lot of things that many of you reading this article do for the kingdom week in and week out that go un-noticed. There are many thankless jobs. Be encouraged by Mark 10:43-45:
“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Secondly, Paul says that deacons will receive great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus: Those who serve God well and see His power and grace in their lives and the lives of others are deeply encouraged. Your faith will be increased as you seek God’s Kingdom and as you pray, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”