Good morning church! It’s been just a wonderful process to know what the will of God is for the church (the family of God). Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen biblically how men and women have complementary roles within the home and the church. We also looked at the qualifications and the roles of an elder…how God desires faithful men to lead, care and protect His church.
Always remember elders are under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ. I hope this series on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus doesn’t feel like an academic study on the structure of a church. Rather let’s remind ourselves that as people live out their roles within the church, God’s church is being built up into the maturity and fullness of the head, Jesus Christ! (Ephesians 4) And we are collectively called “the body of Christ”. Not a few individuals, not just the elders but all of us together form the body of Christ. That is the goal that we are working towards. So let’s look at the passage carefully to understand what it says.
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,[c] not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise[d] must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 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.
Today’s passage in focus deals with the topic of Deacons. So I would like to split it into three parts:
1. Who is a Deacon?
2. What are the qualifications for deacons?
3. What does this mean for each of us today?
Firstly, let’s try and understand who or what is a deacon. The word “Deacon” is derived from the Greek word “Dee-ak-on-os” which means “one who serves”. Deacons are Christians who are appointed to serve with the elders of the church in a variety of ways. Just to add, this is not a derogatory responsibility. In John 13, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples which was something that a slave/servant would do to symbolically show his disciples how they were to serve one another. So every believer in the church needs to be a “servant”.
In Acts 6:1-7, we see deacons being mentioned for the first time. Due to the increasing number of Christians, at one time the Greek speaking Jews complained about the Hebrew speaking Jews.
They said that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the 12 apostles gathered together all the believers and told them that it wouldn’t be right for them to give up the preaching of the word of God to wait on tables. So they asked the believers to select seven men among them of good reputation, full of Spirit and wisdom who will be appointed for this duty. Seven men were selected among whom were Stephen and Philip the evangelist so that the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. They prayed and laid their hands on these deacons and the very next verse (v7) says that the number of disciples multiplied greatly. There you see the impact of deacons in the building of the body. This work was different from what the apostles and the elders did, but it in no way was inferior or lesser in value.
When we learnt about the roles of the elders, we saw how the elders are to feed the flock with the preaching of the word, elders are to care for the flock by leading them eagerly and being examples for them and they are to protect the flock from false teachings and false teachers. Teaching and exercising oversight are the responsibilities of an elder. Apart from that, there are a variety of roles that deacons can serve in. They can include administration, handling finances of the church, music ministry, helping the poor and widows, children’s ministry etc.
Secondly, let’s come to the question: what are the qualifications for a deacon? So let’s turn to 1 Tim 3:8-13.
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,[c] not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.
Why does it say “likewise”? In the same manner? It’s obviously telling us that there’s a link between the qualifications of elders and qualifications for deacons. As we go ahead, you’ll see similarities and the differences. One thing we can notice right off this verse is that just like elders, deacons also need to exhibit strong character qualities.
It says deacons “must be”. These are not optional qualifications for good deacons. There’s no second cut off list for the second grade of deacons. These are compulsory requirements for a person to be qualified as a deacon.
Deacons must be “dignified”. The word dignified means a person having honorable and respectable character. In other words, he needs to have a character which is being respected and looked up to. Now why would that be necessary? You might think…ok I get why an elder needs to have this requirement, why does a deacon also need that?
The reason is because deacons serve the church with elders. It’s the same people that both the deacons and the elders are ministering to…the family of God.
When Paul writes to the Philippians in 1:1 he says, “Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers[b] and deacons”
They are together in this. It’s the same church that Christ loved so much that He gave Himself up for. (Ephesians 5:25)
It’s the same church of God that “Christ obtained and purchased with His blood.” (Acts 20:28)
This is a serious call and responsibility!
A deacon must be “not double-tongued”. What does that mean?
It means double speech. Saying one thing with one person and another thing with another person. Now why would that be important? The book of James has a lot to say about this.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell.[b] 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue.
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:4-8)
For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; (1 Pet 3:10)
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
I’m sure all of us at some point or the other have had friends who have been double-talkers. Isn’t it dangerous? Double-talk is poisonous and destructive and hence that becomes an important quality to examine in a person who wants to be a deacon.
A deacon must be “not addicted to much wine” which means not being attached to wine or be controlled by wine.
I think this is a point that is easier to accept by Indian culture because culturally it is viewed as something wrong. But at the same time, the stereotype for a Christian in the world today is someone who’s drunk and parties all the time. Every time I tell people how I don’t drink, it just puzzles people. They mostly think I’m crazy for taking this stance but I have to say it does identify me as someone different. As believers, we have the unique privilege of responding to any kind of excess with “we know someone better. We experience something better with Christ. There’s no need to get a high with alcohol when we experience immense pleasure in the presence of God!” So that’s the key here, is being defined not by a substance mastering over you but by being defined by Christ who lives in and through you.
Then it says that a deacon “must not be greedy for dishonest gain.”
The Greek actually means “must not be greedy for money”. And this is a big thing for churches. Churches have been divided and broken over money. Leaders and deacons who people thought were spiritual were in fact harbouring a love for money in their hearts. When it reaches its tipping point, this plays out in a very divisive, evil manner. That’s exactly what 1 Tim 6:10 says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matt 6:24)
What these two passages tell us is how evil and idolatrous the love for money can be. Money is literally the other god we make in our lives. And Jesus says “you will love one and hate the other”.
“You will be devoted to one and despise the other”. I wouldn’t want to be the one who hates and despises God but that’s what our love for money does. So not only are you dividing the church with your love for money but you’re also telling people that “money is more secure, dependable, satisfying and valuable than God”. And that’s a lie! Money doesn’t give anything. And that’s why a deacon should first be a worshiper and lover of God who doesn’t hold on to his pocket tightly.
9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
Deacons must cling on to and be closely joined to the “mystery of the faith”.
Now when we think about mystery we usually think about something secret, something unknowable but when the Bible uses this phrase “mystery of the faith”, it refers to the hidden purposes of God which God fully reveals in Jesus: “The gospel”. The gospel for many generations before Christ was hidden. People weren’t fully aware nor understood how God was planning all along to redeem them through the sacrifice of His only Son.
Deacons need to cling onto the gospel with a clear conscience – a pure conscience! And we learnt some time back that the phrase “keeping faith and pure conscience” means holding onto the gospel and having a life consistent with it. Now why is that required?
a) Because the gospel helps us see God for who He is.
He is a Righteous God who punishes sin! He doesn’t overlook or ignore sin but deals with it because He is Just and Holy. At the same time, he is a loving God who doesn’t want to destroy His creation so He sends His Son to take on the whole punishment for sin. Through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we can now see, love and fellowship with God as He is.
b) Because the gospel gives us our true identity.
We are chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God. We were predestined to be adopted as God’s sons and daughters through Jesus, we have redemption through Christ’s blood, and in Christ we have full forgiveness of sins. (Eph 1:3-10)
Family, apart from the gospel we will relate with God either in fear or arrogance. But through the good news, we see Him as the loving God who makes us His children through His Son’s sacrifice!
We saw earlier in chapter 1 how some people by rejecting faith and a good conscience ended up shipwrecking their faith! Hence, it is a critical thing for a deacon but it is also an essential thing for a believer.
10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
As we can see in v10, there is an examination and a scrutiny that is taking place. They are not blindly appointing these deacons due to their giftings or leadership skills or serving skills but by watching their lives. And that can only be done in the context of Christian community. So your community plays a very important role in affirming your level of maturity. That’s why it doesn’t make sense when people say they are mature in the faith apart from being around and involved in Christian community. We can acquire a lot of knowledge by reading books, listening to sermons by the best of preachers but your maturity level can only be confirmed if you’re serving and living life with other believers.
Blamelessness is another requirement. Let’s remind ourselves that it doesn’t mean sinless perfection. If that were the case, then no one would qualify to be a shepherd or a deacon. So what does blamelessness mean? It means having a lifestyle free of scandal. And again here, we’ve seen how scandals have wrecked people’s faith and divided the church. Both elders and deacons need to be pace-setters not injuring people’s faith.
11 Their wives likewise[d] must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.
Now he comes to the wives, telling how they should be respectable, not falsely accusing others but being calm and composed in their conversations. The wives are to be fully reliable in all things. At this point, you’re probably like “Wait a minute. I get why deacons should have qualifications, why should their wives also be scrutinized?”
I think that’s why it’s essential to look at the church as the family of God. It’s not an event, not a club or an organization…it’s family! Family, as God designed it requires women to play an essential part. We see that at our homes, right? So crucial the role of a woman. The church is God’s family and so the actions of the wives of the deacons can positively or negatively impact the family.Secondly, wives can influence their husbands. If you have any doubts, talk to our forefather Adam. Therefore, it’s important to also look at their lives to qualify the man as a deacon.
12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
Similar to requirement for elders, a deacon should be loyal and faithful to his wife and also manage his children well. And again, these are not things that we usually look for in people to serve the church. Family leadership is vital to being able to serve in this capacity. This is not something that happens automatically. There is hard work that goes into staying faithful to your spouse and also leading the family well. This kind of commitment and hard work will play out even within the church if it is being practiced at home. We again see the close relationship between our family and our church family. It was never intended to be separated. And that’s why if we think about it biblically, Sunday event Christianity doesn’t make sense. It ends up being Sunday Christianity for some of us because we aren’t willing to live life with our brothers and sisters every day. Just think about the freedom you’ll have from pretending before others if you realized how we are all family in Christ. And the truth is real life together is messy but we have Christ and each other! Why do we still then live like orphans?
13 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.
It ends with an encouraging note for the hard work put in by the deacons. “They will gain a good standing for themselves” which means they will be respected and appreciated in the church for their ministry. Just to clarify, deacons shouldn’t serve because they want to be appreciated and respected by the church but instead as they eagerly and willingly serve the church, people will recognize their efforts and appreciate their work. But that kind of public acknowledgement is just one side. There’s something more than that which we will receive for a lifetime of faithful ministry:
People who serve well, will receive great boldness and confidence in the power of the gospel as they see it being proven time and time again in their own ministry. Your effectiveness in ministry will also increase as a result of this.
Sometimes, as believers we get into this self-centered space where we are only caught up in our own world and issues and insecurities…it leads us to be unsure of our faith. We end up doubting God’s purposes for us. If that’s what you are going through, let me encourage you to start serving in some capacity or the other.
It’s Christ himself who said “It’s more blessed to give than to receive”. (Acts 20:35) There is a supernatural blessing we can experience when we give our time, our money and our talents to serve someone else. We would’ve experienced this when we’ve gone to orphanages or mission trips. We go with an intention to give and not expecting anything back. More often than not we return back learning something new and feeling more satisfied than we were before.
So if you’re there today, thinking that you’ve reached a rut in your spiritual walk. You need to definitely ask yourself where’s your heart in relation to God. Repentance is necessary but that would also involve you removing your focus from yourself and placing it in people whom God has placed in your life. If you’re still figuring what that looks like, in what capacity can you serve the church, you can get in touch with either Saju or me and we’ll be happy to suggest some ways.
We did talk a great deal about the qualifications for deacons today. But I don’t want us to look at the list and think it’s not required for us. If there’s something both these qualifications teach us, it is that God desires holiness in the character of His children. We’ve cheapened the meaning of grace as believers today. Standard for purity and integrity in churches are very low. But as we see in 1 Tim 3, God has set a high standard for the church and the leaders need to set the pace. Let the requirement for holiness make us more and more dependent on Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Let it result in cries for strength and grace from heaven to be the kind of people God calls us to be.
Secondly, let’s also remind ourselves that God calls us to serve the church. Whether you are an ordained deacon or not, you are called to serve! You don’t need to be the most gifted individual leader to serve, all God desires is willingness. And as you serve people, you will begin to understand God and His attributes in many newer ways because He Himself came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). You emulate and imitate your Lord and Savior when you serve the church. What is God calling you to do today?