For the past few weeks, we have been looking back at a set of sermons on 1 Timothy 3, where we looked at leadership in the local church. We spent the last two weeks looking at elders. In this week’s Flashback Friday blog, we now turn to consider the role of deacons in the “household of faith.” In 1 Timothy, Paul wants the church at Ephesus (and us by extension) to know how to behave in the church. He turns in chapter 3 to consider how church leadership is to be structured. In verses 1-7, Paul considers elders, and in verses 8-13 to consider the role of deacons. The whole point of this section is the character and responsibilities of deacons.
He begins by showing how deacons are to be similar to elders. God has high expectations for the character of deacons, just as He does with elders. In verse 8, deacons are commanded to be dignified. Honorable. He turns then to show what dignified is not, so that we may know what it is. Paul goes onto say that deacons are to be honorable with their mouths (not double tongued), with their consumption (not given to much wine), and with their money (not given to dishonest gain). God wants honorable deacons.
In verse 9-10, we see that deacons must be doctrinal. Deacons are not required to teach like elders are (1 Timothy 3:2) but that does not mean they can remain ignorant in the deep things of God. They must hold fast to the faith with a clear conscience (3:9). This same mystery can be seen, at least minimally, in the words at the end of the chapter.
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16
With a clear conscience, deacons must hold fast to the faith. They must hold fast to the objective reality of truth which God has given. Specifically, Paul seems to have in mind the earthly ministry of Jesus, the “mystery of godliness”- His incarnation, His life, His ministry, His resurrection, and His exaltation. Deacons, therefore; must know and love the person of Christ.
Lastly, we see in verses 11-12 that deacons must be dedicated. God desires for deacons to be dedicated to their families, to their marriages, to holiness. Paul puts it this way.
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. – 1 Timothy 3:11-12
Paul then turns to consider the responsibilities of a deacon. “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” (1 Timothy 3:13). The word deacon means servant. Notice, God emphasizes how deacons are those who “serve.” Deacons do not lead the body as an elder does, they serve the body. The deacons do not stands over the pastors as if they are so sort of executive board. Deacons are not the decision makers, they are the decision implementers. They are the hands and feet of the elders.
Now, the Greek word for deacon is actually most often used not to refer to the office of deacon, but to a servant in general. While every Christian is called to be a servant, a select few are called to be servant-leaders. They set the example, and lead the whole church by example in service. Deacons are far from “just servants.” Nothing is closer to the example of Jesus than being a servant (in fact, Jesus referred to himself as a deacon in Mark 10). Thus, deacons play a significant role in the body.
So, in what ways do deacons serve? Acts 6 is a passage commonly contributed to the first calling of deacons by the early church. Though the word deacon is not used in the passage, it does give us three ways the deacons help serve the body. The elders could not give up the role of preaching in order to help meet all of the needs of the body. Thus, deacons were set apart.
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. 2 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. 3 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… 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. – Acts 6:1-3, 7
Deacons serve by meeting the needs of the body (Acts 6:1). Notice, they were put on the job of taking care of the daily distribution of food and the care of widows. While the teaching of the elders informed their care for the needy- the deacons lead by example in the care of their needs. Elders taught the Word, and the deacons led in living out the Word.
Deacons serve by supporting the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:2). Elders need deacons and deacons need elders. Deacons allow the elders to shepherd, and the shepherds should allow their deacons to serve. The goal is to support each other.
Deacons serve by uniting the body in mission (Acts 6:7). Lastly, after they set aside the twelve men and begin to have biblical church leadership, many people came to faith in Christ. The mission is on the line. If we desire to see people come to faith, than how we lead God’s plan A for mission is important. Will we do biblically?