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Deacon Ministry

This is the Bible Study from Sunday night, slighlty edited . . .. Also here as a pdf –  Deacon Minisry

What Is A Deacon?

A good place to begin is this, a Deacon is someone who holds the office of Deacon in the church. There are two basic offices in the church:

1. Overseers (also called – Elders)
2. Deacons

In Philippians 1:1 and I Timothy 3 these are both spoken of together, so we know they are not the same office.

These two offices grow out of  two basic kinds of service to God. This can be seen in Acts 6:1-6:

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. 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 (table service). 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 (service) 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.

There is the service of the word and table service:

  • The service of the word has to do with teaching and preaching
  • “Table service” has to do with taking care of the practical needs of the community

All Christians are supposed to be active 1) in sharing the word and teaching one another and also 2) in serving each other’s practical needs. But for the sake of the well being of the community as a whole certain people are chosen and set aside to specifically focus on either the “service of the word” or “table service.” They give leadership in these areas.

In Acts 6 we see the apostles functioning as prototypes of Elders who oversee and teach and “the seven” acting as Deacons – caring for the widows of the community by providing food allotments.

So we have some further definition: A Deacon is someone who is officially in charge of providing care within the congregation. The lesson of Acts 6 is that Overseers should not also try to do both kinds of service, lest the service of the word is neglected, or the needs of the people are neglected (which is what happened in this case). Thus Deacons were appointed to make sure that the needs of the people in the community are being met.

What Does A Deacon Do?

We come to understand more specifically what Deacons do by looking at the words connected to this office and by looking at examples of Deacon work.

1. Deacons take care of the practical needs of the church community: The word for Deacon is simply “servant.” This word originally meant a “waiter” – someone who serves the food. The verbal form of the word “service” referred to this kind of task – “waiting on someone” in a meal context.

Later this word group was expanded to refer to caring for any kind of household needs, and finally more broadly it came to refer to any kind of service rendered to another.

So to serve is to take care of practical needs (whatever they might be). An example of this can be found where the verb is used in Matthew 25:44. Here the examples of practical care include: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; taking in the stranger; clothing the naked; and visiting the sick and those in prison.

This concurs with what Deacons actually do in Scripture:

  • In Acts 6 “the seven” take care of the widows in the congregation at Jerusalem
  • In Romans 16:1-2 Phoebe, a woman Deacon, is a “helper of many”
  • In Luke 22:25 Jesus compares Deacons to “benefactors” or patrons who in a Gentile context help people with (financial/material) needs

2. Deacons handle the alms money: In Acts 6 the Deacons provide “table service.” This can literally mean serving food at table, or keeping accounts. It is best to keep the double meaning. Deacons handle the alms money and provide food from this for the widows.

So there is an administrative component – handling money – that is a part of this office. As we will see in the qualifications, it is important that a Deacon can be trusted with the congregation’s money.

Summary: Deacons make sure that the poor, the weak, and the needy of the congregation are cared for. They make sure that the community as a whole is in accord with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles about giving to and caring for these (Luke 12:33; James 1:27; I John 3:16-18). They make sure that the ideal of the church of Acts 4:34 is a reality among us – “There was not a needy person among them.”

Nine Qualifications for the Deacon Role

As an office in the church there must be consideration as to who is qualifed to have such a leadership role. The first four come from I Timothy 3:8 and 11. Verse 8 gives four qualifications for male Deacons, and then verse 11 repeats the same qualifications for female Deacons. (This doesn’t seem to be talking about the wives of Deacons, since no such qualifications are mentioned for the wives of Elders, the more prominent role).

1. Dignified/dignified (I Timothy 3:8/11). Deacons, whether male or female are to be honorable, respected people. As Acts 6:3 says, they should be “of good repute.”

2. Not double-tongued/not slanderers (I Timothy 3:8/11). These two both refer to sins of the tongue. Deacons will be involved in people’s lives and problems. They will see people in their times of weakness. They cannot, then, have a loose tongue spreading unkind words, or repeating unnecessary personal information to others.

3. Not addicted to much wine/sober-minded (I Timothy 3:8/11). The first is the negative and the second the positive articulation of this qualification. Rather than being addicted to wine, Deacons are to be sober-minded; able to act responsibly and think clearly.

4. Not greedy for dishonest gain/faithful in all things (I Timothy 3:8/11). Again, the negative form comes first and then the positive. This qualification relates to the fact that Deacons handle the benevolence money. They must not be greedy, but prove themselves faithful in all things.

5. Deacons are also “to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (I Timothy 3:9). They are to have an understanding of the faith and a good walk in it as well.

6. They are to be faithful in their marriage commitments (I Timothy 3:12). Paul says, “let Deacons each be the husband of one wife . . ..” The phrase is literally – “a one woman (or wife) man.” (Apparently most Deacons were men, hence the use of the male form here.) Paul’s focus with this qualification is faithfulness in one’s marriage commitment. Leaders in the church need to be faithful to their marital commitments.

7. They are to be proven leaders in their home contexts (I Timothy 3:12). Paul goes on to say,  “ . . . managing their children and their households well.” (Again, apparently most Deacons were married and had children.) This has to do with an ability to exercise leadership well in a home context. As Paul says of Elders, if they cannot manage their own home, how will they be able to manage the household of faith, the church? – I Timothy 3:5. How they do in a home context (or other leadership contexts) can show if they are qualified to lead in the church.

8. Deacons are to be full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Deacons need the empowerment and guidance of the Spirit to do their job.

9. Deacons are to be full of wisdom (Acts 6:3). This no doubt relates to having wisdom to deal with people in need, and to handle the money rightly. Just as the apostles found out, any sense of unfairness can lead to conflict in the community. It takes wisdom to distribute alms. William Higgins

Appendix: The Literary Structure of the Qualifications List in I Timothy 3:8-13

It is helpful to see the literary structure to see how the material is organized.

A. Qualifications for Male Deacons:
1. Dignified
2. Not double tongued
3. Not addicted to much wine
4. Not greedy for dishonest gain

B. Two Statements:
1. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a  clear conscience.
2. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as Deacons if they prove  themselves blameless.

`A. Qualifications for Female Deacons:
1. Dignified
2. Not Slanderers
3. Sober-minded
4. Faithful in all things

`B. Two Statements:
1. Let Deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their  own households well.
2. Those who serve well as Deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also  great confidence in the faith that is in Jesus Christ.

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