New Testament Deacons: Servants in the Household of God.
Who are these Deacons to Be?
-In the last post on Deacons, we looked at the history of the office and where, exactly, it comes from.
In this post, we want to listen carefully to the biblical teaching on the qualifications for those who would serve in the office of Deacon. It is important to recognize that the office of Deacon is not a “whoever will serve” type of office. Nor does the Bible treat it as primarily a skills-based office. Rather, like the office of Elder, the Bible makes it plain that the heart of Deacon ministry is the person’s Christian Character.
Churches, therefore, ought not treat Deacon ministry as a popularity contest, a power group, or a board of directors. Churches ought to treat their Deacon ministry with the same weight Scripture does. Recall from our first post, that Deacons are guardians of the unity of the body of Christ. They guard the Church’s unity because they, themselves, are already godly people (Acts 6:5).
Let’s look first at the biblical qualifications for those who would serve in the office of New Testament Deacon…
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. 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. 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 Tim. 3:8-13, ESV)
-Listening to the Scripture -
The first thing to notice is that Paul uses the word likewise in v. 8. This is from the Greek word, osautos, meaning, “in the same way.” This is a favorite transition of Paul in his writings, and it means that what is about to be said is tied to what has just been said.
So, in the context of 1 Tim. 3, Paul is saying, “Deacons are to be thoroughly godly in the same way that I have just finished speaking of Elders.”
Paul’s point here is that more than possessing a certain skill set or popular standing among a congregation, Deacons are to be thoroughly godly through and through. Their lives must be marked by genuine godliness, commitment to the Scriptures in mind and in life.
In Acts 6, we see that Deacons must be already godly and full of the Holy Spirit—this is how they are identified. In 1 Tim. 3, Paul gives a specific list of qualities that a man must meet before he is permitted to serve as a Deacon. The Deacon, like the Elder, must be of a certain character to qualify for his position and work.
Therefore, if a Church is truly obedient to the Word of God, she will not ask, “who is willing to serve?” but “Who is qualified to serve?”
-Paul’s list breaks into positive and negative qualities...
Positively, a Deacon must be…
Dignified: Means “proper appearance.” - The Deacon will be respectable, well-thought of; a man genuinely worthy of respect.
Hold the Mystery of the Faith with a Clear Conscience: A deacon must know the Christian faith, possess it as his own, hold firmly to the faith, and live consistently with the faith.
Tested/Examined: Before a man is installed in the office of Deacon, he must be tested: Both by the Elders and the Church. Is he godly? Does he know his Scripture? Is his home in order? Does he genuinely live consistently with the things of God?
Blameless: Is his life above reproach? Is he a man of genuine integrity?
A faithful Husband: Like an Elder, this is neither a requirement of marriage, nor a prohibition against divorce. Paul is saying that if a Deacon is married, he must be a faithful, “one-woman man.” His conduct in marriage must be in line with God’s Word.
A Godly Father: Again, this is not a requirement to have children. Paul’s point is that the Deacon’s faithfulness will show itself in his parenting. Is he leading children to know and love the things of God? Is he putting godliness on display before his family? A Deacon's home must be in order.
Negatively, a Deacon must not be…
Not Double-Tongued: This means that a Deacon has integrity in his speech. What he says is what he means. This does not mean he never lies, never makes a mistake, etc. It means that he is generally and genuinely a man of his word.
Not a Drunkard: A Deacon must not give himself to self-destructive addictions—Nothing can control him but the Lord.
Not Greedy for Dishonest Gain: The Deacon must not be controlled by money. He cannot be out to make himself rich or gain ungodly control; nor can his leadership be tied to financial gain or worry. “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Finally, Paul addresses Women, but it is not overly clear precisely what he means. He uses the Greek word, gunaikos, which can be translated as either “the women” or “the wives.”
“The Women/ Their Wives”
So, it's not exactly not clear whether Paul is speaking here of Deacon’s wives, or of a group of female deacons. In Romans 16:1, a woman named Phoebe, from the church at Cenchrea is commended “deacon.” And given Paul’s word in 1 Tim. 3:11 can mean “wives” or it can mean, “women,” the issue remains unclear.
The NIV translates the word “The women;” the ESV interprets it by adding a pronoun, making it say, “their wives.” But it is unclear precisely what Paul meant, and there are arguments on both sides of the issue. But since the Deacon office is not authoritative in nature, there is nothing specific to the Deacon’s ministry that would disqualify a woman.
Some churches have given authority to Deacons, treating them more as Elders rather than Deacons— and this would disqualify women— but this is not a Biblical move, as the Scripture assigns no authority to the office of Deacon.
-Wherever a Church comes down on the issue, Paul says these women must be...
Dignified: Identical to what is in v. 8; she must be a worthy woman. She must be a genuinely godly woman.
Not Slanderous: The word for “slanderous” in the Greek—diabolous— is related to the word “Satan”—Diabolos. To slander is to lie about another, and Satan is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44).
Sober-Minded: She is balanced; level-headed, self-controlled. Not an excessive woman.
Faithful in All things: Dependable, reliable; a trustworthy woman through and through.
These women—whether stand alone deacons, or the wives of male deacons—must be godly and must not give the gospel a poor reputation.
-Conclusion: Who can Be a Deacon?
In the end, the picture of Deacons is a group of godly, faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, so much so that they can be identified by it. Churches get themselves into trouble when they depart from the Biblical teaching on the purpose and qualifications for Deacons and treat them as something they are not.
They ought to be evaluated, tested, and if they are found qualified, then churches ought to set them free to serve.
This quote from Matt Smethurst is a helpful summary and conclusion…
“We shouldn’t elevate deacons to an executive board of pseudo-elders. It is an office of service, not oversight. But let us not reduce the role to savvy businessmen or skilled handymen either. Deacons are so much more. They are an influential cavalry of servants, called by the King and deputized by His Church to target and meet tangible needs. To protect and promote church unity. To enhance the ministry of the Elders. And, in doing so, to accelerate the mission of the Church.” (From the book, Deacons, by Matt Smethurst, 132-133)