Lesson 7: "Likewise Must the Deacons be . . ." (I-Timothy 3:8)
I Timothy 3:8-13
Paul's Letters To Preachers. Welcome! This is lesson #7. Paul's instruction to Timothy on the qualifications of deacons. This begins in v.8 of I-Tim. ch. three. In looking back over the lesson on elders, i.e. lesson #6, I was amazed at how much more I would have like to have said on the duty of elders and especially on the selection and appointment of elders. But, you can't get everything in one lesson of 20 minutes. Since Paul discussed these same things with Titus, perhaps (when we get to that) we can talk more on the process there. Elders are first of all Christians, you must remember. Have you thought about how many of the qualifications for elders are actually required in every Christian? A Christian can be a new convert or a novice as Paul used the term and this would disqualify them serving as an elder. There's no requirement that a Christian be married or have a family as is required of elders. And, maybe I have overlooked something else; however, about every other qualification Paul mentioned is really expected in every disciple. Isn't it? You expect that these characteristics would be developed to a higher degree in an elder than in a new convert, I think. As a matter of experience, the elder should be less vulnerable to being led astray by false teachers and materialistic ambitions. This point goes to the very heart of the shepherding concept, i.e. the duty of elders. They are to take the oversight and feed the church (or the flock, i.e. be responsible for the teaching) as Paul stressed this duty with the Ephesian elders.
But, right now, let's get down to working on the qualifications of deacons. First off, what is a deacon? The word deacon means very simply, a servant. It carries the idea of a trusted servant. The Greek word, I'm told comes for the idea of serving tables, i.e. a waiter, we would say. However, just as the word elder becomes a technical term when applied to a church office; the same is true with the word "deacon." The word "deacon(s)" as used here (I-Tim. 3:8) is also a church office. The phrase "office of a deacon" as used down in v.10, verifies the church office concept. The word "likewise" that introduces this section (v.8) also verifies this. The church at Philippi had "bishops and deacons," we learned this in the first verse of Paul's letter to the Philippians. If you're ready, we're going to read v.8-13 (6 verses). As we read this, think about these qualifications. What is required of a deacon? What is required of a deacon that is not required of other Christians? What more or what less is required of them than elders? How long, do you think, it would take a new convert to acquire these characteristics? Let's read! Beginning in v.8, here we go:
"Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a. pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus."
I haven't said this; but, it is obvious to me that Paul expected elders and deacons to be men. As someone has said, it's a little hard for a Christian lady (regardless of how spiritual and how faithful she might be) to qualify as the husband of one wife. This requirement (v.2 & v.12) is common to both elders and deacons. Some denominations in our day have appointed women elders and woman deacons and try all sorts of new hermeneutics to justify this practice. In the first verse of the last chapter in Romans, Paul commended Phoebe to the Roman church and identified this Christian lady as a servant of the church at Cenchreae. Some have, thus, made Phoebe a deaconess (from that verse) and use her as a precedent for ladies holding church offices today. I fear that may be stretching Paul's meaning of that word servant just a little. Very simply, as the church office of an "elder" is derived from a common root term with reference to one that is an older and wiser person; so is the word "deacon" derived from its common meaning also, i.e. a servant. From what is said back in I-Tim. ch. 2 that we covered with respect to men and woman praying and teaching in the assembly (etc.), it seems to me that Paul in speaking to Timothy expected elders and deacons to be men. Now, that doesn't really mean no one else can do anything. A Christian does not have to be an elder or a deacon to be a worker in the congregation. It is assumed in these passages that everyone in the congregation (both men and women) are working and everyone is serving in some way. Those appointed to the office of an elder and/or deacon are simply the ordained leaders that gives local structure to that organization for which our Lord died on the cross.
We need to go through these verses we just read again, one by one, and look at each qualification with more depth. However, before we do, let me touch on the difference in these two offices just a minute. What do you see as the main difference between the office of an elder and the office of a deacon? Elders are to take the oversight (I-Pet. 5:2), they are to be "overseers" (Acts 20:28). Thus, deacons serve under the general oversight of the elders. However, we must not think of deacons as assistant elders. Both have a job to do. Some people have the mistaken idea that elders oversee spiritual things, i.e. the teaching, the worship, (etc.) and the deacons oversee material things or in other words the physical things of the church like the money and the building and the grounds. Those who advocate such, forget that, every physical thing of the church is in some way interwoven with the spiritual things of the church. Otherwise, there would be no need for it. For example, the bread and fruit of the vine in the Lord's supper are physical; however, they are inseparably associated with the spiritual in worship. Feeding widows and visiting widows as the seven appointed in Acts ch. 6 did it, involves the physical in terms of food and material things, growing or purchasing the same; but, it also involves the spiritual. James said: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction..." Like I said, the two are intertwined to the point you cannot separate them, it's just NOT that simple. Elders are overseers, they oversee the spiritual AND they oversee the physical. Deacons are not overseers, deacons don't oversee anything. They serve under the oversight of the elders. The elders, for example, might assign a deacon to take care of the church treasury. However, the elders still OVERSEE the treasury, what the money is spent for, which bank the money is deposited in, how that deacon is to keep records (etc.). The elders may "appoint [this deacon] over this business." (Acts 6:3) But, he still does it under the oversight of the elders. Deacons serve, they do not control and manage the congregation either physically or spiritually. Some do not agree that the seven men appointed by the apostles (in Acts ch. 6) were deacons. However, my concept is that not only do those seven men (Acts ch. 6, Stephen, Philip and others) serve as role models for a deacon, I believe the appointing process as described there also serves as an example to us. There was this difference, the elders in that case were the apostles in the Jerusalem congregation at that time. What these seven deacons did was inseparably associated with teaching. Stephen was involved in teaching in the synagogues around Jerusalem. "They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake." (Acts 6:10). That's what upset them. Philip went down to Samaria "and preached Christ unto them." As I said, the physical and the spiritual are inseparably connected. And, they did this under the general oversight of the apostles in this case. The apostles were involve (Acts 8:14). A deacon may or may not have the capability of teaching. Teaching is not mentioned as a qualification for a deacon in the list we just read (here beginning in I-Tim. 3:8). Deacons obviously can serve in other ways besides teaching. However, being a deacon does not keep them from teaching, they can teach under the oversight of the elders. The elders do it under the oversight of the chief Shepherd, Jesus and the Holy Spirit through this word you hold in your hand, called the Bible. Again, may I repeat, NOT being an elder or a deacon, does NOT limit you (or any Christian) from teaching, working, serving, or being involved in the Lord's work in the local congregation as long as you do it under the oversight of the elders. And, there is no earthly hierarchy of the church higher than the local congregation. That's it! All this district... general conference... diocese... hierarchy business we hear about in denominationalism is NOT authorized in the scriptures. It's a bunch of man made stuff, just as unscriptural as it can be. Sister congregations of the church should cooperate with each other; but, they are not bound by each other. Not in the least, when it comes to congregational organization and congregational management that we are covering here. This is usually expressed by saying each congregation has autonomy.
Before we run out of time (get your eyes on v.8). (#1) A deacon must be "grave," (v.8). This simply means honorably serious. A deacon must be devout and sincere, NOT flippant or flighty. This was a requirement for an elder also embedded in those words: sober and vigilant as the word "likewise" here in v.8 implies. (#2) The deacon must NOT be "double-tongued," i.e. he must NOT first talk this way and then talk that way depending on who he is talking with, wish-washy we might say. You see, again this goes back to the morals that every Christian must strive to attain. Jesus said (Matt. 5:37) in the sermon on the mount: "let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." I.e. say yes or say no, don't try to shade it or sugar-coat it. Tell it like it is! Especially, you would expect a deacon to possess this characteristic. (#3) Not given to much wine, and (#4), not greedy of filthy lucre. Again these are two items found in the list of qualifications for elders. Not even slightly involved with alcoholic intoxication, drugs, and other behavior altering and mind bending chemicals. And, just as elders are not to be involved in unethical business dealings such as graft, gambling, embezzlement and shady deals, deacons must never be involved in these things either. Then (#5), deacons are to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Some things we do and must do as a matter of faith. Jesus and the apostles said to do it that way and they had it written down for us. When you start questioning why be baptized? why sing without an instrument? why give according to the way you have been prospered? why this and why that? You will never be satisfied with the answer. When we believe that Jesus is from God (and that by faith, John 1:1) and that he was made flesh and dwelt on earth as a man (that's faith, John 1:14) and that all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth (that's faith, Matt. 28:19), then we don't have to know WHY he said to do this and do that or do it this way or do it that way. It's a matter of faith. We may understand some of these things and we may eventually understand all of them. However, because I don't understand it right now should not wreck my faith. As the song says, we'll understand it in the sweet by and by. But, right now you must accept it on faith. Deacons must especially have this characteristic. It's a qualification, it's a requirement. As a matter of fact, it's a requirement for all Christians; NOT just deacons. But, especially must deacons be high on this characteristic. Then (#6), let's re-read v.10, "let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless." Just like an elder, a deacon cannot be a novice or a new convert. He must be grounded to the point he has proven himself, i.e. he has reasonably established that he has these characteristics we have just covered. When he has been "found blameless," i.e. these characteristics stand out and you have no reason to question any of them, then he can be appointed as a deacon if the occasion and the need arises. Now the reason I say, when the occasion and the need arises, is this: to be a deacon is not just a title as so often happens. It's a work, it's more than a title. A deacon is responsible for getting this work done. If a deacon won't work, then he's not a deacon. The same thing could be said about elders. Then (#7) let's skip v.11 just a minute and read v.12 first. "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife." Now, what does that mean? Is that statement clear to you? Not long ago, I visited one of my cousins in another state. His son was then a college student, very bright, a pleasant young man, single and almost any young lady would have considered his as being excellent potential husband material. He told me and his mother told me, John is being made a deacon next Sunday. I was stunned. I didn't have an opportunity to discuss this with the boy; but, I asked his mother if she knew this requirement (I-Tim. 3:12) was here. She said, you know, that's what I always thought; but, our preacher and the other church leaders say they don't want to miss this opportunity to make him a deacon, they need him. Well, what can I say? Bend the rules to suit you, is that it? Please don't! If that were the case, Paul just wasted his time in writing this. It just takes up unnecessary space in the N.T. Do you think that's right? Incidentally, when does a denomination become a denomination? Have you given it any thought? Jesus said, "he that is not with me, is against me" (Matt. 12:30). What does that mean? Now, why must a deacon be married and the husband of one wife. Couldn't a single man do exactly the same thing? Well, I've got some ideas; but, I'm not sure my ideas coincide with that reason(s) the H.S. had in mind in writing this and making it a qualification for deacons. It goes back to that faith statement in v.9, I don't have to understand why. It is a plain and clear statement. You understand it, I understand it. What really determines whether we follow it or whether we ignore it? What else can I say? Someone says, yes; but Bro. Horsley, what this really means is that a deacon cannot be a polygamist, i.e. have multiple wives. Well, it's true the statement eliminates that. However, is that the only reason? Do you think Paul ever heard of a polygamist? Paul could have said that, just as easy as he said this. Why did he say what he said? Well, that question involves faith. Paul discussed human wisdom (back at the end of I-Cor. ch. 1), we won't re-do that. Then finally (#8), back to v.11 just a minute, NOT only are deacons to be married, their wives must meet certain criteria also; i.e. if the deacon is to qualify. I don't think you'll have any trouble understanding v.11, (or v.13). So, I'm going to leave it with you. We'll pick up here in our next lesson. Until then, have a good day.