Purpose of this Session
We looked in our previous lessons at the centrality of the deacon’s office as foundational to all service in the Body of Christ. We will now look in detail at what the Bible says specifically about this ‘office’.
The function of a deacon is first mentioned in regard to the church in Acts chapter 6:1-6, where we find a group of faithful and Spirit filled individuals being set apart to take on practical responsibilities within the church, thus relieving the apostles of some of the practical burden of serving the Body and focus entirely upon prayer and the Word.
These men interestingly were chosen in consultation with the church Body, and were recognised among their peers as valuable and faithful members of the Body. Once selections had been made they were set apart for specific service by the Apostles, and began their ministry. This included primarily practical service (waiting on tables, feeding the poor etc), but also opened opportunities for spiritual ministry where it was needed (Acts 6:8). Stephen and Philip in particular are mentioned as those who began their ministry serving tables, and later moved into areas of spiritual manifestations and gifts. Stephen became the first martyr and Philip a successful evangelist.
The point to recognise is that ministry often does not begin in the ‘pulpit’ but in practical service to those in the ‘pews’. If we prove ourselves faithful in the natural things of loving and serving others, God can entrust us with more (1 Tim 3:10,13). Scripture encourages a proving time in this essential office before anyone step into more prominent leadership capacities. Faithfulness in the office of deacon also promises great reward and honour from God.
1Tim. 3:10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.
1Tim. 3:13 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.
The Qualifications of a ‘deacon’
A few places in Scripture give us a broad description of the character and qualifications of those who can be considered for this honour and office of service in the Body of Christ.
Acts 6:3 says that these men (or women) should be those who are:
a. Of good and attested character and repute (honest report)
b. Full of the Holy Spirit
c. Full of wisdom
Clearly the office is not one that is open to anyone (it is not a menial job, but a responsible position held by men and women of respect and spiritual stature). These are people who have distinguished themselves among the brethren as trustworthy, capable, and anointed individuals.
As churches multiplied, so did the need for deacons (remember it means those who serve or minister practically and spiritually to the local church Body). Paul later clarifies some of the expected qualities of deacons and deaconesses in his letters to Timothy and Titus:
1 Tim 3:8-13
1Tim. 3:8 In like manner the deacons [must be] worthy of respect, not shifty and double-talkers but sincere in what they say, not given to much wine, not greedy for base gain [craving wealth and resorting to ignoble and dishonest methods of getting it].
1Tim. 3:9 They must possess the mystic secret of the faith [Christian truth as hidden from ungodly men] with a clear conscience.
1Tim. 3:10 And let them also be tried and investigated and proved first; then, if they turn out to be above reproach, let them serve [as deacons].
1Tim. 3:11 [The] women likewise must be worthy of respect and serious, not gossipers, but temperate and self-controlled, [thoroughly] trustworthy in all things.
1Tim. 3:12 Let deacons be the husbands of but one wife, and let them manage [their] children and their own households well.
1Tim. 3:13 For those who perform well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and also gain much confidence and freedom and boldness in the faith which is [founded on and centers] in Christ Jesus.
There are moral, domestic and spiritual qualifications present in those who can be considered to serve as deacons.
a. Worthy of respect
Living in a manner worthy of people’s respect and admiration
b. Not double tongued but sincere in what they say
Not given to gossip, saying one thing to one and something else to another. Trustworthy and sincere in deed and speech.
c. Not given to alcohol
This is not a complete ban on drinking wine or alcoholic beverages, but the deacon must not be given to excess, realising that his conduct has influence on others. This means that at times a deacon will curtail their own liberty to protect and honour others. They will serve the good of the community, even at the expense of their own liberty where necessary.
d. Nor greedy for money
As ministers and assistants of others their motivation must not be personal gain. Rewards may come as we serve others, but this should not motivate or direct our ministries to others. The financial conduct and lives of a servant in Christ’s body must be transparent and above reproach.
e. Proven, tried and tested
The deacon will already have proved their capability and life of servanthood long before they are recognised as such by the Body in any official capacity. Their life and ministry will be apparent to all.
f. Blameless and above reproach
In all their dealings in life and business the potential deacon will be above reproach.
a. The husband of one wife
Not a bigamist or immoral in any way
b. Ruling his own house well
Proven leadership first at home is essential. How can a man or woman rule or serve in the church if they are incapable of doing so in their own home? Our conduct privately is an essential qualification for any position publicly. The lie that private and public office are separable is not endorsed by the Bible. One cannot qualify for Biblical leadership, yet live a private life that contradicts the standards set by God. True leadership begins at home, and flows outward from there to other areas of responsibility.
The deacon team of man and wife is a powerful combination, and the deacons wife will display the same characteristics as her husband; sobriety, respectfulness and reverence, trustworthiness, honesty and dependableness.
Likewise, the children of a servant household will display respect and discipline, and be obedient to their parents.
The conduct of husband, wife or children, can disqualify someone from consideration for this ministry. The Scriptures closely guard the position of service in the Body, ensuring that it does not come under reproach because of the conduct of those to whom it is entrusted (inclusive of their entire household).
As stated earlier, a deacon will be characterised by wisdom, spirituality and character. They will be ‘grave’, meaning worthy of respect, and conduct themselves in a manner that inspires the respect of others.
In the King James Version of these verses, verse 11 speaks of the ‘wives’ of deacons. The word rendered ‘wives’ can equally be translated as simply ‘women’. The New Testament contains evidence that women operated in the deacons office from the very beginning. Women are mentioned during Christ’s ministry (Luke 8:1-3) who travelled and served the group practically and financially.
In the Acts church and during Paul’s epistles other servants to God’s people are mentioned, notably Phoebe and Dorcas:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” (Romans 16:1-2 TNIV)
“At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” (Acts 9:36)