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SCRIPTURE REFERENCES » 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Qualifications For Church Officers: Deacons

New Testament Reading: Acts 6:1-7

“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. 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 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. 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 6:1–7, ESV)

Sermon Text: 1 Timothy 3:8-13

“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 Timothy 3:8–13, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

Let us not forget that Paul’s purpose in writing to Timothy was to ensure that the church be properly ordered. 

The false teachers that had infiltrated the church in Ephesus were promoting speculations that lead to disorder rather than “the stewardship [or good order] from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul wrote to Timothy so that he “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, ESV). The church is the household of God, and Timothy was a steward, or household manager. And Timothy was to see to it that overseers were appointed to serve in God’s house.  They are to be morally upright and gifted for the work. One thing that overseers would need to do was to care for God’s church. And how would they prove that they were capable of this? Answer: by managing their own households. Concerning overseers, 1 Timothy 3:5 says, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” So, this entire letter has order in the household of God as it’s major theme. 

Brothers and sisters, our God is a God of order. 

That he is a God of order is displayed most wonderfully in the natural world. In the beginning God created the heavens and earth. The earth was at first without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And in six days time God formed and fashioned the earth by the power of his word to make it a place suitable for human habitation. In creation God transformed the earthly realm, bringing order out of disorder. Order in the natural world makes human life possible. And that order is beautiful to behold. His order is also displayed within the family. In the beginning God instituted marriage and commanded that children be brought into the world and raised through the union of husband and wife. Order within the home is beautiful to behold. And that God is a God of order is also displayed within society in the authority structures that God has instituted. How good and pleasant it is for citizens to live within a well ordered and just society. Our God is a God of order.

We should not be surprised then to find instructions concerning the proper ordering of Christ’s church. The Old Testament is filled with instructions concerning the ordering of the nation of Israel and the proper worship of God under the Old Covenant, and the New Testament does provide us with instructions concerning the proper worship of God and the ordering of the Israel of God (that is, the church of God) under the New Covenant. Our God is a God of order. And his household is to be kept orderly. 

His house is to be filled with truth, and not falsehood. 

His house is to be kept holy. 

His house is to be a house of prayer. 

And his house is to be well managed and cared for. 

In the previous passage we learned that in God’s house men are to be appointed to hold the office of overseer. These men are to be morally upright and gifted for the work. 

And in the passage that is before us today we learn that there is a second office within Christ’s church, the office of deacon. 

So when a church is properly ordered it consists of members, and some of those members will be called to hold the office of overseer or deacon.

What does it mean to hold an office within Christ’s church? Well, it means to be appointed to a position of authority which involves service. 

That overseers and deacons are offices within Christ’s church is made clear by the fact that qualifications are listed. Were these merely non-authoritative gifts that Paul was referring to, then no qualifications we need to be met. There are other passages in the New Testament that speak of spiritual gifts. All Christians have them. Some have the gift of faith, others the gift of mercy, and still others the gift of hospitality, etc. These are gifts that are given by the Spirit to those who believe for the building up of the body of Christ. Christians are to use their gifts towards that end, and they need not meet qualifications to use them. But overseers and deacons are office bearers. These have authority within Christ’s church. They are called by God and congregation to lead and to serve the church in a formal capacity. Thus the qualifications. 

So within every local church there are members. These have believed upon Christ. These, having made a credible profession of faith have said “Jesus is Lord” through the waters of baptism, and these have willingly joined themselves to a particular local church where they walk with others who are also joined to Christ by faith. And some of these men will be called to serve Christ’s church as overseers or deacons. This basic makeup of the church is reflected in Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi. In Philipians 1:1 he says, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1, ESV).

You know what overseers are. This one office goes by different names. Overseers are bishops, elders, pastors, and shepherds. Each name highlights a different aspect of the work. In brief, overseers provide oversight and leadership to the church. They shepherd the congregation. They lead in teaching, in prayer, in pastoral care, and in matters of discipline. The qualifications for elders were considered last week. 

But what are deacons?   

You will notice that this text does not explicitly tell us what deacons are called to do. To gain a better understanding of what deacons are called to do we will need to look elsewhere (and we will). But certain things may be  gleaned from this text. 

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Deacons Have Authority

First of all, we can see from this passage that deacons have authority within Christ’s church. 

That deacons have authority is made clear by the list of qualifications that we find in this passage. Were Paul simply exhorting men to serve within the church, then no qualifications would be listed. But Paul is not merely encouraging Christians to serve within Christ’s church. Instead, he is concerned that the office of deacon be filled by men who are qualified and gifted.

The word “likewise” at the beginning of verse 8 is significant. It links the qualifications for overseers and the qualifications for deacons together. Both are offices in Christ’s church. Both overseers and deacons have authority in Christ’s church. And so both must meet certain qualifications. 

And if we compare the qualifications for deacons to that of overseers, we will find that they are similar. 

Verse 8: “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.” (1 Timothy 3:8, ESV). To be “dignified” is to be honorable and deserving of respect. The phrase “not double tongued” means that the man must not be a hypocrite, or we might say, two faced. “Not addicted to much wine” means that he must not be a drunkard. “Not greedy for dishonest gain” means that he must not be a lover of money. 

In verse 9 we read: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. This is probably a good time to note one of the obvious differences between the qualifications for overseers and deacons. A deacon need not be “able to teach”. Overseers are called to teach. Deacons are not. But this does not mean that a deacon need not hold to sound doctrine. When Paul says that deacons must “hold the mystery of the faith” he means that they must understand the faith which God has revealed in Christ Jesus and believe it. We typically use the word “faith” to refer to personal belief or trust in Christ, and it is that. But sometimes the word “faith” is used to refer to a body of doctrine or a set of beliefs. You will notice that deacons are to “hold to… the faith”. The presence of the definite article helps us to see that Paul is not referring to personal faith or trust, but to sound Christain doctrine. That is what he means by “the faith”. And he calls it “the mystery of the faith” because the truth concerning exactly who and what the Christ would be was for ages largely hidden, but had been revealed when the Christ was born into the world, as he lived, died, and rose again, ascending to the Father’s right hand.  This is how Paul uses the word “mystery”. A mystery in Paul is a truth once concealed but now revealed. The point is this — though deacons are not called to teach within the church, this does not mean that they may have poor doctrine. “They must hold the mystery of the faith…” (1 Timothy 3:9, ESV). I hope you can understand why this is the case. Doctrine affects everything. You live the way that you live based upon what you truly believe. And deacons will serve based upon what they believe to be true in their minds and hearts. They must hold to sound doctrine. 

You should know that for a man to hold the office of  overseer at Emmaus he must fully subscribe to the Second London Confession of Faith. That Confession does accurately summarize the faith, in our opinion. And so requiring full subscription to that Confession does help to insure that our overseers hold to sound doctrine (every heretic claims to believe the Bible, friends. We must press further to ask, what do you believe the bible teaches on this major doctrine and that? Having a confession of faith is a great help in maintaining doctrinal purity). And not only must overseers fully subscribe to the Second London Confession. Deacons must also fully subscribe. Why must they fully subscribe if they are not in charge of the teaching ministry of the church?, you might ask. Well, he answer is, because Paul lists  holding “the mystery of the faith” as a qualification for them. And this is a qualification because deacons do have authority within Christ’s church. And though it is not the authority to teach, it is real authority, and so they must hold to sound doctrine — doctrine affects everything. 

 In fact, Pauls says that they must “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” This means that they must be living according to the ethical demands of the scriptures. They, like overseers, are to be morally upright so that their own conscience does not condemn them. 

Verse 10: Deacons are to be “tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” Who are they to be tested by? Well, they are to be tested by the overseers. Certainly the elders are to take the lead in this. But the implication is that they are to be tested by the whole congregation. They are to be found blameless — morally upright — by the church. And it is the church that is to appoint them to the office.

At Emmaus we have a congregational form of church government. This does not mean that the members are to be involved in every decision that is made. No, the overseers do have the responsibility and authority to lead within the church, and that freedom is rather broad. But the congregation is to be involved in three things. One, the reception of new members. Two, the final stages of church discipline (particularly excommunication). And three, the appointment (or removal) of church officers. The congregation’s involvement in these things is demanded by the scriptures, in our opinion. Both overseers and deacons are to prove themselves blameless. And who are they to prove this to except the church that they will be called to serve? And it will be the church, with the overseers at the lead, who sets officers apart for the work through the laying on of hands. 

In verse 11 we read, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things”. This verse has been a source of debate. The Greek word translated as “wives” can mean either “women” in general or “wives” in particular. The question is, does Paul mean “women who hold the office of deacon”, or is he referring to the “wives of the deacons”? 

You can see the position that the ESV takes. The ESV, along with the KJV, NKJV, NET, and NIV, translate the word as “wives”. But NASB says, “women must likewise be dignified.” Another text that contributes to the debate about women holding the office of deacon is Romans 16:1 where Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae…” (Romans 16:1, ESV). The Greek word translated is as “servant” there is the same word that appears here in our text today translated as deacon. Deacon means servant. So the question is did Paul mean that Phoebe was a servant? Or did he mean that she held the office of deacon? Well, we know for certain that she was a servant. Paul at least means that much. But whether she held the office of deacon is questionable.

It is our view that Phoebe was a servant (and not a deacon) and that when Paul refers to women in 1 Timothy 3:11, he is referring to the wives of the deacons, and not to women who are themselves deacons. I do believe that this view is supported by a study of the practice of the early church. But the answer to the question, does Paul mean “women in general” or “the wives of the deacons” in particular is answered clearly by what Paul has already said in 1 Timothy 2:12, namly, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…” (1 Timothy 2:12, ESV). If the office of deacon is authoritative (which it certainly is, thus the qualifications), then Paul has already answered the question, may women hold the office of deacon? in 1 Timothy 2:12.

Why then does Paul place requirements on the wives of deacons, but not upon the wives of overseers? Why must the wives of deacons “likewise” be “dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” I will tell you why. It has to do with the nature of the deacons’ work. We will soon explore this further, but for now let me say that deacons are called to care for the physical needs of the congregation. This will require the deacon to come alongside those who are ill and suffering. And so it is not at all difficult to imagine a situation where it would be inappropriate for a male deacon to meet the need himself. Instead, his wife should meet the need. Or perhaps another woman in the congregation who has volunteered to assist in the work of the diaconate. These women — the wives of the deacons, and perhaps others who assist the deacons in their work — “likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” 

You will notice that this is not said of overseers (neither here nor in Titus 1), and I will tell you why. An overseer may discharge his duty without running into this problem. He may preach, pray, and provide oversight of the church and not require the assistance of his wife or other women in the congregation to meet the physical needs of women in the congregation who are suffering.

I wonder, brothers and sisters, are you praying for the officers of Emmaus? And you know what my next question will be? Are you praying for their wives? Though an elder may discharge his duties without the formal assistance of his wife, you know that a good and godly wife is a tremendous blessing and support to him. Pray for your elders, and pray for their wives too! And be sure to pray for the wives of your deascons. They are mentioned here in this text because they play a vital role in the support of the diaconate. I have witnessed it, brothers and sisters. I know how much these women are involved in the support of the deacon husbands, and in the service of the Christ’s church.

In verse 12 Paul returns to the deacon himself, saying, “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife…” This also supports the interpretation that men are to hold the office of deacon. But Paul’s point is that deacons, like overseers, are to be faithful to their wives. And then we read, “managing their children and their own households well.” This is similar to the qualification for overseers, but it is not quite the same. Both overseers and deacons have authority over the church of God. Both must manage the church in their own way. And so both must first demonstrate the ability to manage their households. But overseers are also to  “keeping his children submissive…” “with all dignity” (1 Timothy 3:4, ESV). I do believe that this additional requirement naturally corresponds to the overseers duty to lead. He must be able to lead the congregation to love and good works. And he should demonstrate that he is able to do this first in the home.  

And then in verse 13 we find this word of encouragement for deacons. In fact, the word of encouragement for deacons found in verse 13 corresponds to the word of encouragement that was delivered to overseers at the beginning of verse 1. Do you remember it?  In verse 1 we read, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” And now in verse 13 we read, “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, ESV). In other words, there are spiritual blessings that accompany faithful service as a deacon. To serve as a deacon is an honor within Christ’s church. The faith of deacons is strengthened as they have a front row seat to the ministry of the church being discharged. The Lord does bless them for their service. 

Up to this point I have only demonstrated to you that deacons have authority within Christ’s church. But what kind of authority do they have?

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The Authority Of Overseers and Deacons Is Not the Same

Let me begin to answer that question by saying that the authority of overseers and deacons is not the same. That is made clear in this passage in at least three different ways. 

One, I will again draw your attention to the word “likewise” at the beginning of verse 8. The word “likewise” indicates that overseers and deacons are similar, but not the same. Were they the same, Paul would have dealt with them together. “Likewise” indicated that overseers and deacons are similar but not the same. How are they similar? Both are authoritative offices in Christ’s church. How are they different? We will consider that in a moment. 

Two, the similar but different set of qualifications indicates that the authority of overseers and deacons is not the same. 

And three, the titles themselves indicate differing levels of authority. Deacon means servant. Overseer means servant leader. Notice that both overseers and deacons are called to servants, but overseers are called to lead. And, as it has already been said, overseers are called to teach.  

And so both overseers and deacons have authority in Christ’s church. Both are offices which require that qualifications be met. But overseers (pastors and elders) are called to maintain the general oversight and leadership of the church.

What then are deacons called to do? And in fact we might at the same time ask the question, what are overseers called to do?, given that these offices are designed to complement one another.  

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Deacons Are Called To Care For The Physical Needs Of God’s People

To answer the question, what are deacons (and oversees) called to do, we must look elsewhere. What they are called to do is implied in this text. But here Paul sets down qualifications for these offices, and not a job description. He assumed that Timothy (along with the church in Ephesus) knew what these offices were and what they entailed.

In brief, when the New Testament evidence is considered we see that overseers are to lead the church. They are to devote themselves to the preaching and teaching of scripture, to the defense of sound doctrine, to the maintenance of the worship of God, to prayer, and to the care of souls. And the deacons are to devote themselves to caring for the physical needs of the congregation so as to free the overseers to do their work. 

That Acts 6 passage that was read at the beginning of the sermon is significant. It is likely that that passage describes to us the original formation of the office of deacon. 

Now, the seven men who were chosen to serve are called “deacons” (διάκονος in the Greek) in that passage. But they were set apart to the work of service ( διακονέω in the Greek). You can hear how similar these words are. Διάκονος is the noun translated as deacon in 1 Timothy 3, and διακονέω is the verb which describes the work these seven were appointed to in Acts 6. They were to oversee the service of tables. So although they are not called διάκονος, they were appointed to the work of διακονέω. These seven were the original deacons, brothers and sisters.

Notice a few things about this passage in Acts 6 which describes the establishment of the diaconate. 

One, there was work to be done that had to do with meeting physical needs. Widows needed to be cared for. In our day and age the government attempts to meet the physical needs of its citizens, but in the days of the early church this responsibility fell to the community. The church needed to see to it that the physical needs of Christain widows were being met. And by the way, the same is still true today as the government will struggle to care for its citizens in the way that only friends, family, neighbors and fellow church members only can. I am not saying that Christians should reject government aid when it is needed. After all, you and your fellow church members have already paid the taxes. You might as well benefit from them when there is a legitimate need. Instead, I am saying that the church should not leave caring for the needy amongst them to the government. This is the church’s job. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10, ESV).

Two, notice that a failure to meet the physical needs of church members with equity was leading to division within Christ’s church. The Hellenist (or Greek) widows were being neglected while Hebrews widows were well taken care of. Yes, even the Christians in the early church were struggling with racism. Favoritism was being shown to one group of people over another based upon their ethnicity. And this inequality in the benevolence ministry of the church was dividing the congregation.

Three, the apostles were unable to meet the need while at the same time devoting themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer. They said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables”

Four, meeting these physical needs was so vital to the life of the church that neglecting them was simply not an option, and so the office of deacon was established. 

Five, it appears that this was an office because there were qualifications that had to be met. The apostles instructed the congregation, saying “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 of the word.” I think you can see that the qualifications that Paul lists for deacons in 1 Timothy 3 are nothing more than an elaboration on what the apostles said in Acts 6. These servants were to be “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”

Six, the number of men chosen was determined by the need of the congregations. Seven were chosen, because seven could do the job. The same should be true today. 

Seven, it was the entire congregation that chose the seven. “ 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. Therefore, brothers [may refer to “sisters” also], pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”

Eight, the church was instructed to choose seven men.

Nine, the church was to present the men back to the apostles for approval, and the apostles were to lay their hands on the men to appoint them to the office. The same is true today. The church is to choose its officers. The overseers are to lead in this. If they approve, they are to lay their hands on the men chosen by the congregation to ordain them.  

Ten, these original deacons were not waiters and busboys. Instead they oversaw the daily distribution to be sure that all of the widows were equally cared for no matter their ethnicity.  

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Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, the diaconate is vital to a flourishing congregation. 

It is vital that Chrtistian be cared for body and soul.

Though we have made a distinction between body and soul, the physical and the spiritual, we should not forget that the two affect each other, for we are complex persons. 


The diaconate is vital to the peace of the congregation. 

The diaconate is vital to the eldership. 

The diaconate is even vital to the evangelsitic ministry of the church. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35, ESV)

Pray for your deacons. 

Pray for their wives. 

Be ready to serve under their guidance.

If you see a need that is bigger than you can meet alone, tell a deacon. 

If you yourself are in need, make it known. 

Brothers and sisters, let us see to it that the church is well ordered. Our God is a God of order. And we trust that things flourish when they operate according to his design. May the Lord bless us and be glorified in this place, in Christ’s name.

Posted in Sermons, Joe Anady, 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Posted by Joe. Comments Off on Morning Sermon: 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Qualifications For Church Officers: Deacons


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