I am bringing you this message from our text in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 on the character and nature of a “biblical deacon”, as we prayerfully remember our deacon Douglas Reissner who has been involved in a vehicle accident on Friday afternoon.
At Eastside Baptist Church we have had a big ‘re-think’ on the matter of the diaconate. It has taken us a few years to think through and implement a more biblical view and use of the office of a deacon. I would like to acknowledge the great help that we have received in the form of the very helpful book, “Minister of Mercy -The New Testament Deacon ”, by Alexander Strauch. Mr. Strauch laments that the biblical office of the deacon has been degraded. The noble office of the biblical deacon has been reduced to that of being a “church executive” (i.e. member of a ruling church council), or “ a building and property manager”, or a “church factotum” i.e. a church official with diverse portfolios ranging from administration to just about anything else you would care to think of. Strauch’s burden is to help deacons (Gr. diakonos – servant) to get “out of the boardroom or the building maintenance committee into the people serving mentality…” , the office for which for which they were originally designed by God.
At Eastside we believe that the ministry of our diaconate exists to make the gospel that we preach look good. This is our thinking : The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, when faithfully proclaimed, makes strong demands. The gospel requires firstly that we must admit that we are sinners. Secondly, the Gospel requires that we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be reconciled to the God whom we have offended by our sin. Thirdly , the gospel requires that we must not only believe, but that we must actually come to Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin.
Now when people hear this, they are generally offended. Nobody likes to be told that he/ she is a sinner, and for this reason they will also not see their problem , and so they will not look to the solution who is Jesus. Many never embark on the Christian pilgrimage that leads them back to God, but away from God. The fact is that most people do not think deeply about the meaning of their existence. They are focussed on simply living the life. The gospel is a trumpet call from God, n alarm , designed to awaken us to the reality of eternity. The wrath of God is coming, but, like the day of Noah, no one is listening ! But if in the act of preaching the gospel we show personal care and attention to the real need of those to whom we preach, then we may find that they will take another look at Jesus again. That look will transform them for good and forever. So the diaconate by the exercise of care and compassion helps unconverted people to look to Jesus by listening to our preaching of the gospel. But the diaconate also creates an atmosphere of love and compassion within the church, so that the church reflects more of Christ’s love and compassion to the world.
Paul writes this letter to his young friend Timothy, pastor In Ephesus to counteract the spiritual decline in the church (1:18), fuelled by Satan and his lieutenants. One of the most important matters in maintaining a healthy church is not only the matter of maintaining sound doctrine, but also establishing a sound leadership. In this regard , the N.T church has been given two offices to govern the church : elders ( 3:1-7) and deacons ( 3:8-13)
The relationship between elders/pastors and deacons:
In order to understand the role of the N.T. deacon, we must begin by understanding the pastor-shepherd's role in the church. In both places in the Bible where the word 'deacon' occurs, it is associated with the shepherds of the church (Phil 1:1 ; 1 Tim 3: 8 - 13). The passage in Acts 6:1-7, although it does not actually mention the word pastor /elder or deacon, gives us insight into this two fold ministry of the church.
It results from a two-fold need:
(i) to enable the apostles, the first shepherds of the church, to give their attention to their primary calling - the Word and prayer.
(ii) to provide a care system for the many physical needs of the church.
Ignoring the need of vulnerable people in the early church would have led to some serious questions being asked about the gospel. The apostles, the early shepherds of the church had their hands full. Their primary priority was to preach the Word, to point people to Jesus and to constantly pray for wisdom to lead the church of God. Caring for widows, orphans and vulnerable people is important, but the apostles knew that they must not allow to let this detract them from their primary calling. That would be disastrous. We all need food to live. That is why we spend so much time and energy to provide food for ourselves. But we also need the food of God's Word, for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Jn. 6:27). People cannot truly live without God's Word. God's people cannot mature without the Word of God. People are vulnerable to Satan without God's Word. Therefore it would be wrong for the apostles to neglect the preaching of God's Word.
Pastor – elders must keep this perspective in mind, for they can be easily side tracked by the physical needs of people, so that they forget to feed the flock. We cannot diminish the shepherd's time for prayer and preparation. When the shepherds neglect the Word of God, they sabotage the work of God. Sadly, many pastor-elders have become essentially manager- administrators, whose symbols of ministry are the office rather than the study, and the telephone, rather than the Bible. The shepherds of the church must hand over the very important ministry of mercy to the deacons! I remind you that our elder and deacon leaders are men who provide an enabling environment in the church in which they must lead a team of pastoral men and women, and a team of diaconally minded men and women.
The qualification of the deacon (Acts 6 ; 1 Tim. 3:8 - 12)
1 Tim 3: 8 - 12 Paul insists that the deacon leader, like the elder/pastor, should be properly qualified and publicly examined before he serves. They must be godly. The apostles required in Acts 6: 4 that such men should be "full of the spirit and wisdom”. A properly ordered church must have morally and spiritually qualified elders and deacons. We note that the deacon’s character qualifications are similar to the elders. The deacon as a minister of mercy, gets involved in the lives of needy people. He therefore must lead others in this ministry by example. Specific directions to this end are given:
1. men who are dignified (ESV) – worthy of respect (NIV) (v.8). A deacon must be respected by the congregation. He takes his faith seriously. He is full of wisdom and has a good sense of judgment in both, spiritual and practical matters. He needs great wisdom and discernment to truly help. The problems of people with physical needs are most often basic, but they can be complex. Many people come to the church for help, and they often come in a deceitful manner. That needs to be understood and dealt with appropriately and with great wisdom. The tendency is there to oversimplify matters instead of going to the heart of a needy man’s problem. The deacon is serious about that.
2. not double tongued (v.8) (ESV), sincere (NIV) i.e. A deacon must demonstrate integrity of speech. He cannot be a man who says one thing and then another. Deceit in word or manner will quickly alienate the deacon from those he is wishing to help. Too many Christian leaders have proven that they cannot be trusted with their mouths!
3. Not addicted to much wine. (v.8) A person in a position of trust cannot have a drinking problem. There is a sad pattern in some great men in the Bible who had fallen prey to alcohol: Noah (Gen. 9:18-27); Lot (Gen.19:30-38); Ammon (2 Sam. 13:28-29). All these men had their testimonies spoiled through drunkenness, which is a sin. In our society riddled with drunkenness it is wise for elders and deacons to be very careful in the use of drink.
4. not greedy for dishonest gain. (v.8) The deacon must be a man of financial integrity. A deacon is dealing with church money, sacrificially given by God’s people and for God’s honour. So a deacon must be free from any trace of dishonesty. But being “not greedy” means more than that. It also means ‘not being in love with money ‘.So we must carefully examine a man’s financial integrity before he is chosen to be a deacon.
5. hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (v.9) The expression, “mystery of the faith “ is a term that refers to Christianity’s distinctive truths. In the N.T. “mystery” means “a revealed secret” - the revealed secrets of the Christian faith are made known to us in the Bible. A deacon must know Jesus theologically and experientially. He cannot be orthodox in his profession of faith and live in practical denial of those truths. The NT does not allow us to separate life and doctrine.
6. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons" (v.10). That means that there has to be a probation time before a man can serve as a deacon. The congregation must have a chance to assess the character and beliefs of the man. There must be evidence of his ability.
7. V.11 Note too, that their wives qualify them!
8. They must be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their households well. (v.12) they must be “one wife husbands“. They show deep commitments to their wives. He must also manage his own children and his own household well. If he has children at home, they must obey and submit to his leadership. There are no perfect parents and there are no problem free children in this world. Even the best parents struggle with their children at times. However, those who lead in the church must resolve and manage their domestic problems in godly ways, guiding their children with firmness through the many storms of life.
THE DEACON’S REWARD:
"Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus" (v.13). Our Lord highly esteems the deacon's work, for it is foundational to the life and witness of the church. Although these words apply principally to the deacons, their promise is surely true for anyone who serves the church of our Lord Jesus Christ well. Deacons (like elders) are servants. They do not think first about themselves. They first work in the Lord’s field, and then they think about their houses. And there’s a great reward waiting for such. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).
Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-24), says Jesus. This is an invitation to lose your life in Christ’s service to make the gospel look good by serving others by meeting physical needs, emotional needs and spiritual needs in our community. Some of the practical aspects would involve hospital visitation, visiting the aged or the sick at home; ministering to the poor; looking after the needs of our poorer churches etc.
Jesus says that by extending such practical help in His Name you will surely gain heaven’s reward. Amen !
 Alexander Strauch : “Minister of Mercy -The New Testament Deacon ”,published by Lewis and Roth. We have also been greatly helped by Strauch’s book on Biblical Eldership
 The Bible recognises only 2 types of church officers in the Bible : elder/shepherd/overseer (presbuteros / poimen/ episkopos) and deacon (diakonos).