Monday, August 1, 2016

1 Timothy 3:8-13 “Biblical Deacons ”

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[1].  Mr. Strauch  laments  that the  biblical office[2] 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…” [3], 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.

CONTEXT :

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 !



[1] 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
[2] The Bible  recognises only 2 types of  church  officers in the Bible : elder/shepherd/overseer  (presbuteros / poimen/ episkopos) and deacon (diakonos).
[3]

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