“Make me a servant. Lord, make me like you.” It’s a great song and an even better prayer. Jesus himself said, “I came not to serve, but to serve.” We should all pray to be more like Jesus by becoming servants of the church.
Jesus has designed his church in such a way that, while every Christian is a servant, there are special servants who stand out as special examples and hold special functions within the church.
These two special groups of servants are described as bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1). Paul described God’s necessary character traits for both these groups of men in 1 Timothy 3. The first group of men are described the following ways: elders or presbyters, bishops or overseers, pastors or shepherds. The elders are the group of men who stand as living illustrations of Christian character shaped by the Gospel. Their character is sterling in every way. He has a gospel shaped personality, family life, social life, and church life. These are the men who exemplify what God wants a man to be and what the local congregation will be in the future. The Lord also described another group of men which he described as deacons. This group of men functions as special servants of the church at the discretion of God and the eldership.
What is a Deacon?
A deacon (διάκονος) is “one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction” (BDAG 230). A deacon is not a junior varsity elder. He is not an elder in training. He is not a officer with no work to do. He is one who is commissioned to do God’s work in the best way possible. He accomplishes spiritual and physical goals for the church at the direction of a godly eldership.
We first run into “deacons,” or something like deacons at the very least, in Acts 6. There was problem which had arisen in the early Jerusalem church. In the daily distribution of food for the widows, some were being neglected. The multitudes murmured and the apostles were made aware of the situation.
It is important to notice tha the apostles exercised wisdom by handling the problem in the following way:
- They listened to the problem of the people.
- They addressed the problem.
- They recognized it was not something they should be handling. They were capable of feeding the widows, but that work would have destroyed their more important work.
- They allowed those who recognized the problem to take part in fixing the problem.
- They set boundaries for how the problem was to be fixed (select men who are qualified spiritually to handle this problem and we will commission them to direct the solution).
- They commissioned qualified men to take care of the problem.
- The multitude was pleased.
- The church grew.
Isnt’ that a great pattern from the Bible?! It seems simple and it works. That’s what a deacon is. He accomplishes spiritual and/or physical goals on behalf of the church at the direction of the eldership.
What is a Deacon like?
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.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Ti 3:8–12.
The deacons are of the same gospel shaped character as the elders. Really there are no differences in their character. And there really is no difference in what God expects of their character and what God expects from each one of us.
Let’s look at each of those for just a moment. First God says the deacon must be “dignified” (ESV) or “grave” (ASV). This means he lives a life which is “worthy of respect” (BDAG). He is not “double-tongued.” He speaks the truth accurately. He does not “flip-flop” or pander as some politicians are accused of doing. He is not addicted to much wine. He avoids this, and every substance, which would harm his reputation and/or ability. He is “not greedy for dishonest gain.” He does not abuse his position in the church or in any other position to gain money in unauthorized ways. He has a “clear conscience” as he lives out the faith. He is blameless–a good repenter.
He also has a great wife. Some translations say “the women also” but this surely has to do with the wives of the deacons. As women were not allowed to serve in the leadership of the church (1 Timothy 2) and women are not the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:12). But the Lord has expectations for their wives and for the wives of elders. They too must be “dignifeid, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.”
The deacon is also an example of what a husband and father should be. He is the husband of one wife–a one woman man. He is also a good father–managing their children and their own household well.” This is important because when these men are appointed as elders or deacons the church is saying we want our congregation to be like their children. Elders (especially elders) but elders and deacons will “raise the church” the same way they “raise their children.” This is why God said of the elders “for if a man does not know how to manage his own house, how will he care for God’s church?”. Family is our greatest reference.
These are high aspirations for anyone. But they are necessary for those who would be leaders of God’s church–the most important institution on earth. None of us will be perfect in all these areas. But we are searching for men who will generally excell in all these areas. It is possible to live this life because we have the grace of God, the word of God, and the motivation to serve our God.
The Reward of Deacons
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.
Why would anyone volunteer to be a special servant for God and church? First because we are all compelled by the love of Christ. Secondly, because we are compelled by our love for his church. But also because there is reward promised.
It is good to know 1 Corinthians 15:58 is true for God’s serving people.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Jesus promised reward to all those who serve Him by serving others:
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
41“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.
42“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
The Bible closes with a wonderful promoise of reward:
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.