The two offices in Christ's church are the elders and the deacons. That is, literally, 'old men' and 'servants.' Or, the mature men and the servers - these are the offices Christ insists in giving to a congregation. Look into any gospel church of whatever label and there you will find them. They are welcoming you at the door. They have been at the church half an hour before it opened checking that the heat was on and that everything was in order. Their voices are lifted to God in the Prayer Meeting. It is their covenanted giving week by week which supports the church's activities. They support the pastor with their warm words of appreciation, and it's their encouragement that keeps him in the ministry. They visit the sick, and bring the infirm to the meetings. They write letters to those on the mission field. Often their children themselves have come to faith in Christ and are following their parents in love for the kingdom of God. Such old men and servants are the heart and backbone of every true church.
We have looked at the character of an elder and now we will examine the character of a deacon, but we will begin with the deacon's wife.
1. Deacons' Wives are Worthy of Respect. (v.11)
"In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything." There is a difference of interpretation of this word 'wives.' It is the word for 'women' and also for 'wives' - it can be either one depending on the context. So Paul could be saying, "In the same way, the women ..." and then he would be talking of an order of women workers in the church, a kind of deaconess. Once some students from Westminster Seminary were asking Dr. J.I.Packer how he could stay within the Anglican Church. As there are just two church offices taught in the Bible of elders and deacons how could he remain in an Episcopal denomination that has this extra office, above the elder and deacon, of bishop? Dr Packer was not phased by the question. I guess he had heard it before, and, judging that the best mode of defence was attack, asked them what they were doing with this section of I Timothy 3 where Paul teaches an office of women workers. He had not noticed that that office was present in any Presbyterian churches. So could they claim that their church government was more biblical than the Anglicans? As they could not he was sticking with the C of E with all its problems.
In defence of Dr Packer's understanding of this verse (that here Paul is talking about an office of female workers in the congregation) a number of arguments can be evinced. There is that phrase in verse 11 which introduces these people, 'in the same way'. It also occurs in verse 8 introducing the deacons (though there it is translated 'likewise' in the NIV). Again, if the wives of deacons were the focus of this verse and not an office of female servant it would be strange for elders' wives to have been ignored in the former section. Why should Paul just comment on deacons' wives? Surely, this argument runs, it is women with some kind of calling who are being referred to in verse 11 and not wives. Again, if it were the wives of deacons who were being written about then Paul would surely have made this clear by writing 'their wives' which he does not do (although the NIV unwisely slips in the word 'their'). Paul simply writes, "In the same way the women, or the wives..." Then, to go outside this section, there is the fact that you have a woman called Phoebe mentioned in Romans 16:1 who is called a 'servant' or a 'deaconess' of the church in Cenchrea. Those are the arguments for this verse referring to a kind of woman servant of the congregation.
To reject Dr Packer's opinion that this verse is speaking of an order of women workers in the congregation and defend the view set forth in the NIV that Paul is referring to deacons' wives there are the following observations. Phoebe is called a 'female servant' (it is the word from which we get our English word 'deaconess'), but in our text in I Timothy these ladies are simply called 'women' or 'wives.' Again, the verse about women is sandwiched in the middle of a section on deacons, and it would be natural for Paul here to say something like, "and the conduct of their wives is also important. A deacon's wife who is a malicious talker would utterly spoil the prospects of a man gaining a excellent standing in the church." And again, observe that Paul does not say anything like "these women [workers] in the church must be the wives of one husband." Yet he insists on marital faithfulness for the elders in verse 2 and also the deacons in verse 12. You would expect if he were dealing with another office of woman worker that he would make some reference to this for them. But if he is dealing with the wives of deacons the omission is understandable.
So those are the arguments for and against an office of lady worker in the church. We think that there are lady workers, but not a congregational office of women workers. The church has always recognised the need of full-time women workers, and supported them. We have a member of our congregation who has worked in Bethlehem in the Arab church for over forty years, for much of that time as a nurse and midwife. She is there today doing other necessary work. We have of course no problems at all with that, but rather welcome it enthusiastically. There is an on-going need for lady workers supported by their congregation.
However, to open the diaconate to women is another issue, especially in Baptist and independent Evangelical Churches. In Presbyterian churches it is different because the Session of elders has the authority. Those churches may have an annual meeting open to the congregation once a year when the finances of the church are examined, and there are occasional elections. But because the eldership governs the church you do not have regular congregational meetings. But in Baptist churches the distinction between elders and deacons is blurred, and the deacons would very rarely meet by themselves. They always meet with the elders. Our churches are small and often an elder doubles up in doing a deacon's tasks, or vice versa. To make a woman a deacon in a Baptist church is for mere man to permit her an authority which God does not give: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (I Tim.2:12).
So these women who are in good standing in the congregation with their own unmistakable influence, are described for us by the apostle as being 'worthy of respect' (v.11) just like the deacons (v.8). They must also be 'temperate' (v.11) just like the elders (v.2) and also 'trustworthy in everything.' These are the divine standards for simply every woman, young or old, who professes to be a Christian. But they must be seen in real day-to-day living in those women whose husbands have office in the congregation. There can be a period in which a woman is going through a difficult patch, and consequently she is not in control of her emotions or her tongue, and for a time it might be wiser for her husband to withdraw from the diaconate until his wife is out of those woods. How that is handled is not easy, but the church is helped because Paul did write these things about wives in Scripture. Having such counsels in black and white to appeal to is a means of grace.
2] The Prototype of the Deacon
From the opening chapters of the book of Acts it can be seen how the office of the deacon became essential and develops throughout the New Testament. At Pentecost in Acts 2 the ministry is in the hands of the apostles. They are teaching the 3000 converts and acceptance of their teaching brings men and women into the emerging fellowship of believers. But then a spirit of generosity is poured out upon the church, and people sell their possessions and goods and they give to anyone who has need. They were of one heart and mind and they shared all they had. There were no needy persons among these thousands of new Christians. People sold their lands and houses and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet and it was distributed to people in need.
We realise the amount of administration and scrupulous care that all this required, on top of their teaching. Then maybe hundreds of widows were converted, certainly many of them, and the young church took upon itself the provision of their needs. There was a solid meal provided for them each day, and the apostles were involved in this. Had not the Lord Jesus told them, "I was hungry and you fed me. Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren you have done it to me"? So the apostles felt no tension between preaching the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven and the ministry of mercy to those who were members of the body of Christ.
Then a little bout of congregational dissension broke out. Some of the Jerusalem widows were exclusively Greek-speaking, and their families complained that the Aramaic-speaking widows were getting preferential treatment in the daily meal. The Grecian Jews were being overlooked, and so hours were taken up by the apostles sorting this fracas out, pouring oil on these troubled waters, and making sure everything was seen to be done fairly.
The Spirit was poured out upon them, but the apostles were caring for the needy and feeding the hungry. The Spirit was poured out upon them, but they still had disputes in the church. It was the apostles who decided what had to be done. They gathered the church and said to it, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2-4). The assembly, having profited most of all from the apostles' preaching, were delighted with that decision. The preaching must not suffer, or the whole church would suffer. So they chose seven men to wait upon the tables, and the twelve could get on with spreading the Word of God. That is the birth of the diaconate in the New Testament church.
A high view of the word of God lies at its foundation. It was important for men who have had the call from God to pray and preach the Scriptures to give themselves to this work, unfettered by other concerns, even work as worthy and important as ministering to the needy. The front line is the declaring of the faith, the defence of the truth and evangelism. That would mean for many of them suffering and martyrdom, but without the Bible being preached the church ceases to be the light of the world.
Thus it was that as congregations spread it was necessary for there to be full-time preachers, overseers or elders (and in some large congregations one imagines even full-time elders-overseers), and also deacons and their wives became necessary as the needy began to attend and a spirit of kindness and love was poured upon the church in sacrificial giving.
3] The Truths that will Sustain the Deacon.
Let me approach this by reminding you of the passages of the Bible that are most important for those who have the heart of a deacon. All of you must pay attention to this because although there is the special office of the deacon there is a general ministry of mercy which every single Christian must perform. All of us must be deacons/servants in the church.
i] The Parable of the Man Greatly in Debt Freely Forgiven. We must start here because it gives us the Christian motivation for being a deacon. Simon the Pharisee had invited the brilliant young Rabbi from Nazareth to dinner. When Jesus was seated a woman from the city who was a sinner slipped in and, without a word, knelt down at Jesus' feet and began to weep. Her tears fell over his feet, and she kissed them, and anointed them with costly perfume. Simon was disappointed with Jesus and upset that the evening had been ruined. If the Lord had known who this woman was - and he should have - he would not have allowed this indignity to have occurred. The Lord Jesus spoke to Simon and told him, "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had anything to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" (Lk.7:41-42). Simon walked into the trap saying, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled."
The Lord Jesus then lists the ways in which the woman had served him - kindnesses Simon had neglected. "Simon had not given Him, as custom required, water to wash His feet before diner - the woman had supplied the lack with her tears. Simon had greeted Him with no kiss, as courtesy required - the woman had kissed His feet. Simon had provided no oil with which He might groom His hair and beard - the women had anointed His feet with ointment. She had, in short, shown Him much love; Simon very little" ("The Deacons Handbook," Berghoef & De Koster, p. 217).
Who is qualified to become a deacon? One whose own love reflects the love he has received from God and is inspired by it. Because of the wages of sin we were in great debt, but God freely pardoned us for Jesus' sake. The Lord could quietly say to the tut-tutting Simon about that kneeling weeping woman, "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little" (Lk. 7:47). If we do not love those in need have we ever appreciated the mercy of God to sinners? The heart of a deacon is born in a realisation of the great forgiveness he has received from the Holy One of Israel.
ii] The Parable of the Good Samaritan. We must continue with this parable because it describes to us the life of the deacon. The Lord Jesus tells these Jews of their wounded fellow countryman lying half dead on the side of the road, and the priest coming along but passing by, and the Levite passing by, and then up comes a third man. Jesus' listeners all began to warm to this story at this juncture because they expected him to say that the third was somebody just like themselves, who always did the decent thing. But the third man was a heretic, and a buffoon, the butt of their jokes and the target of their scorn. He was a Samaritan. He was the one who stopped and assisted the helpless man.
There are three questions which the Samaritan makes us ask. One: Are you aware? Two men walked by and did not see human need crying out. Do we see need in our journey through life? Do we know where the needs are in this congregation? Are we aware where the hurt, loneliness and pain is? Do we want to be made aware? Two: Do you care? Two men walked by and they might have been aware of the bloodied man lying there, but they didn't care. They did nothing to help. They did not even slow down. It is a big step from being aware to starting to care. Diaconal example and encouragement is helpful in stimulating others. Three: Will you share? Will you stop and stretch out a hand and offer help and get dirty and weary in the process? That is the spirit of a servant.
The Lord has been asked the question, "Who is my neighbour?" To answer it Jesus tells the parable, but then he does not bring out the obvious moral that your neighbour is the broken man you come across. He asks them, "Of those three men, who was the neighbour to the dying man?" There is only one answer. The man who showed mercy towards him. Of course. There are strangers and there are neighbours. We will always remember who our neighbours have been - the people who came to us when we were in need. So the question is this, do people find you to be their neighbour or are you another stranger? Do you have time for people in difficulty? Do you take God's gifts of time, money, food you have cooked, skills, advice, a listening ear, a helping hand to someone who can use them? Switch off the TV and move out of the armchair and be a neighbour. That is the spirit of the deacon.
iii] The Lord Jesus' Great Words, "I am the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Berghoef and De Koster point out the order of those three words and ask what is their significance (ibid. p.218). Shouldn't knowing come first? Once we know won't the way follow? Shouldn't the order be, "I am the truth, the way and the life"? But the Lord does not say that and so he does not mean that.
The Lord Jesus is talking about serving your apprenticeship. He worked with his father Joseph in the carpenter's shop, and we know that joinery can be talked about endlessly, the wood, the tools and the methods. Yet the way you become a carpenter is by doing. The novice knows about carpentry. He can talk the talk; he cannot walk the walk. But the craftsman knows carpentry. This is true about most of our activities. First you learn to do, and then as you do, under guidance and example, you understand. First comes the way, and then the truth.
The work of the deacon is not done in deacons' meetings. Their work is not so much with talking the talk as walking the walk; not so much about the way as on the way; not about pure Christianity but applied Christianity; not about abstract religion but apprenticeship religion. The Lord's word order is crucial: first the way; then the truth grasped by our understanding; and in these, the discovery of new life.
"I am," said the Lord Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. It all comes from appropriating day by day your living Lord and Saviour that you learn more of this way, and its truth and its life. Everything comes to its focus in him. Christ is all. Let me quote to you some words which give us the most simple description of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the verse we learned as children. It is a truth we can be embarrassed about because of its utter naivete, "he went around going good" (Acts 10:38). But its context is how "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good." In other words, for walking that walk of doing good throughout his life, day after day, he needed the energy of the Holy Spirit. Every deacon is called to walk in the steps of his Lord and Saviour, and he must be like the seven men chosen by the church in Acts 6, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Then as we walk, we know the truth, and live the life.
Those are the three passages that will help the deacon most in his ministry of mercy.
4] The Work of the Deacon.
It is most easy to remember the work of the deacon under the figure of three tables:
i] The Lord's Table. The deacons are most visible when it is their turn to come to the front of the church on their rota of duty. They pray and distribute the bread and wine to me and you. I hand the trays of bread and wine to them, and they pass the bread and wine to me and to you. We share from one to another as members of his body. We nourish and cherish one another. We confess our faith in one another as professing members of the household of God.
For there to be a Lord's Table there has to be a congregation, and it is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which makes the church - as it did at Pentecost. It is real people the deacons are serving, and their lives have been changed by the Gospel. For there to be a Lord's Table there has to be wine bought, cups filled and bread prepared, a place where the Supper is held (remember how the Lord Jesus went to some detail in directing the disciples to the place he planned to hold the first Holy Communion). There has to be even a building where a congregation can meet and show forth the Lord's death until he come. So there must be those larger structures within which the Lord's Table is regularly held, and in a climate like the one we have in Wales a building is essential. For at least half the year, and more, we could not meet under a tree, and no home is big enough for us all. The responsibility for these structures, within which the regular breaking of bread is held, is the deacons'.
ii] The Table of the Poor. There used to be a clear link between the poor and the Lord's Table in that it customarily ended by taking up a 'benevolent offering.' There was a fund for the distribution of gifts to needy members of the congregation. But before the present pastorate it had long become a symbol, and the gifts were mere tokens, and so we ended that practice. Whenever you terminate something you have a slight nostalgia for it. Maybe 'welfare statism' has set in to the kingdom of God. Maybe our affluence drives the concept of people being poor from us. But in most of the world poverty and hunger are vivid needs.
Let us think for a moment of our brother Simo Ralevic in Yugoslavia, and what he and his congregation has passed through in the past months (1999) during the terrible war in Kosovo: the bombings by day and night, the burning houses, the gunfire, the unburied dead lying in the streets, the uncertainty of what fresh terrors and horrors a day might bring. He and his congregation have been forced to leave their homes and the church in Pec. He salvaged two thirds of his library and some items of furniture and now has gone to live in a village called Nova Gajdobra, north of the River Danube in a region called Vojvodina. They have a home in a house built recently for a small group of Christians in that village converted through reading Simo's books. Seven families had to leave Pec with him and they live near by. Their plight can be imagined, without work, without homes, without help from the state, and in the depths of winter. They have had some help from local Christians, but they face a bleak future, humanly speaking. It is as if they were living as the persecuted scattered church in New Testament times.
So the Table of the Poor is a very crucial matter in many parts of the world, and one can detect the note of peace in Keith Underhill's Prayer Letter last week that the church in Nairobi has just appointed more good deacons. They will need all sanctified wisdom in helping the poor in the congregation which meets on the fringe of the largest slum area in east Africa. Let me give you two verses on this matter, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Leviticus 25:35, "If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him." Then Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to the family of believers."
The implications of the Table of the Poor for the deacons means meeting the obvious needs that come to their attention, but also challenging the congregation to use its untapped reservoir of time, abilities, skills and compassion so that unmet needs can be related to untapped resources. It means the wisdom of determining whether there are genuine needs in a congregation. It means discerning whether there are emotional needs, regular rides, shopping for someone or occasionally taking them some food. It means challenging the congregation. Occasionally the deacons might want to address the church with a letter describing a need.
iii] The Pastor's Table. There are people who work for the church, and there are also those who are supported by the congregation in the work of mission. The deacons have to determine that there is adequate remuneration for the ministries. They should be ready, when necessary, to justify salaries, and to explain the benefits of working for the church. But I have no need to speak to you about these things.
5] The Character of the Deacon.
Again, as with the elders, so with the deacons, it is what they are that matters to the apostle not what they do. His obsession throughout this chapter is the character of men in office. How true this is of the minister. All of us have cringed when we have heard a preacher "doing his authenticity bit." It usually comes in the middle of a badly prepared sermon. He has been playing too much golf, or watching too much television. His rambling sermon slowly comes to a halt, and he begins to sniff ... "when I think of how much the dear Saviour has done for me..." and he takes his handkerchief out and dabs his eyes. The congregation is squirming with embarrassment. He is trying to parade some credentials for taking a salary from them for being a pastor-preacher. His crocodile tears are a vain attempt to assuage his own guilt. He is now 'acting out' authenticity, but without success. The elder and deacon cannot act their roles by the way they march down the aisle carrying the collection plates, o r in the manner they distribute the bread and the wine. The only way they can show their authenticity in office, that they are men of God, is in being men of God. The apostle mentions seven characteristics of the deacon:-
i] "worthy of respect": the word means 'dignified' and 'serious.' The deacon takes his faith seriously. He takes seriously the church with which he is in membership, despite its smallness and flaws. For him it is the most important church in the world, not the church of which he used to be a member and would still like to be a member. Here is the church to which the Lord Jesus has joined him. It is the body of Christ and he is serious about that, and about the work he does as a deacon. That seriousness enables the deacon to instil confidence in those he has dealings with.
ii] "sincere": literally he must not be a double-tongued man. The deacon must have integrity. Dealing with the needs of the congregation he must be sensitive, closemouthed and straightforward. When he does speak, his word must be his bond. Deceit in word or manner will quickly alienate the deacon from those he is wishing to help. The fall of some church leader is announced and it is a great shock to us all. The newspapers will speedily announce to the world if he were a deacon in a local church. We are all grieved, but how long, we want to know, has he been living that lie, in total insincerity? Many men are like that, and that has been the curse of double standards which has characterised the professing church since the beginning. Over 300 years ago John Bunyan described a town which he dubbed Fair Speech where men live called my Lord Turn-about, my Lord Time-server, my Lord Fair-speech (after whose ancestors the town was named), Mr Smooth-man, Mr Facing-both-ways, Mr Any-thing, and the parson of the parish, and the chairman of that Satanic diaconate, Mr Two-tongues. A deacon is sincere.
iii] "not indulging in much wine": remember Noah - a greater man than any deacon any of us have known (Gen. 9:18-27). Remember righteous Lot (Gen.19:30-38). Remember Ammon (2 Sam. 13:28-29). All had their testimonies spoiled through drink. The drunken man would be disgraced in ordinary human society let alone in the body of Christ. Our Christian integrity is ruined and our ability to enter vulnerable households to help a widow rendered impossible if we have a taste for alcohol.
iv] "not pursuing dishonest gain": Paul is talking about a squalid greed for money dressed up in religious garb. To illustrate this let me first choose a soft target which might make us all feel dangerously smug. David Wilkerson of the Times Square Church in New York has been outspoken this year in his denunciation of the flamboyance of the heretical health and wealth speakers. Their mischief has spread by video, book and cassette all across Asia, Africa and South America. Wilkerson has levelled blasphemy charges against some of these men who are actually teaching that the Holy Spirit cannot be poured out until first 'you are in the money flow.' "This is an American gospel invented and spread by rich evangelists and pastors'" he says. He described how one speaker at one of those conferences this year bragged about owning a dog worth $15,000, a ring costing $32,000 and that he was selling his vast house to purchase one even bigger. All this was greeted with applause, rather than weeping.
We are shocked at that, but let me come close to you and me, and talk to you about what Paul here refers to as the 'pursuit' for money. How much is enough for a Christian to have? With Christmas coming on how about down-grading gift-giving in order to be more generous to those in real need? Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, took stock each year of all his possessions. Anything which he had not used for a year he felt duty-bound to give to someone who could make good use of it. If you haven't used it for a year, you don't need it. How many clothes does a man or woman need? How many tapes and CDs do you never listen to? What of the stuff under the stairs and in the attic? Peter says this, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (I Pet.4:10). A deacon is dealing with money continually and so must be free from any trace of dishonesty.
v] "A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well" (v.12). This re-emphasis within a few verses indicates how important Christian marriage was for the apostle. He and Timothy were living in days just like our own when marriage vows did not carry much weight. Divorce and polygamy were common. Ovid and Pliny had three wives. Both Caesar and Mark Anthony had four. Pompey had five wives. Herod had nine. The Emperor Nero was the third husband of one wife and the fifth husband of another wife. So Paul tells the elders and the deacons that the church's officers must demonstrate the inviolability of the marriage bond and the sanctity of the Christian home.
vi] "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience" (v.9). Deacons must have a clear conscience. We all agree. But there is something greater than that. There is something which can enlighten the conscience and keep it clear, and that is the deep truths of the faith. That obviously has apostolic priority in this sentence, with the reference to the clear conscience added at the end
Let us start with the deep truths of the faith. The phrase the New Testament uses to refer to those truths that God himself has revealed through the prophets and apostles is a 'mystery.' That is the actual word here, but the NIV translators have paraphrased it as 'deep truths.' In other words, no one would know anything about God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Jesus Christ being wholly human and wholly divine unless God had chosen to end his silence about these things and told us. These deep truths are a mystery to everyone who is unregenerate, but they are not a puzzle to us who believe. We know the secret things of God by means of this revelation. Let me turn it in this way: you sit in the congregation week after week and you may not understand what I am talking about. It is all a mystery to you. But when the Lord opens your heart it is no longer a mystery, rather these things have become the 'deep truths' of Christianity which you cling to for the rest of your life. Only to the un-born-again does it continue to be a mystery.
There was a man attending Carey Baptist church in Reading for a long period, and he did not appreciate the minister there, my friend Selwyn Morgan, and he was not subtle in showing his dislike. Then one night as he was sitting in the church hearing the word he was converted. His dislike of Selwyn did not immediately vanish. He told Selwyn, "I have been coming here for years, and you preach your first decent sermon and I get converted." Of course, his conversion was not due to the fact that that night it was a better than average sermon. God had been preparing him under the Word for a long time with the truths he was hearing, but that night the Spirit of God regenerated him and gave him a birth from above, and an assurance he was a Christian. After that the Christian faith is no longer a puzzle but many grand, deep truths which we believe.
"Go on believing them," Paul tells the deacons. "Keep hold of the deep truths of the faith." We face a perplexing future but we do so holding the hand of the Man who stilled the waters and calmed the seas and died on Golgotha for us. "Keep hold of him," the word tells us, and do it with a clear conscience. You must know the deep truths, and articulate them to others. There must be no doubts and reservations within us so that we are not speaking sincerely to other people and our words are causing us guilt. Your conscience must be clean. "I believe these things because my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ taught them, and for me he can say nothing wrong. He has a much better grasp of things than I have." You take your questioning conscience to Jesus Christ to be cleared.
vii] Deacons "must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons" (v.10). John Blanchard once told me of preaching in a Southern Baptist church in the USA, and after the sermon the pastor stepped to the pulpit and began the invariable altar call. An invitation was given to come to the front for various things, and finally a family came and sat in the front row. The preacher went across and talked quietly with them. In a moment he looked up and said to the congregation, "Billy and Mary Lou have just moved here from Tampa. All agree that they should be brought into membership?" The congregation said Amen and raised its hands. Then followed another quiet talk with the man. The pastor addressed the congregation again: "Billy tells me that he was a deacon in his old church. All agree that he be appointed a deacon here?" Again there was the same response. On that man's first visit to the congregation he left it as one of its deacons. "And he looked a real mean guy" added John Blanchard.
Paul tells Timothy to make a seasoned judgment of the men appointed to the diaconate. There is a certain probation time the men have served. They are not novices. The congregation has had a chance to assess the character and beliefs of the man. They have seen how he reacts under pressure, and how consistent is his life. Base it on the evidence of his ability and willingness to work in the congregation. Has he spontaneously been serving in the church? Has someone in the congregation anything against this man? Maybe the apostle is encouraging Timothy and the Ephesus church to think of an internship, and some on the job training - for deacons?
6] What Deacons Gain from their Office.
"Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus" (v.13). Although these words apply principally to the deacons their promise is true for anyone who serves well the church of Jesus Christ. "If you served well" - past tense - "you gain" - present tense. You my friend, Mr Deacon or Mr Elder, have simply been serving the church in whatever capacity you were asked to work. For you it was an honour to serve the Saviour's disciples. You did not think in terms of what you would gain, but you have been conscious all the time of the blessings that have come your way in helping others. Paul's last words to the Ephesian elders were that they were not to forget what the Lord said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). That is the climax of his speech.
How do we gain excellence? Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman wrote a
best-selling book in 1984, "In Search of Excellence" (Warner Books) which
was a study of what could be learned from America's best-run companies of
how they have attained their excellence. Amongst the basic principles they
noticed in those companies were the following:-
the bias for action their leaders had, for actually doing things rather than talking about them;
they stayed close to the people they were catering for;
they worked with a few people and were thoughtful about how they could help them;
they were encouraged to believe that their best efforts were essential;
they and the whole group stuck to what it knew best;
the approach was simple and there were not layers of administration;
there was an over-all dedication to the values that these people held.
This is how excellence has been attained by those American companies. I am sure the church faces the danger of importing into its leaders' thinking principles of business management. To resist that it is important to keep returning to the sort of standards Paul sets out in this chapter. What we are, the New Testament insists, is far more important than what we do. But in some of those successful principles of action, doing what they knew best, showing basic concern, and a dedication to real values, these are surely timelessly valuable attitudes. They come from the fact that all men are made in God's image.
In the church the influence and honour a man or woman gains is commensurate with how well they have served the congregation. They may be from the lowest ranks in society; they may be illiterate; they may be first generation Christians but if they serve the church well what stature they have in the church. Their lives count to God and to us. We can all think of a couple of men in every church we have known and they have been at the hub of that church. That itself may cause little difficulties, but the stability and direction they have given to the church, especially when it has been without a pastor, has been enormously influential. They have gained this excellent standing. Let a young pastor have a couple of men like that and he is up, up and away!
The other benefit gained is "great assurance in the faith in Christ Jesus". Some Christians have personal problems with their own assurance of whether they are truly believing in the Lord. One way to be helped in assurance is to go on doing the things Christians are described as doing in the Bible. The Scriptures tell us what we are to believe, but they also tell us what we are to do. We love our neighbours as ourselves, we bear one another's burdens, we counsel one another and pray for one another. If there are needs and we can meet them we do that. There is no way an assurance that we are Christians is going to grow without our involvement as servants of others. In other words, God blesses service. As we minister to other people we find ourselves less introspective - "Am I his or am I not?" We don't have the leisure to be going in and in and in, because we are going out and out and out to others. In service great assurance may be attained. It is certainly not attained by idleness.
28th November 1999 Geoff Thomas