Sermons

Deacons - Servants in the Church

August 8, 2021 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: First Timothy - Guard the Deposit

Topic: The Church Passage: 1 Timothy 3:8–3:13

1 Timothy 3 lists qualifications for those who serve as elders and deacons in the church.  But to me that raises the question: how IS a local church supposed to be organized?  Does the Bible have anything to say about this?  Or does it even matter?  I think it does!  Without some kind of structure, we don’t meet together.  If the church doesn’t meet, people don’t connect or exercise gifts to benefit others.  Without shepherds, people are not cared for, or kept safe.  Without teachers, the scripture is not taught, people don’t grow.  Without servants in the church, needs are not met. 

On the other hand with too much structure, or too much reliance on organization, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit can be quenched. The organization was never meant to be a substitute for the power of God.

AW Tozer said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. (But) If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

I don’t want a church that can run by itself!  The main things we want to happen, in people’s hearts and in the church, are things only God can do!  The answer to every need is NOT to start a new program, create a new position!   But the church does need leaders and activities and some organization. 

The church IS a kind of organization.  But is not like any other organization.  The church is made up of people who have the Spirit of God living in them.  There is something living, powerful, growing, at work here.  The Spirit of God is in our midst!  That reality is the very essence of the church.  Paul said, “You are being built together into a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.”  Eph 2:22  The church is to express the very life of Jesus.  We are the body of Christ!  He is the Head!

Human organizations harness human wisdom and human energy to get things done, that HUMANS want to happen.  But the church is watching over something GOD created and something GOD is doing. That is completely different!  Paul said we are like farmers, planting seeds and watering a field.  God gives the life and HE is the one who causes the growth.  That’s why church leaders are shepherds, not CEO’s or Generals, or kings. Deacons are there to serve, not control. 

Some might ask...Why do we need any order or leadership whatever in the church? (Why not just let people get together for coffee and call it good?) And some actually do think that. But God NOT only gave the church His Spirit, he gave men to oversee the church and set up offices FOR the church. The church needs elders to shepherd churches and then deacons to serve churches.  God revealed THESE truths along with the other great truths of our salvation. 

We need to know justification by faith in Romans, freedom in Christ in Galatians, completeness in Christ in Colossians, the gifts of the Spirit in Corinthians, but we ALSO need the structure and leadership of the church in Timothy and Titus.  

Yet.. the structure we do find in the NT is not highly complex.  We don’t find layers and layers of power and positions.  In fact, the only two offices we find in the Bible, are elders and deacons. We have the Chief shepherd, Jesus!  And then local church shepherds and servants or deacons. That is the church! The church is a body of people gathered around our Lord Jesus Christ, devoted to one another, shepherded by elders, served by deacons

We see a glimpse into the NT church from Philippians 1:1 Paul wrote “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:  The church is made up of saints, but also includes overseers (elders), and deacons.    

Is church structure the most important thing about a church?  No.  Does this matter?  Yes.   And I think it’s important to remember the simplicity of NT church structure at a time when churches are often ran with complex power structures and as many positions as large international corporations.

And it is important to follow what the Bible says about what qualifies someone for church leadership.  Often today the qualifications the Bible says MUST be there for elders and deacons are neglected in favor of personal charisma, success in business, popularity, slick communication skills, or just plain being a cool person.  

Since we are talking about deacons this morning, what happens when deacons are NOT men of character?  Instead of serving the church, they might seek to dictate and dominate.  They might misuse church funds, mistreat people, neglect needs, or play one group in the church against another. 

In the church I grew up in the deacon board ran the church.  There were no elders, only a single pastor who served under the deacons and if he didn’t do what they wanted they fired him and called another pastor.  Mostly I remember them frowning on the things the youth were doing in the church. But the NT says deacons are to be godly men who lay down their lives in service for the church family.  

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Why does Paul even give these qualifications for elders and deacons?  It seems pretty obvious that deacons (like elders) were appointed, or recognized in the church.  And they had to “pass” a certain evaluation to serve in that capacity.  IE deacons were a part of the NT church order.

So...What are deacons? The word deacon means servant.  Elders oversee, shepherd or rule. Deacons serve.  

There is no limitation as to how they may serve.  In Acts 6, men were appointed to help distribute food.  Deacons can help meet any pressing need within the church, helping with the church building, serving the Lord’s Supper, picking up supplies, distributing gifts to those with financial needs. 

From Acts 6 we see that men were appointed to serve, in order to free the apostles for their ministry. By application from Acts 6, deacons do anything that would help serve the church family or free the elders to teach, pray, and shepherd. 

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What qualifies someone to be a deacon?  They are to be men of character, just as the elders.  The one notable difference is that elders much be able to teach. Titus 1:9 says elders must be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict…...Yet some deacons might also do that!  Some of the men appointed to serve in Acts 6 also preached the word, proclaimed the gospel and even worked miracles.  

The men appointed to serve in Acts 6 were to be men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. The emphasis in 1 Timothy 3 is  character.  BUT character should never be understood as simply being a nice person.  It is every bit as important to be filled with the Spirit, as to be a good manager of his home.

But nevertheless, there is great wisdom in requiring elders and deacons to be men of high character.  Anyone can claim to have great spiritual experiences, visions, or prophecies.  But these alone, don’t qualify for office in the church, because godly character is the more certain proof that a person is lead by the Spirit. 

The qualities that Paul lists are things all believes should pursue.  So think about these for yourself! 

*Deacons must be dignified.  In chapter 2 Paul urged prayer so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  Deacons must live that way!  They must be well respected.  Christians laugh, we know how to smile and be happy, but we are not flippant, shallow, empty.  There is to be something weighty, serious about our lives!  People should see that!  This comes from a reverence for the Lord, a fear of the Lord.  Instead of being a bad thing for you, this adds a sense of dignity and stature to your life!

*Must not be double-tongued.  They must be honest, straight forward, sincere, reliable in what they say. They must not be a person who says one thing to your face and another behind your back.  It matters to God how we talk!  All of us! 

*Must not be addicted to much wine.  They don’t drink too much.  They are self controlled.  It doesn’t say they never touch wine.  But if they do, it doesn’t control them.  

*They must not be greedy for dishonest gain.  No Christian is to be obsessed with making money, or willing to cut corners to do that.  Deacons should have complete integrity in money matters.   It matters to God how we handle money, how we pay our bills, how we pay people who do work for us.  Deacons cannot be the type of men who are so eager to hold on to every dollar that they are not generous with others.   

*They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  Deacons must hold to all that has been revealed to us about Jesus, and the things revealed through his apostles. They must hold to the scripture and keep the faith.

They must hold to the faith “with a good conscience”.  They must have a sincere faith, not merely pretending, or claiming to believe, but living with a good conscience before God.

Today we hear of some pastors and worship leaders who professed the faith at one time.  They preached for years, or wrote worship music, but are now walking away from Christ.  But something was wrong way before that happens!  Almost always it comes out that they have been living against their conscience.  Deacons can’t be like that. 

Some church worship bands actively recruit great musicians, simply based on musical skill, whether or not they know the Lord…..Paul is saying that can’t happen with deacons.  Someone might be a really good person, like to help and serve others, but if they do not embrace the mysteries of Christ with a clear conscience, they cannot serve as a deacon. 

*Let them first be tested.  Appoint only those who have shown faithfulness over time and through trials.  Many appear to be faithful for a short time. Paul says, “Wait” till you know for sure! 

*Deacons must be good managers of their own households.  11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 

The word for wives could simply mean women.  It could be that Paul is giving qualifications for women who serve as deacons.  I would not rule that out. But it seems from the context that the ESV probably has is right here. If so, Paul is saying the wives of those who hold any position in the church should also be dignified; they should not be known as gossips or slanderers.  They should be faithful to the Lord too, along with their husbands.

I have seen situations where a man perhaps could have been appointed a deacon, but his wife could have been a danger to the church. And it is better not to appoint someone in that case. 

Deacons must be the husband of one wife. If married, he must faithful to his wife.  If single, he must be pure in relationships with other women.  Deacons must “manage their children and own households well”.   An outsider must be able to look at this man and say, he does a good job looking after his family. His wife should be loved and nourished.  His children should be growing and thriving.  They should be disciplined but not provoked to anger by excessive strictness.  There should be a sense of happiness and well-being in the home.  Psalm 128:3 says, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine (flourishing) within your house, Your children like olive plants (sitting) around your table.”  That is our goal men!

Verse 13 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.  Paul is saying it is a good thing to be a deacon and it has reward. Men should aspire to this.

Paul had a high view of serving as a deacon.  One thing I want to do better, is to fully communicate to those who we appoint as deacons, the gravity, the honor, the potential reward for serving well as deacons.  

In much of our church culture, serving as a deacon has been seen as little more than serving a term on a school board, or taking on a part time job, or a kind of sideline.  It is often seen as no big deal to be a deacon, no big deal to serve, no big deal to lay it aside.  I don’t think Paul saw the church offices that way at all.  These were weighty positions, requiring sober and sacrificial service, and because of that, they had the potential of great reward and honor, for those who serve well.

Paul said those who serve well brings a “high standing”.  I think this refers to their future position in the life to come.  Jesus said, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.  Luke 19:17 

Most of our rewards will be handed out when the Lord returns. Peter reminded the church elders “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4  That is also true for deacons.

Serving well as a deacon also leads to “great confidence in the faith”. We can devote our lives to things that give us confidence before God.  John said if we abide in love we abide in God and we will have “confidence in the day of judgment..” 1 Jn. 4:16,17 When we devote our lives to things God wants, that gives us confidence before God.  Deacons or any believer who lives in loving service to others, will have this confidence before God.

So in church structure, and qualifications for those who serve, where do we go for direction?  We go back to the Bible.  Just as we go to the Bible for all teaching and doctrine.  There is wisdom and safety in that.  Churches right and left are being shipwrecked for ignoring these things. God’s way is always best!  God’s way is best for things going on in your heart, for  things going on in your home and for things in the church. God’s way is best always, in all things!

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