Deacons: Leading Us Into Mercy

Reverend Anthony R. Locke August 22nd, 2010 at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker .

1 Timothy 3:8-13 Elder / Deacon Series English Standard Version

8    Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.

9    They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

10  And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.

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.

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.[1]

The Apostle’s Creed requires that, in faith, we affirm that a spiritual communion exists between believers. We are connected by Holy Spirit baptism into Christ’s death. We are led out of our darkness into the glory of the Second Person of the Triune God whose name is Jesus.

By the Spirit, we see Jesus and become transformed, spiritually reborn into the new life of His resurrection. We are made a part of the new beginning of a new creation that is not held down by sin. Sin shall no longer have dominion over us for we are not under the law but under grace.

We might have lots of sin trouble in our lives, we might have weights of sin baggage that slow down our progress in the Kingdom, but these sin habits will not win in the end. Jesus has put an end to sin on the cross. Jesus destroyed sin. If we are growing into Christ, then our sin is being diminished and the righteousness of Jesus is taking root in our relationships.

We are imperfect today, but the promise of glory is given to us in Jesus and if we will stay the path of faith we will see Him as He is and be full transformed according to His likeness. Despite our failures and struggles with sin, sinless perfection is our future.

Jesus is making all things new and it starts with us. Our newness of life is proof to the world that a new creation was begun in Christ’s resurrection. And as a Spirit unified congregation we are commissioned to continue the work of Jesus on this earth. We are taking the power of the cross into this world. We are Spirit gifted and Spirit empowered to herald redemption for all who are willing to come to Jesus. Jesus spoke the message, but He also walked the message.

Like Jesus we need to be ready to get dirty in serving others. There’s a great sermon title I am holding for a later date called, “He With The Dirtiest Towel Wins.” Jesus took off His splendid garments so he could wrap a towel around his waist and get dirty washing the feet of His disciples. Jesus didn’t run from demon possessed people. He ate at the home of oppressive IRS agents. He had many people of ill repute call Him their friends.

If we want to be like Jesus then we need to be inviting prostitutes to church to hear of the faithful lover of their soul, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus sullied His reputation with the religious elite so He could love the unlovely. As the light, we need to get out into the darkness to bring others out of bondage from sin into the freedom of forgiveness and communion with God.

How do we stay effective in this mandate? We need leaders to guide us. We need people who are themselves being transformed by the Gospel to lead us into acts of mercy and compassion. People from within our congregation, as the ministry grows, must be willing to organize and lead us into this work.

Elders can provide this leadership temporarily, but it isn’t their role long term. Acts 6:1-4 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Each of us have different roles in the life of the church. Elders join with others getting dirty in service to others. We sweat together. Elders work side by side in the ministry plans of the deacons, but it is the deacons who spend their spiritual energy and prayers planning and strategizing those programs of ministry. Not the elders. Deacons plan the programs that give a cup of cold water in Jesus name.

The best support elders can give is to get out of the way and let them lead. Elders shouldn’t micromanage. Elders don’t criticize. We don’t tread on their turf. God gave the deacons the authority to lead the church and bring God’s tangible love to this world. Our church needs to ask for their leadership, empower them to lead and then support their programs.

God will hold elders responsible for the spiritual state of the Church. God will hold deacons responsible for the mercy ministries of the Church. Deacons, you will give an account before God.

God has qualifications for these people. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter three.

Notice first that just like with the elders, Paul’s list of qualifications are moral. He doesn’t give a long list of abilities, talents or giftedness. The qualifications divide up into three categories. They have to want to love and serve Christ in the church, they have to be orthodox in their doctrine, and they have to have outstanding moral character.

Like last week, let me talk us through the list.

Verse 8, deacons must be dignified. That means that a deacon must not be a silly, flippant person who makes light of serious matters. It does not mean that a deacon should be a cold and joyless person. A deacon should understand the seriousness of life and the matters at hand. They are tasked with managing money, managing the time of others. Deacons might manage a soup kitchen, a public charity, significant asset management and oversee the budget of a large ministry. Deacons must take this opportunity for service seriously.

Second, deacons must not be inconsistent in their speech. They need to be honest. They must not say one thing to one person and another thing to another person. They must be trustworthy in their words. Church life will get in a mess quick if our deacons shade the truth per their audience.

Third, deacons are not to be addicted to much wine. It is strange to some of us why Paul did not teach total abstinence. The word in the Greek is “to turn one’s mind to,” or “to occupy oneself with,” hence the phrase “addicted to”.  A deacon should not be preoccupied with adult beverages. Alcoholic drinks should not influence his life.

In verse 3 of this chapter and in Titus 1:7 the Greek language is different. The word is paraoinos. That word is formed by two words getting stuck together. The word wine and the word alongside.

So, if defined strictly, when you think of a deacon, your mental image should not be of someone who is always holding a glass of wine, a beer, a night cap. That interpretation is consistent with our text in 1 Timothy 3:8. A deacon should not turn to wine to be at peace. His mind should not be occupied with escaping the stress of the day with an adult drink. These sorts of habits prove to be disastrous. People with these traits would make a terrible deacon.

Next, deacons must not be greedy for dishonest gain. People who try to get ahead in life through half truths and shady deals cannot be deacons. Deacons should not be prone to join pyramid schemes where only the top people in the organization make money. Those financial structures steal money from the many and funnel it up to the few. That isn’t just. Not all, but most of these “opportunities” are a con. Deacons must have the wisdom to see through the con.

This brings us back to the first qualification. Deacons must be serious, dignified and worthy of our respect. The promise of easy money should not pull at the heart-strings of our deacons. Gambling. Playing the Lotto. Jealous of others success. Deacons need to be above all of that.

Being successful in one’s career is noble, but greed takes people down a dark road of destruction. We can’t pick greedy people to be deacons.

Verse 9They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. It is not enough merely to believe the truth, deacons must live it. Every deacon should strive to be able to say with Paul, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you2 Corinthians 1:12.

Our conscience either accuses or excuses us. We either have guilt, shame, fear, remorse, and despair over sin, or assurance, peace, and joy from righteousness living. The deacon who has a clear conscience is living out his faith. He is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. James says that faith without works is dead. The assurance of our salvation grows when our life is lived in Christ’s resurrection power.

If we are so full of sin that our conscience is a mess, then we should stop serving as a deacon for a time. Which, leads us into our next item in verse 10.

Verse 10And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. The idea of testing means a onetime inspection of being blameless and an ongoing testing that the person’s life remains blameless. The word also means this applied to elders too. The Bible states that if a deacon or elder stops being blameless then they should stop serving until they get their life turned around.

Verse 11Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. There is a whole lot of ink spilled on this verse. The ARP denomination interprets this verse to mean that the women who are also deacons must also meet these qualifications.

I do not agree with that interpretation out of this verse. I know my denomination thinks that an argument for female deacons can be made by scripture. I am not sure how, but definitely not from this verse. Let me go on the record regarding my opinion. “I am in agreement that an orthodox interpretation of the Bible could include female deacons.” You can make an argument for female deacons and not be considered a heretic. People who are within orthodox doctrine hold to this position and I don’t condemn them. I simply do not make those arguments. I do not call my brethren who do unbiblical. I simply disagree with them. During my tenure as pastor I will not be leading our church to have female deacons.

Remember, the office of deacon is only necessary if the ministry demands on the elders become too much that they turn from the ministry of prayer and the word. A church isn’t biblical if it doesn’t have elders. It can operate without deacons. But as the ministry demands grow, deacons become necessary. The first females in God’s plan to be ministering to other females are the wives of ordained deacons.

The wives of deacons are often involved with the ministry of their husbands. The wives of elders are not. Elder’s wives are not co-laborers in the spiritual oversight of the souls of God’s children. But, the wives of deacons are very involved with the service of their husbands. Therefore, God speaks a word to the Church about the deacon’s wives when considering the qualifications of the male deacon.

The wives too must be serious about God’s work. A deacon’s wife will hear all sorts of delicious details about other church members. They must not slanderously share that with others. We can’t pick a person to be a deacon if their wife isn’t sober-minded about these things. Loose lips sink ships. In all these things they must be faithful.

Verse 12 is the same item we saw with elders.  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. Deacons too must be a one woman kind of man. Like the elders, the issue is about their moral character, not their marital status. Also in verse 12, their management of their children must be exemplary. Notice the difference in qualifications. Elders had to have believing children. Deacons must simply model good parenting.

Verse 13For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Two rewards await those who serve well as deacons.

First, they obtain for themselves a high standing in the church and in the community. In our vernacular, we might say they are put on a pedestal. Deacons don’t seek this, it just happens, and rightly so. When you are leading the church to minister to the needs of others you become the channel of God’s love and blessing to others. People are going to praise God for you. Deacons become the image of God’s love to the children of orphans. People get fed, bills get paid, ministries get started and lives get changed. The deacons are the front line of ministry to the world. Not the elders. Not even the pastor. As ruling and teaching elders we don’t crowd them out of the limelight. We don’t share this good standing. It’s theirs according to the good plan of God.

Second, they will gain great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. This refers to their ability to speak the truth to a hostile and unbelieving world. Successful service breeds confidence and assurance as we all see God’s power and grace in operation. We see lives changed, families stabilized, and souls are converted as deacons do their job. All of us will find our confidence grow as the kingdom of God is established, but deacons especially. They know the intimate details of how bad things were and how God used the power of the Gospel to transform a life.

Our church has people like this serving as deacons. Our church needs to tell them to lead. Lead us into a redemptive relationship with a lost world. Lead us into effective ministry to others. Lead us into acts of compassion and mercy. And may God give us the grace to follow.        Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.