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1 Timothy 3:8-16: Faithful Servants of the House of God Print E-mail
1 Timothy
Sunday, 03 September 2006

I want to begin this morning by asking you to look at verses 14-16 again with me.  As we have seen over the last weeks, Paul is writing to Timothy for the purpose of correcting the errors that are plaguing the Church at Ephesus.  He gives them instructions for worship and prayer (chapter 2) and as we saw last week, he instructs them about faithful overseers in the Church.  As we read earlier in verses 8-13, we see that now Paul turns his attention to the Deacons.  Yet, it is verses 14-16 that puts all of this in the proper perspective for us.  I mean, why is so important that we get corporate worship right?  Why is it so vital that men and women understand their roles in the Church?  Why does it really matter if we have faithful leaders?  It matters because the Church is the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.  Thus, as we come to the text this morning, may we understand the importance of what we are looking at and deal with it accordingly.

Before we jump into the qualifications for the deacons, let me begin with a couple of thoughts concerning the differences between elders and deacons.  I must admit up front that Paul is not really telling us what deacons or elders are to do in these passages as much as he is telling us who they are to be.  Yet, we can distinguish some of their differences by comparing the qualifications.  In general, as I stated last week, the function of the elders, or overseers, is to labor in keeping watch, or overseeing, the flock.  One of the ways in which they exercise this authority is through teaching, as Paul says they must be able to teach (v. 2).  They are also charged with providing care for God’s church (v. 5).

The function of the deacons is one of service.  Not that the elders, and all Christians for that matter, are not to serve, but the deacons are set aside for specific tasks of service in the Church, as we see modeled in Acts 6.  Since deacons are not charged to be able to teach, I do not see their position as authoritative in the Church.  This is not to diminish the importance of their position in any way.  As Paul makes very clear in this passage, the service of the deacons is vital for the health of a local Church.  Thus, the role of an elder is oversight and the role of a deacon is service.  In order for a Church to be healthy, both of these offices should be carried out faithfully.

Even though there is some overlap in the qualifications for elders and deacons, let’s turn our attention to the qualifications that Paul gives for faithful deacons.

Qualifications for Deacons

Let’s begin by looking at verse 8.  As he did with the elders, Paul begins with a general qualification and then moves to more specific ones.  The general qualification for deacons is that they must be dignified.  A faithful deacon is to be of good character.  Again, Paul is driving at the character of the candidate and here he calls for a person who is honorable.  From there, he provides some more specific qualifications in the form of three negative statements.  First, a deacon is not double-tongued.  A deacon is not to be two-faced or insincere.  They are not to say one thing to one person and then say something else to another person.  Rather, a deacon is to speak the truth to all.  Second, a deacons is not addicted to much wine.  Although the wording is different, Paul gives the same prohibition for elders (see v. 3).  Once again, Paul is not necessarily calling for total abstinence as much as he is calling for moderation and self-control.  Wine was seemingly a common drink in those days, but even so, a deacon was not to be addicted to it.  A drunkard is disqualified from serving as a deacon or an elder.  Third, a deacon is not greedy for dishonest gain.  It seems that the deacons would be involved in the financial matters of the Church, possibly deciding how funds were distributed to the poor and other financial services.  Thus, it is important that a deacon be a faithful steward of money and not greedy.  As we saw with the qualifications for elders, Paul is concerned with the conduct of the deacons.  They are to be people of self-control and integrity.  In short, they are to be dignified.

Paul goes on in verse 9 to give us another qualification for the deacons.  Look at that verse with me.  In verse 8, Paul focused on the conduct of the deacons, yet, we see here that faithful conduct is driven by faithful doctrine.  Again, we must remember the troubles that are going on in Ephesus.  Paul has already noted how some of the men there have shipwrecked their faith (see 1:19-20).  Paul does not want such men to serve as deacons.  Rather, a deacon is to hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.  They are to hold fast to the truth.  Again, even though Paul is primarily concerned with their conduct and character, he knows that both are formed by what we believe.  You cannot serve like Jesus if you do not believe in Jesus.  Thus, Paul charges the deacons to hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.

In verse 10, Paul tells us that deacons are to be proven in their service to the Church.  Look at that verse with me.  Deacons are to be proven.  Although it is different, this qualification is similar to that of not being a recent convert (see 3:6).  A deacon is to have a time of testing in the Church.  In other words, a person should be serving like a deacon before they are actually given the title of deacon.  To me this is a very important point.  We need people who are faithful in our Churches.  We need faithful men and faithful women who are willing to serve faithfully whether or not they are ever given an official title.  Do we need deacons?  Do we need elders?  Of course, the Church cannot function properly without these two offices.  But a good place to begin in growing a healthy Church is having people who will serve faithfully without recognition.  In this way, the Lord will make it plain who should serve us as deacons and as elders.

Let’s look now at verse 11.  As the ESV notes, Paul is addressing either wives or women in this verse (the same word is used in verses 2 and 12).  Of course, the question is exactly who is Paul addressing in this verse?  Basically there are three options: women deacons, women helpers, or the wives of the deacons.  I must admit from the beginning, I am not completely convinced by any of the three options.  Because this issue has caused some controversy in our Church, we will take some time tonight to look at the different options more in depth.  (See my Notes for Interpreting 1 Tim. 3:11)

Let me just say this morning that I lean toward the first two options, either women deacons or women helpers who serve like deacons but are not necessarily recognized as official deacons.  The reason I struggle with it referring to the deacons’ wives is that there is nothing in the text really connecting the women with the deacons.  Granted, if the word Paul used is meant to mean ‘wives,’ then surely he is talking about the wives of the deacons.  Yet, the word can be translated as ‘women,’ as we saw in 2:9.  There is no pronoun in the Greek, although many translations add the word ‘their’ to the text.  The other difficulty for me in interpreting this as the wives of the deacons is that Paul does not make any mention of the elders’ wives.  If Paul is going to give instructions about the wives of the deacons who are to serve the Church, then why would he not give instructions about the wives of the elders who are to oversee and care for the Church?  There are some possible explanations for this, but I struggle with their validity.  In the end, as I will argue tonight, I lean towards the option of women deacons or women helpers who assist in serving the Church, like Phoebe in Romans 16:1.  This is not my attempt at sneaking in liberalism or feminism.  I still hold that a woman is not to exercise authority over a man in the Church and home.  Yet, I struggle with who Paul is addressing in verse 11. 

Whoever they are, they are to be dignified (see above), not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.  Thus, if we take it to mean wives, then the wives of our deacons, or candidates, must meet these qualifications in order for their husbands to serve.  If we take it to be women deacons, or women helpers, then they too must demonstrate these qualities in order to serve faithfully.

Paul finishes his qualifications for deacons in verse 12.  Here, like the qualifications for an elder, Paul writes that a deacon must be faithful to his wife and must his children and household well.  Again, Paul wants those who serve the Church to be faithful servants in their home as well.

In verse 13, Paul concludes his discussion of deacons by writing of two results for faithful deacon service.  First, a faithful deacon will gain a good standing for themselves.  This is possibly a reference to their standing within the community of faith that they serve.  Faithful deacons are to be well respected in our Church for their service.  Second, a faithful deacon will have great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.  As we have said on many occasions, the fruit in our lives gives us assurance that we are indeed followers of Christ.  If a person is able to serve as a faithful deacon, continually meeting the qualifications and serving the Church, then that should give them great confidence that Christ is indeed lavishing His grace upon them.

Yet, before we conclude this morning, we must once again remind ourselves of the importance of these matters.  Look at verses 14 and 15 with me again.  We labor to order our Churches according to God’s Word because it is, after all, the Church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.  In everything we do here at Trinity, we cannot lose sight of this.  We are charged with the responsibility of being a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Yet, exactly what truth are we charged to proclaim and guard?  Paul tells us in verse 16.  Look at that with me.  Paul quotes from some sort of hymn that speaks of the life and work of Christ.  The truth that we are to defend and uphold is none other than the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.  We labor for faithful ministry in our Churches so that we can lift high the name of Christ among the nations.  Our hope and our goal is that many might believe in the gospel we preach so that they too might share in the hope of coming glory.  We need faithful deacons and faithful elders, faithful men and faithful women, faithful Christians who are committed to their faithful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I pray the Lord would find us faithful in our service to Him.  May we guard and uphold the truth of the gospel that men might repent of their sins, believe in the work of Calvary, and bring glory to the name of Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Sunday, 10 September 2006 )

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