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Be the Greatest–Be the Servant
Paul instructs Timothy who can be deacons–1 Timothy 3:8-13, part one
Remember Mrs. Zebedee, the wife of the Galilean fisherman and mother to James and John? In Matthew 20, she asked Jesus, “Give my boys thrones—not the center throne, not the only throne, not the main throne. But give them #2 and #3 thrones to rule with you.” There’s something about Jewish mothers, right? They want the best for their kids.
The other ten disciples became indignant and a fight was beginning to brew. But Jesus said, “You don’t know what you’re asking, Mom. My world-changing, soul-saving movement is not built on ruling. It’s built on serving from the heart.” Which is totally different than your everyday world. Your secular world is based on government exercising authority, the military giving orders, coaches yelling at players, students obeying their teachers.
People in the labor force punching in, working hard and not taking advantage of their employers. There is a name for those who choose not to follow directions at work–unemployed. Why? Because the boss is in charge. Jesus said, “Their great men exercise authority over them.” But then he added, “It is not so among you.”
In God’s family, we’re to be one great body of servants. In fact, the only way to get to the top of the pile in God’s Kingdom, Jesus says is, “Whoever wishes to become great among you, shall be your servant.” In a day when everyone wants to be a celebrity and be in charge, Christ calls us to be servants. Servanthood is not optional–it’s required.
To bring God glory, you are to come to Christ and become like Christ. And to become like Christ means becoming a servant–Christ is a servant. As the Lord wraps up Mother Zebedee’s Throne-a-thon, he says in Matthew 20:28, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
I’ve said some things from this pulpit even I, in retrospect, thought were a little too direct about Christians serving. Then this week I read this quote from Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, who said, “I want every member of this church to be a worker. We do not want any drones. If there are any of you who want to eat and drink and do nothing, there are plenty of places elsewhere where you can do it. There are empty pews about in abundance; go and fill them, for we do not want you.”
Whoa, Spurgy! That’s subtle, but asks, “Are you a servant in the body of Christ?” Being a servant is so important to the health of a church, God calls certain men to serve the entire body of Christ. Any true servant is considered to be the greatest. But these spiritual Mohammed Ali’s are one step above the greatest.
These super servants are the greater greatest among us, because they’re examples of service–the ministers of service, manifesting the character quality of service. These super-servants are called what? Everyone? Deacons. How many of you have waited on tables–you once were a waiter or waitress? That is what the term deacon means in the New Testament. To serve as a slave of another–to be a helper to another, to minister to others. Deacon means servant.
Open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 3:8-13, as Paul describes those men who can be deacons. The letter to Timothy is about HOUSE RULES. You know this from 1 Timothy 3:15, where Paul tells the readers why he writes, “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
What is our conduct to be in church? What are the House Rules? Chapter 1 was about false doctrine, then true doctrine. Chapter 2 was about how men, then women, behave when the church gathers for worship. Chapter 3, who are the men who can serve as elders? And now, the men who can be deacons.
Last week in 1 Timothy 3:1 to 7, Paul described for Timothy and the church at Ephesus who can serve as overseers. Overseers is one of three words describing the role of the elder and pastor. Now today in verses 8 to 13, Paul defines those who qualify as deacons. Have you noticed in our study that 1 Timothy is filled with exegetical nightmares, interpretive challenges, and difficult passages? In verses 8 to 13, it’s found in verse 11.
For now, read the entire passage with me, “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:8 to 13).
Never forget, Christian–even though this passage is describing deacons, every Christian is to deac. You might not be a super servant, but every genuine believer in this room is a 24/7 servant of Christ. And the elders, many student disciplers, community group shepherds and ministry leaders here must be known as servants. Because born again leadership is first being a servant.
Spurgeon also said, “He is not Christian who does not seek to serve his God. The very motto of the Christian should be, ‘I SERVE.’” To sharpen your service, start at the birth of the deacon office. Turn to Acts 6. Here the Early Church experienced a serious problem of disunity. The Greek-speaking widows complained that the Hebrew-speaking widows were getting all the food—the local widows were getting all the tasty Apricot Babka, but the out-of-town Greek widows were not getting any food.
It might have been that those serving knew the Hebrew-speaking widows, which made it more difficult to be fair, but disunity was brewing. It was so serious, the apostles determined a course of action, Acts 6:3, “Brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” They had to be men who were qualified and willingly to serve. But these early servants were also quite unique.
This was early in the Church–these men served under apostles, not elders. And these men were super-hero deacons, over-qualified–not like the deacons described in 1 Timothy 3. What do I mean? These men went on to be great evangelists, like Philip, and the first church martyr like Stephen. They were not merely called as deacons, but called to much more.
But the Spirit was in also establishing a future purpose for deacons. Read verses 2 and 4, “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” So Acts 6 informs you, part of the role of deacons is to . . .
1. Free up the LEADERSHIP
. . . to give themselves to the Word and prayer in order to shepherd and feed God’s people. In the church today with elders, deacons relieve the elders of duties that pull them away from their primary tasks. And they do it in such a way that elders don’t have to manage the deacons or manage those service tasks. And Acts 6 also describes deacons as . . .
2. Shock absorbers
The deal with needs (like feeding widows) as they crop up in a growing, local church family to keep the church functioning correctly. Now turn to 1 Timothy 3–there are three more clues as to God’s intention for the office of deacon in the church. Notice verse 10, “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.” This tells you deacons MUST be . . .
3. Known by the entire local church family
Their testing must include some level of affirmation by the entire church family. They’re not merely known by a single ministry, but they’re known by the entire church. Deacons are church-wide servants, not always locked into one aspect of ministry. And Paul tells Timothy and the church in Ephesus here, these men must be . . .
They need to be men who are so godly on the basis of these qualifications, that two things must be true.
FIRST They don’t need massive oversight by the eldership. If they require constant supervision, then they are not freeing up the elders. Deacons are so godly, they can minister to people without the elders having any concern. And . . .
SECOND They’re men who are trusted by everyone as they enter into any situation. You’re confident in their service because they are qualified men–they will be gracious, just, wise, truth-driven and Christ-like as they serve and resolve issues.
Finally, when you compare the list of qualities for deacons in 1 Timothy 3, to the qualities for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, there are some distinct differences. The deacon list is much shorter, but is similar. And the deacon list doesn’t include any mention of the ability to teach in sound doctrine or refute those who contradict. Deacons are . . .
5. Not required to be teachers or preachers of the Word, like elders
So these super-servants are qualified men who are known by the entire body of believers, who free up the elders so they can function as shepherds by taking care of service needs which must be dealt with in the church family in order to honor Christ. Simply, deacons are qualified, known servants who free up a local church elder team. Deacons are those who model service. Deacons are the church family headwaiters.
Deacons are those who love much. They love others a lot. Why? Because service is nothing more than “love in work clothes”, right? The greatest among you is not the gifted one, the rich one, the pretty one, or the talented one–the greatest is the servant. It’s not about your ability–God doesn’t ask about your ability or your inability, but your availability.
That’s all introduction. So who can become a deacon? Paul says to Timothy in verse 1, “they’re to be . . . “
#1 Men of CHARACTER
Their character is painted in verse 8, “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain.” The second office in the church is deacons–servants. Paul says in verse 8, “likewise”–referring back to the other office in the church, elders, from verses 1 to 7. In a similar manner, deacons must be qualified. What’s that look like?
“Men of dignity”—dignity is a scary word to me. As a blue collar, son of a teamster, I don’t feel very dignified, and honestly I don’t want to be. But that’s because our culture defines dignity as, stuffy, aloof, stuck-up and boring. We wrongly make dignity a personality issue–like the Russian pastor I talked to who defined dignity as never laughing.
No–dignity is an internal character and conviction quality. The word dignity means worthy of respect, honorable, and serious about Christ. A dignified person is someone who is serious about Christ, but not serious about themselves.
Next, “not double-tongued”–I have a pastor friend who is gregarious. He is likeable, agreeable and fun. Sadly, once he was accused of being a liar because he’d agree with two individuals expressing opposing viewpoints. He’d agree with those who liked UCLA, then also those who liked USC. And so it went–he liked Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chevy, boxers and briefs, glock or sig. He’d agree with both–he’d affirm both. He should have been careful, but he was merely being agreeable. He was choosing to not make issues over things that don’t matter. That is not being double-tongued.
Double-tongued is deceitful speech rooted in an unscrupulous mind. Double-tongued is intentionally saying one thing to one man and a different thing to the next. Deacons must be men who can be trusted in what they say–they must be men of God’s Word and men of their word. His yes is yes and his no is no.
“Not addicted to much wine”–the Bible warns against the potential dangers of strong drink. Isaiah 5:11, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Romans 13:13, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness.” The fruit of the flesh is, Galatians 5:21, “drunkenness.”
Drunkenness is sin and persistently drunken believers require church discipline. Drunkenness is not a disease–drunkenness is a sin. Nearly half the murders, suicides, and accidental deaths in America are related to the misuse of alcohol. Therefore, a person in a position of trust over other people can’t have a drinking problem.
If a deacon has a drinking problem, he’ll lead people astray and bring reproach upon the church. His overindulgence will interfere with his spiritual growth and service and will eventually lead to more degrading sins. The text doesn’t say all wine–this is not a prohibition against all drinking, but it is clearly focused against drunkenness and speaks against any addictions.
“Not fond of sordid gain”–deacons are not greedy for money, but they have financial integrity. Paul was thinking about the false teachers who thought godliness was a means of gain. Possibly Paul considered Judas, who was assigned as the treasurer, but embezzled funds. Maybe behind this quality were the Pharisees who manipulated money from widows and were labeled lovers of money. In any case, deacons can’t be those who live for money. No, they live for Christ and His mission.
Money can be an irresistible magnet for the sinful heart. Some believers appear godly, but their heart burns with greed. But deacons can’t be money lovers. Deacons handle money–other people’s money, the church’s money. And where money is, there are always problems. People can steal in many ways–not just taking cash, but through banking, through receipts, and errant ministry expenses. Deacons must boat above that ocean of temptation.
Verse 9, “But holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” The deacon’s life must be consistent with God’s Word and sound doctrine. For all believers, this phrase means you maintain a clear conscience by living in harmony with the truths revealed in God’s Word. This phrase portrays deacons as living with integrity in public and in private. The mystery of the faith is a beautiful way of describing the revealed secrets of the Christian faith, meaning God’s Word and sound doctrine.
Living with a clear conscience is living by God’s Word internally and externally, secretly and openly. The conscience is your self-judging faculty–it is your God-given inner awareness of the moral quality of your own actions. Because the conscience both judges and guides a believer, you are not to go against it. If you consistently do, like false teachers, you shipwreck your faith.
Alexander Strauch, in his book, The New Testament Deacon, says, “A Christian can’t hold to the faith with a pure conscience and live in sexual immorality, pilfer money, hate a brother, divorce a Christian spouse, or mix falsehood with the gospel. The New Testament never allows people to separate life and doctrine. Whenever we knowingly act in a way that is contrary to God’s Word and do not seek His forgiveness, we defile our conscience. Every time we violate our conscience, we weaken its convicting power and make sin and hypocrisy easier to commit.”
A Christian with a hypocritical life can’t be a deacon. Deacons are the real deal. They love Christ and follow His Word at home, in secret, as well as in public before everyone. Deacons empower their passions in service to Christ, not spend their life in service to their passions. Deacons serve at home and at church–they’re head waiters everywhere. So much so that they are . . .
#2 Men TRUSTED by the Church family
There are two commands in verse 10.
Command One Deacons must be TESTED
This is something done to them. The church must test their deacons. Verse 10, “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.” Deacons need to be qualified and deacons must be examined and approved. Verse 9 states he must have a clean conscience, but we all know a believer can think his conscience is clean and yet be deceived, right? We all suffer from a certain amount of blindness when it comes to our own sins. But the more blind we are to our sins, the more harm we can do to others–so testing deacons is crucial.
After focusing the lens of five key character traits in verses 8 to 9, moved by the Spirit, Paul tells Timothy and Ephesus deacons must be tested. They’re to be examined in such a way that everyone in the church will know this man is truly a God-chosen deacon. Just like a potential doctor is given the M-CAT, try-outs are given to make the team.
What’s the test for a potential deacon? The New Testament is silent about the test, but freedom is given to the Church. The elders should initiate the process and the congregation should be highly involved. Knowing the Bible teaches not to appoint leadership too hastily, the elders ask the flock to watch the potential deacon for a long season, seeking to determine if they meet all the qualifications.
After a long period of time and bathed in prayer, if they are, as verse 10 adds, “above reproach”, then they’re publicly affirmed to serve as super servants. The second command in this verse is a command for the deacon. The first command is for the church to test the deacon.
Command Two Deacon is to SERVE
Verse 10 is, ”then let them serve”–to minister, to wait on others. Deacons don’t control or make unanimous decisions–they serve. Serving is what deacons do, but there is a condition. Verse 10 adds, like an elder, a deacon is to live above reproach. A deacon is to be a Christian man whose life is not open to attack or criticism. He is free from scandalous sin. His life is not perfect, but not marked by any ongoing sin–he is unassailable.
Paul says in verse 10, first tested, then serve as deacons–and if God made them a deacon, they’ll be trusted. Next is the landmine of verse 11 . . .
#3 Women who SERVE the church assisting deacons and elders
Verse 11 speaks to women when it says, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” For 2,000 years, this verse has caused difficulty. So next week, I will humbly attempt to honor the role of women and solve the controversy. Now back to deacons and their families–they are to be . . .
#4 Men who ADORE their wives and manage their homes
Verse 12, deacons must be “husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”
“Husbands of only one wife”–like elders, deacons are to be a one woman man. The Greek now emphasizes the deacon’s character again by commanding must be. This quality does not insist this man is married, never divorced, not a single or not a widower–it definitely is not addressing polygamy or being married only once. The phrase describes a man who is wholly devoted to one woman.
If a single man was to become a deacon, he’d display massive integrity in his dating. There’d be no playing the field, physical compromise, false promises, flirtatiousness, deception, misleading, independence of families, rushing things or selfishness. If the deacon were a married man, he’d be devoted to his wife. The deacon would love others, but only have eyes for his wife.
Like when Jean was pregnant with Daniel, welcoming me back from a four-and-a-half-week overseas trip, standing at the end of the jet-way, her tear-filled eyes never leaving mine. For the deacon, he ministers to men and women, but there is only one woman in his heart. Along with the singular love for his wife, a deacon would also be a great dad for his kids and an organized leader of his entire household.
Paul says to Timothy—“good managers of their children and their own households.” The good of “good managers” means properly, excellently–the deacon supervises his family well. The deacon is a responsible father and a household manager of kids, slaves, farm and animals. A deacon is not passive nor disinterested in his children. He doesn’t leave the childrearing to his wife. He actively guides his house, cares for their overall development.
This management points to his scheduling, budgeting, planning, and leading his wife and children through the storms of life. Deacons don’t have perfect wives nor sin-free children, but the deacon does lead them, guide them, father them and maintains an orderly, not a chaotic home. Though the expectations for a deacon’s home are not as intense as for an elder, the reason for verse 12 is the same.
A man’s ability to manage God’s church is directly related to his ability to manage his household. If he can’t care for his family property, he can’t care for the family of God. Strauch, in The New Testament Deacon, again says, “In the family of God, a man’s ability to manage his family is a crucial test as to whether or not he is qualified to be a deacon.” And deacons finally are . . .
#5 Men who have honor and INFLUENCE in the church
There is a price to pay for being a servant. A deacon’s service is hard work–difficult, dirty, long hours, labor-intensive and tiring. Servants are often overlooked, unacknowledged and unappreciated. So as Paul finalizes his criteria for deacons, Paul details the reward of being a deacon, the blessings of service and the honor these men of service should receive from the church body they serve.
Verse 13, “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing.” The Greek word “standing” comes from the word step, meaning position, grade of advancement, or a rank. The Greek word “high” means good and what Paul is describing is a good position, describing an honorable place–honorable standing, praiseworthy, a place of honor.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12 Paul said, “We request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor [deacon] among you, and have charge over you [elders] in the Lord and give you instruction, [teaching elders].” Those who diligently labor among you are not only elders, but deacons. And they should be appreciated by the church. This is why they should be tested and qualified, because they have a place of honor among God’s people for serving the church the way they do.
Verse 13, “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Not only are tested, qualified and functioning deacons to be honored in our midst, but they personally gain great boldness in their faith. Remember, service is nothing more than love in work clothes.
Because deacons serve so sacrificially, which is a manifestation of agape love, they grow to be bold. They often can say the hard thing to others because their love is so proven. They can address the elephant in the room because their love for others is obvious. Deacons are confident enough, mature enough to discern the difference between the phony and the genuine.
As they deal with people, they discern the difference between the freeloading fake and the faithful feeble. John Calvin explained deacons as those who could discern between a lazy fraud who pretends to be in need, and those who are genuinely poor and in want of true help. The Greek word confidence means open speech, free speech. Deacons are not reserved, fearful, or timid–they are bold in their faith. In this context, the word faith means their service to others is all done for Christ, for His glory and not their own.
Deacons are to be honored–do you honor them? And deacons, as you serve, you will grow bold in your ministry to the church and bold in your relationship to Christ. All Christians are servants. Deacons are tested, proven, qualified super-servants. So today, evaluate your service. Is it . . .
A GENUINE SERVICE
Make certain your service is never to be seen by men or to be first among men, but to serve the Lord alone. Make certain you avoid becoming a Diotrephes. Third John 9, “Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.” True servants are willing to minister in the shadows, be last and focus on others instead of themselves.
Why? Because genuine service is done for Christ and by Christ through you. And that can only happen if you have Christ. Have you turned to Christ for salvation?
B HEART-DRIVEN SERVICE
If New Testament slaves need to serve their masters from the heart, how much more should believers serve their Lord, who gave them everything—from the heart! Ephesians 6:5 to 7, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters . . . in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 . . . as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”
Is your service out of duty, trying to earn God’s favor, or from a transformed heart full of love, because you’ve been forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ?
C DEPENDENT SERVICE
Augustine said, “We do the works, but God works in us the doing of works.” Walter Chantry said, “God does not need your talents, wisdom, holiness and strength. But rather you, in weakness, desperately need the power of his Spirit in your labors.”
If you drive, unload, or load the trailer, if you set up rooms or hand out bulletins–the only way God will be glorified or you will be blessed, the only way you will be rewarded in eternity is if you’re dependently filled with the Spirit in dependent service. Sadly, many Christians don’t minister because they don’t believe God. They need . . .
D TRUSTING SERVICE
All Christians are to serve. Galatians 5:13b, “Through love serve one another.” Thomas Fuller said, “Your salvation is God’s business; his service your business.” Your schedule is never going to open up–trust that God will honor your obedience and serve. Make your life a mission, not an intermission. There is no unemployment in God’s Church. Trust the Lord and find a place of service. And as you serve, give yourself to . . .
E WHOLEHEARTED SERVICE
Again, slaves are told by Christ in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” All of you have cruised in your Christianity. You start going through the motions. This morning, God is calling you to put your heart back into how you serve. Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be al there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”