When you nominate a deacon, I beg you to contemplate whether they have a servant’s heart! Do not automatically assume that since they are adept in the business world that they are qualified to be servant-leaders in the church. That’s apples and oranges. The practices and techniques that are used to make a successful businessman are not the same as those who make faithful servants in the church.
You see, deacons exist to model servanthood before the brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, the term ‘deacon’ really comes from the same word that Greeks used to wait tables. We see this in Acts 6:1 where the Greek-speaking believers (the Hellenists) were being neglected. The apostles served as the pastors of that church and they assumed full responsibility and began to take action. They understood that they could not meet all the needs of their congregation. In fact, this situation helped crystallize exactly what the leaders in the church were to do. Look at Acts 6:2-4:
2And 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. 3Therefore, 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. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4, ESV).
Again, notice that the apostles and pastors had a task—to preach the Word of God! Did they say this because they didn’t want to be around their people? Hardly! They loved all who were a part of their church—they were their brothers and sisters in Christ! But they understand their calling—tell the church God’s Word!
But the Spirit led these leaders to choose seven men to serve in this area—to wait tables, if you will! These tables could deal with either the food tables or the finance tables, meaning they were to distribute food and money to those amongst the church who were in need!
Notice, they chose men who were already servants—servants of God and thus servants of His people! You see, all of us are called to be servants. In Mark 9:33-37, Jesus reminds them of this potent lesson:
33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37, ESV).
When Jesus confronted them, they kept silent. Why? Because in light of Jesus’ question, they felt shame for clamoring for status. Jesus did not ask them because He wanted to know—He already knew what was in their hearts. He wanted them to own up to the content of their conversation—and the content of their hearts.
Servants have no desire to be first. As the name implies, servants have a desire to serve. And those who desire to serve and have modeled that Christ-like humility before others are ones who are qualified to serve as deacons.
In looking at 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Paul instructed Timothy concerning deacons:
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And 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. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 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.
How are they to serve as deacons?
1. They are to serve with devotion to the family of God (1 Timothy 3:8).
In 1 Timothy 3:8, we start off with the word “likewise,” connecting Timothy to the qualifications Paul laid down (by the Spirit’s inspiration—2 Timothy 3:16-17) for overseers/elders/pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Here’s the entire verse 8: “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.”
First, deacons and deacon nominees are to be dignified in their speech. The idea here is one of integrity, and this integrity is shown in their speech. As the deacons are to serve and to meet the needs of the congregation, duplicity must not be found among them. He is not to be one who says one thing to one person, then another to another! Duplicity should never be found among Christians in general—but especially among deacons.
Consider: if a deacon is to be this type of servant, what is the best way for that deacon to serve? With words of mercy and encouragement! But if you minister to someone, then turn around and run down that person or betray a confidence, then you have burned bridges for further ministry and have become a stumbling block to many in the Kingdom.
Plus, we must be dignified in our speech and evaluate what we say because what we say is a reflection of what is in our hearts (Matthew 12:34), it reflects on Christ and His church.
Second, deacons and deacon nominees must not be addicted to much wine. Harper’s Weekly released a study that said that 33% of all Americans consume alcohol. If there’s an alcoholic parent in the family, there’s a 50% chance one of the children will become an alcoholic. If there are two alcoholic parents, it’s an 85% chance. Roughly one-half of all fatal highway accidents involve alcohol. It’s not something with which to trifle!
Yet many, even Christians, allow alcohol into their lives. Those who object often cite Jesus’ first miracle dealing with the turning of water into wine, or to Paul’s prescription for Timothy’s stomach issues that he should avoid the water and drink a little wine. We must realize that the wine then was severely diluted (three parts water, one part wine) and was not as strong of a drink as is the case today. Plus, wine was used as a preservative to keep the water drinkable.
But while many take these accounts and make their case for alcohol being acceptable (after all, the Bible does not conclusively promote abstinence), we must look at other passages that show the adverse affects of having alcohol as a part of one’s life.
Consider Proverbs 31:4-5. King Lemuel’s mother gave him some incredible advice on a number of matters in this hallmark chapter. Look at what she has to say regarding alcohol:
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Leaders (kings, etc.) must be completely sober-minded and on their game. And if alcohol’s influence can make kings forget their own decrees, how much more could they forget God’s decrees when ministering?
Look at Proverbs 23:29-35:
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
30Those who tarry long over wine;
those who go to try mixed wine.
31Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
32In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
33Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
34You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
35“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.”
As self-explanatory as this is, we must show that alcohol for many is pleasant at the beginning, but even after it’s destructiveness is felt, one may risk wanting another one as soon as the ill-effects have passed. This is called an addiction (“I must have another drink.”), and none of us are exempt. Yet, even small amounts can affect our thinking capacity, hinder our health, wastes our money, and harms our witness. As we know from how Satan engages us in spiritual warfare, he uses the mind—and how we think is how we act and how we are (Proverbs 23:7, NASB).
A deacon or deacon nominee is not greedy for dishonest gain. I love how the King James Version puts it: “not greedy of filthy lucre.” The ESV (the version from which I preach) just puts it in 21st century language. But don’t miss the KJV—dishonest gain is filthy! Fred Catherwood puts it exactly right when he said, “Greed is the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can hoever we can and then hold on to it hard.”
Back in 1991, a question was asked among Americans: “What are you willing to do for $10,000,000?” Two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several of the following:
- Would abandon their entire family (25%);
- Would abandon their church (25%);
- Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%);
- Would give up their American citizenships (16%);
- Would leave their spouses (16%);
- Would withhold testimony and let a murderer or free (10%);
- Would kill a stranger (7%);
- Would put their children up for adoption (3%).
Addiction to wine is severe, and so is addiction to money! In 1 Timothy 6, Paul wrote to Timothy:
6Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).
Given that these deacons were responsible for waiting ‘tables,’ (as in Acts 6:1-7, which could mean food tables or financial tables), having a greedy attitude would turn them selfish, only looking to advance their own cause and not the Lord’s. Even they would contribute, the danger is letting everyone know about it, or contributing while holding something back (Acts 5:1-11).
2. They are to serve with devotion to faith and ministry.
9They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
What does this mean, “holding to the faith with a clear conscience?” It means that their life and their doctrine must match up. If you shudder at the thought of your life being in a fishbowl, then I would recommend you not be a deacon. That’s something that I say to those going into the ministry as well! Not only will your life be examined by people in general, but the Bible tells us that in order to be a deacon, your lives and doctrine must be examined to see if they sincerely match up.
They must be willing to serve with a clear conviction of the glorious orthodox doctrines of the Scriptures. They are to be biblically and theologically sound. They are to have a basic understanding and conviction of the truths outlined in our Declaration of Faith dealing with the authority of the Scriptures, the nature of God, the devil, the sole nature of salvation in Christ, the responsibility of the church, the end times, and our work in the world!
Notice, if you will, the word ‘conscience.’ Over the last few generations, many have settled doctrinal disputes and controversies by appealing to ‘following your conscience.’ The idea being if you are able to do that without violating your conscience, then to you it is permissible.
Let’s not miss this: your conscience does not equate to the voice of God. Romans 2:14-15 mentioned that even the Gentiles who did not know God nor His laws had a conscience:
14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:14-15, ESV).
Everyone has a standard of living by which they live. Cultists have a standard by which their conscience operates and feel guilt when they violate that standard. Muslim extremists have consciences that bother them when they violate their standard as well. And the Bible tells us that men’s consciences have been seared after repeated rejection of the Gospel (1 Timothy 4:2).
They must have a standard of “the mystery of the faith” firmly fixed in place in their lives and doctrine so that their conscience is clean before God and before the Scriptural standard which God inspired! This mystery to which Paul referred to here and many other places in his writings is that God desires to glorify Himself in the salvation of sinners and bring them to glory! But Paul doesn’t stop there—he says, they must be tested. Tested for what?
They are to be tested to see if their life and doctrine match! You see, deacons are ministers of mercy, but over the past 100 years, it seems that we desire people who have mercy but cannot minister the Word because sound doctrine has been discarded because it does not seem merciful but rather divisive. Yet both must be present! What kind of mercy can one deliver if they do not know the Word of God which extends such mercy?
3. They are to serve with dignity in their homes.
Again, the “likewise” understanding comes into play here. For pastors, being the spiritual authority in the home is crucial in relationship to life and ministry as a whole.
4 [The overseer] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
This applies to a deacon as well.
You see, a servant’s heart comes from being Spirit-filled. Remember Ephesians 5:18 when Paul exhorted the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit? What is the result? One is that of having a servant’s heart defined by humility. And as you read on in that chapter, you will see in Ephesians 5:21, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How does that work itself out?
Paul wasted no time in getting into the homes. He told wives to submit to the spiritual authority of their husbands. He told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church! He showed how godly marriages are walking object lessons to everyone, showing them how Christ loves the church and how the church must submit to the authority of Christ. In Ephesians 6, he told children to honor their father and mother. He told fathers not to provoke their children to wrath. What does this say? This says that the true mark of whether a man is controlled by the Spirit of God is by looking at their home life history.
In 1 Timothy 3:11-12, Paul told Timothy to look at the wives of those desiring to be deacons:
11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
When Mike Hamilton was ordained as a deacon back in 2004, I did something during his ordination service that may not have had a precedent at Boone’s Creek—I had his wife Jennifer kneel beside him while the deacons and ministers came by to lay hands on him. Why? Because Jennifer is his soulmate, his partner in ministry. And like it or not, if she loses her dignity, is double-tongued and slanderous, and demonstrates a life of unfaithfulness and rebellion toward God, she ruins Mike’s ministry, hampers his calling, and harms his witness. The wives must be decidedly considered as well.
But Paul goes on in v. 12: “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.” This means that deacons need to be a one-woman man! What God has brought together, let no one tear apart (Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19:1-10).
So what does this mean about those who have been divorced and remarried? Are they automatically disqualified? In this case, we must look at what Scripture says before making a blanket statement. We must know that underlying all of this is the fact that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and we must only move not on sentimentality or out of fear for hurting someone’s feelings. We must move where God’s Word says to move and stay when it says stay.
Christians divorcing Christians. This is not permitted under any scenario in Scripture. Those gripped by the gospel and having experience would understand how God has reconciled us through Christ—therefore, we must work to be reconciled to our spouses since Christ is in us.
What if one was divorced before they were converted to Christianity? Psalm 103:11-12 says:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12).
Therefore, if God removes our sins and remembers them no more, why would we still hold that against them? Something is wrong if we hold on to things longer than God does! Therefore, what should matter is their conduct before God while they are Christians.
What if the spouse was sexually immoral? Does Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-10 permit divorce? In this case according to Jesus, divorce is an absolutely last-resort option, with reconciliation being sought diligently—just as Christ sought to reconcile us to himself after we were unfaithful (Ephesians 4:32).
What if an unbelieving wife left the believing husband? According to a common understanding of 1 Corinthians 7:15, they are permitted to marry again, being freed from that “bondage.” Look at Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage:
But, though a believing wife or husband should not separate from an unbelieving mate, yet if the unbelieving relative desert the believer, and no means can reconcile to a cohabitation, in such a case a brother or sister is not in bondage (v. 15), not tied up to the unreasonable humour, and bound servilely to follow or cleave to the malicious deserter, or not bound to live unmarried after all proper means for reconciliation have been tried, at least of the deserter contract another marriage or be guilty of adultery, which was a very easy supposition, because a very common instance among the heathen inhabitants of Corinth. In such a case the deserted person must be free to marry again, and it is granted on all hands. And some think that such a malicious desertion is as much a dissolution of the marriage-covenant as death itself. For how is it possible that the two shall be one flesh when the one is maliciously bent to part from or put away the other? Indeed, the deserter seems still bound by the matrimonial contract; and therefore the apostle says (v. 11), If the woman depart from her husband upon the account of his infidelity, let her remain unmarried. But the deserted party seems to be left more at liberty (I mean supposing all the proper means have been used to reclaim the deserter, and other circumstances make it necessary) to marry another person. It does not seem reasonable that they should be still bound, when it is rendered impossible to perform conjugal duties or enjoy conjugal comforts, through the mere fault of their mate: in such a case marriage would be a state of servitude indeed. But, whatever liberty be indulged Christians in such a case as this, they are not allowed, for the mere infidelity of a husband or wife, to separate; but, if the unbeliever be willing, they should continue in the relation, and cohabit as those who are thus related. This is the apostle’s general direction.
We must know that underlying all of this is the fact that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and we must only move not on sentimentality or out of fear for hurting someone’s feelings. We must move where God’s Word says to move and stay when it says stay.
Does this mean that being divorced is the unpardonable sin? No—there is only one unpardonable sin, and that is rejecting the Holy Spirit of God who shows us Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior. You may serve in many various other areas of service and ministry here at Boone’s Creek. If you have been the victim of divorce, we will come alongside you and help you through that journey. This is not talking about Christian living—this is talking about God’s design for leadership in the church and the examples He sets forth among His people and the world.
As we conclude this study, I hope that you will begin praying for the deacons we now have who serve tirelessly here at Boone’s Creek for the Kingdom of God. And pray as you nominate that our nominations would be informed by the Word of God and not by business acumen or on the basic of popularity or anything external. And think about your pastor ministers who serve with these deacons—often as their right hand men. The more in tune all the leaders are to the Word and the Spirit, the more harmony that ensues with the congregation, and the less hampered the witness is to the culture. May God inform us in the contemplation of our nomination