Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/15/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:8-13
We come today to the next section in 1 Timothy. After spending a considerable amount of time going through the last section on elder qualifications, it is my goal today to cover these deacon qualifications in only a single sermon. I don’t mean to shortchange this diaconal passage, yet many of the deacon qualifications are the same as the elder qualifications and so there is no need to repeat myself on them. However, I will spend some time reviewing what is similar and different between the two sets of qualifications. I will especially hone in on today on a deacon qualification which I could call “genuineness.”
But before we do that, let us make sure we understand what the office of deacon is. The Greek word for “deacon” in verse 8 is diaconos and literally means “servant”. And so, the office is one of service; one that leads the church in various service ministries. In the New Testament, we see the precedence for this in Acts 6. There, seven qualified men were chosen to oversee the charitable food distribution to the widows in the church. In doing this, they alleviated that responsibility form the apostles so the apostles could focus on spiritual leadership in matters such as preaching and prayer. A fuller definition for this office can be summarized in the words of the OPC Book of Church Order. It says this:
Deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy toward the saints and strangers on behalf of the church. To this end they exercise, in the fellowship of the church, a recognized stewardship of care and of gifts for those in need or distress. This service is distinct from that of rule in the church. (FG XI.1)
And so, that’s a basic summary of the role and purpose of the deacons. Deacons will ultimately be under the oversight of the elders. They will support the elders by offloading various physical and mundane tasks from them, so the elders can focus on the governing and shepherding of the church. The deacons will focus on these physical matters, especially the care of the poor, so the elders can focus on the spiritual needs of the church.
So that’s a brief word about the work of a deacon. Let’s now turn to consider in our first point the similarities and differences we see between the elder qualifications from verses 1-7 and the deacon qualifications from verses 8-13. Observe first that the qualifications are largely of the same sort. Largely, the qualifications for deacons have the same general concern that the elder qualifications have. Both seem most concerned that the officers possess a high degree of Christian virtue that can be observed by others. In other words, both lists of qualifications are concerned more with virtue than say skill set or experience or specific talents or spiritual gifts. Yes, there are some of those other things too in these passages. But first and foremost, both sets of qualifications want spiritual maturity in the potential officers. This should be reflected in the fruit of the Spirit that is demonstrated in their lives.
And so, for example, both sets of qualifications look for reverence aka dignity, verses 8 and 4. Both speak against drunkenness, verses 8, and 3. Both speak against love of money aka greed, verses 8 and 3. Both say the candidate must be blameless or above reproach, verses 10, 1, and 7. Both speak of how the candidate must be faithful to their wife, must be a good parent, and manage their house well, verses 11-12 and verses 4-5. So, again, these are all dealing with virtues. Similarly, we see a concern for maturity in these virtues when verse 10 talks about the deacon being tested before becoming a deacon. This is somewhat akin to the elder qualification of not being a novice, from verse 6.
Then look at some of the differences. There are few virtues mentioned only for one role and not the other. Elders are called for example to not be quarrelsome or violent. Deacons are called in verse 8 to not be double-tongued. So there are a few virtues mentioned only for one office. Yet, with as many similar virtues mentioned for both offices, it is hard to make too much of the few differences. You still get the general sense that God is concerned that both elder and deacon be mature in various Christian virtues.
Yet one noteworthy qualification that is there for the elder but not for the deacon, is that that the elder must be able to teach. As said before, this is not a virtue, but a gift. No such giftedness is stated for the deacon. This is important as it recognizes the elders have a specific responsibility of teaching in the church that a deacon does not. Yet, even with this difference, it does say that the deacon must hold to the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. So, though the deacon is not required to teach the faith, he must know the faith, and sincerely believe it. Thus, in the OPC we require our deacons to affirm the same doctrinal standards that we require of the elders. The deacons must know and believe the same doctrines which the elders are also able to teach. It is a different skill set, to some degree. I use the analogy sometimes between a short answer test and a multiple-choice test. A deacon should be able to recognize the right answer on a multiple-choice test for doctrine. But an elder should be able to take that knowledge a step further by explaining those same doctrines as you would in a short answer test. Hopefully that helps you to think of the difference there.
So hopefully that quick compare and contrast between elder and deacon qualifications is helpful. What I’d like to turn to now in our second point is to think about an underlying virtue that comes across clearly in the deacon qualifications, but not in elder qualifications. In other words, this is really the one main virtue that I didn’t already speak on when I preached through the elder qualifications. I’m calling this virtue “genuineness”. I’m actually getting this virtue from three different places in this passage and will address each briefly. We have in verse 8 the requirement of not being double-tongued. Then in verse 9 we have the requirement that the deacon holds the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. Finally, in verse 10 it says deacons must be tested and proved. Each of these three qualifications are essentially getting at the genuineness of the deacon. Is his speech and faith and overall character genuine?
So then, let’s think first about a deacon not being double-tongued, verse 8. The word in the Greek is literally “two-word”. It’s the idea of saying one thing one time and another, contradictory thing, another time. We have a similar idiom today when we say someone is talking out of both sides of their mouth. And so, this double-tongue behavior can express itself in different ways. Sometimes it can happen between two people: you tell one person one thing and another person another thing. If you are doing this because you are just telling the people what they each want to hear, or what is most convenient to tell them, then you are being double-tongued. Sometimes this can happen with just one person: you tell that one person one thing, but in your mind you tell yourself what you really think. False flattery would be an example of that. Sometimes this double-tongue behavior is a result of someone’s deceit, other times their hypocrisy. Sometimes they are just unstable, double-minded people, as James 1:8 speaks about. But the bottom line in all these scenarios, the person who is being double-tongued is not being genuine. Their speech ends up saying something that is at odds with the truth. The speech is not genuinely expressing the person at their core. Deacons, and all Christians, should speak genuinely!
Next consider verse 9 when it talks about a deacon holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. There too we see a concern for genuineness. Is their faith genuine? Do they actually believe in the faith they confess? And do they do that with a pure conscience? In other words, is what they confess to believe, in accord with what their conscience tells them? As Martin Luther said, to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. For them to confess one thing, but in their heart to believe something else to be true, then their confessed faith is not genuine. James reminds us that we can evaluate the genuineness of someone’s faith by their actions; that true living faith will show itself by its works. Jesus similarly said that you could recognize a false prophet by their fruits, Matthew 7:16.
Of course, this language of a pure conscience should be familiar to us by now. This language of a pure conscience was seen back in chapter 1 when talking about the false teachers. Chapter 1 verses 5 and 19 both essentially say that the false teachers in Ephesus had neglected their consciences in departing from sound doctrine. So, by referencing this same idea here, we realize that part of Paul’s concern is that these deacons have nothing to do with these false teachers that had been afflicting the church. They need to genuinely hold to the genuine doctrines of Scripture. Otherwise, they are not holding to the true faith.
And so lastly on this quality of genuineness we see verse 10. ”But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons.” The word here for testing is a word about proving the genuineness of something. You examine and test it, often through use, to prove its character. This same word for testing is what’s used in 1 Peter 1:7 to speak of how the trials of life can test the genuineness of our faith like how fire tests and refines the purity of gold. Testing, in other words, can prove something’s genuineness.
And so, when we read this, we can think of two aspects of testing for a deacon. There is the aspect where the church, especially the elders, examine the candidates in terms of asking them about what they believe and think. But the other aspect is to give the candidates opportunities to serve in the church and observe how they conduct themselves in such opportunities. So, when these examinations are taking place, what should we be looking for? Well, for starters, we look for the things we read about in today’s passage. We look for the qualifications that they be a believer with godly virtues coming forth from their life. And to clarify, this testing is not simply to hear them claim they are a believer, or to see on some surface level these virtues. The testing is to try to prove their genuineness. We want to see a faith refined in the fire and shown to be genuine. We want to see godly virtues shown to be true through the testing of experience. We want this testing to show forth the genuineness of this brother’s faith and character.
I hope you can see how all these things speak of the desire for genuineness in a man who would be a deacon. Though it probably goes without saying, it is important for a deacon’s work to be genuine. A good negative example of this in the Bible is Judas Iscariot in John 12:6. There, we see Judas served in a diaconal capacity for Jesus and the twelve. Judas was in charge of the money bag that they used to collect and distribute money for the poor. According to John 12:6, Judas was criticizing Mary for anointing Jesus with costly perfume saying that it should have been sold instead and the money given to the poor. But it says there that this was a lie of Judas. Judas was not really concerned with the poor. Rather, he was stealing from the money bag, and so that was his real motivation. In other words, Judas in his diaconal capacity was being double-tongued. He was not being genuine. And so, I hope we see how important it is for a deacon to be genuine, not only in his faith, but in how he serves as a deacon. I like the example of what Paul says in Philippians 2:20 about Timothy. He tells the Philippians how much he appreciates that Timothy has a genuine concern for them and their welfare. That’s the kind of quality we want in our deacons as they lead in the church’s ministry of mercy!
In our last point for today, I want us to see the reward mentioned for those who serve well as a deacon. That’s verse 13. “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” I love the idea that there is a reward or benefit for a service well done. What another wonderful example that though God is the one who gives us the grace to serve him, he yet even rewards our grace-wrought service. What an amazing thing. And the reward it mentions is two-fold. Inwardly, the brother will be encouraged and strengthened in his faith. This is surely the idea that he will recognize God’s work in his life as he serves, and as he sees that fruit he should be encouraged and have greater confidence of the Lord’s work in and through him. That’s one reward.
The other reward is that he will obtain for himself a good standing. Is this thinking about his standing in the church among his fellow believers? Or is it talking about his standing before God in Christ’s kingdom? Let’s just say “yes.” It’s not talking about whether he is saved or not, of course. But there is something of position and honor in Christ’s kingdom that he receives in a job well done as a deacon. This is something that both God and believers recognize.
Along these lines, I remember that the apostles James and John were concerned at one point about their standing in the kingdom of God. Remember what they asked of Jesus. They wanted to have the position of being on the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. Remember how Jesus responded to them. In a rather ironic way, he told them how to become great. They were to aspire to greatness by humbling themselves and becoming a servant to others. Let me read that from Matthew 20:26-28. “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” These are interesting words by Jesus. The context shows that Jesus doesn’t want his people to seek to be better and higher than his other disciples. Yet, ironically, if someone would humble himself to be a servant, diaconos, in the Greek, that is the person who will end up exalted.
And so how fitting and how consistent is this verse 13 with what Jesus taught on how to be great in his kingdom. You want to be great and in high position in Christ’s kingdom? Then humbly take on the role of a servant and serve one another. Then you will be great and lifted up. Well, that’s what verse 13 promises the faithful deacon. Being a deacon is an act of service. The very word is the word of being a servant. Being a deacon is living out the very call of Jesus for how to be great in his kingdom. And so, verse 13 very intentionally encourages men to desire to be a deacon. This is similar to how verse 1 encouraged men that desiring to be an elder is a noble thing. So too, with the office of a deacon. It is an honorable and even rewarding calling to serve as a deacon.
And I love how this brings us again back to the gospel. Why did Jesus tell James and John that to be first, you must become a servant? Remember, he said because that is why he came, not to serve, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Oh dear brothers and sisters, see the gospel again today in our passage. That mystery of the faith has been revealed to us: Jesus Christ came into this world to suffer and die in our place; for us and our salvation. He took on our sin and shame and guilt at the cross. He did this to serve us. He did this to serve us; in order to save us. For all who put their faith and trust in him, then he has served you in this way. He has loved you so much even to give up his life for you. And of course in this, Jesus was exalted. Jesus, in his sacrifice, was exalted by the Father to the highest place, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, as those who have known the service of Christ who gave himself up for us, let us become servants and slaves. Each of us. Not just those who desire to be deacons. May we each receive this call to serve again today. May we seek then to serve out of a genuine faith. May we seek to serve our Lord even as we seek to serve our brothers and sisters. May we seek to serve out of a genuine heart of love and mercy for those in need around us. Let us all remember that the diaconal ministry is not something just for the deacons to be doing. But let us each support and assist the deacons in the diaconal ministry of the church. Let us look to their leadership and encourage their leadership in this area. And let us pray that God would continue to raise up qualified deacons in his church to support this important ministry. In this all, may we too aspire to the greatness that comes through service. May we not aspire to it out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in true humility and out of genuine gratitude for how Christ has served us.
When thinking of the quality of genuine service, we know our struggles. We can struggle to genuinely want to serve. But in those struggles, may we lay our hearts again before our Lord and look in prayer and in all the means of grace to seek God’s growth within us. Let us pray even now for the Lord’s work of sincerity in our hearts. And let us rejoice that it was not double-talk when Jesus promised to come again for us, and that he would be with us until then. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.