Monday, July 19, 2010

Gleanings from The Pastor's Perspective:The Duties of Deacons

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Duties of Deacons”
First Published: July 23, 2002

Last week, we began a series in this column, asking the question why do we need deacons and what kind of deacons do we need? (based on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and some other important New Testament passages). So, let’s start with the first part of the question. Why do we need deacons?

Well, we need deacons in order that the church might really reflect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The deacon is to be a living example of Christ’s love command. It is striking that Paul characterizes the work of deacons as “service.” In 1 Timothy 3:10 and 13 he says “let them serve as deacons . . . (10)” and then speaks of “those who have served well as deacons . . . (13)”. This fits perfectly with Jesus command in John 13 and the examples of life in the early church in Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37 and 6:1-7. According to Jesus, there is no such things as deedless love. Love is always made tangible in our and by our actions. Therefore the love he enjoins upon the church must be practical and tangible, even to the point of meeting physical needs.

The early church did this by voluntarily sharing resources to aid those in the church who were in need. Eventually, deacons were “invented” to aid the church in this intra-church mercy ministry (see Acts 6).

The Gospel ministry must be in word and deed, neither must be neglected, so it is for the church’s well-being to have both elders and deacons (see Acts 6:7). The deacons’ work is to complement to elders’ ministry of the word. The deacon is to lead in the local congregation’s ministry of mercy. His is an office of service and deed (10, 13).

So, you want men to serve as deacons who have a heart for visiting those in special need in the congregation and who have a heart for caring for them and assisting in their tangible needs. You want men who are ready to commit the time and the energy that this kind of responsibility entails. You want men who are ready and willing and sensitive enough to get involved in the messy details of people’s lives for the sake of the Gospel and Christian love.

Now let’s move to the second half of the question: What kind of deacons do we need? First, we need men who want to serve, men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body. The office of deacon is emphatically and denominationally an office of service of the brethren. As we have already seen, Paul says “let them serve as deacons.” Though all offices in the NT church are ultimately offices of service, the work of the deacon is uniquely a ministry of service. Paul means “serve” here, not just in a generic sense (“he ‘served’ in office”) but really and specifically. The Deacon is not a man who is out for power or prestige. He’s a man who wants to serve. He wants to help. When the people of God are hurting he wants to aid them. When they are in need he wants to comfort and assist them. He wants to make the Christian claims of love tangible. Paul does not say much here by way of defining the work of the deacon, but the NT rounds out our picture of this office. Consider Romans 12:6-7 “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching.” This is a good summation of the work of deacons and elders, respectively. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 we read “Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” Again we see the respective works of deacons and elders described. Paul sees these to offices as the norm in local churches, as can be seen from Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” More on this next week.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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