Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Deacon Described

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Deacon Described”
First Published: July 30, 2002

We are now in the third of a series on deacons. Last week, we asked the question: What kind of deacons do we need? And we started our answer by saying, first, we need men who want to serve, men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body. Paul does not say much by way of defining the work of the deacon, but the NT rounds out our picture of this office and one of the best examples is found in Acts 6:1-6 “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 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. "Therefore, 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. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.” Here, we have the origination of the office of deacon. The elders are to be ministers of the word and prayer. The deacons are to be ministers of tangible mercy and aid. Thus, the office of the deacon, is not that of an elder-in-training, nor of a candidate for the priesthood, but an office of service. So, you want to elect men to the diaconate who exude a desire to serve the flock in the ministry of mercy.

Second, we need men who are godly and self-controlled, qualified by their desire to serve, their embrace of the faith and their proven character (see 1 Timothy 3:8-10,12-13). The ‘Three Qualifications’ for deacons are: desire to serve, orthodoxy, moral character. Paul says: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. ... Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.”

Paul, once again, as with the elders, gives a list of moral qualifications for church office. Patrick Fairbairn says: “[These qualifications] are, as already stated, predominantly moral, and consist of attributes of character rather than gifts and endowments of mind. ...It is the characteristics which go to constitute the living, practical Christian, which together make the man of God, that in this delineation of pastoral equipments are alone brought prominently into view.”

The qualifications given by Paul for deacons are such as are designed to engender a feeling of respect and confidence among the members of the church for the deacons. These character qualifications are both negative and positive. Positively, they are to be: (1) Men of dignity, grave, of serious deportment (not of personality but of character), men worthy of respect; (2) holding the mystery of the faith (belief and behavior) – they don’t have to teach, but the faith is their motivation in service; (3) husbands of one wife, maritally faithful and perhaps normally married men, this points to the high value placed on home life by the early Christians and (4) good managers of their children and households, shows the need for parental and leadership skills in the home. Negatively: they are (1) Not double-tongued, but rather straight-talking, absolutely trustworthy and consistent in speech; (2) Not addicted to wine, opposed to any level of consumption that results in the loss of self-control; (3) Not fond of sordid gain, resistant to temptations to misappropriate funds entrusted to their care. To put these negatives positively, they are to manifest self-control in three areas: speech, drink, and money.

Paul also says they should be tested (13) “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.” This indicates the congregations involvement in their selection. So, you want to elect men to the diaconate who possess all three qualifications: desire for service, commitment to the truth and Christian character.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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