Those Who Serve Well
I Timothy 3:1-13
What a blessing today is. It is a recognition that God has been at work. When Paul became a Christian in the Damascus road experience, his call was not only to have his sins forgiven and to go to heaven, but also to become a servant of God. In a similar way, when we are called to follow Christ, that following involves more than just our sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life. It also means that we are servants of Christ. Today you are beginning a new phase in following Christ as His servants. You have already demonstrated by your life that you are, not only Christians, but disciples and servants of Christ. The congregation has recognized the call of God in your life and has recognized your Spirit given gifts and has asked you to take up a significant leadership role within the church. All of that - God’s call to salvation, God working in and through you in the service you have been involved in, God’s call through the congregation to become deacons, your sense of that call and willingness to serve - all are indications of God at work and that is why we rejoice at this occasion.
Although every person is significant and every person’s ministry is important in the church, there are some roles within the church that carry more responsibility than others. Because the deacon ministry is such a significant responsibility we have a special commissioning service to ask God’s blessing in the task of leadership.
As we reflect on the importance of the ministry you are taking up, it is a good time to ask, what does it all mean? Is it something blessed of God? Is it something that God values? What will it mean to fulfill the role well? To answer some of these questions, we will look at one of the discussions about leadership which is found in the Bible. In I Timothy 3:1-13, Paul instructs Timothy regarding these issues as they pertain to the church which Timothy was leading. The instructions are valuable in helping us reflect on the important ministry you are taking up.
I. It’s A Good Thing
The first thing the text shows us is that this ministry is a good thing.
A. A Noble Task
We have already encountered the phrase “Here is a trustworthy saying” which Paul uses several times in these books to indicate something that is significant. Although it is directed at overseers, the first category of leaders spoken of in this section, I think that it pertains to all positions of leadership. If you desire to be a leader, that is a good thing. This may have been written because people were reluctant to take up the office of overseer and so Paul encourages them that it is a good thing.
Of course, not every person who takes up a leadership position does so for a good reason. There are some people who are looking for the prestige of a position or the power that may come with a position. They are looking at it as a position in which they can meet their own needs. However, it can be equally selfish to refuse leadership because it looks like too much work. I am sure that is not the case for you. We believe that your heart is to be a servant and to serve gladly.
As you begin to take up leadership in the role of deacons, you may have various trepidations. You may ask yourself, “Am I really qualified?” “Am I able to do the task?” “Will I be able to give myself to it adequately?” These are good questions, but as you ask them, rest in the truth Paul gives here that it is a good thing, a noble task. We are rejoicing at your willingness and hope it will be a ministry of blessing for you.
B. Excellent Standing
As a further word of encouragement, Paul concludes the passage, speaking now specifically to deacons, but, I think, also to all leaders, to encourage them of the blessings that will come with leadership. This word of blessing is found in verse 13.
Here, the Word first of all is “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing.” There has been some debate about the meaning of “good standing.” Some suggest that if you do well as a deacon, you have a good chance of being promoted to another level of leadership. I do not think that the meaning is anything so crass. I think that a better interpretation is that those who serve well in leadership, first of all grow in their wisdom and ability and as a result are able to have a positive influence in the lives of people. The blessing of leadership is that if we do it well, we can make a difference and help many. It is a blessing to be able to help others and faithful ministry will bring such a blessing, which will be a blessing on those we serve and also on us.
I suppose that in another way of speaking the text is saying that faithful ministry will bring blessing and therefore it is a good thing.
C. Assurance In Faith
The other reward mentioned here is that “those who serve well gain…great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” During the winter, I have helped a few people teach a class I was usually teaching. I provided them with material and gave them the opportunity to do the teaching. Several of them came back to me afterwards and indicated that they had learned more as teacher than they usually did as a student. That is the way it is in the ministry. When we give of ourselves, when we prepare a lesson, when we open our eyes to the needs of others because we are responsible, when we give leadership to a project, in the process, we are the ones who gain the most.
As you will be involved in the ministry of being deacons, you will grow in your faith and in your walk in Christ. You will see more of how God is at work in the lives of people. You will discover God’s help because you need it to minister in a situation which is beyond you and as you have these experiences with God, your own faith and confidence in Christ will be strengthened.
Once again, there is encouragement that the task of leadership is a good thing.
This is the first thing I would like to say to you who are being commissioned and to all of us - being a leader in God’s kingdom is a good thing.
II. The Job Description
I have been suggesting that these things pertain to both overseers and deacons. Who was this written to? Does it matter? What are the Biblical leadership positions? My understanding of the little bit of reading that I have done on church leadership in the Bible is that at this early time in the church, leadership was emerging. Some of it was modeled on existing leadership patterns which had been in the Jewish synagogue and some of it was developed for the sake of meeting a need. In Acts 6, for example, a group of leaders were put into place for the purpose of meeting the need of Greek widows. In Acts 14:23, we read about how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church they had established. The terms elders, overseer, shepherd and deacon are commonly used to describe the different leadership roles.
From these passages and others, we learn that an overseer was a person who was giving leadership in the church, leadership which included teaching the Word of God(verse 2). The deacon role seems to be one of helping and serving. The main idea comes from the meaning of the Greek word “deacon” which is servant. In fact, in some places, the word deacon is translated as servant.
Another thing to note from this passage about the different roles is verse 11. NIV and several other translations use the word “their wives,” but you will notice that in the margin of those Bibles it says “deaconesses.” The word “their” does not appear in the Greek and the translation “their wives” comes from reasoning not from the actual words. I believe that the New American Standard translation, which is “women” and would probably refer to women deacons is more accurate. We know that there were such positions because in Romans 16:1, Phoebe is identified as a deaconess.
What can we learn from this? I believe that we should not be too concerned to follow all the details about the leadership roles described in the Bible because they were changing, growing and developing as needed. The very early leaders took position because of their giftedness. Later leaders were appointed by the apostles and the congregations. Later in church history, leadership developed into organized structures such as we have today and that is just fine. What is true of all leadership, however, is that it involves the call of God. As we have prayed together and discerned as a congregation, you have come here today because of God’s call.
III. The Standards
So it is a good thing to be called of God and to follow that call and become a leader. The question remains, “how can we be faithful and effective leaders?”
As leaders we have a position of influence both within the church and viewed by those outside the church. Although all Christians are to be holy and some of the qualifications in this passage are also written to all Christians in other parts of the book. For example, 1:5 speaks of love, a pure heart and a good conscience and 2:2 speaks of godliness and holiness. Nevertheless, there is a different level of responsibility as a leader.
When we look at this list of standards, we should not look at them as what is required of someone before they can become a leader. For you as leaders, it is a way of thinking about how to carry out the responsibility as a leader with faithfulness. I would encourage the leaders in our church to take this list seriously as they think about who they are, how they live and act. People are watching your example. They will see how you live, and therefore, how you live and lead matters. The challenge for leaders is to live by a high standard.
However, for those who are not leaders, I would ask for grace for those who are leaders. All leaders have their flaws and will not be perfect. No leader will always follow all of these things perfectly. They are sinners saved by grace just like the rest of us. So I would encourage you not to put leaders on a pedestal. Rather, pray for them and encourage them. If you see any leader fail in some respect, don’t be afraid to confront them gently and then promise to pray for them that they can be faithful.
There is some repetition and some of the qualities are the same for both overseers and deacons. There are 9 qualifications in the list of deacons and only 2 cannot be paralleled in the list of overseer qualifications. Because of today’s context, deacon commissioning, let us look at the standards of lifestyle required by those who are deacons. I will be following the list as it appears for deacons in verses 8-13.
A. Worthy of Respect
The first word is that leaders must be “worthy of respect.” This phrase is written for both deacons (vs. 8) and deaconesses (vs.11). When the leaders were chosen to serve the widows in Acts 6, the kind of people they were looking for was “men of good reputation.” In the list for overseers in vs. 7 it also says that they should have “a good reputation with outsiders.”
Being worthy of respect is not about putting on a show so you will look good. It is about being worthy of respect in every part of life because it is the right thing to do. You wouldn’t have gotten here if you weren’t respected but let me encourage you to continue to live in such a way that you will be respected.
B. Not Double-tongued
The next word in NIV is “sincere” which is already stretching quite a way into interpretation. The actual Greek word would be better translated “double tongued.” This could refer to a person not being slanderous or a gossip, which would be important for someone who deals with the intimate details of other people’s lives. In verse 11, “not malicious talkers” appears in the instructions to deaconesses. In verse 4, overseers are told not to be quarrelsome. Another way of looking at this idea of being double tongued is that it means that you don’t say one thing to A and another to B, in other words, being sincere.
Honesty, compassion, keeping confidences, not gossiping, not hurting others with words are all important qualifications of those who would serve others. May God help you keep control of that wildest of all body parts - the tongue.
C. Not a Drinker
In a society where wine was common drink, over drinking was a danger. Both overseers and deacons are told in much the same language not to give in to indulging in wine.
We live in a context in which we expect all Christians to exercise caution in their use of alcohol and many of us actually abstain. As a leader, your example in these matters is important. However, I think the application for us might be even broader inviting those in leadership to be in control and not to allow any addictive behaviour to cause you to stumble or to cause others to stumble.
D. Not Greedy
Recently we have seen the terrible scandals that can happen when people who have financial responsibility become greedy. The Sponsorship scandal and the improprieties that happened with the Crocus Investment Funds demonstrate that human beings can easily fall into temptation in the area of money. With the leaders involved in these two stories, greed led to deception and taking advantage for their own benefit.
As deacons, Paul mentions that you must make sure that you don’t fall prey to the same temptations. It is possible that the deacons of that day were responsible for financial matters. Perhaps they collected the money for alms or distributed those alms to the needy. This would put them in a place of financial responsibility and also temptation. That may well be why the text encourages the deacons that they should not be “pursuing dishonest gain.” However, overseers are also told that they should not be “a lover of money.”
Greed indicates that trust in God is not foremost and that is not a good example for a church leader.
E. Holding To The Mystery Of The Faith
The next quality by which deacons must live is to “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.”
Although overseers are to be teachers, as verse 2 indicates, deacons are not necessarily teachers. Nevertheless, their grasp of and adherence to the truth of God must be strong.
Holding to the deep truths indicates a firm grasp on God’s truth and a relationship with Him in which we have a growing understanding of who God is. We can never teach others what we do not ourselves possess. One of the most important things that you as leaders need to do is to nurture your own faith life. I have been reading a great book called “Spiritual Companions.” In this book, it talks about how the time we spend with God and the relationship we have with God will be the source out of which we will be able to minister to others. If we are not certain that God is with us through all the trials of life, how can we point to God when others are going through trials. If we do not cry out to God when we have questions, how can we encourage others to do the same? So it is important to nurture your own faith so that out of a deep walk with God you will be able to nurture others.
Holding to the mystery of the faith pertains to things that we know and things that we do. Holding to the deep truths of the faith means that we know what God’s truth is. “With a clear conscience” means that it is operative in our own lives. One writer says that these ideas, “combine a good grasp of Christian theology with a morally blameless life.”
May God draw you to Himself. May you respond to His drawing and discover the amazing things of God so that you can pass it on to others as a leader in the church.
Most of the qualifications listed for deaconesses have already been covered. As we noted, “worthy of respect” is spoken of for both. The use of the tongue is also referred to already and being temperate is much like being worthy of respect. The only one that is unique here and I think worthy of note for all leaders - deacons, overseers, deacon’s wives or deaconesses is to be “Trustworthy in everything.”
Being trustworthy means that our word is good. We have sometimes heard the illustration of banking trust. If I say that I will be somewhere at 2:00 and I am there at 2:00 and every time I say that I will be there, I am there, then if I am ever late, you will know that there is a good reason. Whether in the promises we make, the appointments we keep, the financial deals we commit to, trustworthiness means that we can be counted on.
May the leaders in this church live in such a way that the people of this congregation can count on us in every way.
G. Managing His Household Well
Finally we note that there are a number of comments related to family life. These comments are made both for deacons and overseers. Overseers are told to be “the husband of but one wife. As are deacons. The overseers is told that he must “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” Then the comment is added, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church.” Deacons are told in verse 12, “he must manage his children and his household well.”
The statement about being the “husband of but one wife” is difficult. It seems a little weak to merely reduce it to encouragement that deacons be faithful in their marriage, as good advice as that is. Some have suggested that this means that a deacon must be married, but why then would “one” be emphasized? Some have understood it at face value that a minister or deacon can not by polygamous, in which case it is easy to follow since we can’t be that way legally anyway. Others have suggested that a minister or deacon cannot marry again after divorce or widowhood. That seems rather harsh since in another passage Paul encourages those who are widowed to remarry. Any of these are possible, but what is most important is that as you look at your future as a deacon, a good relationship to the person who is your spouse matters. Make your marriage a matter of priority so that you can minister out of the strength of a good marriage.
The encouragement to manage your family well is another good point. Some have left ministry because they have adult children who have not embraced the faith. I do not think that that is what is meant here. Rather, I think it means that as a leader, you cannot neglect your children. They are the first ministry for which you are responsible. This is a warning that we cannot serve so diligently that we lose our own children due to neglect. As deacons, I would like to encourage you not to fall into the temptation to do so much that you do not minister to your family. I would like to encourage you not to give in to the temptation to be nice to everyone else, but allow your family to catch your negative side. Rather, I would encourage you to see your family as a ministry, to live a good example in your family and to teach them first by example. If you do that, you will have the wisdom and practice to carry out the same kind of a valuable ministry in the church.
I would like to encourage you who are taking up these roles today. You have been called by this congregation. Your call is a good thing and we would like to bless you in the role.
I would also like to encourage you as you take up these roles to do them by the standards that we have looked at this morning. May God help you carry out your ministry with integrity and faithfulness.
Finally, I would like to challenge all who are leaders in this church with the same standards of ministry. Whether you are leading a committee, teaching a Sunday School class or being a youth sponsor, you are in a position of responsibility. May God help all of us who are in leadership be faithful to the role he has called us to and in the way he has called us to carry it out.