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Deacons: The Character of a Servant

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Deacons  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  48:30
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What should we expect of the character of a man who is called to serve as a deacon? Find out in this message from 1 Timohty 3:8-13.

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Introduction

Last week, we began our two-week study on deacons.
We looked back at to see that God gave deacons to the church to serve him and the church by meeting needs within the body. They are to be godly men who enable the pastor to focus on his primary calling by helping minister to those in unique situations of need as well as helping communicate and care for all the members of the body.
The question, then, is what kind of man is God calling to serve as a deacon?
If a deacon is going to serve people when they are at their lowest, then he needs to be a man of highest character.
Thankfully, God has given us a clear set of qualifications these men are to have.
We find them in , so go ahead and turn over there.
While you are turning, I want to acknowledge that some of the qualifications God gives in this passage leave some room for interpretation. As our leadership team prayed and studied both God’s Word and other resources, we prayerfully adopted what we believe to be the best interpretation at this time.
In fact, one of the resources we consulted heavily was a book by Alexander Strauch called The New Testament Deacon: The Churchs’ Ministers of Mercy. I wanted to reference that particular book because I used it heavily in the preparation of this message.
Before we even begin to look at these qualifications, let me address a concern that may arise.
Keep in mind that God has given us these qualifications.
By definition, any time that you have qualifications given, there will be some who do not meet those qualifications.
Are we saying that, if someone doesn’t meet all the criteria, they can’t serve Jesus and his church?
Not at all! This isn’t saying that a person isn’t saved or that they cannot serve the Lord in other ways; it simply means they cannot serve as a deacon.
Now, if there is a sin issue that needs to be dealt with, then you should deal with it and get right with the Lord, not because you want to be a deacon, but because it is the right thing to do.
Why these qualifications?
Think back to the roles a deacon fulfills. He is to provide a godly example to the church, so he has to model a God-honoring lifestyle. He is going to be involved in sensitive situations, so he must be trustworthy with information and resources.
Would you want a man with a reputation for greed ministering to your widowed mother? How about a gossip and a slanderer who had access to information about who had financial needs in the church or who was having family trouble?
God entrusts these men with great responsibility, so he lays out great qualifications.
Let’s read together.
1 Timothy 3:8–13 CSB
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. They must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons are to be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
We can divide these qualifications into two main categories and then, in verse 13, we will make a general observation about the joy of being a deacon.

1) Personal Character

Our first concern with a deacon’s character is his personal moral character.
Paul gives us five different moral qualifications in this passage.
Where you can’t draw a hard and fast line, I am reminded a statement I once heard John Piper make. He was being asked to make a judgement call about an area that wasn’t as specific as some would like, and he replied:
“The impossibility of drawing a line between night and day doesn't mean you can't know it's midnight.” (John Piper) (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/piper-on-pastors-pay. Accessed 20 September 2017)
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/piper-on-pastors-pay
A) Worthy of respect (8)
As we dive in, let’s recognize that these are not always as specific as you might want, but they paint a picture for us of a man’s general character.
They may not always be as specific as you might want, but they paint a picture for us of a man’s general character.
Where you can’t draw a hard and fast line, I am reminded a statement I once heard John Piper make. He was being asked to make a judgement call about an area that wasn’t as specific as some would like, and he replied:
“The impossibility of drawing a line between night and day doesn't mean you can't know it's midnight.” (John Piper) (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/piper-on-pastors-pay. Accessed 20 September 2017)
This is true of the first qualification.
The emphasis here is connected to the apostle’s requirements of the first deacons, back in :
Acts 6:3 CSB
Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.
The men God is calling to serve must have a good reputation within the church family.
Although not everyone at church has to know them, those who do know them should be able to enthusiastically recommend them to serve the church in this way.
They should demonstrate a recent history of serving Christ and his church in such a way that they are an example of godly men to those around them.
They should demonstrate the presence and activity of God in their lives, and they should show that by making wise decisions and living in a wise manner.
That ties in closely to the next character trait given, which is that they must...
B) Not Hypocritical (8)
Because God is calling these men to serve the church in tough times, they have to be men of integrity.
Here, that integrity is pointed at the way they speak.
The word translated here as “hypocritical” is rendered in other translations as “double-tongued” or “insincere.”
The picture is of a person saying one thing to one person and another to someone else.
They must be men who stand by their word and who, as much as possible, stand by what they say they believe.
That would cover pretty much any form of manipulation, insincerity, or lying. (Strauch, Ministers of Mercy, 97)
If a man is known for saying one thing and doing another, or if he is known for saying different things around different people, then God says that he is not fit to serve the church as a deacon.
Like Dr. Seuss’ character Horton the Elephant, he must say what he means and mean what he says.
The qualifications God gives here go beyond simply integrity in his words. A deacon also has to show integrity in his actions, which is demonstrated by being...
C) Wise concerning the use of alcohol (8)
This phrase is one of the more challenging to interpret because of different cultural nuances throughout history.
The phrase literally translates as, “not given to much wine.”
Let’s try to work through this together.
I want to establish two things this morning:
First, no matter what I say this morning about alcohol, someone is going to be unhappy. I am either going to be too harsh or too lenient, so I am going to be honest with where I am today and how I understand God’s Word.
Second, know that I do not drink. In fact, I have never consumed an alcoholic beverage in my life. Since I have made it this far, it is likely I may never consume one. That doesn’t make me better than anyone, it simply means that my struggle against sin manifests itself in other ways.
With that said, let’s try to unpack quickly what the Bible says about alcohol.
The Bible is clear that drunkenness is a sin. We see that in passages like , , and .
It also gives strong warnings to avoid the dangers of consuming alcohol, such as this passage:

Those who linger over wine;

those who go looking for mixed wine.

31 Don’t gaze at wine because it is red,

because it gleams in the cup

and goes down smoothly.

32 In the end it bites like a snake

and stings like a viper.

Proverbs 23:29–32 CSB
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has conflicts? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has red eyes? Those who linger over wine; those who go looking for mixed wine. Don’t gaze at wine because it is red, because it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a snake and stings like a viper.
Yet, at the same time, although many would disagree, the Bible seems to stop short of a full prohibition of consuming alcohol.
Because of that, we take the biblical qualifaction for a deacon to be that he is wise concerning his use of alcohol.
For me, I would rather that we didn’t drink it at all. Many of you can give story after story of families who have been ruined by alcohol, and to me, it doesn’t seem worth the risk, which is why I personally don’t.
However, if you are going to drink, I would ask you to prayerfully consider if it is a wise course of action.
If a man is known for always having a beer in his hand or for unwise use of alcohol, he is not qualified to serve the church.
Not only do his words and his actions have to be exemplary, he must also have exemplary motives, which is demonstrated by...
D) Not greedy (8)
A man who is going to serve as a deacon has to have financial integrity in how he gains and spends his money.
If he is greedy, he cannot serve the church in this role.
Why? Because remember, one of the primary roles of a deacon is to help minister to people in their lowest moments.
He may be responsible for helping coordinate the church meeting a financial need that a family has.
If he is greedy, he can’t do that with integrity.
Additionally, if he is greedy, he may well attempt to take advantage of someone in a week moment and use it for personal gain.
Greediness for money may also indicate that his desire is for power and notoriety, so he is serving as a deacon for what he will get and not what he can give.
By the way, remember that greed has nothing to do with how much is in your bank account.
Remember, the Bible doesn’t say that money is evil, it says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
1 Timothy 6:10 CSB
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
There is a big difference there!
I have known good, godly men who have been entrusted by God with large amounts of money. They earned it in God-honoring ways, and they use those resources to further the work of the kingdom of God in ways that those with fewer resources can’t.
On the flip side, those with fewer resources can be greedy, selfish, and stingy, because they want to hold on to every penny they have instead of trusting God with their finances.
That’s why we said this is a motivation issue—a deacon’s heart cannot be captivated by money.
All of these traits come out of the final personal characteristic we see, which is that he must have a...
E) Good understanding of the Bible and its truth (9)
This is the idea behind the statement that he must “[hold to] the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”
A deacon must be a man with a good understanding of the truth of God’s Word.
He doesn’t have to be a scholar, nor does he have to be a teacher; however, he should have a strong personal understanding of the story of the Bible.
He should understand the key truths or doctrines, and he should be striving to learn and understand more.
More than simply knowing these truths, though, he also must be able to hold them with a clear conscience.
The mystery of
He has to truly believe them and strive to live them out in greater ways.
How do we know if someone meets these criteria? That’s laid out in verse 10...
Although we don’t know all the specific details yet, those men who the church feels may be qualified to serve as deacon will be given some questions to answer and go through a formal interview to make sure there is no hesitation or reservation that they are qualified to serve.
Only after that will they be installed as a deacon.
This might be a good time to answer another question: what if no one is ready to serve as a deacon.
First, let me say that I believe there are men in this church God has equipped to serve in this role, and they could step into it today (and no, I’m not going to tell you who they are).
However, they may not feel the same way. If they don’t feel like they are called and equipped for this role at this time, then we will prayerfully begin the process of trying to raise up men to be qualified to serve.
There may be a group of men who feel like they aren’t ready yet, and perhaps we will take a few months and help them grow to the point where both they and the church are comfortable with them serving in that role.
We will cross that bridge when we get there, but we trust God is working.
With that brief aside, we also see that God gives several family qualifications for a deacon.
Again, these may be a little ambiguous, so let’s try to make sense of it all together.

2) Family Character

A) Wife of similar character (if married) (11)
This passage is a little tricky, because it just says, “Women, likewise...” in the Greek.
So, why do we say this is a deacon’s wife?
Well, if you look back at , it seems that God has set up creation so that men are to be the primary leaders in the church.
I know that may not be popular in our culture, but it is what God indicates.
Again, that doesn’t mean that women can’t serve the church in lots of ways, but specifically in the case of named offices of pastor/elder/bishop, and deacon, men are called to step up.
Additionally, if women were included as deacons, it doesn’t make sense to basically repeat almost the same characterstics for them. They would have been included in the first set.
With that in mind, then, this seems to be referring to a deacon’s wife’s character.
She may be called on to come alongside her husband as he ministers to hurting families, so she too needs to be a woman of integrity in her words and conduct.
There may be moments where together, they come alongside a hurting couple and help them put a marriage back together.
If a single mom needs help, she may be called on to go with her husband.
So, because she will likely be called on to assist her husband, a deacon’s wife needs to have a similar moral character to that required of her husband.
Staying with the family theme, we then move to possibly the most contentious of all the qualifications
We talked at length about this, and although there are a variety of interpretations, the best we feel at this point
B) Not divorced & faithful to his wife (12)
I want to be the first to acknowledge that there are a variety of interpretations for this phrase.
Literally, Paul says a deacon is to be a “one woman man”.
Some try to make the case that this is referring to a man being monogamous and not a polygamist, but honestly, polygamy wasn’t widely practiced in the Roman world, so there wouldn’t be a reason to condemn it.
The phrase certainly doesn’t mean anything less than that a man would be faithful to his wife in every way.
His marriage is to be the model that God intends it to be of the relationship between Jesus and his church.
We see in that a man is supposed to love his wife with the same sacrificial, incredible love that Jesus shows us.
If he isn’t loving his wife well, either through neglect or intentional adultery and affairs, then he is corrupting the picture of Christ and the church and isn’t the example he needs to be.
Because the marriage picture represents the picture of Christ’s unlimited and never-ending love for us, we also believe that a deacon should not be divorced.
As we stated at the beginning, that doesn’t mean that a divorced man cannot serve the church in a variety of ways or is any less valuable to God or the church; it simply means he isn’t qualified to serve in this role.
That leads to the final qualification:
C) Manages household & children well (12)
Here is how Alexander Strauch explains this phrase, and I think it captures it well:
“This means he must be a responsible Christian father and househould manager. He must provide for his family—financially, emotionally, and spiritually. His home must not be on the verge of collapse.” (Alexander Strauch, 142).
It is safe to say that, if he has made it this far, this will likely be true of him as well.
That doesn’t mean his kids have to be perfect, his wife has to be in charge of this or that, or that they have to live in a certain neighborhood.
However, his family life should give evidence that he has lovingly led them to Christ as best he can.
So, then, if a man meets all these criteria, and he is approved by the church, let him serve.
This may have left you with one big question: why on earth would you want to put yourself through all this scrutiny?
Quickly, let’s see that there are at least two reasons from verse 13:

3) Rewards of Serving

A) Gain a better position to help influence and serve the church.
Paul says those who serve this role well acquire a good standing for themselves.
Does that mean we should strive to serve as a deacon so we can get ahead on the org chart and have some kind of special position?
Not at all. That idea runs completely contrary to the picture of servant leadership given in the New Testament.
Although these men are certainly men worthy of respect, the true reward is that God allows and equips them to serve the church in a greater way than they could before.
As a deacon, a man has a greater awareness of what is going on than most in the body, and he can use that position wisely to help the church grow and be strengthened.
So, by willingly serving well as a deacon, a man can then strategically help the church become all Christ desires her to be.
Not only that, though, he will also...
B) Gain a greater confidence in your own personal walk with Christ.
As he walks through the challenges that come, a good deacon will find himself praying harder than ever before.
He will wrestle with challenging situations that may seem humanly hopeless, just to watch God display his glory and come through in unimaginable ways.
Those moments will strengthen his own walk with Christ, giving him an even greater confidence in the truth of God’s Word, which equips him to serve even more faithfully, which grows him even more!
The qualifications for a deacon are certainly high. However, so is the reward.
As we pointed out last week, as the lead servants in the church, these men are some of the clearest pictures to us of how Christ served us on the cross.
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