The Marks of the Church: Order, Part 3
The Marks and Works of the Church
Order, Part 3
This morning we will be continuing our series on the second mark of the church, Order. Two weeks ago, we dealt with spiritual order. The idea I communicated there was that Christ is King of the Church.
Last week, we discussed the first part of physical order. We started last week by exploring Matthew 16. In that passage, Jesus gives to Peter, who stands for the church global and local, the keys of the kingdom of heaven. These keys symbolize authority. Jesus, in his earthly ministry, gives to the church a delegated authority. This authority is legitimate.
“The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”
The local church is not peripheral to God’s purposes in the world. If you call CBC your home church, CBC is not peripheral to your walk with Christ. CBC should be central to your Christian faith. Christ has given to CBC the authority to shape and guide your walk with Christ.
This authority that Jesus has given to the church is ordered in a certain way. I argued last week for a three-tier structure to church authority on the basis Phil 1:1. Turn with me there. The passage reads, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Paul highlights three groups here: there are the saints, there are overseers, and there are deacons.
Last week we discussed overseers. I argued that the term overseer is a synonym for the term elder. Both terms can and are used to refer to the same office. Elders ought to meet certain qualifications and they have certain tasks. I explained these qualifications and tasks based on 1 Tim 3 and 1 Peter 5.
This week we will be discussing one of the other groups mentioned in Phil 1:1—deacons. This office of deacon gets its name from the Greek word διάκονος. This Greek word is used in the NT in two different ways—a general way and a specific way. The specific way refers to the office of deacon. In this specific way, the Greek word διάκονος is translated as “deacon.” In our passage from Phil 1:1, you see that the word “deacons” at the end of verse 1:1? The Greek word behind deacons is διάκονος. This is how διάκονος is narrowly defined. It refers to a formal office in the local church.
The word is also used in a general way. When the term διάκονος occurs in a more general manner it is not translated as “deacon.” Instead, it is translated as “servant,” “messenger,” or “assistant.” It is with this general way that I want to begin this morning.
We will first start with the general understanding of the Greek word διάκονος as “servant” and then move to the specific understanding of the Greek word διάκονος as “deacon.” We will interpret the office of deacon in light of a theology of service. So we start with the broad meaning of the term διάκονος and then move to the specific meaning of the term.
A Theology of Service
This is my first point this morning, “A Theology of Service.” With this point, we want to ask the question, “Using the term διάκονος, how does Scripture define the ideas of a ‘servant’ and of ‘service?’” That’s the question we want to answer with this first point of “A Theology of Service.” For this question, turn with me to Mark 10:44. We will read through verse 45.
Before I read it, let me explain the context. This passage is set within the context of a dispute between the 12 disciples regarding who would have pride of place in the Kingdom of God, who could sit at Jesus’ right and left in the kingdom. Jesus uses this as a teaching lesson regarding greatness. Beginning in verse 42, this is Jesus’ response.
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But sit shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Use of “Servant” and “To Serve.”
What I want to do first with this passage is point out to you the usage of the use of διάκονος in this passage. It occurs at the end of verse 43. Jesus states that in order to be great, the disciples must become “your servant.” Behind this English word “servant” is the Greek word διάκονος. Now notice that it is not translated as “deacon.” Instead, it is translated as “servant.”
Also, look at 45. In this verse, Jesus uses the verb form of the word διάκονος. Jesus states that he came not to “be served” but “to serve.” In both of those places, the verb form of διάκονος is used. So, Jesus himself is a deacon—he is the one who serves others. He is a servant. He is the one who διάκονος. He is the one who serves.
Theology of “Servant” and “Service”
Now that we’ve seen that the term διάκονος is used here, along with its verb form, how does Jesus define service? As I discussed in a previous, Jesus Christ—his word and his example—is the cornerstone. He is the criteria, he is the idea, he is the thought we want to uphold. Jesus defines service as the personal enslavement of oneself to others. Jesus defines service as the personal enslavement of oneself to others.
Beginning in verse 43, Jesus uses the term διάκονος. The ESV translates this as “servant.” Now notice verse 44. Verse 44 features a parallelism. Jesus repeats what he said in verse 43 in verse 44, but he uses different words to express the same idea. What word in verse 44 occurs in place of “servant” in verse 43? Slave. Slave. This is how one NT dictionary defines this word slave, “one who is solely committed to another.”
Jesus contrasts this idea of service as enslavement with the idea of how the Gentiles, nonChristians, act. Jesus explains in verse 42 that worldly greatness includes heavy-handedness and domination. Jesus states, “the Gentiles lord it over” their subjects and the Gentile rulers “exercise authority over” their subjects. The verb “lord it over” is “to have mastery, be master.” The idea is one of brute strength. This is a top-down smashing. The idea is of enslaving a people for one’s own purposes.
“Service,” according to Jesus Christ, is the opposite of this. A “servant” is one who enslaves themselves, not others, for the sake of others. Servants are called to exercise their own personal freedom to deny themselves freedom. Servants are called to willingly place other people above themselves. Service is to give up all freedoms and rights you have as a Christian for the freedoms and rights of others. A servant is someone who willingly subjects themselves to someone else. Someone who relinquishes their freedoms and pleasures for other the freedom and pleasures of others.
Well, how far do you take this attitude of “service?” It goes all the way to the point of death. Look what Jesus says in verse 45. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is the true servant. He is the true model of service. His service extends to the idea of death. His enslavement to the needs of his people went to the point of him giving up his life for them. He love for the many meant that he gave up his life. “Service” is defined by his life. Just as Jesus took his service to the cross, so also we as “servants” take our enslavement to the point of death.
This idea of death can be literal or metaphorical. There might be a time when you must lay your life down for someone else. This is the love of Christ—to literally lay your life down. More likely, however, is the idea of metaphorically laying down your life for someone. This happens every day. Every day we must battle the flesh, battle the inclinations and urges that tell us, “You know what? ‘You do you’ today. You put you first. Let other people serve you. Well I’ll have a servant’s heart when people start serving me and showing me attention.” This is a daily, constant struggle. Every day, though, Christ calls us to abandon self and lay our lives down for others. To sacrifice ourselves so that others might be benefitted.
Service, according to Jesus Christ, is to willingly enslave yourselves to others, even to the point of death.
The Duties of Deacons
With that theology under our belts, let’s move to the office of deacon. Particularly, we will discuss the function of deacons first. This is my second point this morning. The Duties of Deacons. And then we will move to the qualifications of a deacon.
The notion of service that we gathered from Mark 10 is the lens by which deacons ought to be understood. All Christians ought to be deacons in a sense. All Christians ought to be servants. Deacons, though, are servants in a formalized way in the church. Because they are deacons, their function is to serve. In order to better understand this idea, turn to Acts 6.
Acts 6 provides us a model for how deacons are to function. In this passage, there arises a problem with the church in Jerusalem. This problem is highlighted in verse 1. It’s a “complaint” made by the Greek-speaking Christians against the Hebrew-speaking Christians that the Greekspeaking Christian widows were not being cared for properly. The church was growing, and new problems arose.
In response to this problem, the apostles called for a meeting. Verse 2 states that. I’m not sure if they used Robert’s Rules of Order. They probably did. The decision they made was that the apostles should focus on prayer and preaching. Look at verse 4. They state, “We will devote ourselves ‘to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” For this specific problem with the food distribution, they would raise up a group of men to address the problem. The apostles said, verse 3, “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” Verse 5 has the resolution. “And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”
I want you to understand these men who were appointed for this task as proto-deacons. The term “deacons” is not used in the passage to identify these men. Nevertheless, these men serve as a model for how we are to understand the function of deacons.
Deacons, like these men chosen in Acts 6 who serve the apostles, function to serve the congregation at the behest of the elders. The duties of the elders are to be devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. They are required to uphold and proclaim orthodoxy.
There are many issues that happen in a church, though. Facilities, benevolence, finances, ushers, logistics, etc. There are thousands of things that happen at a church. Only some of them regard prayer and preaching. These other issues are within the purview of deacon duty. They are to serve the elders by freeing the elders to focus shepherding and teaching.
Deacons are servants. They serve the elders and the congregation by taking care of needs beyond those that elders are called to. Their service is spiritual but it’s a different type of spiritual leadership than the elders. They minister the gospel to the church through the accomplishment of ordinary tasks.
The Qualifications of Deacons
For our last point, we will discuss the qualifications for deacons. Our main text for this will be 1 Timothy 3. But before we move there, let’s stay in Acts 6 and look at the qualities these men had who were chosen as by the apostles.
Look at verse 3. “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” These men were “of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom.” Look at what verse 5 says about Stephen. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” These men were known for one thing—character. These were men of character, Christian character.
Notice what it doesn’t say about them. It doesn’t say they were handy with tools, knowledgeable about budgets, advanced in logistics and operations. While these are good qualities, these are not the qualities of these proto-deacons. Instead, they were persons of godly character. In the church, God wants godly leaders. He wants persons of character. Character, character, character. Godliness is what ultimately matters. God cares about the heart. He wants deacons who love him first and foremost.
1 Tim 3
This idea is reiterated in 1 Timothy 3. Turn with me there. We will begin in verse 8. As we did with elders last week, we will walk through each qualification and discuss them.
The first qualification is that a deacon must be dignified. Verse 8 states, “Deacons likewise must be dignified.” This is a general noun referring to overall character of the deacon. It has these definitions: “worthy of respect/honor, noble, dignified, serious” and “of characteristics, states of being, and things honorable, worthy, venerable, holy, above reproach.” This is a positive statement regarding the character of a deacon. What follows are three statements regarding what a deacon is not to be.
The second qualification, mentioned in verse 8, is that a deacon must not be “double tongued.” The Greek word for “double-tongued” occurs only one time in the NT. It first connotates integrity in speech. The way a deacon talks must manifest the idea of integrity. It could refer to speaking one way to one person and speaking a different thing to another, like a gossiper or a liar. Or, it could mean not sharing people’s personal business with others in the church. Deacons would serve people and hear of their problems. They must be trusted to not share sensitive information with people who have no need to hear.
Next, deacons cannot be “addicted to much wine.” The idea here is not difficult to discern. Deacons can consume alcohol but must be discipled if they are to consume it.
Fourth, deacons cannot be “greedy for dishonest gain.” In his instruction for elders, Paul writes that they must not be a “lover of money” (1 Tim 3:3). For, as Paul says elsewhere, “the love of money is the root of all types of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The same idea is here. This prohibition is part of a general ethic for minsters of the gospel. “The concern for a dispassionate regard for money on the part of church leaders is widely recognized (cf. 1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 5:2)” (Towner, Timothy, 263).
For the fifth qualification, Paul mentions in verse 9 is that deacons must “hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.” There are two parts to this qualification. The first is experiential; the second cognitive.
Regarding the experiential part, a deacon must “hold” the faith “with a clear conscience.” The verb “hold” means to “keep” or “persevere.” The way this holding is to occur is modified by a prepositional phrase—“with a clear conscience.” The “conscience” is “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong” (BDAG). It comes from God because we are made in God’s image. It’s that still small voice that either convicts you of your sins or excuses you when accusations are brought. A “clear” conscience is one that is not plagued by thoughts of guilt, wrath, and self-hatred. It is one that has been cleansed by the blood of
Jesus Christ. Hallelujah for the blood of Christ. That which cleanses us. One of my college professors said, “A clean conscience is the softest pillow at night.” The idea is that a clean conscience means that a person is at peace with themselves and their life choices. A deacon must have a cleansed conscience and they must cling to life-giving doctrine. This leads us to the cognitive part of this qualification.
Deacons must hold to, cling to “the mystery of faith.” What’s this mean? This “mystery” refers to the is that God had hidden his plan of redemption in the OT but has now revealed it in the person and work of Christ. Look at 1 Tim 3:15. Paul uses this word “mystery” in this passage and it helps us understand how he uses it with reference to deacons. We’ll read through verse 16. It reads, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness. He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
I want you to interpret this passage geographically. It’s a U. The first line “he was manifested in the flesh” refers to the incarnation. He came from heaven to earth. While on earth, he was “vindicated by the Spirit.” I take this as the Holy Spirit’s work in raising Christ from the dead. “Seen by angels” refers to his post-resurrection appearances. “Proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world” refers to Jesus’ reception in the world. The last line “taken up in glory” refers to Jesus’ ascension. Acts 1 discusses this. So the idea is that he pre-existed in heaven, came to earth, died, was raised, was preached and worshiped, and went back into heaven. It’s a U.
This is the “mystery of faith” that deacons must “hold to . . . with a clean conscience.” They must know these doctrines—the incarnation, Jesus’ earthly ministry, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. These require cognitive maturation. Deacons must believe them and hold to them. This cognitive requirement does not go as far as what elders are called to. Elders are called to teach and defend good doctrine. This is a level
of knowledge that surpasses deacons. Nevertheless, deacons still must be mature enough in their faith that they know the mystery of the faith.
Verse 10 specifies, not a moral qualification, but a means of ensuring that deacons have these qualifications. Deacons are required to go through a period of testing. This testing is imperative as well. The texts provides us an if/then construction. The second part of verse 10, “let them serve as deacons, if they prove themselves deacons.” To be a deacon is not a popularity test. It’s not if “you know the right people.” That’s all worldly
thinking. To be a deacon is to manifest certain moral and theological qualities and to have those qualities demonstrated through a period of testing.
Verse 11 is a difficult verse to interpret. There are two interpretations to it. One interpretation is to see it how the ESV translates it. “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” This interpretation places a requirement for male deacons upon their wives. For a deacon to be a deacon, that man must have a godly wife. That’s one interpretation. Another interpretation is that verse 11 is referring to female deacons. That interpretation render verse 11 as, “The women likewise must be must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” The question centers on how to interpret the first Greek word of verse 11—either as “wives” or as “women.” The word can be taken in both senses. You can find good, godly, doctrinally-sound people on both sides. The decision is not easy. Our church does not have a formal position on this. It is a topic of discussion we elders need to have. Further, it is not a position I have developed a conviction regarding either. For this weekend, I’m going to punt on it and not discuss it.
Verse 12 reiterates a qualification that Paul mentioned for elders in verse 4. Deacons are to pure in their hearts. No infidelity. No pornography. They are to love their wives well, if they are married. And they are to have submissive and obedient children. Deacons are called to a similar calling of elders—they are to be godly persons in their homes.
The last verse, verse 13, does not introduce a further qualification but rather two rewards for those deacons who “serve well.” First, “they gain a good standing for themselves.” Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10 that those who want to be great must be a servant, a deacon, of all? Remember that? The idea that Paul is stating here is that for those who serve well they will be great. They will be regarded with respect, love, and affection by others. They will be “great.” Second, deacons who serve well will gain “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” The idea here is that faithfully serving as a deacon means that the deacons faith will increase. They will gain “great boldness” as they serve faithfully. Their obedience will beget more obedience in them. Obedience leading to obedience. That’s the idea.
We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning. We discussed a theology of service, the duties of deacons, and the qualifications of deacons. I want to leave you with two points of application—one for the general body and one for the deacons (and those who aspire to be a deacon).
For the general body: We are all called to serve. Jesus is very clear about that. As Christians, we are to follow Christ. Christ laid down his life for us. He took the initiative. He didn’t wait to be served but sought service. Considering that theology, are you serving? Are you actively, consistently enslaving yourself to others? Or are you waiting for others to serve you. Husbands, are you serving your wives? Wives, are you serving your husbands? Children, are you serving your siblings? Are you making it your goal to share, not to take? Church members, are you serving this church, these people? Our life as Christians is a life of love and sacrifice. Serve others. Follow Jesus.
For the deacons: We saw that the requirements for the office of deacon boil to character issues. Deacons are to be pure; they are to have a clean conscience, they are to be sober-minded, and not given to gossip. They are to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Deacons, where are you at in your walk with Christ? Is he your joy and delight? Does he overflow out of you? Or are you given to impurity, dissension, gossip, and drunkenness? What is your character like? The office is a high calling. Test yourselves to see if you are fit for the office.
Pray with me.