The Appointment & Work of Deacons
Part Two

Introduction. In our previous lesson we considered the two texts which address the appointed servants in the Lord’s church known as “deacons.” We did this in connection with the elders request that the brethren consider if there are additional men qualified to serve in this role and those willing to serve. We looked at the appointment of these workers and some of their qualifications. In this lesson we will look further at some qualifications, their work and some things we can learn about their work from what they are called in the New Testament.

II. Their Qualifications. (Cont.)

  1. Paul’s Words to Timothy (I Tim. 3:8-13).
    1. Qualifications for their wives (vs. 11).

Is this addressing female deacons? Some have argued that this passage is not talking about the wives of those who would serve as deacons, but is actually giving qualifications for women to serve as deaconesses. Is this valid? [Note: the Greek word for woman & wife is the same - gune. Context must determine when it is speaking of someone’s wife and when it is talking about women in general.]

  1. We have already seen that a deacon must be the husband of one wife (I Timothy 3:12). A female deacon could not be the “husband of one wife.”
  2. It is much more reasonable to conclude, that since the very next verse addresses that the deacon must have only one woman (gune), the women (gune) addressed in verse 11 are the wives of these male deacons.
  3. What about Phoebe? (Romans 16:1,2). Many of your Bibles may show a footnote here that may say “or Deaconess.” It should be noted that the word translated servant here is the same as the word rendered deacon elsewhere. But, it should also be noted that this is a generic word for servant that can be used of non-appointed servants (cf. Romans 15:8 - Jesus). Was Jesus a deacon? No.
  4. Church history. Many reference books confuse the issue. Although most commentators accept without question that the early church had women deacons I would argue that they do so based on supposition more that evidence.
    1. The primary “evidence” comes from a letter written by the Roman governor Pliny describing his torture of two Christian women he says were called ministrae (the feminine form of the Latin word minister meaning “attendant, servant, helper, assistant, agent, accomplice” (Langenscheidt’s Latin-English Dictionary, p. 200). [Note: Minister is like deaconos a generic term for servant.]
    2. Concerning Pliny’s Letter to Trajan after translating ministrae “deaconesses” one scholar notes - “If so, this is the last reference to ‘deaconesses’ til the fourth century, when they attained some importance in the East. They seem to have been unknown in the West until the recent establishment of the office in the Anglican Church” (Documents of the Christian Church, by Henry Bettenson, p. 5).
    3. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church notes that in early documents - “The distinction between widows and deaconesses is rather obscure” (p. 380). There is no question that the early church offered regular support to qualified widows who had proven themselves to be “servants” of the church (see I Timothy 5:3-16). Was Phoebe such a widow?
  5. There are many ways that women can act as servants of the church, but not in the capacity of a deacon.

II. Their Qualifications. (Cont.)

  1. Paul’s Words to Timothy (I Tim. 3:8-13).
    1. Qualifications for their wives (vs. 11).
      1. Reverent. This is the feminine form of the word used in vs. 8 beginning the list of deacon’s qualifications. Just as a deacon is to have a disposition which knows when to be serious and to approach God with godly fear so must his wife. How the influence of a godly man can be compromised by the behavior of an irreverent and carnaly minded wife. (cf. Proverbs 31:23, 26 & 30).
      2. Not slanderers. The word translated “slanderer” is related to the name for the devil - He is the “slanderer.” How easy it is to speak bad about someone else. It makes us look better - or so we think. It is so enjoyable to spread a nugget of “dirt” about someone else - while we never think that one day we might be the one whom others talk about. A deacons wife (really all Christians for that matter) must not be this way. (Ephesians 4:29).
      3. Temperate. We observed in our lesson last Sunday night that this word - used of Elders in vs. 2 referred to “wineless” offering and the manner in which the priests were to go before the altar and into the tabernacle. A deacon’s wife must not drink alcoholic drinks at all. Then finally...
      4. Faithful in all things. What is the emphasis here? - To her husband? - To God? - To the Lord’s work? - To the church? The fact that this is modified by the phrase “in all things” suggests to us that the deacon’s wife must be an example of faithfulness in all of these areas.
        • There should be no question about her commitment to her husband.
        • She should be active and dilligent in her service in the Lord’s work, Bible study and attendence.

III. Their Name.

  1. Deacon - Diakonos (“minister” - “servant”).
    1. “Deacon” (3 - KJV).
    2. “Minister” (20 - KJV).
    3. “Servant” (7- KJV).
    4. Jesus - (Romans 15:8); Phoebe - (Romans 16:1,2) The meaning of the word tells us something about the work. These are servants. They look unto the needs of the church. Much as Bill Davis observed in his invitation Wednesday night, these are people who look to the interests of others and not just themselves.
    5. The church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1). These are special appointed workers. Here it is not used generically but of the title (as it describes the work of) these servants of the church. Note: there are many ways that all Christians can act as servants of the church, but not in the capacity of a deacon.

IV. Their Work.

  1. The seven in the church in Jerusalem.
    1. Practical needs of the church. Note: i.e. “serving tables” (vs. 2) vs. “ministry in the word” (vs. 4).
    2. Relieved Apostles of these tasks so they could concentrate on teaching the word. I believe this sets a pattern for the nature of the work of deacons today as well. (Acts 6:4).
    3. However, some also taught (cf. Stephen - Acts 6:8-10; Philip - Acts 8:5-8).
           This is not an exclusionary thing - i.e. “only elders can teach!” Rather, it relieves the elders from having to get caught up in the day-to-day, routine, (sometimes material) concerns of the church so that theu can “watch out for souls” (Hebrews 13:17). Note: We can learn a great deal about deacons work by considering what should be the nature of elders work.
  2. From Paul’s Words. (I Timothy 3:13). Note: “serve” verb form - “deaconing well.” These words address not so much the nature of the work, as they do how these workers will be viewed as deacons. They will possess...
    1. Good standing (KJV - “good degree”) Thayer says the word for “standing” refers to - “a grade of dignity and wholesome influence in the church.” In other words they are respected and looked-up to.
           Our children will follow them. Visitors will evaluate the congregation by them. As we consider who should serve we should ask ourselves if that person’s life will be one of “good standing.” If we seek to serve, is our life one in “good standing” with God. Don’t put yourself or someone else in that role thinking - I'll be what I should be when I am a deacon. All these traits are what Christians should already possess.
    2. Great boldness in the faith. This is what Stephen did. This is what Philip did. We must ask ourself if those we would appoint as deacons will do the same. If so we can be assured that they will serve the Lord and the congregation to God’s glory. (Matthew 5:16).