In 1 Timothy 3, Paul described the qualifications of the pastor, deacon, and local church itself. In Part 1, we saw the qualifications of a pastor. Today, we will look at a deacon and local church.
The Deacon (1 Tim. 3:8–13)
In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
The English word deacon is a translation of the Greek word diakonos, which simply means “servant.” The origin of the deacons is recorded in Acts 6. The first deacons were appointed to be assistants to the Apostles. In a local church today, deacons relieve the pastors/elders of other tasks, so they may concentrate on the ministry of the Word, prayer, and spiritual oversight. Even though deacons are not given the authority of elders, they still must meet certain qualifications. Many faithful deacons have been made elders after they proved themselves.
Worthy of respect (v. 8a). A deacon should be a man of Christian character worth imitating. A deacon should take his responsibilities seriously and use the office, not just fill it.
Not double-tongued (v. 8b). He does not tell tales from house to house; he is not a gossip. He does not say one thing to one member and something entirely opposite to another member. You can depend on what he says.
Not greedy (v. 8d). Deacons handle offerings and distribute money to needy people in the church. It may be tempting to steal or use funds in selfish ways. Finance committees in churches need to have a spiritual attitude toward money.
Doctrinally sound (v. 9). The great doctrines of the faith are hidden to those outside the faith, but can be understood by those who trust the Lord. Deacons must understand Christian doctrine and obey it with a good conscience. It is not enough to sit in meetings and decide how to “run the church.” They must base their decisions on the Word of God and must back up their decisions with godly lives.
I have noticed some church officers know their church constitutions better than they know the Bible. While it is good to have bylaws and regulations that help maintain order, it is important to manage the affairs of a church on the basis of the Word of God. The Scriptures were the “constitution” of the early church! A deacon who does not know the Bible is an obstacle to progress in a local assembly.
A pastor friend of mine took a church that was a split from another church and constantly at war with itself. From what he told me, their business meetings were something to behold! The church constitution was revered almost as much as the Bible. The people called it “the green book.” My friend began to teach the people the Word of God and the Spirit began to make changes in lives.
But the enemy went to work and stirred up some officers to defy their pastor in a meeting. “You aren’t following the green book!” they said.
My friend lifted his Bible high and asked, “Are we going to obey the Word of God or a green book written by men?” This was a turning point in the church, and then God blessed with wonderful growth and power.
A deacon who does not know the Word of God cannot manage the affairs of the church of God. A deacon who does not live the Word of God, but has a “defiled conscience” cannot manage the church of God. Simply because a member is popular, successful in business, or generous in his giving does not mean he is qualified to serve as a deacon.
Tested and proved (v. 10). This implies watching their lives and seeing how they conduct themselves. In most churches, a new member or a new Christian may begin serving God in visitation, ushering, helping in Sunday School, and numerous other ways. This is the principle in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”
It is worth noting quite a few leaders mentioned in the Bible were first tested as servants. Joseph was a servant in Egypt for thirteen years before he became a second ruler in the land. Moses cared for sheep for forty years before God called him. Joshua was Moses’ servant before he became Moses’ successor. David was tending his father’s sheep when Samuel anointed him king of Israel. Even our Lord Jesus came as a servant and labored as a carpenter; and the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker. First a servant, then a ruler.
It always weakens the testimony of a local church when a member who has not been proved is made an officer of the church. “Maybe Jim will attend church more if we make him a deacon,” is a statement that shows ignorance of both Jim and the Word of God. An untested Christian is an unprepared Christian. He will probably do more harm than good if you give him an office in the church.
Godly homes (vv. 11–12). The deacon’s wife is a part of his ministry for godliness must begin at home. The deacons must be men who have not been divorced and remarried. Their wives must be Christian women who are serious about the ministry, not given to slanderous talk (literally “not devils” for the word devil means “slanderer, false accuser”), and faithful in all that they do. It is sad to see the damage that is done to a local church when the wives of elders or deacons gossip and slander others.
Some students think verse 11 refers, not to the wives of deacons, but to another order of ministers—the deaconesses. Many churches do have deaconesses who assist with the women’s work, in baptisms, in fellowship times, etc. Phoebe was a servant from the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1, where the word is diakonon). Perhaps in some of the churches, the wives of the deacons did serve as deaconesses. We thank God for the ministry of godly women in the local church, whether they hold offices or not! It is not necessary to hold an office to have a ministry or exercise a gift.
A willingness to work (v. 13). He is to use the office, not just fill it. God will promote the faithful deacon, and give him more and more respect among the saints, which means greater opportunity for ministry. A faithful deacon has a good standing before God and men, and can be used of God to build the church. He has a spiritual boldness that makes for effective ministry. What an encouragement!
It is a serious matter to serve the church. Each of us must search our own heart to be certain we are qualified by the grace of God.
The Believers (1 Tim. 3:14–16)
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
Elders, deacons, and church members need to be reminded of what a local church is. In this brief paragraph, Paul gave three pictures of the church.
The household of God (v. 15a). God’s church is a family. One of Paul’s favorite words is “brethren” (1 Tim. 4:6). When a sinner believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, he immediately is born again into God’s family (John 1:11–13; 1 Peter 1:22–25). Paul advised young Timothy to treat the members of the local church as he would treat the members of his own family (1 Tim. 5:1–2).
Since the local church is a family, it must be fed; and the only diet that will nourish the people is the Word of God. It is our bread (Matt. 4:4), milk and meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14), and honey (Ps. 119:103). A pastor must take time to nourish himself, so he might nourish others (1 Tim. 4:6). A church does not grow by addition, but by nutrition (Eph. 4:11–16). It is tragic to see the way some pastors waste their time (and their church’s time) all week long and then have nothing nourishing to give the people on the Lord’s Day.
Like a family, a church needs discipline in love. Children who are not disciplined become rebels and tyrants. The spiritual leaders of the assembly should exercise discipline (1 Cor. 4:18–5:13; 2 Cor. 2:6–11). Sometimes the children need rebuke; other times the discipline must be more severe.
Children also need encouragement and example (1 Thes. 2:7–12). Spiritual leaders must have the gentleness of a nursing mother and the strength of a loving father.
The assembly (v. 15b). The word church is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means “assembly.” (It is used in Acts 7:38 to describe the nation of Israel, called out of Egypt; but Israel was not a “church” in the New Testament sense.)
Paul wanted young Timothy to know how to “conduct himself” as a leader of a local assembly. The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) are guidebooks for conduct of a local church. Scores of books have been published in recent years, professing to tell us how to start, build, and increase a local church; and some of them contain good counsel. However, the best counsel for managing a local church is found in these three inspired letters. The young pastor in his first church, as well as the seasoned veteran in the ministry, should saturate himself with the teachings Paul shared with Timothy and Titus.
There are many different kinds of “assemblies,” but the church is the assembly of the living God. Because it is God’s assembly, He has the right to tell us how it ought to be governed. The church has been purchased with the blood of God’s Son (Acts 20:28); therefore, we must be careful how we conduct ourselves. Church officers must not become religious dictators who abuse the people in order to achieve their own selfish ends (1 Peter 5:3–5; 3 John 9–12).
The pillar and foundation of the truth (vv. 15c–16). This is an architectural image which would mean much to Timothy at Ephesus, for the great temple of Diana had 127 pillars. The local church is built on Jesus Christ the Truth (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 3:9–15); but the local church is also itself a pillar and foundation of the truth.
The pillar aspect of the church’s ministry relates primarily to displaying the truth of the Word, much as a statue is put on a pedestal so all can see it. We must hold “forth the Word of life,” so the world can see it (Phil. 2:16). The local church puts Jesus Christ on display in the lives of faithful members.
As a foundation or bulwark, the church protects the truth and makes sure it does not fall (for elsewhere “truth has stumbled in the streets”—Isa. 59:14). When local churches turn away from the truth (1 Tim. 4:1) and compromise in their ministry, then the enemy makes progress. Sometimes, church leaders must take a militant stand against sin and apostasy. This does not make them popular, but it does please the Lord.
The main truth to which a church should bear witness is the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 3:16). He was God manifest in the flesh, not only at His birth, but during His entire earthly ministry (John 14:1–9). Though His own people as a nation rejected Him, Jesus was vindicated in the Spirit; for the Spirit empowered Him to do miracles and even to raise Himself from the dead (Rom. 1:4). What an exciting challenge it is for the local church to witness of Jesus Christ to lost sinners at home and around the world!
2. List the essential doctrines every Christian should be familiar with. What should be done in order to help people understand them?