I’m sorry I haven’t been able to blog this week. I have been pretty busy with ministry responsibilities and trying to balance that with caring for my wife who was ill. I am thankful that she is feeling much better, but she is still suffering the side effects of having had a fever and the medications she took for that fever. The doctor said that it was a reaction to the travel vaccinations we took two weeks ago. Even though I confirmed that possibility with a pharmacist and my own personal physician, I am still a little skeptical. Yes, I know. They are the doctors, but two weeks? And she had a productive cough and sore throat. And the doctor gave her an antibiotic and cough syrup. Okay, okay. I know. They are the doctors.
And then it hit me. I have a doctorate. Yes, it’s the kind that doesn’t make any money, but I have spent my life (yes, my life) studying the Bible and struggling to live out its principles. I have spent 30+ years preaching and teaching it to believers new and old. I have seen many people come to know Christ. I have seen many being discipled. And I am now seeing many who are saying, “Yes, I know what you are saying is biblical, but….” From homosexuality to church polity, they are agreeing that my teachings are biblical, but for some reason, they no longer apply. Their explanations range from the culture in which we live to the traditions to which we have become accustomed. The interesting thing is that those who push back about homosexuality probably agree with the teachings of church polity and vice-versa. It is as if we have taken the “have it your way” philosophy and brought it into the Bible. As if we have the right or the intellect to pick and choose which parts of the Bible are correct and still applicable to our lives. We don’t, and we aren’t! Folks, Christianity is an all or nothing lifestyle. Jesus made that perfectly clear. “If anyone wants to follow me, ” He said, “He must deny himself, take up his cross and come after me.” That doesn’t sound like a pick and choose kind of statement. It is all or nothing. That’s why He also said, “Many will say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but I will say to them, ‘Depart from me, for I never knew you.'” I fear that many professing Christians have been deceived or have deceived themselves because of the easy beliefism that has been taught in recent decades. We need to get back to the Bible and become New Testament Christians and churches again, and we need to do it right now.
As you read this, I hope you know that what I am saying is borne out of a heart filled with love and compassion and a spirit that has a sense of urgency that I have never known before. I believe with all of my heart that our time on earth is short. I believe that in the very near future that the church in America is going to face severe restrictions on what we say and do with potentially powerful consequences. I believe that we are losing the battle for the souls of men and women because we have become powerless in the battle. Why are we powerless? Because we have gotten away from the truth of the Word of God. We say we believe it, but we do not apply the Word in every aspect of our lives. We are not living holy lives so we are not serving as the salt and the light that has the power to transform the hearts and lives of men. People see no difference in us and feel no need to be converted. Converted. That means changed from what we are to what we need to be. Another good word is transformed. That biblical word comes from the word we translate as metamorphosis. Like caterpillars turning into butterflies, our lives as Christians should be drastically different from our lives as non-Christians. But the only way that will happen is if we get back to the Word of God. Would you be willing to join me in this quest? Would you be willing to fast (yes, fast) and pray fervently with me for God to transform our lives first and then work through us to transform the lives of others? If so, would you reply in the comments to this blog or comment on Facebook. If you agree with what I have said, would you share it, retweet it, and e-mail this to all of your friends? Over the next few days, I will share a little about how we fast and pray and how it can make a difference in our lives.
Father, bless this call to transformation. Use us for your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Whew! What an adventure. I had written last week that we would be taking a different direction in the blog for a few days. Little did I know that we were going to have a whirlwind of events to change our plans. My goal was to spend this week blogging about our Southern Baptist Convention taking place in Columbus, Ohio. Well, that isn’t going to happen. On our way to Pensacola, Florida where we were going to catch a flight to Columbus, we received heartbreaking news about one of our new members. Her son had been found dead. Our hearts were broken for her, and our desire was to get back to Decatur to minister to the family. We made some phone calls to make sure that she would be ministered to until we could make it back. I am so proud that several people from our church stepped in to act as the hands and feet of Jesus to show His love to the family. Almost immediately following those phone calls, our SUV decided to act up. Yes, it’s almost 10 years old and problems often arise, but it is paid for! To make a long story just a little shorter, we made it to Pensacola, cancelled all of our reservations, and finally got our SUV in the shop on Saturday. Anyway, we made it back to Decatur late yesterday afternoon and had an opportunity to visit with the family whose loved one died.
Now, let me explain a couple of things. We drove down to Pensacola to catch a flight simply because our son-in-law has a birthday this coming Thursday. Our plan was to fly back to Pensacola on Thursday so that we could be with him on his special day. You see, birthdays are a big deal in our family. We refer to them as birthday Hanukahs, and we usually celebrate for weeks. Nothing big, but we love to give gifts and have special meals. But as you know, plans change. I think God sometimes watches as we make our plans and just kind of laughs and says, “That’s what you think.” We spent several hours agonizing over what we needed to do. I prayed and felt miserable. I felt the need to be in Decatur, but I also felt like I needed to be at the convention. I couldn’t “sense” God’s direction, but I just didn’t “feel” satisfied with the thought of continuing on with our plans. So I cancelled all of our reservations. I have never received such customer service in my life. Everyone was willing to cancel everything with the promise that I would have a year to use my airline tickets, the hotel didn’t even charge me a night’s stay, and the rental car did the same. No questions. No hassle. Just service. And suddenly there was peace about the decision. Yes, I still hated that I wasn’t going to the SBC, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Sometimes God waits for us to make a decision before He gives us direction. I am always reminded of Moses at times like this. He asked God, “How will I KNOW that you sent me to deliver your people from their bondage in Egypt?” God’s response: “When you are standing in the Promised Land, you will KNOW.”
It would be great if God gave us step-by-step directions for life, but sometimes He says, “Choose your path according to what I have revealed to you, and I will let you know if it was the right choice.” So did we make the right choice? Absolutely. No, we won’t get to celebrate Jon’s birthday on Thursday, but we did get to take him out to eat several times. Even better, we got to spend some extra time with Jon, Ashley, and Lucy. It wasn’t the convention, but I don’t think I would have gotten the same response from a bunch of preachers that I got from my granddaughter. At least, I hope I wouldn’t have gotten the same response. That would have been a little creepy!
We are going to go in a little different direction for a week. I am always in awe of how God directs things. Just as Southside Baptist Church is entering into its annual deacon elections, God allowed me to finish my posts on qualifications for deacons. I don’t know how many people from my church will read these, but the qualifications are out there if they choose to read them. How important is it for Christians to choose their deacons accordingly? Very! Men who do not meet these criteria should never serve as deacons because they will bring harm to the body of Christ. The same is true for pastors — even more so. Sadly, in many churches, our deacons are growing older. I think this is in part due to the fact that most younger men understand that serving as a deacon means serving the people and not running the church. They want to do God’s business. They want to minister like the deacons of old so they are finding other outlets to do so.
On Sunday, June 21, I will be preaching on the last part of our new vision statement. Southside Baptist Church is a group of born-again believers who are committed to serving together through fellowship and ministry. Serving together. Not just pastors serving. Not just deacons serving. All of us serving together experiencing the power — the synergy, if you will — that happens when we come together as the mighty army God has called us to be. Going into the world and making disciples, teaching them to observe all the things Jesus commanded. We could talk about all of those things. Worship God. Live holy lives. Minister to the needy. But all we really have to do is look at Jesus’ answer to the question as to what was the greatest commandment. His answer? Love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor like you love yourself. If we do those two things then we are going to worship God, live holy lives, minister to the needy, and so much more. We will actually find ourselves being the salt that flavors and preserves this world in which we live. We will be the light that shines brightly, illuminating the path of salvation that leads to heaven. We will be the change agents that Jesus taught us to be.
There is one more benefit to loving God and loving our neighbors: we will stop fighting each other and start fighting the true enemy, Satan. We will stop allowing our petty differences to become mountains on which we are willing to die (or kill our neighbors). We will stop being suspicious of other’s motives and recognize that we are all seeking to do God’s will. We will stop worrying about what someone wants to give to the Lord’s work and celebrate the generous spirit that is willing to love extravagantly. We will stop trying to further our own agendas and work together to do God’s business God’s way. In essence, we will start showing the world what it truly means to be Christian and give them a brief, partial glimpse of what heaven is going to be like.
1 Timothy 3:13
What an amazing verse: deacons who serve well obtain for themselves two things – a good standing and great boldness in the faith. The first of these is easily understood. A man with all of these qualifications who takes care of the benevolence needs of the church and ministers well to the sick, the widows, and the orphans is going to be greatly loved and respected. That is the simple truth! Don’t misunderstand. The verse isn’t promising that you are going to get a personalized parking space at the church, but it does mean that those in the church and outside the church will recognize that you are a man of integrity and have a heart of compassion.
Do you know why this is important? When you are respected for your work ministering to people in need, you gain their trust. They listen to what you have to say. It places you in a position where you can share your faith with boldness and confidence. Not only is the deacon emboldened to share his faith, but also his message has credibility with those who know him. It’s like James stated: ministry is taking care of needs – not just telling people that everything is going to be fine (my paraphrase).
So having said all of this, some of you might still be of the opinion that the work of the deacons is the business of the church. And I would say to you that you are exactly right as long as you realize that the business of the church is ministry. The early church’s deacons understood that. Stephen and Philip were two of these men who because of their faith in God were able to take care of the widows and orphans and were great proclaimers of the gospel who impacted their world and ours. Go back to Acts 6 and read a few chapters. You will be amazed at what God did because these men were men of integrity and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Qualifications Pt. 6
1 Timothy 3:12b
When you get down to it, while the responsibilities and expectations for pastors and deacons are different, the qualifications are very similar. Just like the pastor, the deacon must be the kind of man that leads his family well. Paul used the term “rule,” and the meaning/concept of that word has been lost in 21st century homes. Let me remind you what Paul said about the pastors’ home life because the qualifications are the same.
(Adapted from Pastor’s Qualifications)
Family! How I wish Paul had moved this to the top of his list because I believe that this should be the number one qualification for a pastor or deacon, and I believe pastors/deacons should understand that the family should be their number one priority. I’ve seen way too many ministers miss this important aspect of their ministry, and when they do, they typically lose both their ministries and their families. Read this carefully: God instituted the family long before He created the church. I believe that as a pastor/deacon, our calling is to put God first, family second, and the church third in life. If your church doesn’t understand that, then shame on you! I have seen way too many churches and families suffer because they get their priorities messed up.
Paul said that a deacon must rule his house well. Paul viewed leadership of the family as a proving ground for leadership in the church, and that goes for more than just pastors and deacons. Literally, Paul is telling us that every Christian father must make sure that everything in their homes runs smoothly. Specifically, for pastors and deacons, their young children must be known for their obedience and morally upright behavior. I also believe that when you train up a child in the way he should go, when he is grown he will continue in that same lifestyle. I seem to remember a wise man saying that a long time ago, and I believe it to be true. However, Paul is talking about children living in your home. Adult children make their own choices, and while an argument could be made that if they have gone off into a lifestyle of immorality as adults that something must have been wrong with their upbringing, this was not Paul’s purpose in this admonition. While they are living in the deacon’s home, the deacon’s children must demonstrate the qualities of godly behavior. That doesn’t mean they won’t do the things that all children do, but they should model the behavior they see from their parents.
Why is this important to the deacon? Like the pastor, he must demonstrate through his home that he is spiritually gifted in ways that allow him to set the example of how to live and serve and love. If he does this, so, too, will his family. If he doesn’t do this, why would anyone want to follow him in the church? Just like the pastor, the deacon must have an exceptional home life – faithful to his wife and father to his children. That is the general idea. Paul described a man who is loving, compassionate, generous, and firm. As any father, Paul’s admonition from Ephesians 6 still applies: “Don’t provoke your children to wrath but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This is a loving mentality and not a king of the castle mindset. I have discovered that the authority of the father is strengthened when his children know that he loves them beyond measure and when they see him walking in integrity.
Qualifications Pt. 5
1 Timothy 3:12
Sorry about the layoff. I know that you probably think that pastors only work on Sundays and Mondays and the rest of the time is spent on the golf course, but I never had time to learn the game. Don’t get me wrong – I do get time off, but there are those weeks when it seems like you never get a break. Anyway, I am back on track – for now – so let’s get back to the deacons!
Actually, we never really left that topic, but in this particular verse, Paul continued to list the qualifications of the kind of godly men who should choose to serve in the church. Understand that there are often godly men who do not choose to serve as a deacon and are not called into the role. That is okay. However, if God calls a man to serve and he refuses, that’s when he has a problem. Any Christian who rejects God’s call is bound for trouble. So listen to the voice of God, and life will be so much better.
Paul said that, like the pastor, the deacon is to be “the husband of one wife….” Let me refresh your
memory about the possible meanings of that statement because it is the same requirement given for
pastors. There are five basic interpretations of this four-word qualification. Count them: 1) faithful to
his one wife; 2) married to one wife at a time; 3) married once and never remarried; 4) never
divorced; 5) must not be single.
As I said before, I don’t think that Paul was dealing specifically with marital status. I believe he was dealing with moral and sexual purity. We have seen it too many times, so we know that this is the area where Christian leaders are prone to fail. From big-named preachers to pastors of small local churches, most of us know the names of men who did not remain above reproach because they gave in to sexual temptation. Deacons are no different. So let me give you my take on this qualification. Simply put, the deacon must be a one-woman man, totally devoted to his wife, maintaining that singular affection and sexual purity in both thought and deed. You see, he must be an example to the world, so he must model what marital fidelity is all about. Even in the most difficult of times, he must persevere.
Much has been said about this issue. Questions are always asked, and, even now, as Southside begins the process of electing deacons, this qualification has come into play. Let me be honest. I have seen men who were divorced – some once, some more than once – who have been more faithful in ministry than many of the deacons I have served with. Because of the rules specifically instituted in the church, these men could not be elected as deacons. So I told these men that it is the work that is important – not the title. And while I believe that our actions do result in consequences including disqualifying us from service, I also believe that every individual must be examined based on his situation. For example, if his disqualifying actions took place prior to salvation and he has proven himself to be a one-woman kind of man for years after his conversion, why shouldn’t he be allowed to serve? However, we must not be too hasty to place a man in this position regardless of his circumstances because it is one of the most important decisions that the church will ever make.
Qualifications Pt. 4
1 Timothy 3:11
Have you ever noticed this before? Right in the middle of his list of qualifications for deacons, Paul slipped in some requirements for their wives. Many pastors’ wives are quick to point out that he doesn’t do the same for them. Some Bible scholars say that the reason for the difference is that Paul didn’t believe that pastors should be married, but that is contrary to his teachings in other letters. Others say that he was referring to a third group of leaders in the church in addition to pastors and deacons – deaconesses – but the Greek word that he used is gunaikos which means women and can refer to wives. If Paul had been referring to deaconesses, he would have used the feminine form of the word for deacon, but he didn’t. So most likely, Paul was placing these qualifications on deacons’ wives. Why? We may never know the answer to that question, but I have an idea. Maybe there was a specific problem in this church that he was addressing, and I will tell you why I believe this in the final paragraph. Regardless, the wife’s character is as important as the deacon’s because she has an important role to fill as she walks alongside her husband.
So Paul said that she must be reverent just as her husband is reverent (serious in mind and character); not a slanderer/gossiper (the word is actually the plural form of diabolos which is a title frequently given to Satan, the accuser); temperate (possessing self-control); faithful in all things (trustworthy in all aspects of their lives). As you read these qualifications, you see a picture emerge of a woman who loves the Lord and acts accordingly. She is not going to act silly in the middle of serious issues but will rise to meet whatever the needs may be. She is not going to join in or initiate conversations that would defame others, accusing them wrongly. She is a woman of sound mind making wise decisions as she helps her husband serve the church by meeting needs. And she will be dependable every time she is called upon.
Do you want to know the truth? This is not the description of some super-woman. No, these are the character traits of every child of God because we are all called to do the work of the ministry. Because of this fact, I believe that Paul was addressing the same kind of problem he wrote about in chapter 2: powerful women demanding to have their way in the church. This would be an especially difficult problem if these women were the wives of deacons because ministry is about humility – not power. It’s about submission – not demands. And one more thought: no man seeking to do God’s will can be successful unless his wife lives up to these qualifications.
Qualifications Pt. 3
1 Timothy 3:9, 10
As men of integrity, one of the deacons’ most important tasks is “to hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience.” What in the world does that mean? Do you, like me, sometimes wonder about the language Paul used? How in the world did he come up with these things? We have to remember that this was a Jewish man writing in Koine Greek that has been translated into modern day English. There are some words that easily crossover between the languages, but cultural issues and specific idioms do not always travel well. Such is Paul’s use of the word mystery which he used multiple times. When he used the word, he was referring to a truth that has been previously hidden but now is revealed. He used the concept to refer to Jesus coming to earth to take on the form of a man – a mystery that most people cannot comprehend even today but that was revealed to all of us in the gospels. He used it to refer to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers, the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church, the gospel itself, lawlessness, and the rapture. All of these things just don’t make sense to the human mind; we cannot comprehend them outside of God opening our eyes to the truths.
With that in mind, we tackle Paul’s use in this verse, and to be honest, it is impossible to identify a specific item that he called a mystery. So perhaps he was referring to all of the mysteries. Think about it this way. Paul was giving to us the qualifications for men to serve as deacons, so everything he had to say focuses our minds on the deacons’ overall response to Jesus’ message of salvation and what it means to be a Christian – not just a deacon. However, it is absolutely imperative that the deacon has a proper grasp of biblical doctrines and their application. As we see in this list, the deacon is not required to have the ability to teach, so he doesn’t have to worry about standing in front of a class and expounding on these doctrines like the pastor does. But he must hold on to those doctrines with a pure conscience meaning that he doesn’t just understand the teachings – he lives them out. Yes, it is first about believing the teachings of the apostles but it is also about obeying every aspect of God’s Word. You see, this is a heart issue at the deepest level. It isn’t enough to know the truth of God’s Word in his head; the deacon must hold it in his heart. In essence, this verse speaks directly to the deacon’s personal relationship with Jesus.
Notice what Paul said in v. 10: “…let these also first be tested….” A better way of translating these words would be “evaluate the men who would serve as deacons before they become deacons and while they serve as deacons.” The verb tense indicates that the testing should be ongoing meaning that every deacon must be constantly evaluated in the areas of character and service by the church. Again, Paul was not specific, but it is likely that he was referring to the deacons’ beliefs and practices, both of which are important to the church. The testing may have been informal, but the deacon had to convince the church that his faith was genuine and that his life was blameless – again meaning that no charges of misconduct could be leveled at him. I wrote down a quote a long time ago from a man by the name of R.W. Ward. I don’t know where I read it, but this is what it said: “In one sense, all Christians are blameless through Christ; in another sense, all are unworthy to serve; but in the mercy of God, some men, though they feel their unworthiness, are adjudged fit by their fellow believers. God uses men before they are completely sanctified….” And I am glad He does.
Qualifications Pt. 2
1 Timothy 3:8
As Paul was laying out his list of qualifications for deacons, he wanted what was best for the church. God no doubt had given to him the wisdom to know exactly the type of men that should lead the church. Without godly men, how would the church learn godliness? Without trustworthy men, how could the church move forward? Without men worthy of respect, why would the lost world give the church a second thought? They wouldn’t, so just as Paul laid out what it means for the pastor to be blameless, he now clarifies just how it is that the deacon would live out a life of reverence. First on his list was that the deacon must not be double-tongued. No, this isn’t some sci-fi reference to aliens or mutants. It simply means that deacons must never be guilty of telling people what they want to hear at the cost of the truth. It is never the right thing to do to tell one person one thing about a subject and something different to someone else. This one word covers a whole lot of ground from integrity to hypocrisy. Integrity is of the utmost importance for all Christians but especially so for Christian leaders. In an age where trust is hard to come by, it is even more important today. We must mean what we say and say what we mean all of the time. On the other extreme, hypocrisy is never pretty, and it must not be part of the character of the deacon. On a positive note, the word “double-tongued” reflects the concept of sincerity. The deacon must be sincere in his passion for the Lord and His church as he promotes and protects the peace and unity of the church. A deacon cannot do this if he isn’t able to control his speech.
Then, like the pastor, the deacon is not to be preoccupied with either alcohol or money. Paul says that he is not to be “given to much wine” or greedy. That means that he must always put the needs of the church ahead of his own desires. Like pastors, the deacons have great responsibilities and must never allow themselves to become incapacitated by the use of alcohol because he never knows when he will be needed. What could be worse than a benevolence need arise, but when the church member goes to the deacon, he is drunk? That is the essence of this dictate. As for money, the deacons were to operate the benevolence ministry of the church. If you remember what took place in the book of Acts, people were selling possessions and property and bringing the proceeds to the church to be distributed to those who had needs. Undoubtedly, this would place large sums of money at their fingertips. That is too much temptation for anyone who has a problem with greed. One commentator describes this prohibition as reminding the deacon that he must never use the office for financial gain. It would be very easy to “make deals” with people or to use their needs for personal advantage and that must never happen.
You see, this verse is all about personal integrity and outstanding character. Whether the deacons in your church are true servants or serve as directors, they are to be men worthy of respect.
Qualifications Pt. 1
1 Timothy 3:8
Sometimes we make the mistake of differentiating between the offices of pastor and deacon by talking about those who lead the church (pastors) and those who serve the church (deacons). I say we do this mistakenly because both are to be servants and both are to be leaders. In truth, they should readily surrender to the reality that those called by God to be in these positions are to be servant leaders. Pastors serve the flock by utilizing their God-given gifts every day. Deacons become leaders by virtue of their servanthood. If Jesus came to serve and not be served, how much more, then, should the men called to minister to the flock be servants? I tell my deacons all the time that when they serve the people of the church, the people will put them into leadership positions. That means that both pastors and deacons should be and will be held to a higher level of accountability.
In many ways the qualifications for deacons are similar to that of pastors. Paul told pastors at the beginning that they are to be blameless, and then describes what that means in the verses that follow. He included the qualification for deacons, too. Both groups of men must live lives of personal integrity so that no one can charge them with any misconduct. They must have the respect of those inside and outside the church.
Notice how Paul started this list: “Likewise the deacons must be reverent….” In other words, just like pastors, deacons must have this character trait, too. Being reverent. We tend to think of this word as meaning miserable. It’s kind of like the man who was walking down the street when he was stopped by a passerby who asked him, “Are you a pastor?” To which the man replied, “No, but I have been sick lately.” I can’t get my mind around how people think that godliness means walking around with your hands folded in front of you with a serious look on your face. The most godly man of all times was accused of being a party-animal (glutton and winebibber), and children loved Him. You don’t get that reaction if someone is serious all of the time. Neither are pastors and deacons required to be serious all of the time. The word does mean that they are serious-minded men who know how to behave when serious issues confront the church. The word does mean that they must be men whose character merits respect. The word does mean that they are to be men of dignity and purpose. But it doesn’t mean serious all the time. It doesn’t mean boring. Like the song says, “Pastors just want to have fun!” Well, maybe the song doesn’t refer to pastors, and maybe pastors don’t JUST want to have fun. But I think you get my meaning!