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!