The month of January holds center stage in the entertainment industry’s “pat-yourself-on-the-back” season. Between the SAG Awards, the Golden Globes, the Academy Award nominations, and the Grammys, more hardware is distributed than at a construction job site.
Not surprisingly, however, no servants are nominated. No “Order of the Basin & Towel” is given out. No servant receives a star on the Walk of Fame. And yet, 1 Timothy 3:13 tells us,
those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Having discussed the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul now turns his attention to the deacons (3:8-13). Both elders and deacons are chosen on the basis of their character qualities. While the elders lead the church, the deacons serve the church. The elders shepherd the flock—feeding, leading, guarding, caring, and modeling—while the deacons meet the changing needs of the flock. The only difference between the qualifications for elders and deacons is that elders must be “able to teach” (3:2). The emphasis on character reveals that the church will rise and fall according to character of her leaders and servants.
Verses 8-10, 12 describe the qualifications for deacons. They can be grouped into four broad categories—personal (8), spiritual (9), practical (10), and family (12) characteristics.
Personal characteristics (8) A deacon demonstrates self-mastery
- Dignified – respectable; serious-minded
- Not double-tongued – doesn’t say one thing to one person and something different to another
- Not addicted to wine – alcohol (or any other substance) does not influence their life
- Not greedy – doesn’t use ministry to make money
Spiritual characteristics (9) A deacon has strong convictions about Scripture
- Confident in their faith – they don’t merely believe the truth, they live the truth
Practical characteristics (10) A deacon has a proven track record
- Tested – their character, beliefs, and gifts are proven
- Blameless – while not perfect, there is nothing that disqualifies them
Family characteristics (12) A deacon has a godly family
- Husband of one wife – if married, they are faithful to one woman
- Manage household well – they are good managers of their children, money, and possessions
Verse 11 describes the qualifications for a group of women. They are to be:
- Dignified – serious-minded; same word used to describe deacons
- Not slanderous – they don’t engage in malicious gossip
- Sober-minded – temperate, sober in judgment
- Faithful – they can be trusted in their service
The question is whether Paul is addressing the wives of the deacons or women deacons. In general terms, it is helpful to understand that the word, “deacon,” means “servant.” In addition, there was no word for “deaconess” in Greek at that time. The masculine form of “deacon” was used for both men (1 Timothy 3:8) and women (Romans 16:1). Also, the same word is used for “wives” and “women” with the context helping determine the meaning of the word.
There are two arguments that support the idea that Paul is addressing the wives of the deacons.
- Verse 11 is surrounded by verse 8-10 and verse where Paul focuses on deacons. Why would Paul change subjects to a different group? is often asked.
- The word “women” is thought to be too common a word to designate a new office.
There are five arguments that support the idea that Paul is addressing female deacons or deaconesses.
- The word “likewise” (8, 11) indicates a change in subject that look backs to the word “must” in verse 2. “Elders must be” (2); “Deacons likewise” (8); “Women likewise” (11).
- If Paul meant the wives of the deacons, one would assume he would say, “their wives.” However, there is no possessive pronoun in the verse.
- Paul gives no qualifications for the wives of the elders. Why would he single out the wives of the deacons?
- The qualifications for deaconess (11) parallel those for deacons (8).
- Phoebe (Romans 16:1) was a deacon.
While neither argument is proven to be definitive, I think the argument for deaconess makes more sense. Whether a church selects couples or men and women as deacons, women are involved in serving.
Deacons who serve well receive tangible rewards (13). They are respected and honored by those whom they serve. In addition, they have increased confidence and boldness to continue in their service.
Whether you have a formal office in the church or not, all of us are called to serve. Therefore, we should all aspire to grow in these character qualities.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 2, 2014. It is part of series on 1 Timothy. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.