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Why We Need Deacons and What Kind of Deacon do We Need?

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 15, 2002

1 Timothy 3:8

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The Lord's Day
August 15, 2004

I Timothy 3:8-13
Why We Need Deacons and What Kind of Deacons We Need

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter 3.This morning we are going to look at the subject of why we need deacons and what kind of deacons we need.Now, before those of you who are not standing for the office of deacon turn your minds off,this is a sermon for you because the diaconal task is not only a task that you should be interested in because you've got the responsibility of choosing deacons,the diaconal task, in many ways like the task of the elder, is a task which all Christians in some measure are called to fulfill towards one another.All of us need to have the heart that deacons have for the particular work of service that God has called them to.And so this message is not just for them that they do their work,it's for us here as we live the Christian life.Not only for us so that we might chose well, but also for us so that we might live gospel-oriented lives.

Now, the last time we were together we looked at why we need elders and what kind of elders we need.This Sunday we're looking at the qualifications for and work of deacons, and this is timely because on the 8th of August we’ll begin to elect deacons.And Paul gives us a pattern for both of the work of those offices and what kind of men ought to be in it right here in I Timothy chapter 3.In this book Paul is setting down a permanent plan of ministry.Paul's not just giving some suggestions that only pertain to one particular time and don't pertain to any other place, he is laying down the pattern of ministry that he expects to see in all the churches.

And it is apparent that this is the pattern of ministry which is seen everywhere in the New Testament.If you look at the book of Hebrews,if you look at the book of James, if you look at the book of Philippians,if you look at the book of I Corinthians,if you look at the book of Romans,if you look at any of the books of the New Testament which mention the offices of the church, you’ll find this same pattern of godly elders and godly deacons ministering the word of God in both word and deed to the people of God.And so the pattern that Paul sets forth here is one that impacts us,It is the pattern that we ought to have.And it ought to be our desire to be conformed and reconformed to the vision that God sets forth in his word.So let's hear God's holy word in I Timothy 3:8-13, where He gives the instructions and the qualifications for the office of deacon.This is God's word:

"Deacons likewise must be men of dignity,not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain,but holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested;then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.Women must likewise be dignified,not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.Deacons must be husbands of only one wife,and good managers of their children and their own households.For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." Amen.

And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word.May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.Let's pray.

Lord, we do bow before You asking the grace of Your Spirit to give us ears to hear,and eyes to see the truth of your word.We ask that You would, with this wisdom not only enable us to choose as You would choose,as we have opportunity to exercise the selection of those who would serve in the office of deacon for years to come in this church,but we also pray that You would give us the heart of a deacon,the heart of a servant.In Jesus' name.Amen.

It was the night that Jesus would be betrayed.His disciples were going to take the Passover meal with Him in Jerusalem.They didn't realize it would be the last time they would take the Passover meal with Him.You see, Jesus and the disciples had come to Jerusalem all the way from Bethany.There were no paved roads to walk.Their feet would have been dusty from walking miles on that dusty road.And when they arrived the slave who would have customarily washed the feet of all the guests, the slave who would have customarily been provided by the master of the house was not there.The host there in the upper room had failed to provide a servant to wash their feet. There was a basin.There was water. There was the long linen towel used by slaves to wash the feet, but there was no slave.Luke tells us that on the way to the upper room, the disciples had been having a conversation.I'm being kind.It really wasn't a conversation.It was an argument.And the argument was about that very spiritual issue of "Which one among us is the greatest?"When they arrived at the room, all of the disciples stood around in embarrassed silence looking at one another waiting to see who was going to do the dirty chore.Judas was there too.He had already arranged to betray His Master.And not even that despicable villain would lower himself to wash the feet of his brethren.In this context, Jesus removed His outer garments.He girded Himself with the long linen towel in the manner of an oriental slave.He took the basin and He began to wash the feet of the disciples, including Judas.That night Jesus would say in that upper room to His disciples these words,"A new commandment I give to you.That you love one another as I have loved you.As I have loved you, so also you love one another."It is that command that Jesus gave, that God gave, to deacons to enflesh in the church. God gave deacons to the church to enflesh Jesus’ love command in the upper room.Let me say that another way.The deacon is to model,he is to enflesh,he is to be a living example of the self-giving, tangible love of Jesus Christ to His people.Jesus didn't merely say, "I love you to death. Hope you guys turn out all right."Jesus gave the totality of Himself in order to save His people.In other words, He did not simply love in word but in deed.He not only said that He loved us,He did what was necessary in order to keep up in eternal fellowship with Him even if it required His own self-sacrifice.And it did.

And that is why Paul can say in Philippians chapter 2 "that He emptied Himself for us, taking on the form of a slave." And it is that task, the service of the brethren, that God has appointed deacons to fulfill.John, the beloved disciple, was there that night and he never forgot what he saw and heard.And years later in I John 3:18, he would say this to Christians, who by then he could all call ‘little children’ because he was about 90 years old.He said, "Little children,let us not love with word and tongue,but in deed and truth."God gave deacons to the church to love in deed and in truth and to spur us as a congregation to love in deed and truth.

And I want to spend some time with you today looking at simply two questions:Why do we need deacons?And what kind of deacons do we need?I've got four things that I want to say.The first thing will pertain to the first question,"Why do we need deacons?"although I hope you already have a hint by what I've said by way of introduction.And the last three things that I’ll say pertain to answering the question,"What kind of deacons do we need?"

I. Why do we need deacons? We need deacons in order that the church might really reflect the unit of the Spirit in the bond of love.
First of all, why do we need deacons?And let me just say friends,be careful.Because the word of God will transform not only the way you see office but the actual work of this office.Just because we're Presbyterians and we've had deacons for a long time doesn't mean that we've done it right.The word of God may change the way you look at this office and the way this office functions.I hope it does.

Why do we need deacons?We need deacons in the church that the church might really reflect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love.We need deacons so that we can truly, tangibly, love one another.The deacon, you see, is to be living example of Christ's love command.According to Jesus there is no such thing as deedless love.Love is always made tangible in and by our actions.And therefore, the love that He enjoins upon the church,the love that He calls us to show to one another,must be practical and tangible love even to the point of meeting the physical needs of Christians who are in distress.

Now I want to demonstrate this pattern to you from the New Testament so that you are totally convinced that I'm not just sort of pulling this out of thin air.Start with me in the Upper Room.Turn with me to John 13.In John 13, in the Upper Room, in the passage that I've just alluded to and told the story from,in verse 34 Jesus says,"A new commandment I give to you,that you love one another,even as I have loved you,that you also love one another."Here's the command.Jesus has given them an example, an illustration of that in the way that He has served them.

Let me say that what He is going to do the next day totally, totally, outstrips anything that they could have possibly gathered even from the enormously humble act that He has done the night before.He humbles Himself the next day to the point of death.He humbled Himself the night before by washing their feet.He humbles Himself the next day to the point of death.But what does He say in verse 35?What's the significance,what's going to be the result of these people loving one another like He's loved them?Well, here it is,"By this all men will know that you are My disciples,if you have love for one another."The way the world knows that we're Jesus’ disciples is how we love one another.And that doesn't just mean how we kind of like to be around one another,how we enjoy fellowship with one another,how we like one another.It means how we tangibly and practically care for one another in the trials of life in times of need.Jesus says that is going to be a standing testimony to the world that you are My disciples,The way that you loved one another,the way that you care for one another.The witness of the church is going to depend upon our practical loving of one another.

Now, turn with me to the book of Acts.And you will see in Acts 2, Acts 4 and Acts 6, it is when the church honors the word and loves in deed that the church grows and is healthy.Luke does not miss this lesson.Turn with me to Acts chapter 2:42, where we read, "…they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,to the breaking of bread and to prayer.And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe;and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.And all those who had believed were together,and had all things in common;and they began selling their property and possessions,and were sharing them with all,as anyone might have need.And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple,and breaking bread from house to house,they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,praising God…"Unbelievable!

Now friends, this is not Communism.First of all it's not a government, it's the church.Second of all, its goal is not redistribution; it's care for one another.Third, it's voluntary.And fourth, it's based on needs.There are people in that congregation in Jerusalem who are genuinely in need.They are poverty-stricken.And there are people in that congregation whom the Lord has blessed with material resources and they start looking around and they start saying,"You know, that's my brother in Christ,that's my sister in Christ.She's going without.God's given me more than I need.That's it,I'm selling this and I'm going to distribute it to the church."And people were doing this voluntarily.What were they doing?They were showing love in deed.It was not only that they were paying attention to the apostles’ teaching, but they were loving one another in their deeds.

And what happens?Look at verse 47.What does Luke go out of his way to tell you?"And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."Why are we surprised?Jesus said "Love one another as I have loved you and…" what?"By this the world will know that you are My disciples!"And low and behold, Luke says that's exactly how it worked out.But just in case you think that's a single occurrence,that's a mistake,he's making too much out of this,let me take you back to chapter four, verse 32:"And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own but all things were common property to them.And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and abundant grace was upon them all for there was not a needy person among them. For all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of all the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet and they would be distributed to each as any had need.Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles(which translated means Son of Encouragement),and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet."

It's unbelievable.You remember David saying that it was one of the great blessings of his life to have lived to a very old age and never to see a member of Israel begging bread.Why?Because Israel was committed to making sure that there was nobody begging bread in Israel because Israel looked out for Israel.You weren't just concerned for yourself or your family; you were concerned for every Israelite,every follower of the one true God.You provided for them.And what's Luke saying?It was the same way in the early church.They were concerned about those in the congregation who were in need.

And notice again the beautiful balance between word and love in deed.They were paying close attention to what?The apostles’ teaching that was giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.And they were sharing so that there was no poverty,The needs were met in the congregation,Word and deed.And what does Luke tell you?Well, look at acts chapter 5, verse 14."And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women,were constantly added to their number."Why are we surprised?Jesus said,"Love one another like I've loved you and the world will know that you’re My disciples."And low and behold, the Spirit uses that as an instrument for what? Evangelism.The minister of the word can't do his job until you’re loving one another tangibly.

Turn with me to Acts chapter 6.The same thing continues.In Acts chapter we read in verse 1,"Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number,a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews,because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said,"It is not desirable to us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore,brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.And the statement found approval with the whole congregation;and they Stephen, a man full of faith and of the holy spirit,and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.And these they brought before the apostles;and after praying, they laid their hands on them."You see what's going on in the congregation.This congregation, which is predominately, if not exclusively Jewish Christian, it's in Jerusalem after all,and everybody who's in the congregation is a convert to Christianity from Judaism. There are some people who speak Greek and others who speak Aramaic or Hebrew.The Greek-speaking Jewish people are maybe immigrants to Jerusalem from Asia minor, and the Aramaic-speaking people there are either natives of Jerusalem or from the land of Palestine around them.And the people who speak Greek in the congregation think that their widows are getting the short end of the stick in terms of the congregational care which has been described in Acts chapter 2 and 4.They’re thinking, "Maybe we're being discriminated against because of our ethnic background and because of the way we talk."And they complain. And the apostles might have said, this can't be.We've got to make sure that everybody's being taken care of, but if we do it, we won't be able to do the ministry of the word and the prayer that is the ministry of the eldership. We would have to neglect that ministry in order to meet the needs that are now pressing upon us because we've had thousands of converts.We've gone from 12 to 70 to 120 to thousands of converts.This is a fast-growing church and the apostles say, we’d have to neglect the preaching of the word,we’d have to neglect prayer, to meet these kinds of needs.Therefore we're going to appoint deacons.And that's precisely what the congregation does.They appoint deacons to meet this need.

Now it's very interesting.The apostles do neither of two things,They don't say the ministry of the word is so important that we're just going to have to drop this ministry cause it's not that important.They refuse to drop the ministry of love in deed in the congregation of the saints.They see it as absolutely essential and vital.Nor do they say,you know it's more important how you live than all this preaching.All this preaching we do, it doesn't really matter,People really don't remember our sermons,The most important thing is that we just love one another a lot.No, they say both must be present in the church,The preaching of the word and love in word and deed.Both of those things have to be present.So we the elders are going to concentrate on the word and prayer and the deacons, they are going to concentrate on leading the congregation in showing tangible love in places of need through deeds of mercy.And look what Luke says happens.Look at verse 7, "And the word of God kept on spreading;and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem,and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."

Why do we need deacons?Because God said we need deacons.Because deacons example for us an essential quality of Christianity, love in deed.And because they lead the congregation in a way that is essential, not peripheral, not temporary,but essential to its health and growth.That's why we need deacons.

II. What kind of deacons do we need? We need men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body.
Turn with me back to I timothy, chapter 3.What kind of deacons do we need?I hope you've gotten some understanding of why we need deacons.The gospel ministry must be in word and deed.Neither must be neglected.And so it is for the church's well being to have both elders and deacons,both a focus on the ministry of the word in prayer and of ministry of service and mercy.

The deacon's work is to compliment the elder's ministry of the word in prayer.The deacon is to lead the local congregation in deeds of love and mercy.His is an office of service and deeds.

So what kind of deacons do we need?Three things:First, we need men who want to serve.We need men who want to serve, men who want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body.The office of the diaconate is not a stepping stone to something more important.The office of the diaconate is not ‘junior flunky assistant’ to the elders.The office of the diaconate, properly in place in the life of a local congregation, is absolutely essential to the spiritual health of the body.We need deacons who want to serve,they want to concretely and tangibly show the love of Christ in the body.Isn't it interesting?Look at verses 10 and 13, where Paul not only calls them deacons, which means servants,but he describes their work as service.He says in verse 13, "…let them serve as deacons…those who have served well as deacons…"

Now he's not just using serve in the generic sense.We do that sometimes."He served recently as the president and CEO of a fortune 500 company."Well, he didn't serve many people in that position.He ordered around a lot of people in that position, but he didn't serve many people in that position."He served recently as the president of the most prominent social club in the area."Well service is being used generically there.When Paul says service he really means it.They serve.That's what they’re for.They’re not only called servers,they’re not only called servants,but they do service.That's what they do.They are called to the work of service.

And everywhere the New Testament describes the work of the deacon, this is the way it describes it.In Romans 12:6-7, Paul is giving a list of gifts and he gets into verse 7 and what does he say?"if service, in his service;or he who teaches, in his teaching..." In other words, those who have the gift of service, Paul says, how would be the way to manifest that gift?In serving!Or if those who have the gift of teaching,how would they manifest that gift?In teaching.What has he just described?The work of the deacon and the work of the elders,side-by-side.Serving.Teaching.

In I Corinthians 12:27-28, he's talking about gifts again."Now you are Christ's body,and individually members of it.And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues."

Helps. Administrations.Service.Ruling.Deacons.Elders.He puts them side-by-side again when he writes his words of introductions to the Philippian church in Philippians 1:1,"Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons."Including the shepherds and the servants.So the office of deacon is not the office of elder-in-training. Yes, some deacons will become elders.But the office of deacon is not in essence the office of elder-in-training.It is a distinct office.It is an office with distinct calling.And it is an office with a distinct need and you want to elect men to the diaconate who exude a desire to serve the flock in the ministry of mercy because it is essential for the help of the church.

The elder can't do his job if the deacon's not doing his job.And the elder sure can't do his job if the deacon is wanting to do his job.Harry Reeder says as he goes around to the churches, he sees the ministers doing what the elders ought to do and the elders doing what the deacons ought to do, and the deacons just doing something.And it's true.In a divinely ordered church, the elders are elders and the deacons are deacons.The elders are exercising spiritual oversight,They’re teaching,They’re nurturing,They’re discipling.And the deacons are leading the people of God in the ministry of mercy.And neither of those things is dispensable.It is a task,it is a calling,it is a service of great dignity and significance.It's not a stepping stone.You want a man who wants to serve.That's what you want.

Secondly, you want men who are godly and self-controlled.They are qualified by their character.In fact, in verses 8 through 10 and in verses 12 and 13, Paul sketches out three qualifications basically.You can group these lists of his into three qualifications.He says that deacons must have a desire to serve, be orthodox, and have moral character.A character transformed by grace, they hold to the faith.They’re orthodox, they love the teaching of God's word,and they have a desire to serve.

They long to serve, he's already said that to us in the very first verse, but he goes on to say that deacons must hold to the mystery of the faith.This is so significant.In our day and age, everybody is in favor of mercy ministry but they don't see often that the truth is relevant to mercy ministry.And the apostle knows that if mercy is given without the truth it does not have the impact that the Spirit intends.And therefore, our witness must be in word and deed, not simply in deed.And so even those who are primarily tasked with the job of loving in deed must love the truth, because it's the truth that sets you free.And they are showing the truth tangibly in their love.But you still need to witness by the word to that truth.And therefore they are holding to the faith.They desire to serve, they hold to the faith and they’re godly.

Notice the same kinds of qualifications are given for elders.They are men of dignity,they’re husbands of one wife,they’re good managers of their children and household,they’re not double-tongued,not addicted to wine,not fond of sordid gain.All of those last three things show that they’re self-controlled men.And how practical is that?These men are going to be given charge of the monies of the church to do mercy ministry care.They probably need to handle their own money fairly well.These men are going to get to know things about the congregation as they minister in hard situations,things that if they shared with other people could ruin people's reputations.And therefore, they can't be double-tongued.They've got to know how to put a clamp on it.And they've got to be self-controlled themselves.They’re going to be dealing with people who don't have self-control and, in part, maybe in some of the situations that they’re in because they don't.So they themselves need to be self-controlled. These are practical qualifications of their character and you want to elect men to the diaconate who possess all three of those qualifications.They desire to serve.They love the truth.And they have Christian character.

Now you’re already asking in your minds,"But what about verse 11, Ligon?What does that mean?Is that talking about women deacons?Is that talking about deaconesses?"You’re going to have to wait until Sunday morning, June 30,when we're on Romans 16: 1 and 2 and the ministry of Phoebe and women in the early church and I’ll give you your answer.But let me give you just a hint right now.It refers to the women who assist the deacons and we’ll say more about that later.

Fourth and finally,verse 13.What kind of men do you want for deacons?You want men who seek the "well done" in their service of the church.We need men who only seek the "well done" of Jesus in their service of the church. Paul has a beautiful word here for those who serve in this office.Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high-standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.In other words, he's saying there are rewards for men who serve well.But they’re not the rewards of earthly prestige and gain,they’re of greater value than that,they’re heavenly rewards.

Isn't it ironic that Paul is saying here that greatest freedom, the greatest reward, comes in serving.Maybe that's not so ironic after all.I think I remember someone saying once that His truth would set you free and He at the same time said that He came not to be served but to serve.

You want to know real freedom?Serve.That's where you know real freedom.But I want to encourage you deacons and you prospective deacons and the whole congregation in your seeking to serve tangibly by taking you back to Matthew chapter 25 verse 13, because all Paul is saying in verse 13 is that God will reward deacons with what Jesus promised them in Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 and following.You remember Jesus was talking to His disciples about the end times and what was going to happen on the Judgment Day.And this is some of what He said about the judgment day:"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory,and all the angels with Him,then He will sit on His glorious throne.And all the nations will be gathered before Him;and He will separate them from one another,as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;and He will put the sheep on his right,and the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on His right,‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry,and you gave me something to eat;I was thirsty,and you gave Me drink;I was a stranger,and you invited Me in;naked and you clothed Me;I was sick,and you visited Me;I was in prison,and you came to Me.’Then the righteous will answer Him, saying,‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’Then He will answer the, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine,even the least of them,you did it to Me.’"

You see what Jesus is saying?He's saying that His disciples will love one another in deed.And when the least of them is in need His disciples will love one another,not simply in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth.And when he does that he will be ministering to Jesus Himself.And Jesus will not only speak His "well done" to that faithful servant, but He will say "Come, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."As the deacon loves in deed the least of the brethren in the church, he prepares for an eternal reward.He will hear the words "well done" and "come inherit."And he, with the rest of God's faithful servants, will say, "When did I do it?" I was doing it because I loved you.I was doing it because I longed to serve and I'm finding now that your blessings outstripped all of my service.

We need deacons who only want the "well done" of Jesus.That's the kind of deacons we want.Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God,hear our prayers and give us hearts for serving one another in tangible love like this.We ask in Jesus' name.Amen.

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