We are studying the first letter to Timothy which is the manifesto of church faith and practice. The Apostle Paul is relaying how the church is to conduct itself. He says in vs 15 “but in case I am delayed, [I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
The Lord inspired Paul to write how the church is to be conducted. Jesus said, God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. So it’s important to God that we order our worship, conduct our church, according to His truth. Last week we looked at the Lord’s requirements and qualifications of the pastor, or elder, or overseer of the church. All of those titles are virtually synonymous. They all refer to the same position. But there is one more position that Paul is going to address and that is the position of deacon.
Deacon comes from the Greek word, “diakonos”, which meant servant, or waiter, or minister. We tend to think of the word minister differently than it is intended though. A minister is one appointed to carry out the commands of the master. Therefore, in political government, there are ministers of various departments of government, which administer the agenda or desires of the government. But the word itself does not denote a lofty title, but rather one who carries out the commands given to him by his superior.
So the pastor and the deacon(s) are both focused on the same agenda, and that is the support, proclamation and administration of the truth. The pastor has a different role than the deacon, but both are working on the same goal, for the same Lord. But in preparation for that, Paul has delineated the qualifications for deacons. Deacons are supporting and helping the pastor in the conduct or administration of the church. But to some extent, we are all to be serving the Lord, and following the example of a deacon. Deacons are men that are given an representative role in serving the church, but all the members of the body are to serve the Lord in a similar way. And so even though you may not be officially named a deacon, we should all follow their example as a model for ourselves.
To get a better idea of the job of a deacon, it’s perhaps a good idea to see how this position came about. We find that in the book of Acts, ch. 6:1-6 “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.] So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for 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.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”
So that is the account of choosing the first deacons in the first church in Jerusalem. At that time there were probably in excess of 8000 people in that church. The apostles were the pastors, but it became evident that there was a practical need for men who would serve the physical needs of the congregation. The command to love one another is worked out in practical ways. A superficial view would be that these men were not much more than glorified waiters. But a closer look reveals that they were much more than that. Steven in particular was a man of great faith, and we have his last sermon recorded in the book of Acts which he preached to the men who would eventually stone him to death. Phillip became known as the Evangelist, and we have record of how God used him to minister the word of God to the Ethiopian eunuch. These deacons then eventually became preachers and evangelists and missionaries, taking their service to the Lord to another level.
The qualifications that Peter and the elders of the church at Jerusalem gave for a deacon was “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” That hardly seems like the qualification for a waiter, but they are good qualities for a servant of God. And those qualities are a summary perhaps for what Paul gives as qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy.
So let’s look briefly at these qualifications. And I think the first thing we will notice is the similarity between the pastor’s qualifications and the deacon’s qualifications. Paul says in vs 8, “Deacons likewise [must be] men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, [but] holding to 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.”
You will notice that the qualifications for deacons is much the same as for pastors, but perhaps abbreviated somewhat. And in the case of both positions, being a man who is above reproach is emphasized. He must be of good reputation both in the church and outside the church. He must be a straight talker, not someone who lies. He must be dignified. That doesn’t mean putting on airs, but honorable, a man of good character.
And just as with the pastor, he is not to be addicted to wine. Wine would include any alcoholic drink. Proverbs says, wine is a mocker, and strong drink a brawler, and he who is intoxicated with it is not wise. I would go so far as to say that you are going to have difficulty being a man of dignity if you are a consistent drinker.
Not fond of sordid gain is another qualification for a deacon. Sordid gain can cover a wide area of making money. It’s probably indicating that a deacon is of necessity going to be a man of business, but he should not use underhanded business practices. He should not be engaged in any immoral business. He should not be associated with anything in his business dealings that would bring dishonor to Christ. A lot of Christian businessmen think that all is fair in love and war and making a sale. That you have to do what you have to do in order to make it in today’s world. But a deacon must not have such a low standard in his business dealings. He is to be above board, not wiling to sacrifice principle for profit.
And then Paul adds, holding to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. The word mystery there is used again in this passage in vs 16. And what mystery means is what was once hidden is now revealed. The faith then is the gospel which has been fully revealed. And these deacons are men who hold fast their faith with a clear conscience. That means that they are not deliberately living in sin in violation of their faith. They know what they believe and they live it out. It’s not just a head knowledge, but a life that reflects the knowledge of the truth. And maybe that is a distinction between pastors and deacons. Pastors preach the truth in word and deed, deacons preach the truth by deed. They are not so much preachers as they are practically working it out towards others in the church. Their life and conduct proclaim the truth of the gospel.
Now that leads to the next qualification which is in vs 10, “These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.” In the qualifications for pastors, Paul had said they were not to be a new convert. That indicates that time was needed to mature a man to be a pastor before taking on this leadership role. And the same thing is virtually being said here. That a man must go through a time of testing before serving as a deacon. And then, when they have come through those tests, if they are without reproach, that is they didn’t fail the tests, then they are to serve the church in the capacity of a deacon.
Testing is not done to make someone fail. God isn’t trying to get you to fail the test. He is using it to prove your faith, or confirm or strengthen your faith through the test. Peter said in 1Peter 1:6-7 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So these men who are servants of the church are to be men who have come through the tests with a stronger, more mature faith. Their faith has been tested through fiery trials and come forth as gold.
And then stuck right in the middle of the qualifications for deacons is some qualifications for their wives. Now some have taken this verse to be a separate office of a deaconess, that is, a female deacon. But that doesn’t really correlate with all that was said about women’s role in the church in chapter 2. If you notice, the context of verses 8-12 is all about the qualifications for deacons except for verse 11. I think it makes much more sense contextually to consider verse 11 as a continuation of qualifications for deacons, but recognizing that their wives can affect their role.
Let’s notice what he says then in vs 11. “Women, [or an alternate reading is deacon’s wives] [must] likewise [be] dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” If this were qualifications for deaconesses, then it would seem odd that their qualifications are much more abbreviated than either deacons or pastors. Instead, I think it’s an indication that a deacon’s wife can either be a great asset to a deacon, or a great hindrance. And the goal would be that she would be an asset.
It’s likely that the wife of the deacon is mentioned here because the duties of the deacon might incorporate his wife to some extent. He is serving widows, often in their homes. I can tell you that if a deacon was to serve a widow, especially by going to her home, then it would be prudent to take along his wife. For my part, I am careful not to counsel any woman alone. I will always include my wife, or I will make sure we are in a public place. But even then, it would be much better for my reputation if my wife is with me. And maybe that is the reason why Paul includes their wives in this description, since one of their primary jobs was serving widows in the church.
And the wife of the deacon, being privy to the widows needs or private affairs by accompanying her husband, must be careful not to gossip about those things which she was privy to. She also must be mild mannered, not a hot head, that’s what it means to be temperate. And faithful in all things. She is to be a godly woman of faith. I can tell you this; a man and his wife are tied together in regards to reputation. One affects the other. They may have completely different personalities, but in reputation they are tied at the hip. A wife of bad character taints the reputation of a good man, and vice a versa.
But for the deacon’s part, he must be a man who is loyal to his wife. Paul says in vs 12, “Deacons must be husbands of [only] one wife, [and] good managers of [their] children and their own households.” If the deacon is a good steward of his own household, then he will be a good steward of the household of God. And unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. If he is not a good steward of his household, then he will not be a good steward of the household of God. Whether or not that verse also is an injunction against a deacon who is divorced, it is difficult to say. I would suggest that it probably indicates that he could be divorced, but not remarried. Though I cannot be dogmatic about that from this verse.
To be a deacon then is to be a servant or a steward of the church. And as such descriptions indicate, being a servant does not always carry a very high standing in the eyes of man.But Paul indicates here that it does carry a high standing in the eyes of God. He says in vs13, “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.”
Paul gives here an incentive for good stewardship and a promise of a good reward for their service. Jesus said if you give a cup of water in His name truly he will not lose his reward. So we can assume that Paul indicates that serving the practical needs of the people of the church is not less than giving a cup of water, and such service will be rewarded in heaven.
And then as I have already mentioned, Paul gives the reasons for relaying these instructions about the church and it’s leaders. He says in vs 14 “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, [I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
Now I have quoted this verse and spoken of this verse in each of our messages in 1 Timothy, but I realize not all of you have been here for the previous messages so I want to be sure you see a couple of things. First he says the household of God is the church of the living God. We are children of God by second birth. We are given a new spirit, and a new nature. We are born of God, who is our Heavenly Father. We are called the brethren of Christ. And we are considered brothers and sisters of one another. So we have a love for God and for one another that defines us as the family of God, the household of God.
And notice also that the word church is from the Greek word “ekklesia” which means called out ones, an assembly. It has nothing whatsoever to say about a building. Except in the passage in 1 Peter 2:5 where he says, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In other words, the people are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The people are the church, a spiritual house in which God dwells.
And finally, notice that the church’s duty is to support the truth. The truth refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.” So Christ is the truth, and the church’s purpose is to support and proclaim that truth, that by faith in Christ, the world might come to be saved.
That truth then is the theme of the hymn that Paul records here in the 16th verse. It is believed by many Bible scholars that this was part of a hymn that was well known in the early church. They deduce this by the word construction in the original language. I think it is very likely the case, or at least a creed that was rehearsed frequently in the early church.
Paul introduces it by saying, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness.” Common confession indicates it is something frequently confessed, that is possibly a hymn or creed. When he says the mystery of godliness, it is a reference to our faith in Christ. That which was hidden is now revealed, therefore he calls it a mystery. When Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, the gospel of God was revealed. That which had been a mystery, which the saints of old had seen only darkly as in a mirror, or in pictures and types, was now revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And in a similar manner, this hymn that Paul repeats reveals that mystery of Christ from his birth to his ascension, and this truth going forth into all the world.
Let’s read it through. “He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.”
Now let’s consider each line separately and say a few words briefly about each statement.
He who was revealed in the flesh. This speaks of Jesus incarnation. But it also speaks of the eternal nature of Christ. It doesn’t say he was made in the flesh, or created in the flesh, but He was revealed in the flesh. That indicates that He who existed in the heavens with God, who was God, took on flesh. John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He was preexistent God, who was revealed in the flesh. He was Eternal Truth, which became flesh.
“He was vindicated in the Spirit.” John the Baptist said, “I beheld the Spirit like a dove descending from heaven, and He remained on Him.” He was also vindicated in the Spirit as He came out of the water and went about Galilee preaching the gospel and working miracles. The power of the Holy Spirit was clearly upon Him. And He was finally vindicated in the Spirit when He arose from the grave, having been found blameless and without sin, being evident that He was the Son of God.
The next line is “seen by angels.” I wonder if that could better be translated testified by angels. He was certainly seen as well, but I think it more appropriate to think of their testimony to what they had seen. The angels testified to the shepherds at His birth. They ministered to Him in the wilderness. They ministered again to Him in the Garden of Gethsamane. And they testified to the disciples at His resurrection, “He is not here, He is risen.” They testified of HIs coming again at His ascension, that He would return in the same way that He had gone up into heaven. So the angels played a part in the proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ.
The next line is proclaimed among the nations. The truth of the gospel was proclaimed with power at Pentecost, and then quickly spread to all the civilized nations. Today the gospel has been preached to the entire world. That is our mandate, to be witnesses, to bear testimony to the truth, and take it to the world.
And the last line is taken up in glory. Jesus appeared to 500 people after His death. There were 120 that were gathered together in the Upper Room. So it’s conceivable that there were at least 120 people who witnessed His ascension. And as I said a moment ago, the angels were also there at His ascension as the disciples looked up in the sky in wonder. The ascension indicates so many things to the Christian. First that Jesus is the Son of God. That He is living. That He is standing at the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us. And that He is coming again to claim His kingdom and claim HIs bride to live forever with Him.
And in the power of that truth, we can live without fear, without dread for the future, we can endure any suffering here on earth, having no fear of death, knowing that because He lives, we too shall live, and we shall live with Him. And until He comes again, we will gladly support and serve the truth as the church of the living God, the household of God. May we be found faithful servants when He comes.
Paul says in Rom 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”