Grace Community Church of Riverside: To take Jesus Christ to lost people and lost people to Jesus Christ

When the Church first began in the Book of Acts, the first church officers chosen were not Elders or Pastors (for the Apostles were serving both capacities at that moment in time), but Deacons.

The English word “Deacon” comes from the Greek word DIAKENOS, which translated literally means “to wait on tables.” That is what we see in Acts 6. The Jerusalem Church (which, for a very brief time, contained the Universal and Local Church simultaneously) was growing rapidly. Many of the Jews in Jerusalem at that time had traveled from all over the known world (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the districts of Libya and Cyrene, and Rome) to celebrate Passover. Little did they know that the Passover Lamb would be God’s Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, and that He would be slain before the Sabbath on Passover as the perfect Lamb of God. Three days later, on Sunday morning, Jesus arose from the grave (the first Easter), and appeared for 40 days to His Apostles and close associates. Then, on Pentecost Sunday (50 days after Passover), the Church was born (Acts 2), and Peter preached the first Christian Sermon. Thousands were miraculously saved, and thousands more were saved in the days following. Those Jews who received Christ as Savior did not want to go home because the Apostles were teaching them daily about their new faith. So, the early Church had a problem. They had thousands of new members, but these members did not have adequate lodging or food. So, the early church made every effort to take care of them. This is the context of Acts 6.

A complaint arose from the Greek-cultured Jewish Christians that their widows were not being included in the communal meals being provided by the church for the Hebrew-cultured Jewish Christian widows. The Apostles were so busy teaching the new believers and praying for the new church that they told the Jerusalem church to pick seven men to oversee the area of “waiting on tables” (DIAKENOS) for the Greek widows. That area of service was so special that qualifications were given in the selection of those men. Those qualifications required were men with a “good reputation, and full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Today, the process a church uses to select its Deacons and Deaconesses is one of the most important responsibilities the local church has. All other administrative decisions a church makes (when, where, and how long to hold church services) pales in comparison to their decision as to who will be their Deacons and Deaconesses. That decision will affect every single ministry of the church, and will determine whether that church is God’s church or the world’s church. There is an inseparable link between the character of a church and the quality of its Deacon Board. Deacons and Deaconesses set a godly example for the church to follow.

None of the qualifications for Deacons and Deaconesses include the ten following areas:

  • Physical attractiveness (height, weight, hair)
  • Ethnic identity
  • Educational Diplomas
  • Charismatic personality
  • Tone and quality of the voice
  • Musical talent
  • Speaking ability
  • Material wealth
  • Who they are related to
  • Who they know personally

And yet many churches make the selection of their Deacons and Deaconesses based exclusively on some if not all of the above ten criteria.

In the Old Testament, those were the criteria Israel used to pick their first king. His name was Saul, and he was a horrible king. God allowed Israel to make that tragic mistake so that when they chose their second king he would be the right one. God told Samuel how to select Israel’s second king in 1 Samuel 16:7: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature... for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In the New Testament, the office of Deacon and Deaconess was closely associated with the office of Elder (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13). Though there are some similarities between the two, there are clear differences as well. As stated earlier, DIAKENOS in secular Greek described someone who “waited on tables.” Basically, the word means “to serve.” In the eyes of the Greek, “serving” was not very dignified. The formula of the basic Greek attitude was: “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?” Jesus changed that view completely. In Luke 22:25-27, Jesus said:
“… the kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant (DIAKENOS). For who is greater, the one who reclines at table, or the one who serves?”

The Greek would have had no difficulty answering that question. It was obvious to him that the one who was served was the greater. But Christ reversed the roles and claimed that the servant was greater than the one being served.

Jesus Christ came with an entirely new dictionary of definitions. He defined the leaders as being the greatest servants. And it is within this context the office of Deacon and Deaconess must be defined. Those who filled the office of Deacon and Deaconess in the church were the “servants,” the “waiters,” the “helpers” of the remaining members of the church. Since the demands of a Deacon and Deaconess were higher than the demands of a local church member, the qualifications of the Deacon and Deaconess were more specific and demanding. I will cover the qualifications for the Office of Deacon and the Office of Deaconess separately:

“… a man 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. And let these first be tested; then let them serve as Deacons if they are beyond reproach… Let Deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (I Timothy 3:8-10, 12).

Not all Christians who choose to be church members also choose to make the further commitment to servanthood by being Deacons. Paul states that the measuring rod for a Deacon includes time and practice. He said in I Timothy 3:9, “And let these first be tested; then let them serve as Deacons if they are beyond reproach.” Time was needed to observe their practice, or lifestyle, in order to determine that these nine criteria are truly reflective of a Christian’s life-style.

“Dignity” (I Timothy 3:8): A man who is worthy of respect or honor; noble; dignified. Most often the Greek word refers to outward appearance. A Deacon dresses and acts appropriately.

“Not double-tongued” (I Timothy 3:8): This literally means that the man does not say one thing to one person and something else to another person. He doesn’t lie, stretch the truth, gossip, or appear insincere.

“Not addicted to much wine” (I Timothy 3:8): Literally, “linger long over wine.” Wine used in those days was different than wine today. Today we have the ability to artificially “kick-up” the alcohol content in wine. Back then, the wine was used to purify the drinking water. The normal ratio was 1 part wine and 8 parts water. So, a man would have to “linger long over wine” to get drunk. That is the point of this qualification; the Deacon must NOT be one who gets intoxicated.

“Not fond of sordid gain” (I Timothy 3:8): The Deacon is not known for greed or an unbalanced desire for financial gain.

“Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (I Timothy 3:9): The Deacon must be known as a man who is settled in his commitment to the doctrines of God’s Word without hesitation.

“Tested” (I Timothy 3:10): A man, who, after having been tested in his faith over a period of time, has been found to be faithful.

“Beyond Reproach” (I Timothy 3:10): That means that there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate any disqualification of the traits required of a man to be a Deacon. God’s leaders are always coming under attack. That is why they must make sure they are “squeaky-clean” in regards to the areas of qualification (not perfect... but “clean”). “Husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:12): Literally, “a one-woman man.” This is not referring specifically to a Deacon having never been divorced. It refers to a man who is so loyal to his wife (if he is married) that he doesn’t flirt with other women, or have a reputation as someone who has a “wandering eye.”

“Good manager of his children and his household” (I Timothy 3:12): He must be able to discipline and control his minor aged children while maintaining his dignity as a leader of the home, and his dignity as a church Deacon. If he has to “use his fists” in order to get his post-puberic sons or daughters to abide by his house rules, then he has lost his dignity as a manager of his family, and as such is not qualified to “serve” the local church. His management style must also be respected and admired by his wife and children. They are the ones who really “know” whether this prospective Deacon is a Godly-man. If he treats them callously, indifferently, irresponsibly, or harshly, they will not respect him... and it will be evident.

Paul also listed the qualifications for a Deaconess in I Timothy 3:11.
“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

It is clear that there was the “Office of Deaconess” in the church. Notice that Paul addresses “women” rather then a Deacon’s wife. It should also be noted that nothing is said about an Elder’s wife following I Timothy 3:1-7. If there were qualifications to be Deacon’s wife, there certainly would have been qualifications to be an Elder’s wife. In Romans 16:1, Paul “commends” Phoebe to the church in Rome (she delivered Paul’s Roman letter) by describing her as “a servant of the church.” The word “servant” is the Greek word DIAKENOS. Phoebe was evidently a Deaconess in the church of Cenchrea (an area near Corinth).

“Dignified”: A woman who is worthy of respect or honor; noble; dignified. Most often the Greek word refers to outward appearance. A Deaconess dresses and acts appropriately.

“Not malicious gossip”: Literally “a slanderer.” The word is DIABOLOS, a title frequently given to Satan (Matthew 4:5, 8, 11). Deaconesses must not be “gossips.” Often Deaconesses serve in very sensitive areas to women in the church where confidentiality would be a necessity (young women pregnant out of wed-lock; counseling wives who might be having marital problems; etc.).

“Temperate”: The Greek word literally means “wineless,” but here it is used metaphorically to mean “alert,” “watchful,” “vigilant,” or “clear-headed.” Deaconesses must be able to think clearly.

“Faithful in all things”: Similar to “being above reproach” for Deacons, but more than likely meaning the positive aspect of it. Instead of there being no “hint” of impropriety in their lives, there is no “hint” of not fulfilling faithfully their multi-faceted ministries to the women in the church. Faithful people have always been hard to find. One of the most important aspects of being a Deaconess (or Deacon) is being faithful.

What we have seen in I Timothy 3 are the criteria that God wants all local churches to use in selecting their “servants.” I Timothy 3:15 tells us why it is so important that the local church pick its “spiritual servants” using the criteria given: “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15). God has eternally mandated that the local church be “the pillar and support of the truth” ( the Bible) not Bible colleges, seminaries, or para-church organizations (i.e. Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, Campus Crusade for Christ, The Navigators).