Deacons: The Servants of The Church
We feel a need to present this article for the benefit of our churches and the encouragement of our deacons. The condition in our churches, in general, has resulted in greater burdens being placed upon these servants, and a gradual decline in the general support due them from the memberships. Too great a neglect over too long a period is injurious to both this office and the churches.
It is certain to us that the subject of the office of the deacon and their functions need renewed interest and attention. The health of our churches requires, and the Scriptures, demand it.
First, And this may surprise many, the general topic of the deacon is exceedingly more broad than most people suppose. ALL ministers, including the angels, Christ, and the apostles were deacons. This I know I must labor to prove. Under the general and broad topic, it includes both men and women. And this latter, I must also labor to prove. Therefore, in the first section of this article, I trust the reader will carefully stay with me, for in setting forth this aspect of the deaconry, the foundation for the Office of the Deacon will be laid.
Second, the specific topic of the deacon is that divine and holy calling to the office of a deacon as established in the church with specific qualifications. This later aspect of the subject is more familiar to all of us. This office, as that of the bishop or elders, is confined to only men, and only such men made servants by God with specific enumerated qualifications in the Holy Writ.
The English word deacon is a transliteration of the Greek word diakonos; a VERB, meaning:
“to be an attendant, i.e., wait upon (menially, or as a host or friend); figuratively—a teacher. Technically—to act as a deacon, administer, minister unto, serve, or use the office of a deacon.”
There are three senses in which it is used.
(a) as a waiter, as in Luke 12:37;
(b) to minister or help, as in Matt. 25:44 and Acts 19:22, and
(c) to serve as a deacon, as in I Tim. 3:10.
The FEMININE NOUN for deacon is diakonia, meaning:
“Attendance as a servant. Figuratively—an aid, official service. Technically—a diaconate, administrator, minister, office, relief, or service. It is used for service, ministry, and deaconry in Acts 1:17, Acts 6:4 and Rom. 12:7. (Note: It is a feminine noun, even though applied most often to men. Thus, we conclude that the deacon is a servant of the church — otherwise, it appears to us, the next word would have been used by the Holy Ghost.
The basic or root word from which the other two above is derived is the Greek word diakonos. It is a noun, and used in both masculine and feminine genders. It means, “An attendant, i.e., waiter at tables or in other menial duties; teacher and pastor. Technically—a deacon or deaconess, minister, or servant.
To close this definitive section, allow me to break down the uses of this word as found in the New Testament:
Diakoneo (verb) is used thirty-seven times in the N.T. It is translated in the King James as “ministered,” “administered”, or “minister” twenty-five times. As “served” ten times; and as the “office of a deacon” twice.
Diakonia (noun, feminine gender) is used thirty-five times. It is translated “serving” or “service” four times; “ministry” “ministration” “ministering” and “administrations” twenty-nine times; “relief” once; and “office” once. Paul said “I magnify my office diakonia”.
Diakonos (noun, masculine or feminine genders) is used thirty times and translated “minister” or “ministers” twenty times; “servant” or “servants” seven times; “deacons” three times.
All the above should broaden our views of deacons much more than presently held. They are all the above, and all the above are deacons in the general application of diakonos, diakonia, and diakoneo. Since the words diakonos and diakonea are translated the office of a deacon, or deacons in Phil. 1:1, I Tim. 3:8, and I Tim. 3:12, we wish the reader will particularly note that the word is the same translated minister and servant as well as deacon.
THE GENERAL APPLICATION
The noun, deacon (diakonos), means minister, servant, or deacon in our English version. The translators used the word “deacon” in those places where the qualification for an official church office is given separately from other ministers. In other words, the particular usage is derived from the context in which the Greek word is used. This is the only way to distinguish this use from the others given in the definitions above. This also has led to a great limitation of the churches view of the deacon’s roles and functions. To illustrate:
When Jesus was tempted of Satan, it is written that “angels came and ministered (deaconed—diakonos) unto Him.” (Matthew 4:11)
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, the Scripture states: “And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and ministered (deaconed—diakonco) unto them.” (Matt. 8:15)
Jesus said of Himself: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered (deaconed—diakonco) unto, but to minister (deacon—diakoneo) and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45).
Again, “But Martha was cumbered about much serving (verb, diakonia), and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve (deacon—diakonos) alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40)
When the complaint was made in the early church that the Grecian widows were being neglected, we find the genesis of the office of the deacon. But notice what the apostles said they were doing: “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples, and said, It is not reason that we should serve (deacon, diakonos) tables.” (Acts 6:2)
Paul closed his ministry out at Ephesus saying: “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry (deaconry—diakonia), which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
And again he said: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office (deaconry—diakonia).” (Rom. 11:13)
Closing his epistle to the Romans, he wrote: “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant (deaconess—diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea.” (Romans 16:1)
Writing to his young son in the ministry, he said, “And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister (deacon, diakonos) of God, and our fellow laborer in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith.” (I Thess. 3:2)
After giving the qualifications for the office of a deacon, he wrote: “for they that have used the office of a deacon (deacon, diakonos) well, purchase to themselves a good degree.” (I Tim. 3:13)
I do not relish laboring a point so dryly as all the above, but feel it is necessary to establish the points needed to expand the subject more than is commonly understood today among our churches.
Throughout the churches all over the world, many members are specifically called to service and to the ministering to the saints and elders for their love of the cause of God and truth. Wherever we go throughout the various states, we find a hand-full of such men and women who devote their time, money, and personal service for our comfort, rest, and spiritual edification. In this regard, they are “Christ-like”, for He served the church as none other could—redeeming it and presenting it unto [himself spotless and without blame.
From the angels to the Martha’s, Paul’s and Timothy’s, these men and women serve in any and every way they can to glorify Christ, enhance the Gospel, and draw trembling saints into the kingdom of God. In this general sense, the subject of the deacon is exceedingly broad. Those, who out of love and devotion, visit the sick, entertain strangers and fellow saints, labor in the word serving spiritual food, strengthening their brethren and sisters, preparing for the Gospel meetings, aiding in the low feast, etc., I say, all of these are doing the work of deacons in this general application. And how great their reward! Their joy and satisfaction is ever so great.
These, and their blessed labor of love, reach out to others to draw them into the general body; they set forth the examples of love and kindness as set forth in the Christian faith. By their service, the love of God is shed abroad; the fainting hearts of elders, deacons, and members are revived and their hands strengthened in the work. They are all fellow laborers in the ministry of Christ.
The reason for laboring in the above points should be clear by now. By comparing these Scriptures a broad view of the office of the deacon may be more clearly seen, as well as the help to be given to them by all servants in the church. But before proceeding to the discussion of the office of a deacon, we must clarify one point, which we are fairly certain may be negatively viewed by many readers; and because our age is characterized by Feminism (so-called), it is necessary, that is, women in this service.
I hasten to say, they are not, I repeat, they are not proper Scriptural candidates to the office of a deacon.
If we took the position that they could serve as an ordained minister (which a deacon is), then we would be forced to conclude it was right and proper for them, in this office, to “teach and usurp authority” over the men, for in this office, deacons carry the authority given to them by the church.
To argue in favor of such is to demonstrate gross ignorance of the plain teaching of the Scriptures, and rebellion against this divine authority. For women to teach men, or to dominate in the church, is a serious disorder, being directly contrary to the specific rule of the Scriptures. “But I suffer NOT a woman to TEACH, nor USURP authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (I Tim. 2:11-12)
Again, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it IS NOT PERMITTED unto them to speak; but to be UNDER OBEDIENCE as also saith the Law.”
(I Cor. 14:34-35)
The deacon is a servant, and as a servant is in subjection to the commands of his master. Thus, if the Master has limited the bounds of the women servants, then they cease to be servants when they overstep these bounds. But it is needful (for Scriptural balance) to understand that all these various senses of the word deacon and their usefulness is of divine authority and embraces all those God raises up to be servants in their capacities in His church. These servants, men and women, are to be as Paul told the saints at Rome, “commended” and honored by all members of the body.
THE OFFICE OF A DEACON
Both of the words diakoneo (verb) and diakonos (noun) are transliterated into the word deacon when in the official capacity of the church’s ordained ministry. Watch how this is by the italicized words in the following texts:
“And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” (I Tim. 3:10)
All the italicized words take the place of the single word diakoneo.
Literally speaking, it reads: “And let these also first be proved; then let them deacon, being found blameless.”
Again, “For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Literally, “for they that deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, etc.”
The texts using diakonos (noun) are:
“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre…” (I Tim. 3:8) and, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” (I Tim. 3:12)
In the last case, the deacon is a “waiter, servant, or deacon.” Thus we distinguish this office from that of the bishop. The bishop, or elder, is a servant of God, and does His bidding as a faithful servant. The deacon is a servant of the church, called and qualified by God, to serve the church.
In most all articles on this subject of which I’ve read, ministers in the past have emphasized the role of the deacon in three capacities, i.e., as a servant to serve the table of the Lord, to serve the table of the minister, and to serve the table of widows. These three ARE a part of their services; but certainly not the fullness of them. Today, Old Baptist ministers serve their own tables, except for travel expenses to distant churches; since the New Deal Era and rise of socialism in America, the government serves the tables of the widows (and anyone else they can find an excuse for). This leaves the deacon with only one role of the three left — to serve the Lord’s table! It is no wonder, then, that deacons find themselves without sufficient support and encouragement by the churches. If that were all they were required to do, then they are not necessary at all. But this is not so. The very fact that the Holy Ghost has set such high qualifications for the holders of this office is sufficient to alert us that more is expected of them.
The first deacons ordained in the church shed much light upon their qualifications and functions, and their relationship to the bishops or elders. [We are aware that controversy exists whether the seven men ordained in Acts 6 were deacons, evangelists, or ministers. But the Greek word diakoneo (served) in Acts 6:2, and the word diakonia (ministration) in Acts 6:1 removes, for us, any doubt in this matter. They are clearly deacons, having a deaconry. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration (diakonia—deaconry). Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve (diakonco—a waiter on tables) tables.” (Acts 6:1)
Thus we see a separation being made in the daily ministration. This daily ministration, at that time, was two-fold, i.e., it consisted of serving the word of God, and serving the temporal, or carnal needs of widows. In those early days before the destruction of Jerusalem, the disciples knowing it would be destroyed according to the word of our Lord, sold their property and brought the money (Acts 5:1-5) and laid it at the feet of the apostles. During this period, the twelve administered all the services, temporal and spiritual, to the church.
But now the church had grown too large for them to do both. They now separated the deaconry into two distinct offices.
Note the qualifications: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over THIS BUSINESS.” (Acts 6:3)
These men were to be of honest report, thus having the respect and trust of the church. In addition, they were to be full of the Holy Ghost, being spiritual minded men who love the Gospel of grace. This we believe points to a greater service to be performed by them. A natural man can be honest, and have a good ability in business matters, but a natural man cannot serve spiritual services. Stephen was one of these men set aside in Acts 6, and he immediately demonstrates characteristics of a prophet by upbraiding the Jews. He was also stoned to death for it.
But recall what is said of deacons in I Tim. 3:13?
“for they that have used the office of a deacon WELL purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Stephen sealed this qualification in blood. The meekest of men, when performing the office of a deacon well will find this same great boldness in the faith. It will sprout, grow, and mature and redound to the honor of God and edification of the church.
These men must be ministers in the church. Each minister has given to him the specific gifts God would have in the church. Some exhort, admonish, and reprove. Some encourage, strengthen and reach out to others. Some read, search, discuss, and teach in the church. All are to set forth the very highest standards of Christian behavior, as they are ensamples to the flock.
These men are to be first proved. The church cannot transform a sluggard into a servant. They must be servants first. But once ordained to this office, they are to be respected, honored, and aided liberally in their services by the whole body of the church—excepting no one. All members are to be ready at all times to make his task easier, and give themselves, and all they have, to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is self-evident, for it is THE CHURCH that sets them apart to this service for themselves and the Lord. “Look YE out from AMONG YOU” said the apostles. The apostles did not pick them, nor are the elders today suppose to.
They were to be full of wisdom. Surely not the wisdom of this world, for it is foolishness unto God. But the wisdom of God is intended. To know and understand the doctrines of Christ; to be farsighted to see the direction issues and events are taking; to be a guide (not boss) in the decisions of the church; and to be able to apply the Scriptures to the problems of the church and members thereof. It takes wisdom for a deacon to reach out to others seeking for gospel deliverance, or the foundations of the church. It takes “great boldness in the faith” to go into Mystery Babylon to lead a captive child of God out.
It takes great boldness to correct an erring brother, and neglectful and complacent church member — and to know which is which!
How much easier, it seems, the task of the elders might become, if the deacons and members who take time to study Stephen’s discourse in Acts 6:8-15.
This was a DEACON PREACHING, and I’ve never heard an Old Baptist elder preach like that!
I doubt any Old Baptist have ever heard a deacon preach like that in recent years!
Notice something particular: The apostles told the church “Look ye out from among you” these men “whom WE MAY APPOINT over this business” here are servants. The church selected these men and they were then given to help the apostles. Thus they were fellow laborers in the work, or co-laborers in the ministry.
You cannot help but see this throughout all the epistles. These servants traveled everywhere the ministers went, ran errands for them and the church, and most of Paul’s letters were written by them.
An interesting point can be made here. The bishops or elders are also deacons (diakonos) and deacons are ministers (diakoneo), yet they are ordained in separate offices with similar, yet different qualifications. The appointment “over this business” shows that the deacon is over the temporal ministration, while the elders were over the spiritual to “give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry (diakonia) of the word.” (Acts 6:4)
The deacons are attendants, waiters upon, administrators, ministers, and servants of the church.
When a church is in need of one to place in the office of a deacon, what are the marks they should see in determining who this servant is?
An influential man?
A wealthy man?
A kinsman to most of the members?
He must have these marks, or qualifications, to a degree that they can be recognized:
(1) of honest report
(2) full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom
(3) grave, or serious , particularly in the care of the church, and love of the truth.
(4) not double tongued (or wishy-washy)
(5) not given to much wine
(6) not greedy of filthy lucre (money)
(7) holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience
(8) having one wife, who is also grave
(9) having a wife who is not a slanderer
(10) having a wife who is sober
(11) having a wife who is faithful in all things
(12) one who rules his children and house well
Find this man, and you have found the deacon to be installed into this divine office. Those are the marks of these servants, and it is God alone who is able to fit a man with them.
There are traits in deacons of which all members ought to be mindful. God lays a burden, a deep care, a fretful worry, upon them for the care of the church. If this is lacking, he is no deacon. In this, they and the bishop are alike. They are both servants and ministers. The word diakonos also bears the additional meaning of teacher and pastor. As a teacher, the deacon MUST BE STUDIOUS in the Scriptures.
How can he possibly be a servant and be ignorant of the instructions his Master has left in writing for him?
How can he possibly sort out Gospel order from man-made traditions and customs which grow up as rag weeds in religion?
Traditions and customs, particularly today, utterly fail to solve church or individual problems. All traditions and customs in all societies evolve from methods of solving problems. But problems change—traditions are useless in those for which they were not suited. But the Scriptures are plenary, and by inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The answers to church problems—all of them are found therein. The deacon must be able to fulfill his calling, and lighten his and the church’s burden, by application of the Scriptures. In the face of a “Thus saith the Lord” all members must yield.
When a conflict arises between the traditions and the Scriptures, and the deacon or ministry directs to the Holy Scriptures, the church has no divine authority to hold to that which is un-Scriptural. The deacon, as also the elders, must know what is written therein—or sad will be the results in the church. And the deacon will suffer the most!
In this office, while it is clear that the bishop or elder is commanded to “feed the church of God which is among you, taking the oversight, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.; it either as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:4)
Yet the role of pastor, or shepherd, is included in this Greek word. The pastor is a shepherd, and deacons as well as all God’s servants, cannot help but to feel a pastoral care for those they love in the faith. If they love the Lord and His dear people, they will be found attempting to feed, water, shelter, and lead the flock of God. In so far as their various gifts are different in the ministry from the elders, they will greatly supplement and enhance the work of the elders, and the overall good of the church.
Surely, if the church lightly esteems this divine ministry, they will ordain men to the office of a deacon who love the world and seek its benefits, rather than spend and be spent in the service of the church. Those that seek worldly riches, honor, and carnal pleasures and comforts above that of the Gospel of Christ are not fit subjects of this high and holy calling.
When the church at Jerusalem was “scattered abroad” they went “everywhere preaching the word.” It is recorded that the apostles remained in Jerusalem.
So, what became of these deacons, and who went every where preaching the word, unless these men also being full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom were among some of them?
Stephen, we know, preached to the Jews. Since Philip is mentioned next, following the Philip who was ordained a deacon of these seven, it may be that this Philip who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch was the deacon.
However, he may have been Philip the evangelist, or Philip the apostle. I do not argue the point — merely suggest the possibility.
In his service, the deacon must reach out to every trembling sinner seeking deliverance through Christ Jesus. This seems obvious—the elders are not the only ones concerned in the salvation of the elect, and are not left alone in this work. It is the labor of the whole church to aid and help in all ways Scripturally possible to support the ministry in its service to God and the church.
MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH
It is the role of every church member to give liberal support to the work of the ministry—including that of the deacons. It is the church which called for their ordination. In this capacity, the deacon or deacons, are the chief administrators of the church in temporal matters, as the word diakonia means in part.
Now an administrator is not an executive, nor do they possess legislative powers. The chief executive of the church is its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the laws of the church are already written in the New Testament.
As an administrator, he is concerned in carrying out the mandates of the Scriptures in those things pertaining to the secular affairs of the body. He is not the lord over God’s heritage, but a servant. And this is one aspect of his service.
Now as members of the church, each member is to be careful to give the aid and support (as well as the respect) due to this office. While it is true that the deacon is not to be greedy over filthy lucre (money), this is no argument that he must finance the church alone. This is the affair of the whole body. But he is to see that the financial affairs are cared for by the members, and remind them when this need is pressing.
In his role as a waiter on tables, he is to see that everything needed for this service is available. It is both dishonoring and embarrassing for the table of the minister to be neglected. When the elders travel great distances, the deacons feel very conscious of their obligation to see that he does not travel at his own expense. Since he is not greedy over filthy lucre, he will dig deeper into his own resources when the members fail in their role. While many members never consider the wear and tear on the elders’ cars, the deacons are most often very conscious of it. In some cases, the miles they put on their cars are greater in travel to their churches than in their secular employment. In this regard, members should bear their share of the expenses without burdening the deacons overmuch.
The Gospel rule for the members is this:
“For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” (II Cor. 8:13-15)
As a member of the church, if you desire to inquire further into this subject of giving and receiving, rather than run to the Jewish law of tithing as Arminians do, why not read II Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9.
In his role as a waiter on tables, the deacon is likewise to see that the poor, the widows, and destitute of the church are not lacking in carnal support. Again, the resources for this service are to be supplied by equality by the members of the church.
One needful statement here:
The church is not concerned, as a body, with humanitarian benevolence— its responsibility is to its members. If any wish to go beyond this, they must first be sure they have taken care of their own among the flock. In other words, avoid the fan-fair of the hypocrites!
Not only is the church to liberally support the men ordained to the office of a deacon, but likewise all the servants of the church, both men and women, as we have presented before. When Paul commended Phoebe “which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea”, he said to the saints at Rome, “Receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that YE ASSIST HER in whatsoever business she HATH NEED OF YOU: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:2).
I can readily think of some cases at hand. When the sisters are serving the church during meetings wherein many guest from distant places assemble, the time, labor, and expense can be exceedingly great. This burden also ought to be “by equality.” While we personally “frown” on churches sending delegates here, yonder, and everywhere, nevertheless there are occasions when churches send women as messengers to sister churches. It is not reason that they go at their own expense, although they are always willing to do so. If they, as Phoebe, are in service of the church upon church business, then this ought to be “by equality.”
I exhort you, dear members of the church of God, help those who labor in the church, that you have part in this ministry also. Remember when you offend, to immediately correct it, and not be a burden on your deacon. He will spend many sleepless nights, and shed many secret tears over you and the church. Remember too his wife and children, and don’t be the one to make them suffer with him. Support him, comfort him, encourage him, respect him, and glorify God in your own service.
By Stanley C. Phillips