Chapter 16: AS IN
BIBLE TIMES DEACONS SERVE THE CHURCH
by Ben S. Flatt
Deacons are an important part
of the working program of the New Testament Church. A proper understanding of
their responsibilities is vital to the success of church growth. Although the
Bible has relatively little to say about deacons, sufficient information is
given and adequate guidelines are defined to produce the logical conclusions
concerning the authority of deacons, their qualifications, the process of
selection, their assigned duties, and the performance of those duties. The
application of these principles will help avoid both of two extremes, either
making deacons the same as elders and overseers, or letting them be deacons in
name only, accomplishing very little.
MEANING OF THE WORD
The term which is translated
"deacon" is from an original word which means "servant."
It is defined as "one who
executes the commands of another. . . a servant, attendant, or minister"
(Thayer). The original word, in both noun and verb forms, appears over 90 times;
however, the specific rendering of "deacon" occurs only 5 times in our basic
English texts (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12,13). Elsewhere, the term is
translated as minister, servant, ministering, ministration, to minister,
serving, service, to do service, relief, administration, minister unto, minister
to, administer, and serve. In every place where the word is used, whatever the
form, the idea of "service" is presented.
AUTHORITY FOR DEACONS
That God has authorized deacons
in the church can be easily seen. The specific "office of a deacon" is
identified (1 Tim. 3:10,13). An outline of qualifications is given to instruct
the church about the type of men needed (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-10). The early
church was commanded by the twelve apostles to select and appoint men to serve
in this capacity (Acts 6:2-3). And some, who were serving in the church at
Philippi were included in the salutation of Paul's epistle to that church (Phil.
Although the qualifications of
the deacons are not as strict as those of elders, they are, nevertheless, quite
important. The word "likewise" (1 Tim. 3:8) indicates that it is just as
necessary for deacons to possess the specified qualities for the office of
service as for the elders to have the qualities of leadership. The required
traits which are listed in two passages of Scripture (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim.
3:8-10,12), deal with three concepts: character, ability, and relationships with
Four involve character traits:
Grave. There must be a high
degree of maturity which produces balanced, serious thinking.
Not double-tongued. Integrity
is a key. One must be honest with all people at all times, never being
Not given to much wine. At a
time when little water was used because of health reasons, wine was used for
drinking purposes. Warning was issued about being given to wine in excess or for
other purposes. A deacon, like every Christian, should avoid the evils of strong
Not greedy of filthy lucre. Men
should not be lovers of money or covetous of it.
Three emphasize ability:
Holding the mystery of the
faith in pure conscience. It was necessary to have a clear understanding of the
Word of God to stand for truth and to labor within its boundaries.
Full of the Holy Spirit.
Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us through faith (Galatians 3:14) and that
faith comes through the word (Romans 10:17), the man would need to be guided by
the word given by inspiration.
Full of wisdom. Men charged
with being deacons should be able to use common sense and good judgment in
carrying out their assigned tasks.
Three are concerned with
relationships to others:
Husband of one wife. To be a
deacon a man must have one, and only one wife.
Ruling house well. The control
of one's family is an indicator of ability to function in other areas.
Of good report or blameless.
One's reputation can help or hinder, depending on what is thought about that
person by the community and the church.
SELECTION OF DEACONS
Very little detailed teaching
is given to govern the selection of deacons. The brethren were told to ". . .
look ye out. . . men. . . whom we (apostles) may appoint. . . " (Acts
6:3).Whatever approach is used, leaders of the church should involve the
membership in suggestions and approval of men to serve as deacons. The context
of Acts 6 reveals that the needs and circumstances of a given situation will
determine when deacons are appointed and how many are required.
ASSIGNED DUTIES OF DEACONS
All the work of the church,
including that of deacons, is overseen by the elders (Acts 20:28; Hebrews
13:7,17). The deacons have authority only as they are assigned to be "over" some
specific "business" (Acts 6:3). Each deacon should be delegated responsibilities
which are clearly understood by the deacon, the elders, and the congregation.
Deacons may assist the elders by performing assignments in all scriptural works,
particularly material, physical, benevolent, and mission areas.
PERFORMANCE OF DUTIES
Many congregations suffer
because deacons, as well as others, will not perform. Important programs of work
accomplish little or nothing if left on paper or in the memory of a
conversation. Until a task is assigned, a deacon can not function; however, when
the request is given, he needs to move on to see that the job is done. Working
within the guidelines of the desires of the elders, a deacon must be willing to
make decisions and put forth immediate efforts to begin and complete his
The work of the deacon is
important. He is not an elder, may never be qualified as an elder, and need not
necessarily use his office as a stepping stone to be an elder. He can serve as a
deacon, recognizing the value of that service. Deacons need to function
regularly and be appreciated for their work's sake. When deacons have used the
office well, they "purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in
the faith. . . " (1 Tim. 3:13).
Good deacons are a blessing.
When they were appointed and did their work in the setting of Acts 6, the
complaining stopped, the needs were met, the Word increased, the disciples
multiplied, and the deacons grew in faith and service (Acts 6:7-8). Just as the
church today needs good elders to lead, it also needs competent, willing deacons
What two extremes involving
deacons exist today?
Does the meaning of the word
"deacon" suggest the type of duty he has?
What biblical authority do we
have for deacons?
Discuss the different types of
qualifications required of men who can serve as deacons.
What is the scriptural
relationship between elders and deacons?
What assigned duties can