The Deacon's Merciful Service
How do church deacons help establish God’s kingdom? Many of us might struggle to answer that question. For a number of reasons, the diaconate is often viewed as a non-spiritual administrative committee. Because deacons oversee church money and property we might mistake them simply for parochial accountants and custodians. But, according to Scripture, if we minimize the biblical office of deacon we miss a huge part of God’s plan for vibrant Christianity.
Healthy churches and healthy believers treasure deacons as invaluable servants of God, Christ’s official ministers of mercy. They help exposit the kindness of God, strengthen the communion of the saints, and preserve the fiscal integrity of the church. It is important for us to retain or, if need be, recover a biblical view of the office of deacon.
The Conditions for Serving as a Deacon
If we want the church to value the diaconate we need to preserve the high biblical standard for becoming a deacon (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
Deacons Must Be Spiritually Minded
The first deacons were men “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3–4). “Likewise deacons must be reverent…holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless” (1 Tim. 3:8–10). Of course, deacons must be financially and administratively competent. But they must also demonstrate a God–like sympathy for the hurting and a heart given to service. The idea that unqualified men should be put up for deacon as a way of urging spiritual maturity is totally contrary to God’s will for the office. Deacons must be spiritual pacesetters.
Deacons Must Be Self-controlled (v. 8)
Deacons must not be double-tongued. A double-tongued man says whatever he can to please his current conversation partner. A deacon must be able to speak the truth to all people lovingly and tactfully.
Deacons must not be given to much wine. A deacon may drink wine; Paul urged Timothy to take up the habit (1 Tim. 5:23). But a deacon must show that he can enjoy God’s good gift of alcohol without abusing it.
Deacons must not be greedy for money. Without financial self-control no man can steward the church’s resources or set a positive example to the congregation. A deacon who is content with what he has will serve well and bolster the confidence of others.
Deacons Must Be Successful at Home
“Likewise their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (vv. 11-12). Deacons need not be a husband or father. But those who are must have a history of capable leadership. A deacon without wife or children must be sufficiently established so as to have some domain over which he exercises godly rule.
The Charge of a Deacon
Deacons are Intercessors
Since deacons exercise Christ’s priestly office they must reflect his ministry of mercy. As priest, Jesus offered up “prayers and supplications” for those who weighed upon his heart (Heb. 5:7). Deacons must prayerfully intercede for their poor.
Deacons are Supervisors of Mercy
The Church Order that governs the congregation I serve puts it well: Deacons must supervise “the works of Christian mercy among the congregation; acquainting themselves with congregational needs; exhorting members of the congregation to show mercy.” The deacons must strive to ensure that the church loves, practices, and receives mercy (Micah 6:8).
Deacons are Stewards
Deacons must gather, manage, and distribute the offerings of God’s people. Deacons should study Jesus’ money parables (Luke 16:1-13; 19:11-27, etc.) to know how to leverage God’s resources for spiritual gain.
Deacons are Ministers
The deacons must distribute the offerings “in Christ’s name… encouraging and comforting with the Word of God those who receive the gifts of Christ’s mercy.” Through the deacons “the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted…” (Belgic Confession, Art. 30), not merely financially but also spiritually. Jesus says there is a way to give a cup of water in his name (Mark 9:41). Deacons must use their unique position to communicate God’s unmerited kindness to the recipients of financial assistance.
The Commendation for Well-serving Deacons
Paul offsets the sacrifices demanded of deacons with the reward for serving well (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:14). He does so using diaconal language, the language of investment and return. “…Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3:13). When a deacon serves well he brings honor upon himself, his church, and his God. He also strengthens his own faith by others-oriented service reflective of his Master’s example. Most men who have served as deacon will say that their service was hard, yet fruitful.
God is encouraging Christian males to desire the office of deacon (Cf. 1 Tim. 3:1). Here is what we should be hoping for, praying for, working for: That our young men, our five and ten and fifteen year old boys, would be heard saying, “When I grow up I want to be a deacon. I want to be proved blameless so that I might be entrusted with the privilege of serving Jesus’ church. I want to attain a good standing and great boldness in the faith.” God is looking for men who are eager to serve as officers in his church; who desire to be his hands and feet, to be his mouth, and to wield his spiritual scepter. Other church members will not always recognize your service. God always will.
The Commitment of the Congregation to the Deacons
If the deacons help share the resources of those who have much with those who have little (2 Cor. 9:9–13-15) then the rich have responsibilities to the deacons. God commands “those who are rich in this present age” to “do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:17–19). That the rich provide more than their share of financial support for the church should not lead them to grumble but to rejoice!
The recipients of diaconal help also have responsibilities. Recipients must receive help cheerfully, repenting of their (sometimes inherited) unwillingness to receive help. When God helps, his children should receive it gladly. Beneficiaries must also refuse to be enticed by financial aid. Jesus warned the crowds not to follow him simply because he had provided for their physical needs (John 6:26–27) but to use these gifts to receive the greater gift of eternal life through Christ. Finally, recipients must rely on the deacons only as necessary, understanding that it is a sin to take from the church what one can provide for himself (Eph. 4:28, 1 Thess. 3:10).
The duties we have to the deacons are greatly outweighed by the benefits of their ministry. Through the deacons Christ continues his priestly work. The deacons are perpetual illustrations of God’s love for our bodies and our souls. They remind us that God cares for our cares. He overflows with compassion for us.
Seventeenth-century pastor Wilhelmus `a Brakel encourages not just deacons but all Christians to acknowledge the preciousness of our gifts. “And may you burn with zeal to use them for that purpose for which they have been given, namely, to serve your Lord and to be beneficial to His church.”
William Boekestein is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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"What Is the Mercy of God?" by Persis Lorenti
"Mercy for Migrants" by Mark Johnston
"A Biblical Case for Deaconesses" by Keith Kauffman
"A Biblical Case against Deaconesses" by Ray Heiple
The Shepherd Leader by Tim Witmer
The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. by Wilhelmus à Brakel
Note: This article originally appeared on The Christward Collective in March 2017.