“Those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 13).
The priesthood of all believers means that all lawful vocations are avenues of service to the Lord. However, there do remain offices of the church that fall under vocational ministry, roles by which leadership is exercised in the community of the people of God. We have considered one of these vocations, that of elder or overseer, which is described in Acts 6:1–6; 1 Timothy 3:1–7; and Titus 1:5–9. The second is the vocation of deacon, with Acts 6:1–6 and 1 Timothy 3:8–13 being key passages on this subject.
As with the title overseer, the title deacon gives us a clue as to the nature of the office. “Deacon” is the English translation of the Greek word diakonos, which was given to servants of various kinds in the ancient world. Thus, the office of deacon has to do with servanthood, with meeting certain needs among the people of God.
In studying the New Testament passages, it becomes clear that the type of servanthood given to the deacons has an emphasis on the physical needs of the people of God. We see this in Acts 6:1–6, where seven men were chosen to provide food for the Greek-speaking widows in the Apostolic church. The Apostles, who in some ways serve as the pattern for the ministry of the elders, were left to focus on the ministry of the Word and on prayer. So, we see in the church that the elders are tasked chiefly with attending to the spiritual needs of the people of God and the deacons are appointed to deal with the physical needs of the saints. Of course, this does not mean that the elders never deal with physical needs or that deacons never address spiritual needs; rather, we are speaking of emphasis. Deacons primarily care for people physically and elders primarily care for people spiritually.
The qualifications for deacons found in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 overlap in many ways with the qualifications for elders given in verses 1–7. Those who are ordained as deacons must be honest and run their households well. There has been debate within the Reformed tradition as to whether Paul allows for women to be deacons, but regardless of the position one takes, the Apostle stresses that deacons must “not [be] greedy for dishonest gain” (v. 8). This confirms that deacons must address physical needs. Because deacons will collect and disburse resources that can alleviate physical hardships, it is essential that they not be people who would be prone to stealing or misusing what has been set aside for needy people in the church and community.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Deacons play a vital role in making sure that those with material difficulties have their basic needs met. But they cannot do this without the support of the entire congregation. Therefore, it is essential that we support the deacons, as we are able, by volunteering our services for their use and contributing to the deacons’ fund or other collections that are used to help people in our churches and communities.