“The Church and Deacons”                                                              July 28, 2013

1 Timothy 3:8-13

 

SI:  1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

Paul says in 3:15 that he has written this letter so that Timothy will know

   how to instruct believers to behave in the household of God,

   which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.

 

Paul’s main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

   church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

   that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 

Paul spends a good bit of this short letter covering church government—

   the particular qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon.

 

Church government is not the most exciting topic.

   It’s not something that most Christians get concerned about or think about

   very much, unless something goes wrong in the church.

It doesn’t have anything directly to do with our faith in Christ or our salvation.

   But, it’s important to the Gospel none the less.

 


 

INTRO:  As I was studying this passage and pondering the office of deacon,

   a question popped into my mind, a question about deacons that I didn’t see

   addressed in any of the commentaries or sermons I was reading.

I wondered how Wake Forest University got its mascot.

   In case you don’t know, their mascot is the Demon Deacon.

 

Well, it all started in 1923 when Wake Forest beat Duke in football.

   A sports writer was commenting on the devilish play of the Wake team,

   and being a Baptist school, he called them the Demon Deacons.

Some fraternity boys got a hold of that, and one of them, Jack Baldwin,

   tells the story:

“My fraternity brothers and I were just sitting around one evening, and came to the

   agreement that what Wake Forest needed was someone dressed like a deacon—

   top hat, tails, a black umbrella and all that.  We wanted him to be more dignified

   than other mascots, sort of like an old Baptist Deacon would dress.”

 

So they found an old tuxedo and top hat, and elected Jack to do the honors at the

   next game, which happened to be against North Carolina.

And the rest is history.  Ever since, the student body has elected a Demon Deacon.

   Some of them have become famous for their stunts.

 

Jimmy Devos (1955) shocked the Bowman Gray Stadium football crowd by

   dropping his pants—only to reveal a pair of colorful Bermuda shorts.

Bill Shepherd (1960) mocked Auburn’s “War Eagle” cry with a cry of his own—

   “Turkey Buzzard!”

Ras Chavman (1981) fell into a coma after smashing his head on a Gatorade jug

   while head-banging.

Let’s hope that none of our deacons pull any similar stunts.

   Although wouldn’t it be nice if they wore tails and top hats to church!

 

Every denomination and branch of the church has deacons,

   the Catholics have deacons, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, the Presbyterians—

   but there are some significant differences in the way the office is viewed.

Those of you from a Baptist tradition know that the Board of Deacons in many

   Baptist churches functions more like a Board of Elders in a Presbyterian church.

And in the Catholic church, the office of deacon is a stepping stone for men who

   are going into the priesthood.

Perhaps one of the reason for such variation is that the Bible doesn’t say

   much about the diaconal office. 

In the New Testament, there are only three passages that explicitly

   mention deacons, and even they don’t tell us very much.

 

Acts 6, explains the origin of the office, the problems with caring for widows,

   and how the church elected seven Spirit-filled men to take on this ministry.

1 Timothy 3, where Paul gives the qualifications for deacons—our passage.

   But this tells us nothing about what deacons are to do, just qualifications.

Philippians 1:1, just one verse where Paul greets all the saints in Philippi,

   and also greets the overseers and the deacons. 

That verse simply shows us that there were these two boards in the early church—

   a board of elders and of deacons. 

 

But even though deacons are not mentioned often,

   they are crucial for life and health of church.

When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he commissioned his Apostles

   to lay the foundations of the church for the Gospel Age.

The instructions and examples of the Apostles concerning church government

   are not optional, they are imperative. 

And it is clear that the office of deacon is to be an ordinary and perpetual office.

 

Many ways we could go about studying this passage.

   We could work our way though this list of qualifications. 

But they are essentially the same as the qualifications for elders. 

   Men of maturity and godly character who hold to doctrine

   and who manage their families well.

 

So I want us to consider this passage and topic from a bird’s eye view,

   and consider two reasons why Jesus Christ has given the church deacons. 

1.  For the church’s health

2.  For his own glory

 

You will see that these overlap. 

   Things that make the church healthy bring Christ honor.

   Things that glorify him, promote our spiritual health.


MP#1  Christ has given us deacons for the health of the church.

Why does the church need deacons? 

Let’s back up a bit and start with a more basic question:

What offices is the church supposed to have?  What does the Bible say?

   The church once had apostles and prophets, but those were extraordinary offices.

   They served a foundational role, and then those offices ended.

   The church no longer has apostles and prophets. 

 

Bible teaches that there are two ordinary church offices—elder and deacon.

Elders essentially have two roles:

   They are overseers, rulers, judges of the church,

   and they are preachers and teachers who feed God’s people and who

   perform the sacraments of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

 

The office of elder has Old Testament roots. 

   Moses appointed elders to govern Israel.  They had a judicial role.

   They heard cases, they offered counsel and rendered judgment based on Word.

Priests were considered elders, although their work was not ruling or judging.

   They lead worship, which included reading and explaining the Law of God.

As synagogue tradition developed—by time of Christ—

   each synagogue had a ruler as well as a teacher.

Those are all part of the background history for the church elder.

 

But when it comes to deacons, there was no precise Old Testament parallel. 

The Levites did carry out many duties that we associate with deacons.

   They cared for the building and grounds of the tabernacle and temple.

   They collected the tithes and offerings of the people.

But they also directed the music and singing, they were teachers of the law.

 

Caring for the needy in Israel was a function of church and state, which were one.

But, with beginning of new era of the church, old church/state union was dissolved,

   so church had to make arrangements for caring for needy in membership.

Much of this caring was done spontaneously.  

   Hearts of Christians were motivated to give generously—Apostles distributed.

But became such a big job in the Jerusalem church,

   plus there was this tension between two cultural groups within church—

   Greek speaking Jews and Hebrew speaking, Jews, Apostles faced with problem.

They could not continue to do this mercy work and preach and teach.

 

So instructed church to choose seven Spirit-filled, wise men—set apart as deacons.

   The title “deacon” is not used in this passage. 

   But it seems obvious this story is given to show origin and the diaconate.

 

With that background of the church offices, it seems we can answer the question

   of why the church needs deacons.

The offices of the church represent essential functions of the church.

   And for the church to be healthy, there must be leadership in these essential areas.

 

1.  For a church to be healthy—must be sound teaching and worship.

If no sound teaching, no biblical worship—church will collapse.

   Same thing will happen on a church-wide scale that happens on an individual

   scale when a Christian does not have sound teaching and worship.

   Falls apart spiritually. 

This essential function of teaching is represented by pastors,

   or, as we say in our Presbyterian polity, by teaching elders.

 

2.  For a church to be healthy there must faithful adherence to the laws and

   standards of God’s word by the Christians in the church.

If a church has sound teaching but no discipline will collapse spiritually.

If members of the church listen to teaching and preaching of word, attend worship

   but then are permitted to live disobedient, faithless lives,

   then the truth that is taught would be undermined by their example.

This essential function of discipline represented by overseers, ruling elders.

 

3.  For a church to be healthy there must be an active life of service and mutual

   love expressed in practical ways.

If a church has sound teaching and outward conformity to the law of God

   but no practice of love and generosity and service, then the Christian faith

   loses its power and vitality.

This essential function of service is represented by deacons.

 

We may have other ideas about what makes a good church, successful church.

But according to Christ and his Apostles, a good church rests on three things:

   sound teaching, faithful rule and discipline, and the practice of loving service.

If any of those elements are missing—you do not have healthy church. 

 

Part of keeping all of these elements is a clear understanding of church office

   and a commitment to the division of labor among the officers.

In Acts 6, the Apostles refused to continue to oversee the mercy ministry of church.

Not because they thought it was beneath them, not spiritual enough.

   Because their calling was to preach and lead worship and rule over church.

Chose seven men we can turn this ministry of serving table over to.

   The Apostles did not want to do it—once again, not because beneath them,

   but understood the will of Lord in this matter. 

Different offices and a division of labor most profitable to church.

 

Great harm has been done to the office of deacon over centuries when church

   forgotten that there is to be a division of labor between elders and deacons.

Starting in 3rd and 4th centuries—office of deacon changed from being

   an office of service for the poor in church and community

   to a training ground for young men going into the ministry.

Young man would become a deacon as a sort of stepping stone.

   In that role he would follow the minister around, be a sort of assistant.

   Do various duties in the church and in worship.

After completed training—would no longer be a deacon—become a minister.

   A complete misunderstanding of the office.

 

During Protestant Reformation, John Calvin revived true office of deacon.

   In Geneva, Switzerland where pastor—deacons no longer trainees for ministry.

   They regained their true calling—serving needy in church and community.

Started and ran orphanages, hospitals, started industries to provide jobs.

   Calvin had it right.  Deacons not trainees for elders—office in own right.

 

In our denomination—PCA—office of deacon has suffered.

Strong view of office of ruling elder—sometimes do too much work of deacons.

   Deal with matters should turn over to them—

   financial needs in body, issues of giving, challenges to stewardship.

That leaves deacons with little to do that actually applies to calling—often,

   only duty left is caring for building and grounds—which, if church

   has paid janitorial service, amounts to very little work on their part.

Meanwhile—elders feel content because busy, but shepherding and ruling

   issues of the church suffer neglect. 

 

Deacons are just as essential to life and health of church.

   Even in a church like Jerusalem church—people incredibly generous.

Church needs officers to oversee giving, distribute money and help

   Deal with financial issues and the hearts of people.

Not easy—that requires wisdom and deliberation and compassion.

Brings us to the second reason that Jesus has given us deacons:

MP#2  Christ has given us deacons for His own glory.

In a way unique to their office, deacons reflect a particular aspect of the glory

   of Jesus Christ—the glory that shines from His humble service.

 

The biggest mansion I have ever been (besides the Biltmore House in Asheville

   was in St. Louis.  Some seminary friends of ours—missionaries to Africa—

   were staying in servants’ quarters there in exchange for cleaning work.

When owners were gone, friends invited us over and we wandered all over.

   It had an enormous marble staircase, gold leaf sinks, room after room,

   all lavishly appointed. 

Our friend Janet showed us how when she had finished vacuuming the oriental

   rugs, had to go back and comb all the fringe so that is was even and neat.

They had been living in a hut in Congo, so she got a kick out of that.

 

How does the world measure greatness?  By having people serve you. 

   By having wealth and power and influence

   for people to attend to your every need and whim.

Jesus Christ reversed the way that true greatness is measured.

   According to Jesus, greatness is not determined by service received

   but by service given.  He proved this, not just by his teaching, by his life.

 

He said, Matthew 20:28

   The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,

   and to give His life as a ransom for many

Little Greek lesson:  this verse says in Greek:

  “The Son of Man did not come to be deaconed, but to deacon,

   and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

 

Word “deacon” in verb form means to serve, to wait on tables.

   It’s noun form means server or waiter.

You’re in a restaurant, someone wearing an apron comes to your table and says:

    Hello, my name is so-and-so, I’ll be your waiter this evening.

If that same scene had taken place in the time of Christ,

   you would have heard him say:  I’ll be your deacon this evening. 

   Can I get you a drink while you are looking at the menu?

We’ve simply taken the common n word for waiter or server,

   and given made it the title for this office of the church.

This is what the eternal Son of God left the glory of heaven to do—

   to be a waiter, to be a deacon.

How did Jesus deacon?

By rubbing shoulders with all sorts of people, paying attention to needs, serving.

   He gave sight to blind, hearing to deaf, speech to mute.

   He touched scabby skin of lepers and made clean.

   He went into a grieving house, raised little girl from dead.

   He fed great crowd of hungry people.

   He provided wine for a wedding feast that had run out.

   He delivered tormented souls from demon possession.

 

And do you remember how Christ served at the Last Supper?

   There was no servant present, so he wrapped a towel around his waist,

   and he washed the feet of his disciples. 

Do you remember how much that bothered them, especially Peter?

   Thought it was not right for the teacher, the Rabbi to do a job

   that servants were supposed to do.  But did anyway, because he was a deacon.

Very next day Jesus performed his great and final act as a deacon.

   Gave himself over to be stripped naked, beaten bloody, crucified,

   then He served His life blood as a ransom for sins of His people.

 

Jesus is the great deacon.  He is the great waiter and server.

   By example He leads all Christians to follow in His footsteps.

   By His death, resurrection and presence, he empowers Christians to be deacons.

   He wants us to be like him by serving people in His name and His Spirit.

When Christians serve needy people in the Spirit and name of Christ—

   it brings Him glory.

 

And this is why—Your service shows that He has the power to change you.

   Shows that Jesus Christ can take you—a self-centered, stingy person,

   obsessed with you own comfort and possessions,

   jealous of your time and money and space—and turn you

   into a servant who is willing to wash the feet of the lowliest person.

Only Jesus can do that.  And when He does—we stand amazed at His power.

 

You know Christians like that—don’t you.

   Those Christians who don’t cling to money, time, schedule—

   but give, and give, and give of themselves and never run out.

That is the deaconly Spirit of Christ at work in them.

And when the world sees people like that—sits up and takes notice.

   And glory comes to Jesus Christ.  And the Gospel goes forth with power.

Why did the church spread so rapidly in early days? 

Certainly the power of the Gospel message,

   but also because of the service of the church.

 

Around the year 360 the Roman Emperor Julian came to the throne.

   He hated Christianity and wanted to revive the old Roman paganism.

There is famous letter he wrote to a pagan high priest complaining about

   how hard it was to promote paganism over Christianity.  Listen to the reason.

“It is disgraceful . . . the godless Galileans support not only their own poor

   but ours as well, (so) all men see that our people lack aid from us.”

You can hear the man’s frustration.  What are we going to do?

   These Christians are not only taking care of other poor Christians,

   they are also taking care of our own pagans.  Definitely bad p.r. for the pagans.

 

The Lord in his wisdom knew that we need officers in the church,

   men of godly character and good reputation to lead the church in service.

That’s what our deacons do.  As I said a few months ago when studying Romans 12

   your deacons, here at Christ Covenant, have generously and diligently and

   cheerfully carried out this work. 

 

I imagine many in our church don’t have a clue how faithfully they have served.

They have been the official face of our church when it comes to serving the needy.

   They take a portion of your tithes and offerings and give them away.

   And they do so in a way that preserves the dignity and privacy of every person.

Thousands of dollars each year for rent or utilities, to buy food or medicine.

 

Over the years they have served every person in our body who has come to them

   with financial and physical needs.  And, there has never been a poor person from

   outside the church who has asked them for help that they have turned away.

Our deacons love to meet needs and to do so in Christ’s name.  It’s their calling.

 

But it also happens all the time

   that the person asking for money for rent is actually looking for drug money.

Or the person who needs money for a ticket home is actually going nowhere

   and is working a scam,

Or the money being asked for will hardly make a dent in a financial sinkhole that

   years of irresponsibility have dug, and that no amount of generosity will fill

This is hard work.  Listening to people.  Figuring out how best to help them.

   Sifting truth from falsehood.  Knowing when help can no longer be given.

   It’s work with many disappointments.

 

C.S. Lewis once said something that summarizes the spirit of our deacons:

“It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been ‘had for a sucker’ by any number of imposters, but it would be a torment to know that I had refused even one person in need.”

 

But that is not the same thing as being indifferent to the facts,

   or taking no care to check and being careless with the Lord’s money.

It’s a hard thing many times to know what to do.

That is why the Lord has given us deacons—

   it is work that must be done well and in a godly way.

 

Pray for your deacons, that they may fulfill this office with grace and faithfulness.

And allow them to lead you, by example and by their exhortation,

   to be a more generous congregation, full of servant hearts,

   honoring our Lord Jesus, who did not hesitate to wash his disciples’ feet.