Brannon R. Hyde
The title of my assignment this month may not surprise modern readers in American culture. In our individualistic society many define success as the accumulation of massive wealth, the assimilation of personal power, the propagation of one’s reputation over others, or any combination thereof. Those who many define as successful are looked to for leadership. It should not come as a shock—though it is troubling—if these definitions of success and resultant leadership find their way into the thinking of members of the church. Members of the body of Christ may unwittingly look to those in positions of “leadership” in their local congregations (elders, deacons, ministers, Bible class teachers, etc.) to have many of the same attributes as leaders in society at large. Such thinking is not only a falsity in the minds of some Christians, but it has the potential to cause men and women in those positions of “leadership” to expect and demand equal accolades due those rich and powerful in the world. If we speak of the leadership of deacons in the church, then I submit to you that our thinking and language has shifted dramatically from the perceptions and terminology used in NT times. Consequently, the title of this article should surprise us. If, however, we speak of the leadership of deacons in the home, we do so in a manner in accordance with the Bible and our title is appropriate.
It is often correctly stated in sermons, articles, and commentaries that the qualifications of a deacon are described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Notice, this passage neither in general nor specific terms describes the duties and/or responsibilities in the church itself for those who serve as deacons. Indeed, the apostle Paul only describes the character attributes of men (and their wives) who are to serve in this office. In v. 8 we read, “Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre….” The phrase “in like manner” sets our context solidly behind the qualifications of a bishop. The attributes of a bishop are similar to those of a deacon. Paul first commands the positive: deacons are to have honorable character. He then lists negative commands: a man that “talks out of both sides of his mouth,” gives heed to much wine (i.e., is a drunkard), and/or is fond of dishonest gain (i.e., is greedy for money) is not worthy to be a deacon. In v. 9, “…holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” That is, a deacon must have a pure (innocent) awareness (consciousness) of the foundational tenets (cf. Hebrews 6:1-2) underlying God’s revelation to mankind. “And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless” (v. 10). “Blameless” does not mean sinless perfection. It does, however, demand that we strive for perfection while never forgetting what our condition would be without the blood of Christ. Indeed, Colossians 1:21-23 teaches that Jesus has reconciled you to God “in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him.” In v. 11, we read, “Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.” Since 1 Timothy 3:12 (the next verse) demands that deacons be a husband, not a wife, the KJV translation of gunaikas as “wives,” instead of “women,” is preferable in this context. That is, the women in this verse must be referring to deacons’ wives rather than deaconesses. And finally, “Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have served well as deacons gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 12-13).
In this passage, the only time we find the concept of leadership is in v. 12. The only leadership described therein is leadership in the home. A man is not qualified to be a deacon in the church of our Lord if he is not one who manages, directs, rules his children and his own house well. It should be obvious, but I don’t think it always is, that “ruling well” entails that a man must be highly persuasive and have the ability to garner a tremendous amount of respect in the eyes of those in his home, in order to ensure that each and every member of his household walks upright and righteous in the sight of the Lord all the days of their lives. For men without these rare qualities, some in their households may fall into temptation and be drawn away from the truth by the lusts of the world. Such men are not qualified to serve as deacons. God does not hold any man, woman, or child responsible for the actions of any other individual. However, some men are qualified to be deacons and some are not.
I can still remember clearly the time when I was faced with the temptation of going to a middle school dance. I remember discussing with my parents the evils of both dancing itself and the activities inevitably found in the environments where dancing takes place (yes, even in the sixth grade). In the midst of our conversation, my dad, a deacon in the congregation where I grew up, made one of the most impressionable statements in my life. With a clearly contrary-to-fact preface he said, “If you were to go to a dance, I would have to resign as a deacon.” His statement made an 11-year old know that sin has consequences not only for oneself, but also for the lives of everyone around you. Undoubtedly, this exemplified leadership in the home.
If we sincerely desire to speak “as it were the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11), then leadership of deacons in the church is unattested in the Bible. Notice carefully 1 Timothy 3:13, “For they that have served well as deacons gain to themselves a good standing” (bold face added). The English phrase “served well as deacons” is only one word in the original language, but the ASV translators are right on. Although deacons must be leaders in the home, deacons are not leaders in the church. In the church, deacons are servants!
For an encyclopedic list of the uses of the Greek word diakonos in the NT, see Vine’s Expository Dictionary. I think you will discover, as I did, that each usage of diakonos in the NT passages cited in Vine’s list describes a servant.
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Editor’s Note: Brian Yeager – I believe, that as Brother Hyde so eloquently pointed out, that Vine’s adds a great deal of information to this subject. Thus, for those whom do not have Vine’s I have with permission granted the text below for your study.
Please e-mail me (Brannon Hyde) if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
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