************ Sermon on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 10, 2013
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Belgic Confession Article 30
Our church has started the process of making nominations for church office. What do we look for when we nominate someone? What do the members of the congregation look for when they vote on the nominees at the annual congregational meeting?
This is now my third sermon on qualifications for church office. Am I beating a dead horse? Have I run out of sermon ideas? Hardly. Rather, we want the congregation to know and realize that when it comes to church office we are dealing with important matters. We are dealing with those who govern not just any organization but the true church.
A number of years ago the Visalia Times Delta exposed the truth about someone who worked as a higher up in the Visalia Unified School District. The newspaper revealed that the degrees and education he claimed to have were false. Of concern to me was that he was also a member of my Rotary Club and was slated for board membership.We cannot afford lies like this on the part of those who govern the true church. They need to be men who are qualified for office.
Why? Because eternal matters and true religion are at stake. As the Belgic Confession reminds us,
By this means
true religion is preserved;
true doctrine is able to take its course;
and evil men are corrected spiritually
and held in check;
so that also the poor
and all the afflicted
may be helped and comforted
according to their need.
Our special focus tonight is deacons and – this might surprise you – the wives of the deacons.
I Qualifications for Deacons
A It is Acts 6 that explains to us the origin and purpose of the office of deacon. The office was started because Greek widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1). We see in Acts 6 that the deacons are to focus mainly on mercy ministries, such as the assistance of widows, while elders are tasked primarily with "prayer" and the "ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2,4).
We know that the first deacons were not barred from teaching. Think of Stephen, a deacon as well as a teacher (cf Acts 6:8-7:60). Think of Jesus, as He – the great Teacher – is described as a deacon (Mk 10:43-45). However, unlike those in the office of elder and pastor, the ability to teach is not a qualification for the office of deacon (cf 1 Tim 3:2). Instead, deacons are to allocate wisely the church's resources, feeding and sheltering the needy in the congregation, and help them to get back on their feet. It is also the job of the deacons to make sure the church practices the pure and undefiled religion of visiting widows and orphans (cf James 1:27).
B Doing these things properly requires a special kind of person. A month ago as I looked with you at the office of elder and pastor, I said "Character Counts." The same is true for the office of deacon: "Character Counts."
Scripture tells us deacons "are to be men worthy of respect" (1 Tim 3:8). Other translations use the words "honorable, dignified." My Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the Greek word speaks of an inner majesty which points outward and upward to God. When you look at a deacon, you are to see a man of character. I can go so far as to say when you look at a deacon, you are to see the character of God. This would further mean that a deacon is someone you can imitate. How are we to live and act as God's people? Look to the deacons. Imitate them, their service, their love, their lifestyle, their character.
Deacons are also to be "sincere" (1 Tim 3:8). Other translations says they are not to be "double-tongued, devious in speech." Someone who is double-tongued is dishonest, dishonorable, and insincere. Remember the serpent of Genesis 3? It was double-tongued. It said one thing but meant another. It pretended to want freedom for man but instead led man into the bondage of sin. Likewise, deacons cannot say one thing and do another. For instance, they cannot pretend to love the needy among God's people when, in fact, they despise them or look down upon them. They must be sincere – what you see is what you get.
Deacons also do not "indulge in much wine" (1 Tim 3:8). The phrase describes a person who sits long with the cup and thus drinks to excess. Which means drunkards and alcoholics need not apply or hope for this office. Notice, God does not require total abstinence – either on the part of deacons or church members. However, there is no room within church office for those who get drunk. Do you remember one of the saddest sins condemned by Paul in the Corinthian church? Some of the members actually got drunk at the love feast that accompanied the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:21).
Deacons do not "pursue dishonest gain" (1 Tim 3:8). Think of Judas. He was the treasurer of the group of disciples. One of the things we know about him is that he helped himself to the piggy bank. Likewise, the funds entrusted to the deacons can be a temptation to many people. The person who cannot be entrusted with money must never be ordained as a deacon.
To sum up, character counts if you are a deacon or if you are nominated to be a deacon.
Let me extend what I have just said by adding that character counts for every single Christian – not just those in church office. Every Christian should be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
C Character counts – for pastors, elders, and deacons. But how can we know for sure someone's character? Scripture says we must take the time to examine men before they enter the office of deacon. Let me direct your attention to verse 10:
(1Tim 3:10) They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
Tested for what? Tested that they walk the talk. Tested that faith and ethics go hand-in-hand. Tested that both justification and sanctification are present. Tested that their view of God impacts the way they live their life and vice versa. Tested that they are godly men of character.
Tested where? Like the elders and pastors, deacons must be tested in the church, in the home, and in the world. Like the pastors and elders, they must have a good reputation with outsiders. Like the pastors and elders, they must manage their children and household well.
We are not saying deacons are to be perfect. If that were so, no man would be qualified to serve in church office. Instead, the potential deacon leads a life of repentance. That is, he must readily admit to and confess his sin. That is, he must express sorrow for sin realizing he has sinned against God and grieves Him. That is, he must turn from his sin and desire to lead a life of righteousness.
D We all realize that pastors and elders need to know their Bibles. They need theological discernment. But there is also a doctrinal requirement that must be met by those who are deacons: "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim 3:9).
Remember, the primary task of the deacons is the mercy ministries of the church and not the teaching ministries. Yet, there are many occasions in which deacons are required to offer instruction. Assisting a family who is suffering a severe budget crisis involves the distribution of funds and Biblical advice on how to wisely use the family's resources. There are many times when the ministry of mercy requires comfort from God's Word. And, when the deacons help unbelievers, they are given the opportunity to explain the Christian faith and the motivation it provides for doing "good to everyone" (Gal 6:10).
This past week I was at the bank making a deposit for Rotary. The teller wanted to know what is Rotary. I explained to him the good we try to do around the community and the world.See how quickly and how easily you can end up talking about the faith – whether you are a pastor, an elder, or a deacon? These situations and many others require deacons to be solidly grounded in the truths of the Bible. They need to know the Word and love the Word and spend time in the Word.
Then he wanted to know who could join Rotary. I explained it was an organization of business and professional men and women. Then he asked what I did for a living.
Just like that I ended up answering questions about Trinity United Reformed Church, the Bible, and the Reformed faith.
John Calvin reminds us of another reason. "It would be exceedingly absurd to hold a public office in the church, while they were ill-informed in the Christian faith." If you desire to be a deacon or other church leader, your primary concern should not be computer ability or financial wizardry but rather your knowledge of the faith.
Deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith. What are the deep truths of the faith? It includes such fundamental doctrines as the atonement or forgiveness given us sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the ascension and return of Christ, the sanctifying work of Christ's Spirit, the virgin birth of Christ, and the creation of all things from nothing. You might recognize these as those doctrines mentioned in the Apostles' Creed. These are the fundamentals. All of these are the Gospel.
Deacons must hold the truths of the faith "with a clear conscience" (1 Tim 3:9). That is, they must not merely profess them but actually believe them with heart and mind. That is, deacons must have a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, God's Word – not our experience, not our reasoning, not our traditions – is the final court of appeal when it comes to all matters of doctrine and life.
II Qualifications for Deacons' Wives
A Now, I must also say something about the wives of the deacons. I must because our Scripture passage says something about them. You might wonder, what about the wives of the pastors or the elders? Sorry, Scripture says nothing about them. If you are the wife of an elder or pastor do NOT conclude from this that it makes no difference who you are or how you live. You make a huge, big difference in the ministry and office of your husband.
So, why are the wives of the deacons singled out by Paul? Because it is understood that they are personally involved in the ministry of mercy done by their husbands, the deacons. Don't forget, the deacons practice pure and undefiled religion by looking after orphans and widows in their distress (cf James 1:27). No deacon can do this or should do this without the help and assistance of his wife.
The ministry of mercy often requires the close kind of contact that requires the assistance of a woman. In the Ancient World there were no hospitals or nursing homes; it was the church – especially through the deacons – that gave aid to the sick and elderly. And, it was the wives of the deacons who gave tender, loving care to the needy women and children – like bathing, dressing, and so on.
When it comes to the office of deacon, the Biblical ideal is that we get a twofer; that is, we get two for the price of one. We get the deacon and we get the deacon's wife. So, I want to say to the deacons, look for ways to involve your wives. Let them be involved in your ministry of mercy – especially to women and children; take them with you on those visits. Let them give the personal touch that would be scandalous for men to give.
Scripture is not saying you need to be married to be a deacon. But if you are married, the Biblical ideal is that the wife be involved in the ministry of mercy.
B It takes a special kind of woman to look with compassion upon the needs of other women and children. Not every woman is able to do this. So, no surprise, we need to use the same phrase again: "Character Counts." When it comes to the wives of the deacons, "Character Counts."
Like the deacons, the wives of the deacons are to be worthy of respect (1 Tim 3:11). Remember what this means? When you look at a deacon's wife, you are to see a woman of character. I can go so far as to say when you look at a deacon's wife, you are to see the character of God. This would further mean that a deacon's wife is someone you can imitate. How are we to live and act as God's people? Look to the wives of the deacons. Imitate them, their service, their love, their lifestyle, their character.
The wives of the deacons are not to be malicious talkers (1 Tim 3:11). They hear many confidential matters about finances, ailments, and health. They are to keep quiet about these. They are to keep confidential matters confidential.
I remember the time early in my ministry when I was asked to talk to one of the deacons about his wife. She loved being a deacon's wife because then she knew what was going on in the church and would gossip about it. The man told me his wife gave him endless grief if he did not spill the beans. We made a big mistake back then. Our mistake is we put a man in the office of deacon who was not qualified on account of his wife."Diabolical" is the actual Greek word translated as "malicious talkers." The root form of this word means devil or devilish. This reminds us that those men and women who talk out of turn are doing the devil's work.
The wives of deacons are to be temperate (1 Tim 3:11). Like their husbands, they are not to indulge in much wine.
And, the wives of deacons are to be trustworthy in everything (1 Tim 3:11). That is, they are to be faithful, reliable, someone in whom you have confidence.
As I already said, "Character Counts."
C When it comes to the office of deacon, husband and wife hold each other accountable in the church, the home, and the world. When it comes to the office of deacon, husband and wife complement and assist each other. In the office of deacon I see a picture of the Biblical ideal for marriage: husband and wife are each other's companions, helper, and partner (cf Gen 2:18,20-23).
Let me sum up what we have learned about those in church office:
-they are the husband of one wife – that is, they are men
-they are men of character
-over time they prove their character in the church, the home, and the world
-and, the wives of the deacons are to be women of character
Again, don't forget what is at stake. We are talking about the governance of the true church and the preservation of true religion.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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