The Directive of Deacons, Part II (Acts 6:1-7) | Jared Betts

Ministers of Mercy

Today we are picking up where we left of in our study of Acts 6 on the matter of biblical deacons. Our focus today will be on the qualifications for the office, as well as the process of appointment, and the results of a well order leadership among the church.

Before we do this, however, I would like us to briefly review what we discussed last week about deacons because it was then that we took the time to discuss not only what deacons are, but most importantly what deacons are to do within the church they are appointed.

Remember that our greatest desire is to first make certain that our knowledge of deacons is according to the mind of God and not according to the mind of man. One reason for this is because only those who function according to their God-given purpose can be of any benefit to the body of Christ. A diaconate that has been concocted by the mind of man will certainly have the appearance of being a benefit to the church, but if it is not functioning in accord with God’s intention for it, the church will never experience the real blessing of it.

I do believe this is where many churches find themselves. They have a body of men among them that are known as deacons, but after careful examination, do not in any way function as them in a biblical manner. The result is that the church misses out on a great and significant blessing. Sadly, many do not realize it.

Let us recall that the ministry of deacons within the church is to be a ministry of relief. They are to diligently labor among the body of Christ to provide relief for the shepherds by providing relief for the needy members of the church through practical care.

By doing this they free up the elders to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, and they ensure that the body of Jesus receives both pastoral oversight and practical care. Their ministry guarantees that the church does not live on bread alone, but on the very breathe of God.[1] The ministry of deacons is meant to compliment the ministry of elders and make certain that the church is cared for both spiritually and physically. Elders are appointed to the more verbal ministry of the Word, and deacons are appointed to the more practical ministry of deeds. 1 Peter 4:10-11:

10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

 Deacons, therefore, have a beautiful, wonderful, and vital duty among Christ’s blood bought people. Those who serve as deacons are to care for the poor, needy, and suffering among it in a Christ-like manner. They are to humbly display Jesus Christ’s care, compassion, and love for His people through practical means. As was said last week, they are to exemplify for the church the first aspect of pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God, by relieving orphans and widows of their hardships.[2] They care for those believers who are poor or those who are sick, those without jobs or homes, those who are advanced in years or disabled and confined to their homes.

Truly, deacons are not to be diminished to the status of glorified grounds keepers or distorted to a position of ruling officials that give counsel to pastors. God has intended them to be ministers of mercy that both possess and practice genuine compassion among Christ’s church.

Men who serve as deacons fulfill their duties by directing the churches care for those in various situations of need among it. They strive to know the flock and understand its numerous needs so that they might accumulate all the charities that have been given to aid the needy, whether it be money or goods; distribute the charities to whoever is in need, and ensure the charities are being justly and impartially distributed throughout the body.

May we see that deacons are to be men that gaze up the compassion of Christ towards us as it is revealed in His gospel, desiring to replicate it towards those among His people by being sympathetically conscious of the hardship of others and taking great pains to alleviate them of whatever it may be. This is exactly why Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:13 that:

“Those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Those that excel in their ministry are worthy of great honor among the church because they demonstrate and reflect the heart of God for His people.

The Qualifications of Deacons

May we also see that the duties of deacons not only demands that they be held in high esteem among the church when they serve well, but that they also be qualified. The work of deacons calls them to work closely with needy, sick, hurting, and vulnerable people. Like elders, therefore, it is a must that deacons be men of integrity. If they are not, suffering will only be added to those who already suffer. The needy remain in want.

It is tragic to see that not only do many churches have a body of people who are called deacons but do not operate as God has designed them to thus causing the church to suffer in certain ways, but many churches seem to fail at holding perspective deacons up to the qualifications for office that the living God Himself lays out in His holy Word for His household to uphold. Churches frantically fill the office for the sake of having people in it without any consideration for their character, which is a disastrous thing to do. What inevitably happens is that the church does not only miss out on the rich blessing of men functioning as biblical deacons, but unqualified men hamstring the church and hurt people, which is the exact opposite of what deacons are to do. They are to ensure the church grows in Christ by genuinely caring for people.

The 4th Century theologian, Jerome, gave a scathing rebuke to churches in his day that showed more care for the buildings they gathered in than the qualifications of the men who would be leading the church that gathered within it.

“Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their alters studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid.”

May this never be the case with us. As I said near the beginning of the sermon last week, we have the all-sufficient and authoritative Word of God to guide us in this matter.

In Acts, the Apostles guided the church in what to look for among the congregation of believers:

Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” 

This is what to look for, but what exactly are these things? What does a man of good reputation look like? How can you tell if men are full of the Spirit and of wisdom?

Realize that just as Acts provides us with definition as to what the deacons of 1 Timothy are to do, 1 Timothy provides Acts with definition as to what qualifications they are to meet. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 states:

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

A man of good reputation, and one who is full of the Spirit and or wisdom, is one who excels in these areas.

            There are at least eight qualifications here that the perspective deacons must meet. Five pertain to his character, one pertains to their wives, and two pertain to family care. Though we will go through these quickly, realize that we could spend a day on each one of them.

According to the Scripture, Deacons must be:

  1. Dignified.

What this boils down to is men who have high spiritual and moral character. They exude both wisdom and goodness, and are, therefore, of good report. They have a reputation that cannot be maligned. They are men worthy of respect. As the Proverb goes:

“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth,
Favor is better than silver and gold.”[3]

  • Not double-tongued.

A person who is not doubled-tongued is one who prioritizes truthfulness and sincerity. It has been said that “behind a deceitful tongue is a deceitful mind.” Manipulative and insincere men do not belong in such a position. A doubled-tongued man’s “yes” is secretly “no” on occasions, and their “no’s” “yes’s”. They are not trustworthy. Proverbs 20:6 says:

“Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?”

  • Not Addicted to much wine.

Notice that this is not a prohibition against drinking alcohol all together, but a prohibition against its abuse. This qualification pertains to a man’s self-control. Is he easily ruled by substances that will either cloud his judgment or prove to be a stumbling block to the people he is working with? If so, he is not qualified. Proverbs 20:1:

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”

Clear and wise thinking is a must to diligently carry out the duties of a deacon within the church.

  • Not fond of sordid gain.

Jesus said:

“Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”[4]

It was the Apostle Paul that said:

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”[5]

We all have certain propensities to sin, and for some it is a desire for more money no matter the cost. Since deacons deal with financial support to the needy, they must not be men who exhibit greed or financial discontentment which leads to theft.

There are many people under the guise of Christianity that prey upon the weak and vulnerable or use their status to achieve financial gain. Consider Judas Iscariot who had all the appearances of being a disciple of Christ. He was so convincing that he was even entrusted with the Apostles money box which was used to assist the poor. Remember what is said in the account of John 12, when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. Judas scolds her with a pretense of caring for the poor. He said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to poor people?” John says, however:

Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.”[6]

Deacons must not be fond of sordid gain. To sum it up, they must be financially responsible and content men who do not have thieving inclinations.

  • Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

This is a person who lives consistently with what they profess to believe. If a man’s practice in life betrays his affirmation of the truths of the faith, he does not have a clear conscience, and he leads a life damaging to himself and to others.

Let us never forget what the grace of God instructs us to do. It instructs:

“To deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”[7]

How do you measure a man filled with the Spirit? A Spirit filled man is a sanctified man. It is a man that is fully in tune with the truth that the grace which provides their justification is the same grace that works sanctification in them. The sanctifying work of the Spirit is the indication of a Spirit filled man. They work out their salvation with fear and trembling recognizing that it is God who is at work in them both to will and to work for His good pleasure by conforming them to the image of His holy Son.[8]

What you have in the end is a man who holds to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Their practice matches their profession.

  • Wives must be dignified.

This is a critical qualification, and often overlooked. It also presents us with the notion that wives in some way assist their husbands in the work. After all, a good wife “extends her hand to the poor; and she stretched out her hands to the needy.”[9]

We should understand this to be the wives of deacons for several reasons:

First, and to the chagrin of the egalitarian, God has made it abundantly clear prior to the discussion of church leadership that women are not to assume offices of authority over men.[10] This has nothing to do with value in the eyes of God. Both men and women are created in His image. They are, therefore, equal in value. Men are not superior in worth to women, nor women to men. The reason are not to assume offices of leadership is clearly based on the created order, as well as the order of deception. 2 Timothy 2:12-14:

12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

We cannot divorce this from the context of Paul’s teaching on deacons, because this is his segue into it.

Second, the Greek word being used here for “women” is the standard word for wives, which is why some translations render it as such.

Third, the context surrounding this portion of Scripture is clearly speaking of male deacons. Verse 8 says that deacons must be “men” of dignity. Verse 12, “Let deacons be husbands”.

We should, therefore, conclude that this is speaking about wives who will be assisting their deacon husbands. Since the task involves working with people in vulnerable situations the wives of deacons must also be qualified.

They must be dignified as well and possess high spiritual and moral character. They must be above reproach, meaning they too must be worthy of respect for their manner of life.

They must have control of their tongues. What does James say of the tongue? James 3:6-8:

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

Consider what the proverbs say on the matter. Proverbs 15:4, “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 20:19, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” Proverbs 21:23, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” Conversely, “He who does not guard his mouth and his tongue, opens his soul up for trouble.” Again, the wives of deacons must have control of their tongues. If not, they can cause great damage and hurt.

They must also be of stable character and demonstrate self-control in all matters of life, as well as be trustworthy given they will be dealing with sensitive matters. Let us understand that if the wife is disqualified, so is the husband.

  • Husband of one wife.

This is not necessarily a matter of whether or not a man has been divorced. It literally could be rendered “One woman man.” This is a man who labors to love His wife as Christ loved the church by giving Himself to die for her. Is he devoted to her, and her alone, or are others garnering his attention? Does his life exemplify God’s glorious design for marriage? If not, he is disqualified.

  • Good managers of their household.

What this qualification seeks to discern is this: does he strive to provide for his family in every aspect of life? Not only financially, but emotionally, physically, and above all spiritually. Does he labor to shepherd his home well to the glory of God?

If you want to be able measure whether or not a man can adequately care for the family of God, then just look, and see how he cares for his own family? If he does not diligently care for them, then he will not care for God’s people as he should. It is because of this, I believe we should understand that a perspective deacon needs to be married. The Scripture say they are to “be” husbands. Again, it is the only way for the church to effectively if he is able to care for them.

            Church, the Spirit explicitly says that perspective deacons must be examined to see if they measure up to these standards:

“These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”

Sure, we can throw a body of men together, but what good is it at the expense of character? It is not just useless to the church; it is downright damaging to it. Do we not go give great consideration to the qualifications of those who assume roles of civil authority over us, not merely for our own good, but for the good of others? Ought we not to give even greater consideration to the qualifications of those who assume roles of authority over people in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth?

Not only that, but to not consider a men’s character would be for us to act in direct contradiction to what God would have us to do. If I may quote Strauch again, when he says:

“The New Testament makes the uncontested point that God’s paramount concern is not with buildings or programs but with the moral and spiritual character of those who lead and care for His people.”[11]

This truth is beautifully displayed before us in this portion of Acts.

The Appointment and Result of Deacons

In Acts 6:5, we see after the Apostles gave the church a standard by which to measure qualified men, and that the church was in hearty agreement:

The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

They did not view the standards set forth as burdensome or unnecessary, because to scoff at character standards for offices of leadership in the church is to scoff at that wisdom and care of God for His church. People usurp the authority of Christ over His church when they do not hold perspective men to His standard. They ignore the mind of Christ on the matter and act according to their own finite and fallible understanding, which inevitably leads a church to ruin in various ways and degrees. The believers in Acts grasped how vital it was that men of integrity occupy the position and so should we.

 Acts 6:6 says:

And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”

In this specific instance the Apostles gave the congregation the responsibility of picking out men to serve in this position, but they did not relinquish their rite as overseers of the church to approve and appoint them. It was still their job to ensure that these men met the standard set forth, for they were the only ones in the church with the delegated power to appoint people into the office and grant them the authority to carry out its duty. Remember what they said to the church:

Therefore, brethren (church), select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we (Apostles) may put in charge of this task.” 

The church understood that the final say on who served as the Seven was left up to the Apostles, so they brought the men whom they had picked before them.

The Apostles prayed and laid hands on the men, which was a symbol of the Apostles approval of them. It not only outwardly demonstrated their endorsement of them, but also showed a transfer of power to carry out the task at hand. It was an official appointment to the office of deacon. Qualifications were required. Examination was conducted. There was public appointment to the job, and authority being delegated.

May we all take but a moment to see in Acts 6:7 the results of what occurs within a church that conforms to God’s design of leadership among it:

7 And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

The church continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ both spiritually and numerically because the household of God was receiving pastoral oversight and practical care. It was conformed to Christ’s blueprint for His church.

Gazing upon His Gospel

I believe there is a very important question that may be upon the minds of many here who understand that we currently do not have anyone serving within this capacity among us. The question is, what now?

What do I say to the men of this church? Will I implore you and pull at the strings of your heart to get you to rise up and to fill the void among us? No, I will not. The last thing this church needs, or any church at that, is for men to be guilt tripped into a position they are either not gifted to fill or even care to carry out.

I say to you, rather, to prayerfully consider what God would have of you among us. Each of you have been given a gifting from Christ for the benefit of this church. What then is it, and are you exercising it for the edification of this body? Do you see the necessity of deacons among the church? Has God given you an unquenchable desire to meet the many practical needs of this body of believers? Does it burden you to see the void within this church? If so, there is a great possibility that God has gifted you to be a minister of mercy among us. If this is the case, please come and meet with me.

Should all of you even become deacons? Absolutely not. I say this without giving any consideration to the matter of qualifications, but purely from an understanding that God does not gift every member of the body with the same capacity for ministry. As Paul says:

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”[12]

Some of you should not be deacons, not necessarily because you are not qualified, but because God has not given you the capacity to fulfill such a function. As Paul goes on to say:

18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”[13]

May we take moment to acknowledge that it is the same with being elders among the church. It is true that I long for men to rise up to shepherd this church alongside me, but should all of you become elders? Certainly not! The Scripture is emphatic that:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”[14]

Some of you should not seek to assume the office of elder purely because God has not gifted you with the ability to teach.

If, however, you see the importance of biblical elders among us; and have been given the ability to carefully study and expound upon the Scripture; and you possess a great desire for people to know the truth found only in Christ and to conform their lives to Him alone through the application of His all-sufficient Word, then there is a very great indication that God has gifted you as a pastor to co-labor in the shepherding of this church.

If this is the case, please come meet with me. The Scripture says that “if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”[15] If you desire to fill an office of leadership within this church, know that you desire a good thing. You should, therefore, take the steps to serve in that capacity.

Let me just say that I have only been a pastor for a short period of time but feel as if I have seen it all. Let me tell you that more often than not, I have found that the ones who feel inadequate for the duty or unqualified in character are more capable and qualified then they know. If you desire to serve the church in an official capacity do not allow your perception of your character or ability to prevent you from taking the necessary steps. Realize that such feelings will never leave humble men.

Say you are incapable or unqualified, then realize it is my job as a pastor is to equip the incapable and to counsel the unqualified so that they may be fit for service. Again, if you desire to serve in these capacities, you desire a good thing. Come and meet with me regardless of what you perceive of yourselves.

What do I say to the women of this church in light of all this? I say, guard your hearts and minds. Because of indwelling sin, the tendencies in situations like this where there is a void in leadership is to look down upon the men in the church as if the lack of deacons among us is a testimony to their spiritual slothfulness, or lack of concern for the church. I can tell you right now, that is not how I view any of the men who are members of this church. Please understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with men among us not desiring to fill this office.

Consider that perhaps the void in office is actually a mark of spiritual maturity on their part. What is better, men who do not seek to fill the office because after assessing the demands of it, they understand they will not be able to carry them out either due to inability or character quality; or men who seek to fill the office who either do not understand its demands or think more highly of themselves then they ought to think in regard to their character? In other words, is it better to have a man refuse to fill the office because he knows he will not be able to carry out its demands in the fullest way possible, or is it better to have men assume the office who are neither capable nor qualified? The former is better then the latter.

Realize It is better for an office to remain vacant then to frantically fill it with unworthy men. To do the latter is to sin against Christ. We are commissioned by Him to not quickly and carelessly appoint men into offices of leadership. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:22:

22 Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”

When churches do this, they share the responsibility for whatever sins occur because of that unqualified person. Yes, Christ desires to have His church cared for by a plurality of elders and deacons, but He does not desire this to be achieved at the expense of character.

Again, I say guard your mind. You do not want men to assume the office purely out of fear of being viewed as a spiritual sluggard among the church. That is not healthy for anyone. That is not a willing man. If anything, it is a proud one. The only reason he does it is because he cares about how he is perceived among the church. His fear of being perceived poorly prompts him to assume the position that he does not care to do.

Our desire is not to see the office merely filled, but fulfilled by willing, capable, and qualified men. We want humble men that feel the weight of a deacon’s directive, for only then will they serve in humility of mind leaning on Christ, knowing that His grace is sufficient for them and that His power is manifested through their weakness.

Afterall, is this not what a deacon is to do? To gaze upon the riches of God’s mercy towards us in His Son, Jesus Christ, who was rich yet for our sake became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich.[16] Is it not to demonstrate and reflect the heart of God towards the needy within His church by first looking upon what Christ compassionately did for us in our need?

We were in desperate need of mercy. We were suffering under the weight of sins penalty and power and destined to forever perish under God’s holy fury. God, Himself, alleviated our need. The Father gave His only Son, whom He loved, to be the propitiation for our sin. Jesus Christ, God the Son eternal, willingly condescended by becoming a Man to become our sin and a curse for us, so that He might be pierced through for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He satisfied the wrath of God towards us upon Himself and bled and died to atone for our sin. He did this so that all who turn from themselves in repentance, and cling to Him in faith may experience genuine mercy, and true life. The proof that there is mercy and life in Christ, is that He lives never to die again. Death could not hold Him. All, therefore, who cling to Him for salvation will live even as He does. The sinless Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sinful sons of men might become the sons of God. He became what we are so that we might become what He is.

Truly, the only ones capable of carrying out the duties of deacons are those enamored with the gospel of God. These are the type of men we want. Men who gaze upon the mercy of God and seek to demonstrate and reflect His heart for His people as minsters of it. As I ended last week, so I end this week, “Lord, give us such men!”

[1] Matthew 4:4

[2] James 1:27

[3] Proverbs 22:1

[4] Luke 12:15

[5] 1 Timothy 6:7-10

[6] John 12:6

[7] Titus 2:12

[8] Philippians 2:12-13

[9] Proverbs 31:20

[10] 1 Timothy 2:12

[11] Minister of Mercy: The New Testament Deacon, Alexander Strauch; Page 84

[12] 1 Corinthians 12:17

[13] 1 Corinthians 12:18-25

[14] James 3:1

[15] 1 Timothy 3:1

[16] 2 Corinthians 8:9

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: