It is quite certain that we have the origin of the deaconship in the sixth chapter of Acts. The word for "serve" (diakoneo) in Acts 6:2 is exactly the same word that is used to designate the office of the deacon in 1 Tim. 3:10, 13; and is the verb corresponding to the noun for deacons in Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim: 3:8,12.
It is interesting and instructive to note how the first deacons received their office. They were elected by the church. The twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said. "It is not fit that we should forsake the Word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:2,3).
The apostles set the deacons in their office, or ordained them, as we see in verse six, this being the meaning of "appoint" in verse three; but the apostles did not presume to select them. They left this to the church. They did not even recommend to the church the ones they should elect. They left the church to find this out from the Holy Spirit. This was an exceedingly important matter, but the apostles were not afraid to trust it to the church. This is an excellent example of the democracy of New Testament churches.
I. THE DUTIES OF THIS OFFICE
The first seven deacons were selected and ordained to "serve tables," that is, to distribute food to the needy, especially widows. But from the fact that the office became a permanent one (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13) and from the fact that no church other than Jerusalem, so far as we know, had the community of goods that called for the original establishment of the office, as well as from the qualifications given in 1 Tim. 3:8-13, we infer that the duties of the office must have undergone expansion. Perhaps the deacons came to have charge of all the secular affairs of the church and to be the pastor's helpers in spiritual matters.
However, let it be borne in mind that deacons are "servants," according to the meaning of the title, and not bosses. They are to take instructions from the church rather than dictating to the church. They are to help the pastor rather than telling him what to do. Let them ever remember that their office is subordinate to that of the pastor. The abuse of the office of deacon has rendered deacons useless or worse than useless in many churches. Perhaps this is because proper attention has not been given to the scriptural qualifications of deacons, to which we shall now direct our attention.
II. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF DEACONS
1. As Given In Acts 6.
(1) Men of Good Report
Deacons are to be men of good reputation in general. They are to be men in whom the people have the utmost confidence. Of course, first of all, they should be men that are scrupulously honest; men that can be trusted.
(2) Full of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is in every believer (John 7:38, 39; Rom. 8:9, 14; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:13). He is received at the time we are saved, and abides with us forever afterward. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive all of Him, for He is a person and, therefore, indivisible. The doctrine that the Spirit is received today subsequent to conversion, as was the case with believers on the day of Pentecost, is not a scriptural doctrine. There can no more be a repetition of Pentecost than there can be a repetition of Calvary. All the works of grace are definite, and those who are still talking about the second one are to be pitied. Those who are truly saved have received innumerable definite works of grace. Folks who do not have the Holy Spirit abiding in them need not seek the second blessing; they have not yet received the first.
Though all saved people have the Spirit in them, they are not all filled with Him. They have all of Him, but He does not have all of them. The need is not that they should seek the Spirit, but that they should surrender to the Spirit already in them so that He will fill them with His presence and power. His is an expansive presence, and He fills so much of us, and only so much of us, as is not filled with something else. If the Spirit is to fill us, we must empty our lives of self and the world. It is only of men that have made a full surrender to the Spirit that we are to make deacons.
(3) And of Wisdom.
Deacons are to be men of discernment and skill. The wisdom here spoken of is not human wisdom, but that wisdom which is from above (Jas. 1:5; 3.17). "Sanctified common sense" is a misnomer. There is no such thing. Common sense is the ordinary thinking of man. And the ordinary thinking of man is the thinking of the carnal mind. And the carnal mind is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). Therefore one might as well talk about sanctified enmity against God as to talk about sanctified common sense. God's estimate of man's sense will be found in Jas. 3:15. Much harm results from trying to carry on God's business after the manner of secular business. Jas. 1:5 tells how to secure the wisdom necessary to a deacon.
2. As Given in 1 Tim. 3.
(2) Not Doubletongued.
This means that deacons are not to be men who talk one way to one person and another way to another. Such a deacon will be an endless source of shame to the church. Deacons are to be men whose word can be trusted.
(3) Not Given to Much Wine.
In the New Testament times alcoholic drinks had not been abused as they have today; therefore they were not absolutely forbidden. Only the abuse of them was prohibited. But today they have been subject to such abuse that it is well for all believers, and especially pastors and deacons, to abstain wholly even from wine, except for medical and sacred purposes.
(4) Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre.
A deacon must not be a man that has an inordinate love of money. If he is, he will likely misappropriate funds entrusted to him. Great has been the shame brought upon churches because men greedy of filthy lucre have been entrusted with church funds.
(5) Holding the Mystery of the Faith in a Pure Conscience.
Deacons should be sound in the faith. They are not official teachers, but they will have much opportunity for private witnessing. Nothing but a sound Baptist should ever be elected as a deacon. One that believes that one church is just as good as another, or one who is the least tainted with modernism or Arminianism, or one that denies any fundamental Bible truth is not fit to be a deacon. The deacon is to hold the faith in a pure conscience-one that has been purged by the blood of Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Such a conscience will be free from gross selfishness and hypocrisy and will be regulated by devotion and sincerity.
As with bishops, so with deacons, we should lay hands suddenly or hastily on no man (1 Tim. 5:22). And like a bishop, a deacon should not be a novice, or one newly come to the faith (1 Tim. 3:6). We should not elect men as deacons just to honor them, nor because they are influential or wealthy; but only when they have proved themselves to be in possession of the scriptural qualifications.
(7) Their Wives Must be Grave, Not Slanderers, Sober, Faithful in All Things.
It is contended by some that female deacons are here referred to. And while this view may seem to have some things in its favor; yet we consider it far from being established. Let us note the usual arguments offered as proof that the reference here is to female deacons:
But "diakonos" appears in many other places where the office of deacon is not signified. See 2 Cor. 2:6; 11:22; Eph. 3:7; 6:21; Col. 1:7, 23, 25; 1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Tim. 4:6, where "diakanos" is translated by "-minister." This word and its cognate forms appear in many other places similar to the above also. In view of this, we certainly have a very slight foundation for the office of a deaconess because "diakanos" is once applied to a woman. It is quite evident that Phebe, out of her strength and her own wealth had been a "succorer of many" and of the Apostle Paul also (Rom. 16: 1) ; therefore she was called a "diakonos," or one that ministered to the needs of others. There is no proof that she served officially in this capacity.
B. It is supposed also that the women mentioned in Phil. 4:8 were deaconesses.
But there is less evidence here for the office than there is in the former case. Not the slightest hint is given here that these women were deaconesses. There were some women who assisted Christ in His work; wonder if they were deaconesses too?
C. It is argued that such an office existed in post-apostolic churches.
But many things existed in most of the post-apostolic churches that were not of divine institution.
D. It is said that "the Greek has not 'their wives,' but simply women, without article or pronoun, and it is, therefore, properly rendered, not 'their wives,' but women, and, in this context female deacons" (H. H. Harvey).
It is true that the Greek does not expressly say "their wives," and, while the word for "wives" is a word which may mean simply "women," yet it is the only word in the New Testament for wives, and is, therefore, the word that would be used to denote wives. The possessive pronoun is easily understood since deacons are under discussion. As for the omission of the article, that is not significant as there is no article before deacons in verse 8. And when we read in the succeeding verse that the deacon is to be husband of one wife, it adds force to the view that wives of deacons are intended in verse 11.
E. It is argued that there is no reason for defining the qualifications of deacons' wives while nothing is said of the wives of bishops.
There is no reason for limiting "their wives" to the wives of deacons. We believe it refers both to the wives of deacons and also to the wives of bishops. Such an interpretation has nothing against it. And we believe it is the correct one.
A deacon must have but one living wife. He must have his children in subjection. One of the greatest practical needs of this day is a revival of old time parental authority. The lax authority, if authority indeed it can be called, in the average Christian home today is a shame and a disgrace. No wonder the younger generation is conspicuous for its absence at church services in most places. They are reared to have their own way, and it is not according to their own way to go to church. Most children today, for the most part, obey only when they please. The deacon is to RULE his children and not to let his children rule him. And the deacon is to be head of his house, for the Scripture not only specifies that he is to rule his children, but also his whole house. The divine plan is for the husband to be the head of the home. When the man is a Christian, and this is recognized, the home will be the happiest of homes. If the man is not a Christian and the woman is, then she will have to make the best of it. If she was a Christian when she married, she violated the Word of God (2 Cor. 6:14), and must make the best of the chastisement that she will receive. It has been said and quite truly, if a woman marries a child of the Devil, she can expect to have trouble with her father-in-law.
III. THE TEMPORAL RECOMPENSE OF A DEACON
Verse 13 gives us the temporal recompense of a deacon. If he serves well as a deacon, he purchases a good degree and great boldness in the faith. The New Testament pictures the deaconship as an exalted office. It has been much degraded through our failure to respect the qualifications laid down in the Scripture and by our altering the work of deacons to suit our own notions.