Holding to the Mystery of the Faith

By nature, most of us would prefer to be served than to be a servant. But as a Christian you have a calling to be a servant, and there is a special office in the church called “servant,” as Paul tells you in 1 Timothy 3:8–16

Deacons, along with elders, must be qualified men. Don’t neglect the important office of deacon! The office of deacon flows out of the fact that God is concerned with all of life. That wide-ranging concern of the Lord was evident in the Mosaic provisions for the needy. Deuteronomy 24 put into the laws of Israel some specific ways in which they were to meet the needs of the vulnerable. Note that the underlying motivation is for Israel to remember their own time of slavery–and the fact that the Lord had redeemed them. They were about to enter the promised land, but even Canaan, flowing with milk and honey, was not beyond the effects of the curse. You and I are in a similar situation–redeemed by Christ, but looking forward to the completion of that work–and it the meantime finding opportunities to serve God and his people. The early church recognized the need for a diaconate, Acts 6. Note the selection by the congregation and the ordination by the Apostles. The deacons serve alongside the elders. Philippians 1:1 recognized both offices in the early church. Our text list qualifications (with a good deal of overlap) in adjacent passages. 1 Timothy 5, though not specifically identifying the concerns as “diaconal,” nevertheless says a great deal about the kind of service which the church ought to be performing. “The Scriptures designate the office of deacon as distinct and perpetu­al in the church. Deacons are called to show forth the com­passion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy toward the saints and strangers on behalf of the church. To this end they exercise, in the fellowship of the church, a recognized stewardship of care and of gifts for those in need or distress. This service is distinct from that of rule in the church.” (Form of Government of the OPC 9.1)

Deacons must hold to the mystery of the faith. The diaconate reflects the service of the Savior. The word “deacon” means “servant.” It can be used in a general sense, or it can refer to the particular office characterized by serving. The ultimate servant was the Lord Jesus Christ. The church, which is his body, is to be characterized by serving, as his teaching in Matthew 20 and his washing his disciples’ feet indicated. Look for opportunities to serve. Rather than asking yourself if you have a “gift of service,” ask yourself, what needs are there in the church around me? How can I meet them? How can the compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ be reflected in the community in which God has placed me? What things can I do to make his name known? In a culture that increasingly treats the most vulnerable (the not-yet-born and the elderly nearing the end of their lives) as dispensable, how can my life show that those made in God’s image are valuable and precious? Every believer is a servant, but there is also a more formal, organized service, which is administered by the “servants” or deacons. Deacons must understand the mystery of the faith. “Mystery” for Paul means that which had been hidden, but now is revealed. It is the revelation of Christ Jesus. If a deacon looks at his work as brownie points which earn him righteousness, he misses the heart of the gospel. All that the deacon does flows out of God’s great work of grace in sending Jesus Christ as the Savior. The work of the deacons is a piece of the glory of the new heavens and earth. Diaconal expressions of concern for one another can be a foretaste of heavenly fellowship. Deacons must hold to this with a clear conscience. Their knowledge of the faith must permeate their lives.

Deacons must be worthy of respect. They must be tested. The qualifications of the deacon are similar to those of the overseer. In both cases, these are characteristics which every man should strive for. But they are particularly important for those who hold office. The deacon must be worthy of respect, respected in the community he serves. Like the overseer, he must be moderate, not given to excess of wine (or other things). The prohibition against pursuing dishonest gain is especially important since he is entrusted with distribution for the needy. He must be above suspicion.

“If you are a deacon in Christ’s church, you have been called by God to a high office indeed. You serve a vital role in protecting the church’s primary calling of the ministry of the Word. You represent to the church our God’s deep concern for the poor among his people, and particularly our Savior’s own compassion toward the poor in his earthly ministry. And you have an opportunity to lead the church of Christ in adorning her witness to the world with deeds of mercy to accompany words of gospel truth.”

“Thus, the office of deacon represents a most fitting and essential complement to the office of elder in the church: together they represent the “two hands” of the church’s ministry. Whereas one has its primary expression in a ministry of Word, the other has its primary expression in a ministry of deed.”

“If you are a deacon, therefore, the special calling of your office happens to be a reflection of one of the major themes of the Bible: our God has a special concern for the poor. This is not something revealed for the first time in New Testament church polity. Rather, the institution of the diaconate is the fulfillment of a long-standing record of God’s heart for the poor.” (Nathan Trice, “If You Are a Deacon,” Ordained Servant, March 2014, https://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=409)

Deacons are called to serve well in God’s household. Deacons, like elders, are called to manage their own homes well–since they exercise authority within the household of God. The following context draws a clear parallel between the human family and the household of God. Deacons serve well, not only by performing specific acts of service to the needy, but also by modeling service and encouraging the rest of us to grow in reflecting our Savior’s compassion. The Lord rewards faithful service. Deacons who serve well gain an excellent standing. Assurance in the faith grows as they exercise their gifts. The offices of deacon and overseer (or elder) are crucial to the functioning of the household of God. How closely connected to Christ are the offices of elder and deacon? Paul moves seamlessly from giving qualifications for office to describing “the mystery of godliness” in verse 16, where he gives one of the richest Christological summaries found in Scripture.

Your service as a Christian and the service offered by the deacons are important because you are all united by faith to the risen, glorified, Lord. Pray and work for the full-orbed functioning of God’s household, and specifically for the work of the deacons.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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