The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 13
There are some essential features of the True Gospel Church that we can identify from the Scriptures
A True Gospel Church will have
1. BIBLICAL PREACHING. 2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT. 3. BIBLICAL WORSHIP AND ORDINANCES. 4. BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP.
2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
We have spent 2 sermons looking at various aspects of the Church and its government. We have seen that the Elders are primarily concerned with the GOVERNMENTAL OVERSIGHT and LEADERSHIP of the church.
This morning we come to the Qualifications and the Duties of Deacons. Deacons are concerned with the ORDERED SERVICE of the Church.
First let us notice from the scriptures that each New Testament Church had its own elders and deacons. For instance the church at Philippi is addressed by Paul in Philippians 1 v 1
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Deacons have a special place in the life of the Church. William Hendriksen says
“The office and work of a deacon must not be considered to be of inferior value. It was and is a glorious task. It is based on Christ’s loving concern for His people.” (New TESTAMENT commentary on 1 Timothy p130.)
What was the origin of Deacons in the New Testament Gospel Church?
We need to go back to the passage that we read earlier to find out – to Acts 6. After Pentecost the early church in Jerusalem experienced rapid growth.
The believers rejoiced in the strengthening movement. God the HOLY SPIRIT was saving many many people and there was obvious, joy, love and fellowship of the saints in accord with each other in the church. But as Chapter 6 opens there are gathering storm clouds over Solomon’s Porch, the place of the Church’s meeting. More troubles and problems began to emerge. All that glitters is not gold, it is said, and the brightness of new birth, the radiance of the new experiences of the believers in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ began to tarnish when exposed to worldly concerns affecting the Christians. The WHOLE CHURCH became bogged down with routine physical and organisational matters. Wherever there is a society of people there is need for some kind of order. Without it an outcome resembling chaos is inevitable. We have been created with bodies and minds which are organised and ordered, and this is reflected in our relationships with each other. Where there is little or no control then a slippery slope leading down to anarchy becomes inevitable. Anarchy, the absence of rule, is a dangerous and frightening thing. We all need order and rules to survive as a society – and it became clear to the New Testament Church in Jerusalem that this was their need too.
1. The Apostles Need of Help. v 1- 2 .
It all came about, as we read in these first 2 verses, when a problem confronted the church at this time. The problem was one of alleged neglect by the Apostles of a certain section of the Church – Greek-speaking widows.
The reasons for the problem were
1. the vast number of new converts, new members of the one Jerusalem church was becoming a problem to care for adequately. In Acts 2
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
4 v 4 Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
And now chapter 6 v 1 “when the number of the disciples was multiplied” or as the Greek has it “the disciples multiplying” indicating a vast, continual increase; shows how big a church it was! One commentator reports that a conservative estimate of the total church membership at this point was between 20 and 25 thousand Christians.
2. A second reason was the two basic groups of believers in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that amongst the Jewish peoples in the world then were the Jews, descendants of Abraham, of the 12 tribes, who were HEBREWS. These were native Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic and used the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures. Then there were also the HELLENISTS, who were Jews, used to the Greek cultures, many of whom had returned to Palestine in their later years having spent their younger lives in places such as Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Cyrene, Libya, Rome, Crete and Greece itself – and this list is reminiscent of Acts 2 v 9 – 11 where people heard their own tongue spoken. But a common language in these countries in those days was Greek, much as English is spoken in many countries today. These Hellenist Jews spoke Greek regularly and used the Septuagint Old Testament scriptures, the Old Testament in Greek. Hellenist Jews were NOT Greeks converted to Judaism – but they were Jews who spoke Greek and had been used to a Greek type culture. There were naturally some differences between these converts to Christianity which went beyond the language barrier. In fact there had for 300 years been conflict between Hellenist and Hebrew Jews principally arising out of the Hebrew Jews’ suspicions of the Hellenists’ compromises with Gentile cultures. These conflicts were now surfacing again in the fledgling Church – and it came in the MURMURINGS of v 1 – murmurings over the treatment of the Greek speaking widows. When the gifts laid at the apostles’ feet were distributed by the Apostles, the Hellenist group felt that their widows were being neglected. It would seem that this was an accidental oversight on the Apostles’ behalf, because we are not told that they denied the charge – rather they took steps to rectify the situation.
Murmuring in any church situation is damaging and hurtful to the whole body of believers. Murmuring got the children of Israel into serious trouble with the Lord God in the wilderness. And we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are admonished by the New Testament to
Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Philippians 2 v 14 – 16.
May God give us the grace of our Saviour to resist at all costs being tempted into murmuring and disputing in an un Christlike way.
3. 3rd reason was the sheer amount of work involved in relieving the poor amongst the Christians – the Apostles had to do it all. It was at THEIR feet that the gifts were brought and to ensure fairness THEY had to see to its distribution. It is obvious that they must have had help of some kind, but the 12 supervised it all. Their organisation had not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the church. It is a sad fact that when a church grows to large numbers that things begin to go wrong. This seems to be the way of things in any society. Remember Abraham and Lot?
Genesis 13 “and there Abram called on the name of the LORD And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents, And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle.”
The problem is as old as Genesis.
Isaiah 9 v 3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy:”
– And sadly it was all about money! How easy it is for Christian people to fall out about money; and they nurture terribly carnal sentiments about the way they are treated by others. We need to be constantly on our guard about this for the devil can so easily find it to be a wedge between us in our fellowship here at Whiddon Valley.
2. The Apostles’ method of Solving the Problem. v 2 – 6
The 12 called a Church Meeting – of 20,000 people?! This seems to be incredible to us; and yet this number can easily be reduced if the Apostles at this stage were following their Jewish instincts and only calling the MEN to the meeting. They had the Creation ordinance of man’s subjection to God’s Authority as His head; and woman’s subjection to the man as her head, to guide them. Furthermore it would seem natural to think that the Church must have already been following a Jewish pattern of having Family and Tribal chiefs as spokesmen or representatives at church business meetings; this is the only explanation that makes sense. The Apostles consulted the membership, having already prayed and discussed the matter among themselves, and prepared proposals to put to the Church.
Peter as the spokesman suggested that seven men should be chosen to take care of this practical business. He says “It does not please us,” (another way of expressing the original words “it is not reason”) “that we should forsake the word of God and spend all of our time sitting at tables, like bankers, distributing the gifts to the poor.” The Apostles had no doubt coped adequately up to now with the task of distributing to the poor – but now the Ministry of the Word was seriously threatened. The relief of the poor was interfering with their God given call to preach the Gospel with signs and wonders. They were not delegating part of their role to others – they were saying that their role was principally preaching and that nothing should interfere with that priority. So someone else must take from them the burden of practically caring for the poor in the congregation. The apostles were very hardworking men who did not shirk from their duty in any form. They had been called to serve.
Serving at tables was NOT waitering or preparing food for feasts – rather the word tables refers to a BANKER’S table where transactions were dealt with.
So in v 3 Peter tells the brethren to CHOOSE from amongst themselves, amongst the brethren, men who should serve in this task. The Apostles merely propose that the number of the men chosen should be 7; that they should have certain qualifications – character qualifications and ability qualifications. The actual choosing was to be a congregational matter, “look YE out among you”, but the appointing was to be an Apostolic matter “whom WE may appoint over this business.” What were these qualifications?
1. They were to be MEN. They were men, Greek ANDROS, not men meaning mankind (ANTHROPOS) which could have included women; then the apostles had said “Look ye out among YOU –” and at the time they were speaking to the BRETHREN only.
2. They were to be men known to be full of the Holy Spirit and in particular in the gift of wisdom. All the disciples, the Christians, of both genders, were given gifts by the Holy Spirit – those gifts listed in Romans 12 v 14 were distributed amongst the Christians by God the Holy Spirit Himself at their Conversion. At the very beginning some were given other special sign gifts in the function of Prophets, before, that is, that the canon of Scripture was complete. These were revelatory Sign gifts, and as we well know, those gifts ceased once the Bible was fully compiled, there being no further use for them. But there is now a desperate need for gifted believers to be exercising the gifts listed in Romans 12.
V 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
We do not believe that the Scriptures teach any Baptism of the Holy Spirit which is subsequent to Conversion. We do believe that the scriptures teach that when God wishes to use a believer in some special task of service then He fills that believer with His Spirit enabling God’s sovereign will to be done in Christ’s Name.
In the case of the 7 men in Jerusalem the particular Spiritual gift needed was WISDOM. Wisdom to know who was in need and how to avoid the pitfalls of leaving anyone out whether they be Hebrew or Hellenist, widow or orphan. But it was not enough to HAVE this gift of wisdom – these men had to be SEEN to have the gift – it should show and be obvious in their conduct amongst the other believers in the practical affairs of life. Peter exhorts them to look around them and notice who had this gift of wisdom and that would be one of their selection criteria. The congregation would immediately begin to look around for men only of this particular type for this task.
3. A third quality was to be “a man of honest report”. These men needed to be discreet, transparently honest, sincere, tactful, sympathetic and practically wise. This term “honest report” seems to encompass all these things. It also includes the fact that these had to men free from any scandal, looked upon by their neighbours as faithful, men of integrity, trustworthy and virtuous. Men whose word could be depended on, who kept their promises, humble men who knew how to control their tempers and tongues. These men were going to be entrusted with public money and must therefore have clean records with regard to trustworthiness.
These qualifications enabled the congregation to identify seven such men and give their names to the Apostles for their appointment to the task.
Acts 6 v 4 says that the Apostles told the Church that they would give themselves to prayer and the Ministry of the Word.
Verse 5 records how the proposal pleased the whole church. They prayed and observed the men in the church. They prayed and chose 7 men and gave their names to the Apostles –
“and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles.”
Verse 6 a special service of laying on of the Apostles hands took place after prayer;
3. The Result of the Apostle’s, Action v 7.
And the result, according to verse 7 was
1. The Word of God Increased – because the Apostles were able to concentrate once more on the ministry of the Word exclusively.
2. The number of the disciples increased yet again and among these converts were some of the priests, godly men who were, by the Holy Spirit, open to the Gospel.
How marvellous to see what happens when a Church is properly administered and organised according to the Holy Spirit’s directions, for that is what was happening here in Jerusalem. And the pattern has been set for us in Barnstaple too. When we are obedient to God’s directions for Church life – when we are of one accord as the Jerusalem church was – when the members are content to see the work of the gospel advance through every member having a part to play under the wise leadership of the Officers – then BLESSING FOLLOWS in the shape of souls being saved, genuine conversions to Jesus Christ happening; men and women and boys and girls repenting of their sins and crying to God to save them; souls seeking God’s mercy on them conscious of their sins and worthiness of hell and damnation; and in it all great Glory being gained for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who, observing it all from the glories of Heaven at the Father’s right hand, will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied with the work of His cross and agony. Oh my friends – are you part of this Gospel Work? Are you IN the Church or are you on the outside? Make sure that you ARE inside today! Trust the Lord – now.
Having outlined the Biblical history of Deacons lets consider, as we did for the case of Elder,
A. The Words in the New Testament for Deacon.
1. DIAKONOS – a noun which occurs in Authorised Version 30 times rendered minister 20 times; servant 7 times and deacon 3 times.
Diakonos therefore has a wide usage and is difficult to distinguish when the word is actually referring to the OFFICE of a deacon. Without doubt it is the word describing the office in 1 Timothy 3 v 8 and Philippians 1 v 1. It would appear that the word progressed from its general meaning of a servant, that is a person involved in service TO its usage as applied to the special church ministry of a deacon.
2. DIAKONIA – another noun – 34 times – minister or ministry – 27 times; service 3 times; administration 2 times; office 1; relief 1. It is never translated “Deaconing” but it always has to do with service of some kind.
3. DIAKONEO a verb – 37 times – to minister or minister unto 22 times; to serve 10 times; and 5 miscellaneous uses. It comes from the word DIAKO – to run errands.
Of the 3 words, DIAKONOS is the one which most interests us even though it is used in a very wide setting.
W.E. Vine lists the use of DIAKONOS, the noun, like this
A domestic servant – for example, the servants at the wedding at Cana in John 2 v 5 and 9.
5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
A civil ruler – Romans 13 v 4.
About the Lord Jesus Christ –
Romans 15 v 8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
Jesus’ followers –
John 12 v 26 If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
Paul and Apollos in their preaching and teaching –
1 Corinthians 16 v 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
Those who serve in churches –
1 Timothy 3 v 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
Even the servants of Satan – mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11 v 14 – 15.
Then the one occurrence in the New Testament where it is used of a woman serving the church –
Romans 16 v 1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
However if we concentrate on the passages in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 which refer directly to Deacons / servants in the church all will be clear in identifying who these men were.
B. The Duties of Deacons.
We saw from Acts 6 v 1 – 6 how the Apostles dealt with a problem of care. There is a harmony between the qualifications of the men in Acts 6 with the instructions to Pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 3. These 7 men were the PROTOTYPE – that is a pattern, for the appointment of Deacons in the New Testament church – which was firmed up and endorsed through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Paul’s writings in 1 Timothy 3. Robert Saucy in his work “The Church in God’s Program” says that, “the duties of a deacon were and are the performance of various services of a practical nature in the church, relieving the elders of burdens which might interfere with their ministry of spiritual oversight.”
What are these various services of a practical nature?
1. The Ministry of relieving the poor – by
a. Care and custody of the financial affairs of the Church.
b. Distribution of the gifts to those in need.
2. Ministry of the smooth running of the work of the fellowship.
In these days there are wholly different needs of various church members. Only rarely is there a desperate financial need amongst the members in our modern Welfare State. There were no old age pensions in New Testament times – the church did the caring work of providing.
The Church’s task today is to spread the gospel to the poor in Spirit. This entails practical work
– providing for and maintaining a meeting place
– making resources available to effectively preach the gospel – at home and abroad
– relieving the eldership from day to day administration – and to do it all in a spiritually discerning manner.
C. Qualifications of Deacons.
3 areas – Personal Character; Personal Relationships and Family Life.
a. Personal Character.
In Acts 6 v 3
1. A Christian – one from among the membership; 2. An honest man – who would be trusted with money; 3. Full of the Holy Ghost; 4. Full of wisdom. 5. Capable of taking responsibility for service in the church.
More detail from 1 Timothy 3 v 8.
– meaning dignified. Serious minded, not flippant. This will show in the deacon’s attitude to his service.
Diligent – not sloppy Committed – not letting people down Efficient – not breaking promises to perform a service Earnest – but not light heartedly
Why are these things important? Because it is the Lord’s work! If a man is sloppy, light-hearted or inconsistent; flippant or a clock watcher in his secular work and home life – then he should not be a deacon and bring these low standards into his church life. A Deacon’s task is a grave, serious and dignified task.
2. Not double tongued.
He must not say one thing to one church member and something different to another. Partiality must be avoided. Confidentiality is essential because deacons will be privileged with information about the personal needs of the members – and sometimes their problems too. This info must be kept within the Deaconate.
3. Not given to wine nor greedy of filthy lucre.
Because the deacon may be susceptible and vulnerable – wine loosens the tongue – money could tempt the man to be more friendly than he should. Notice that these two qualities are expressed in stronger terms than those for an elder – because the deacons will be exposed to more temptations along these lines.
Over all, these standards required for deacons are just as high as for the elders and in certain cases the expressions are stronger.
b. Personal Relationships
The deacon must be a man who “holds the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” Verse 9.
A Deacon must be spiritually sound and strong in faith – so that not only can he bring material relief, but spiritual encouragement too. Full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom indicates an ability to get on with others and be approachable.
He must be proved. This means a consistent character and mature nature which has been proved outside as well as inside the church. The office is not one to promote maturity – to encourage a man in his walk with Christ. Rather it is a recognition that this is already present.
c. Family Qualifications. Verse 12
These are the same for the elders – the husband of only one wife and a good manager of his home and a loving father of his children. The home is a place where a man can be shown in his true colours – his true Christian character is on display and he can be seen for what he really is – in his home.
Summary. The Office of a Deacon is one of Dignity and Honour. We are to OBEY the elders because they function in a teaching and ruling manner – and will have to give an account for the souls of the flock – not so the Deacons.
Which is why a properly constituted and Spirit guided assembly of God’s people should never be left without the oversight of an elder. It is an abuse of Deacons to force upon them the ruling functions for which they have NOT been called.
It is the Church’s responsibility, and a solemn responsibility it is too, to only choose those men who qualify for these offices as laid down in the scriptures of 1 Timothy 3 v 1 – 13 AND Titus 1 v 6 – 9, and to set them aside for service.
The Lord Jesus Christ has given us 4 brothers here who fulfil this office of deacon and we are thankful for them. It is good to hear the church pray for our deacons – they need our prayers as they serve the Lord and serve the church here. May they know the continued help and strengthening of the Lord in their God given calling!
As we close let us reflect on the author of these instructions to the Church. It is by the Lord Jesus Christ, through His word, that we are led to so order ourselves and see the work of the Gospel go forward.
His word is sovereign and we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only.
Let us all seek to submit to God’s government of the Church – His church. As in every aspect of our Christian lives we find the Bible principle – that obedience brings blessing. As we shall sing in a moment
My gracious Lord I own thy right To every service I can pay And call it my supreme delight To hear Thy dictates, and obey Tis to my Saviour I would live, To Him Who for my ransom died.
Let us live to Him – our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.