“For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:13

There is no doubt there are two offices God has given to each local church. Baptists have always recognized this truth. There is the office of bishop/elder/pastor and the office of deacon. We see this modeled in Philippians 1:1: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” There we see the local believers, called saints, the various pastors, called bishops, and ones serving the congregations, called deacons.

From Acts 20:17 and 28 it is observed that elders (maturity) are synonymous with bishops (oversight) and synonymous with pastors (feed the flock). The three terms refer to the same individuals Paul summoned and, therefore, refer to three aspects of the one office of the shepherds of the local churches. The New Testament habit of equating the three aspects in one office distinguishes the office of bishop/elder/pastor from the Old Testament elders that served Israel. They have two different functions and two different purposes as defined in the two dispensations.

Regarding the office of deacon, it is an interesting exercise to study each use of the word diakonia in the New Testament and to discern whether each use refers to the office of deacon or the work of “deac-ing.” The office is obviously found in Acts 6, Philippians 1, and 1 Timothy 3. The work is found in Acts 19:22, Romans 15:25, and in our text above. While deacons are to be formally charged with the responsibility of ministering, others also minister. Pastors minister (diakonia), the church ministers to one another, and women also minister (Romans 16:1). None of these uses in the New Testament refer to the office, but they certainly do pertain to the work of being a servant.

I believe the reason that all believers are servants, and yet, some are Servants (deacon means to attentively serve, to stir up dust while serving) is because Jesus’ leadership plan for the Church Age is servant leadership. Philippians 2:5–10 serves to illustrate this trait in our Savior, and Ephesians 4:12ff explains how this servant-mindedness works its way down through the rank and file of every local body of believers. “And He Himself gave…pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Paul often calls himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, not just as a self-effacing exercise, but as a model of the fact that even apostles were servant-leaders. By his self-designation we are treated to a window into his true-blue heart.

The office of deacon was forged in the fires of trouble. In the early church, as membership expanded beyond the Jewish believers into the wide-world of Gentile converts, difficulty arose in caring for the growing number of needy saints. Acts 6:1–7 provides the solution of a church appointing deacons for specific duties of service.

In verses 1 and 2, we learn that the Gentile widows were being “neglected in the daily distribution [diakoneo],” they were being left hungry. The apostles gathered the believers together and explained, “It is not desirable that we should leave the Word of God and serve [diakoneo] tables.” The solution was given in verse 3f: “Therefore brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation [tested, witness borne by them], full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business [new necessity]; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry [diakoneo] of the Word.”

To our 21st century ears, the requirements of being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom may appear daunting, especially to a godly, humble heart. However, it must be mentioned that God does not require something of us that He cannot provide. No man should jump to the forefront and “candidate himself around” to be a deacon, rather it is the church body that does the search, extends the call, and “sets before” the body (Acts 6:3, 6). Each local church is tasked with the responsibility of praying, discerning, and installing believers who they are confident display the qualities God delineates for those who should occupy the office of deacon.

It is a serious matter for a church to place men into the office. It should never be done to appease, to fill a vacancy, or to “encourage spiritual growth” in the person. Those chosen must be already displaying a servant’s heart and doing deacon work. Acts 6 refers to men of good reputation, following the Holy Spirit’s leading, and demonstrating wisdom. 1 Timothy 3 adds the qualities of reverence, impeccable honesty, sobriety, not greedy, and being a lover of truth while honestly assessing himself, having a godly wife, keeping those under his roof in good order, being faithful to his wife, and being a commendable father. The significant difference between bishop/elder/pastor and deacon is the quality of being “able to teach.”

No wonder Paul tells Timothy in verse 13 that those who have served well acquire (purchase, keep safe) a good standing (foothold, step, threshold, degree on a sundial) and great boldness in the faith! The church grants to each of their deacons a worthy office from which the likeness of Christ is prominently on display to the world and to His church. Trust and obey.