Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
One could divide the qualifications for deacons, set forth in I Timothy 3:8-12, into several categories. Some of the qualifications clearly concern their family situation and life. They must “be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (v. 12). Furthermore, their wives must be “grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things” (v. 11). One qualification regards the deacon’s personal situation with regard to the church—he must “first be proved” (v. 10). Some of the qualifications regard the basic work of the grace of God in their heart—they must be believers, “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (v. 9). And others deal with the manifestation of that grace of God in how they live—they must be “grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre” (v. 8), and they must be “blameless” (v. 10). Another qualification which would be placed in this category is found in Acts 6:3: “men of honest repute.”
It is to this latter group of qualifications that we now turn our attention. Deacons must be godly in their conduct! In how they live, they must manifest that God has worked His grace in them. They must live lives of thankful obedience to the law of God, and set an example for the people of such obedience. Such a life will elicit willful respect of the people of the church for the deacons, and will cause the people readily to acknowledge that the deacons are vessels fit by grace to administer the grace and mercies of Jesus Christ.
We began our treatment of the godly conduct required of the deacons in the last article, in which we emphasized that they must be men full of the Holy Ghost, wisdom, and faith, as was required of the first deacons in the church. That a deacon is full of the Holy Ghost, wisdom, and faith, will be evident by his godly conduct.
Heading the list given in I Timothy 3:8 is the requirement that deacons be grave. This means that they must be serious minded, dignified men. The qualification does not say what must be true of the man’s natural disposition, but what must be true of him by grace. That is, Scripture does not say that the man must never smile or enjoy earthly pleasures; rather, all of this proper enjoyment must be tempered by the deacon’s consciousness of three basic truths: his salvation in Christ is an undeserved wonder; the servant of God must be diligent in all of his life; and the deacon in particular has a great responsibility, which he must perform faithfully. What must not be true of the deacon is that he can never be serious, but treats everything lightly and with humor.
Such gravity and serious-mindedness will inspire respect in the people of the church. They will understand that they can come to these deacons in their need, and not be laughed off, or be the cause for another joke, but that they and their request for help will be taken seriously.
Are you grave men, deacons?
A person whose needs are legitimate, but who senses that the deacons do not take him seriously, will have a hard time ever trusting deacons—any deacon—again.
Next, they must not be doubletongued. The Greek word thus translated means, really, “two-worded.” Sometimes we call it “two faced.” His word to one person does not correspond with his word to another. Or, he makes a promise to those in need, trying to show compassion, but knowing that he is not able to carry out that promise himself.
It is here that we may note the positive, set forth in Acts 6:3: “men of honest repute!” Let him be a man who obeys the ninth commandment in every way!
The trust and confidence of the people will be shaken, not only in that particular deacon who is not honest, but in all deacons! And how can a deacon bring the Word of Truth to comfort the people of God in their spiritual needs, when he cannot even speak a word of truth of his own mouth?
DeJong’s comments in this connection are to the point, and I will quote them in full:
Even more than in the work of the eldership, the deacons are in serious danger of falling into this sin. Time after time must they contact the poor and needy in their homes, discuss personal matters with them, listen to the recital of their circumstances and seek to alleviate their distress in every way possible. Such an arduous task requires not only a sympathetic and loving heart but also a steady and unswerving character. A deacon must be able to win the confidence of those whom he seeks to help. These must feel that his word is dependable; that he makes no promises which he is unable to fulfil. Likewise must he be able to judge fairly the situations which obtain, keep himself free from prejudice, and as much as possible defend his judgment before the other deacons and elders to whom he is responsible. Anyone who makes fine promises without rightful authority or before he has adequate knowledge of the circumstances will find himself in the unenviable position of being charged as undependable, unstable, and even deceitful.¹
The “rightful authority” of which DeJong speaks is the body of deacons as a whole; let no individual deacon, or committee of deacons, make promises to those in need, except such promises as the diaconate as a whole has made. To avoid being double-tongued, it is also good that deacons go out in teams, that they have discussed the situation they will encounter ahead of time, and that they address each other (privately) if the one thinks the other has not been sincere.
The deacons must also be “not given to much wine.”
“Wine” is mentioned because it was a common drink of the dayand because of its intoxicating character. The deacon must set an example of temperance and self control for everyone. Certainly he cannot do his work as officebearer in Christ’s church if he is under the influence of alcohol; to do such work, he must be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
Historically, DeJong points out, this admonition was needed because as the deacons went from house to house gathering gifts from the rich, and distributing them to the poor, they were often offered a strong drink.² One drink is fine, perhaps. Especially in his own home, a deacon is permitted to drink a little wine. We do not make laws where Scripture does not; wine as such is not forbidden. But one strong drink at each house, when the deacon will visit several homes in a night, is too much!
Today, deacons must apply the positive requirement of self-control to more things than merely wine. Let the deacons not be given overmuch to food, or to earthly pleasure, which in moderation is legitimate. One who uses earthly pleasures immoderately cannot truly say that he puts the responsibilities of his God-given office first in his life.
It is further required of deacons that they be “not greedy of filthy lucre.”
The positive principle of this requirement is really the same as that of the previous requirement: earthly things must not become ends in themselves. This is true also of money. This requirement applies to the deacon’s view of money: he must understand that it is a legitimate means by which God provides for our earthly needs, but he must not be greedy and covetous of it. His concern must not be to get ahead in this life, or to be rich; he must not be earthly-minded. Rather, he must be content with his lot in life, and be an example of one who trusts in God to supply his material needs. The requirement also applies to the way in which the deacon obtains his money and possessions—let him work honestly and lawfully, and pay a fair price for that which he owns. And the requirement applies to the way in which the deacon uses his money and possessions—let him be a good steward of it, seeking first the causes of the kingdom. Let him be sure that he brings his offerings to church on Sunday, and pays his Christian school tuition, then cares for the earthly needs of his family.
Again, the importance of this for the deacon is readily seen. First, if he will be trusted with the funds of the church, he must be a man who does not have his heart set on money. Too many temptations will arise. Second, if he must preach contentment to the people whom he visits, he must himself practice contentment. And if he sometimes must preach godly stewardship to those whose needs are due to their own poor stewardship, he must be sure he also is a good steward.
Lastly as regards the deacon’s godly conduct, Scripture says that he must be blameless. This is the last qualification mentioned for the deacon, except for those dealing particularly with his family situation. As regards the deacon’s personal conduct, this is the concluding point in Scripture.
The Greek word translated here “blameless” is different from that so translated in verse two, in regard to elders. There the word means literally, “not taken hold of,” that is, their conduct must be such that none can lay hold of a reason to keep them from office, none can find a ground for a charge against them. Here the word has the idea of one who cannot be called into account. We see that, although the words are different, the idea is substantially the same.
Deacons, you must so live, in every aspect of your life—family life, personal life, work life, church life, diaconal work—that none have any reason to accuse you! You must obey both tables of the law of God, and every commandment, with diligence! And to that end, guard not only your actions but your tongue, and your thoughts, and your heart! You must be above suspicion, and must abstain not just from evil as such, but from the very appearance of evil.
This means, positively, that you must be close to God in your life, and that that must be evident in all your life. One cannot have such godly conduct who does not depend on God for His grace. One cannot truly be blameless and godly while doing the work of the diaconate, who is not blameless and godly in his personal life. Be one who spends time with God in prayer and meditation on His Word every day!
Then you can come with boldness and confidence to those in need, as the representative of the living, merciful God, and Christ, our High Priest.
Does it seem that some qualifications are lacking? Where is any mention of the love and compassion that a deacon must have? Should he not be a man who will uphold justice and be fair? We might think these are the essential qualities of a deacon; yet Scripture makes no explicit mention of them.
However, these qualities are implied in the requirements of God’s Word.
How he rules his home will show whether he has love, compassion, and justice, or whether he has none of these. In his home, does he show tender love to his children; is his justice fairly administered?
Whether or not he lives up to these qualifications mentioned will show whether or not he has these other qualities. Does he love God above all? Is his obedience to God’s law unswerving? Such a
man who loves God will also love God’s people.
That he is grave and blameless will show itself in his true, godly love and compassion for those in need.
The point is this: let none who are not grave, are double-tongued, are given to much wine, and are greedy of filthy lucre, claim to have a love and compassion for God’s people! All that such men show is that they love vanity, lies, wine, and money. And then they cannot truly love God or His people.
Deacons, are you these things?
Deacons wives, do you encourage your husbands to be these things?
Elders, deacons, and pastors, do you mutually admonish and encourage each other to be these things?
People of the congregation, do you pray that your officebearers be such men? And do you respect them for being such men, by God’s grace?
Remember that these qualifications are mentioned for the sake of every member of the church, and not only for the sake of the deacon personally. We must all be impressed with the great responsibility of the office, and be fervent in prayer that God might supply the needs of our deacons, both by continually granting them the grace to be qualified, and by blessing them in their work.
1.P. Y. DeJong, The Ministry of Mercy for Today, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1952), p. 99.
2.Ibid., pp. 99-100.