In the early church, the apostles were the ones that Jesus sent out to proclaim the gospel. They were the leaders of the church. As the church grew, it became apparent that they needed to delegate some of their responsibility. Acts 6:1-6 “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” At this time, the disciples had all things in common. Acts 4:32 “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” It was therefore necessary to distribute items such as food to those who had need. The seven men listed above were delegated the responsibility to serve in this daily distribution and free the apostles to serve in prayer and the ministry of the word.
Even though the scripture does not specifically say so, I believe that these seven men were the first deacons. The word “deacon” denotes a “servant.” Jesus was our servant and he has taught us all to be servants of each other. Matt 20:25-28 “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” Being a servant to God and to your fellow Christian is what you are called to do.
In the early church it was good for the Apostles to appoint seven men to assume the responsibility of serving in physical matters; this freed the Apostles for spiritual matters. In the current day church it is also good to appoint men to be responsible to serve as deacons in physical matters and free the elders/overseers/pastors to serve in spiritual matters. That does not mean that deacons are restricted from serving in spiritual matters. Acts 6, 7 and 8 tell us that two of the seven, Steven and Philip, were instrumental in preaching the gospel.
The apostle Paul gave Timothy the qualifications for deacons. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 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.”
Let us look at the qualifications for deacons. Even if you will never become a deacon, these are qualities that all Christians should have. “Reverent” means respectful or serious; a deacon should recognize the importance of his work and not take it lightly. “Not double-tongued” means not being deceitful or hypocritical. “Not given to much wine” means that a deacon is not a drunkard. Being given to alcohol or other such drug will keep one from inheriting the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21). “Not greedy for money” implies not having a love of money; the apostle wrote later in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. One’s heart is not in the right place if he is greedy for money. “Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” implies that he understands the gospel and God’s revealed mystery of salvation and is a conscientious follower of Jesus Christ.
The deacon is to “be tested” before serving. The scripture does not define the test. My test is to observe the life of a prospective deacon to see if they are faithful and live a life of service to others. We are told that a deacon should be “found blameless”. While we are all redeemed sinners, a blameless person lives a life that is not open for criticism. The deacon’s wives should also be “reverent” and “not slanderers”; some people slander by being highly critical of others or tale bearers. “Temperate” is to avoid excess in any area of life. “Faithful in all things” implies being a true follower of Jesus in all areas of life.
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife.” God’s plan from the beginning has been one man for one woman for life. “Ruling their children and their own houses well” implies that the deacon should have children and prove his character by being a good manager of his own household. “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.” A deacon who faithfully performs his work for the church will be respected by all. He can be confident that he is doing good works for which God has created him. Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
If you are a man, you may want to serve the church as a deacon. Whether or not you become a deacon, the qualifications of a deacon are characteristics that you should seek to have. Desire to serve others as Jesus served.