In our study of bishops, we learned that their function
is the spiritual care and oversight of the house of God. We noted that
bishops are also called elders, and that there are several bishops in
one church, rather than one bishop over several churches.
We come next to the study of deacons, who they are and what their functions are.
1. What Are Deacons?
The word “deacon” simply means a servant - a man who
pursues some ministry or service. Frequently in the New Testament it is
used in this very general sense. For instance, a duly appointed civil
official who rules in public affairs is called a deacon of God (Romans 13:4). Phebe is spoken of as a deaconess of the church of Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). Christ Himself is described as a deacon of the circumcision for the truth of God (Romans 15:8). The name has come to be applied to the seven men who were chosen in Acts 6:1-7,
to take care of the disbursing of funds. The English word “deacon” is
not found in that passage, and the word cannot be restricted to duties
attending the administration of funds. It applies to any form of
service, as is implied in the word “serve’’ (diakonein) in verse 2.
2. Their Qualifications
Although the exact duties of deacons are nowhere specified, yet their qualifications are given with great explicitness in 1 Timothy 3.
Beginning with verse 8, we read: “Likewise must the deacons be grave,
not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these
also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being
found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers,
sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one
wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that
have used the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good
degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
The first requirement is gravity. A man who is
lightheaded and frivolous will not be likely to gain the confidence of
those whom he serves. Then the deacon must not be double-tongued. That
is, he must be consistent. He must not give one account to certain
individuals and a different version to others. Honesty and
straightforwardness are mandatory. Especially if his service involves
handling funds, he should use such methods as will avoid the slightest
possibility of suspicion or distrust. He must not be given to much
wine. No one can place confidence in an intemperate person. Experience
teaches that intemperance and excess are the enemies of accuracy and
dependability. They ruin a man’s testimony for God and unfit him for
divine service. Also, he must not be greedy of filthy lucre. (Many of
these requirements are identical with those of a bishop.) An avaricious
spirit is a snare. If a man’s heart is set on accumulating wealth, he
can become so obsessed with this passion that every other activity in
his life is made subservient to it. The Kingdom of God and His
righteousness no longer hold first place in his life, and work for God
is shoddy and unacceptable. The deacon must hold the mystery of the
faith in a pure conscience. This is important. It is not enough for him
to know the truth. He must practice the truth with a conscience void of
offense toward God. Hymenaeus and Alexander both knew the Word of God,
but they trifled with sin - that is, with evil doctrine (2 Timothy 2:17). They drowned out the voice of conscience and made shipwreck of the faith (1 Timothy 1:19, 20).
There is no substitute for a tender conscience, one which is prompt to
discern that which is displeasing to God, and to take sides with the
Lord against it. Next we read, “Let these also first be proved, then
let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” This is a
divine principle of considerable importance. “Let these also first be
proved.” In another passage, we read, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Timothy 5:22).
It is a needed admonition for all of us. We are all prone to be
impressed with a person the first time we meet him. We immediately want
to advance him to a position of responsibility. Then after a time, we
realize that it was a rash act. “All that glitters is not gold.” We
judged him on too short a notice. The next qualification of deacons
seems rather to deal with their wives. It reads, in the King James
Version, “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober,
faithful in all things.” However, we feel that J. N. Darby’s
translation is more to the point. It reads, “The women in like manner
grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” The point is
that the women referred to are not the wives of deacons, but rather
those who are themselves deaconesses. Phebe was a deaconess (servant) (Romans 16:1).
It would be difficult to understand why there should be special
requirements for wives of deacons, when no such requirements are found
for wives of bishops. However, there is no difficulty if it be
understood that the verse applies to women who are serving the local
church. As in the case of elders, we learn that a deacon must be the
husband of one wife, ruling his own children and his own house well. We
have already been reminded that if a man does not command respect and
authority in his own home, it is hardly possible that he can do so in
3. Their Rewards
Now the reward of the deacon is twofold. If a man
serves well as a deacon, he purchases to himself a good degree. He
gains for himself a good standing among his fellow saints and a good
prospect of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Secondly, he
purchases to himself great boldness in the faith which is in Christ
Jesus. True, the world looks upon such a goal as of little value. It is
too mystical, intangible, vague. But to the child of God, it is more
valuable than gold or precious stones.
With regard to the support of deacons, the same thing
applies as in the case of bishops. There are some who engage in secular
work, and who, therefore, provide for their own needs. Others devote
themselves wholly to the work of the Lord and for all such the
principle is: “They which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Galatians 6:6).
Now in closing our study on deacons, we should like to refer once again to Philippians 1:1.
There we find three types of people mentioned as being in the church of
God - saints, bishops and deacons. It is noteworthy that those are the
only classes named. Saints first, then bishops, then deacons. The
absence of another class known as the clergy is noteworthy, as has been
pointed out by Barnes in his Commentary on the New Testament: “There
are not ‘three orders’ of clergy in the New Testament. The apostle Paul
in this chapter (1 Timothy 3)
expressly designates the characteristics of those who should have
charge of the church, but mentions only two, ‘bishops, and ‘deacons’
-there is no ‘third’ order. There is no allusion to anyone who was to
be ‘superior’ to the ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons.’ As the apostle Paul was
expressly given instructions in regard to the organization of the
church, such an omission is unaccountable if he supposed there was to
be an order of ‘prelates’ in the church. Why is there no allusion to
them? Why is there no mention of their qualifications? If Timothy was
himself a prelate, was he to have nothing to do in transmitting the
office to others? Were there no peculiar qualifications required in
such an order of men which it would be proper to mention? Would it not
be respectful, at least, in Paul to have made some allusion to such an
office, if Timothy himself held it?”
The answer is, of course, that if the organization of
the New Testament church contained any other order than bishops and
deacons, then Paul would have mentioned it. The vast ecclesiastical
systems of our day have been added by men, with no warrant whatever
from the Word of God.
THE CHURCH’S FINANCES
Throughout the New Testament, it is both stated and
implied that the church receives its finances from those who are
within. There is no hint of any unsaved persons outside the church
contributing to its support. Christian giving is an act of worship and
is thus limited to those who have been redeemed by the precious blood
of Christ. Neither is there any hint of a local church being regularly
financed, subsidized, or supported by any other church, group of
churches, or council. There were special adverse circumstances, such as
the Judean famine (Acts 11:29)
occasioning practical financial fellowship being shown by some churches
to fellow-believers. Every local church should be self-supporting. The
major teachings of the New Testament with regard to this important
subject of the church’s finances may readily be outlined.
All that a Christian has belongs to God. The believer
is to act as a steward, using all he has in the best possible way for
his Master’s glory. (See Luke 16:1-12.)
F. B. Meyer stated the truth as follows: “We are meant to be stewards;
not storing up our Lord’s money for ourselves, but administering for
Him all that we do not need for the maintenance of ourselves and our
dear ones, in the position of life in which God has placed us. And our
only worldly aim should be to lay out our Lord’s money to the very best
advantage; so that we may render Him an account with joy, when He comes
to reckon with us.”
2. When and Where to Give
The Christian is instructed to give to the work of the
Lord. When is he to give? “Upon the first day of the week, let every
one of you lay by him in store” (1 Corinthians 16:2). How much is he to give? He is to give “as God has prospered him” (1 Corinthians 16:2) and as Christ gave. He was rich, but became poor that we might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He is our example. We should give out of our want, not out of our abundance (Mark 12:44).
In short, the Christian should give liberally. The tithe (one tenth)
was the minimum given by an Israelite. He brought tithes and offerings.
No Christian should be content to give, under grace, what was the
minimum requirement under law.
3. How to Give
In what spirit is he to give? He should first give himself to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5), thus acknowledging that all belongs to Him. Giving must be done in love (1 Corinthians 13:3), else it is valueless. It should be done in secret (Matthew 6:1-4)
- so secret that the left hand does not know what the right hand is
doing, to use a figure of speech. It should be done cheerfully, not
grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7). We find that the early Christians sold their possessions and shared their wealth with one another (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:31-37).
This was an outward expression of their true spiritual fellowship. Such
action is nowhere commanded in the New Testament. In fact, the
instructions of Scripture concerning Christian giving presuppose
private ownership of property. The action by the early church was
purely voluntary. While it is not to be confused with monasticism or
with the “communism” of today, the implication is clear. When believers
are controlled by the Holy Spirit, they will be generous in giving to
every genuine case of need as He may direct.
4. The Reward
What are the rewards for giving? When we are faithful
in the unrighteous mammon (in the use of our money), God will commit
true riches (spiritual treasures) to our trust (Luke 16:11). Fruit abounds to the account of the giver (Philippians 4:17). He will have treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), because his gifts are “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).
5. The Assembly Treasurer
Those who handle the funds of the church should use
business methods that are above reproach. “Provide for honest things,
not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21). At least two men should be appointed to take charge of the offering. In Acts 6:1-6 we
read that seven men were appointed to handle the distribution of funds
to widows in the assembly. The Epistles contain no definite
instructions as to exactly how many men should handle the money, but it
is clear from 1 Corinthians 16:3, 4 and 2 Corinthians 8:18, 19
that it was customary to entrust this responsibility to more than one.
In the former passage, Paul states that he would send those whom the
Corinthians approved with the offering to Jerusalem, and, if necessary,
he would go, too. Note the plurals - “them’’ (verse 3); “they” (verse
4). In the latter reference, Paul explains that another brother was
chosen to travel with him in distributing the gift from the church.
6. The Giving of the Local Church
The New Testament reveals three principal purposes for
which the funds of the church are expended. These are for widows in the
assembly, for poor saints and for those who devote their time to
preaching and teaching the Word.
For widows in the assembly (Acts 6:1-6). In order to qualify as a “widow indeed” (1 Timothy 5:3-16),
a woman had to meet the following requirements. (1) She had to be
desolate; that is, without any relatives who could support her, and
utterly cast upon the Lord for her needs (vv. 4,5,16). (2) She had to
be at least sixty years old. (3) She had to be known for her good
works, her noble motherhood, her hospitality, and her charity (see v.
10). For the poor saints. God has exhorted us many times in His Word to
remember the poor (e.g., Galatians 2:10; Romans 12:13); and the prosperity of His people in the Old Testament is closely linked with their treatment of their needy brethren (Deuteronomy 14:29).
Around AD. 45, many of the Christians in Judea were stricken with
poverty. This was probably due to severe persecution and widespread
famine. The saints in Antioch sent relief to the Judean brethren by the
hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). The assembly at Corinth was urged to do the same thing (1 Corinthians 16:1-3;
2 Corinthians 8 and 9). We are likewise responsible to care for those
in need. The Lord Jesus said, “Ye have the poor with you always” (Mark 14:7).
It is good for an assembly to have poor members whom it can care for
with a godly exercise. Barnes points out that a great way to unite
Christians and to prevent alienation and jealousy and strife is to have
a common object of charity, in which all are interested and to which
all may contribute. The assembly is not, however, responsible for those
who are poor because they do not want to work. In such cases the divine
decree is that, if any man will not work, neither shall he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
For those who devote their time to the work of the Lord. It is a divine
principle that those who preach the Gospel or teach the Word are
entitled to the support of the saints. “Let him who is receiving
instruction in the Word give ungrudgingly a share of his worldly goods
to him who instructs him” (Galatians 6:6, Way’s Translation). (See also 1 Corinthians 9:4-13; 1 Timothy 5:17,18.) Oftentimes, however, the Apostle Paul labored with his hands, rather than accept fellowship from assemblies (Acts 18:3).
His reasons for this were simple. He wanted to serve as an example to
the Ephesians, that they, too, might support the weak and know the
blessedness of giving (Acts 20:33-35). He also wished to prevent his critics in Corinth from charging him with mercenary motives (2 Corinthians 11:7-12). In addition he desired to prevent the Thessalonian believers from being burdened with his support (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). The saints there were poor and were being persecuted. The assembly at Philippi was commended for ministering to Paul (Philippians 4:10-19).
Note that Paul did not desire the fellowship because of his need, but
because he wanted fruit to abound to their account. Note, also, that
although the Apostle never publicized his personal needs, he did not
hesitate to make known the needs of other saints (2 Corinthians 8 and
9). There is, thus, a difference between information and solicitation.
As Dr. Chafer has pointed out—“All will agree that information is
required, else no intelligent giving is possible; but the real problem
centers around the question of solicitation.”
The reader of the New Testament will notice how
delightfully simple is the financing of the Church. There are no
burdensome, legalistic rules, neither is there an elaborate, complex
financial organization. If the simple precepts of the Scripture were
followed, two important results would ensue. The needs of the Church
would be liberally supplied without solicitations. The Church would not
have to be reproached by the world as a moneymaking institution.