The component parts of a spiritual assembly are clearly defined. Saints, bishops, and deacons are distinct functions (Philippians 1:1). They can be in the same person, but they spring from a different source:
- To be a saint comes from conversion.
- To be a bishop comes from desire and character.
- To be a deacon comes from spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:7).
Eldership is not in itself a spiritual gift. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, or elder, he desireth a good work.” Another has translated this “If a man stretcheth himself to overseership.” This implies deep and prolonged spiritual exercise before God, and a faithful ministry before men.
There are five duties that should characterize a true elder:
1. He should be a pastor or shepherd to feed the flock.
2. He should be a sentinel to protect the flock.
3. He should be a pillar to support the flock.
4. He should be an administrator to guide the flock.
5. He should be an example to encourage the flock.
In 1 Timothy 3:5, the Spirit reveals to us that the elder has to take care of the Church of God, but he must take care of his own home first. He has to act on behalf of the Great Shepherd as an under-shepherd. His duties to the flock are laid out in Isaiah 40:11:
1. He has to feed the flock as a shepherd.
2. He has to gather the lambs in His arms.
3. He has to carry them in his bosom.
4. He has to gently lead those that are with young.
An elder should bind up the wounded and comfort the distressed. He should help those who fall into the hands of the enemy, for the true shepherd never abandons a wounded sheep. The work of a true elder is endless, sacrificial, and demanding.
Every spiritual brother should desire eldership; it is a good work. Spiritual brothers should strain with outstretched arms towards eldership. This is the duty and responsibility of the spiritual among us. Consider at this point the saints attitude to their leaders:
“Obey them who have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give an account that they may do it with joy and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
“Remember these who have the rule over you who have spoken unto you the Word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their manner of life.” (Hebrews 13:7)
“Rebuke not an elder, but plead with him respectfully, just as though he were your own father.” (1 Timothy 5:1)
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19)
True elders—those appointed by the Holy Spirit, divinely equipped for doing the work—should be obeyed, respected, prayed for, and their godly example followed.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” This temple is the local assembly. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reads, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Who is in you…Whom ye have of God…you are not your own…you are bought with a price…therefore glorify God in your body.”
An elder is to be a steward of the mysteries of God:
- The Mystery of the Gospel
- The Mystery of the Rapture
- The Mystery of the Church
- The Mystery of Godliness
“To Him whom men despise and slight,
To Him be glory given;
The crown is His and His by right
The highest place in heaven.”
In Revelation 5:11-13, the angels join the elders and there is universal adoration. Every creature in heaven, earth, under the earth, and in the sea join their voices in unison saying, “Blessing, honor, and glory be unto Him who sits upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”
We say, “Lord, break me of my pride, self-will, unforgiving spirit, worldliness, impurity, temper, and every work of the flesh.” As we stand or bow in our surrendered condition before Him, we allow Him to change us from being a Jacob to being Israel, from a cheat to a prince, from a powerless schemer to one who has power with God. Then as we go through life with the limp of a broken man, our life will exude the fragrance of the Lord. We proclaim for all to see, that “Christ is Lord” of my life.
Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you.” An example of this can be seen in the Red Sea illustration and that of the Hebrew children. Zech. 4:6 says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.”
Deacons and Deaconesses
1 Timothy 3:8-13 - In verse eight, Paul turns abruptly from the qualifications of elders and presents the qualifications of deacons. From this passage of scripture we learn that the leaders in the local church are both elders and deacons. A deacon has received three things: (1) A gift from Christ, (2) A call from Christ, and (3) The recognition of the Church for public service (the term deacon, in general, means “one who serves.”).
Deacons are temporal, while the elders are spiritual. No statement is made relative to the deacons’ duties. Consider Stephen and Philip - one aspect of their duties is found in Acts 6. These duties include: serving tables and collecting and giving money to widows. Notice the very high standard of conduct and character demanded of those chosen as deacons. They were to be of honest report (i.e. they were reputable, full of faith, and full of power). Full of the Holy Spirit, they were to be spiritual. Full of wisdom, they were to be practical.
When the disciples (or apostles) were released from serving tables to devote themselves to ministry and prayer, there was a great forward thrust of the Gospel. The Word of God increased and the number of disciples was multiplied greatly. A great number of priests were obedient to the faith (see Acts 6).
Note the qualifications of the deacon in 1 Timothy 3. They must have something to do with wonders and miracles. They should be men of dignified character (1 Tim. 3:8). They must not speak with two voices, saying one thing to one and something different to another. They must speak the truth at all the times. They must not be given too much wine; rather they are to be filled with the Spirit, not having their hands soiled with disreputable ways of making money. He must manage his own house well.
They must be blameless, having an outward flawlessness of character and walk. Paul is not only concerned with the outward blamelessness demanded of deacons; they must possess a vital spiritual life. They must be known as those who hold the mystery of the faith (1 Tim. 3:9). They must know the doctrine of the faith, and must conscientiously put the truth into practice in their own lives.
Then there is the testing of deacons before they hold office (1 Tim. 3:10). They have to be tested like precious metal to prove their genuineness. This testing would be over a period of time during which the aspiring deacons conduct and character would be analyzed by the church. Meeting the approval of the church, they would then be appointed. Stephanus addicted Himself to the ministry of the saints (1 Tim. 3:15).
Verse 11 of this section is an interesting one. The reading in a KJV somewhat obscures the literal meaning as appointed by the majority of conservative scholars. The words, “Even so must their wives be,” could and probably should be interpreted, “Woman in like manner must be.” The words “must their” is in italics and was supplied by the translators to give the meaning they thought appropriate.
More recent research on this particular issue has produced the broader meaning, “Women in like manner.” The context would determine that this is not women in general. Since Paul is here dealing with church leadership it refers to a certain class of women who were deaconesses, or servants, of the church.
Let us now consider the two views:
1. That the message is for the deacons’ wives, and that the qualifications listed would certainly be required of deacons’ wives.
2. The preponderance of evidence is in favor of the interpretation that the women referred to were deaconesses or servants of the church. (Consider Phoebe of Rom. 16:1)
The early church realized the value of women who were dignified and not malicious gossips, but instead, temperate and faithful in all things (see 1 Tim. 3:11 and Titus 2:3). If it was found necessary to have deaconesses in the early church, “Why don’t we have them today?” Why do we send our young sisters abroad when there is so much for them to do at home?
This also brings up another question: Why is it that most assemblies recognize the authority of the elders, but do not see the need for deacons? (See Philippians 1:1). One reason is that elders perform a dual task. Another reason is that many so-called elders are not truly elders, but deacons. Of course sometimes, elders are forced into this dual role because of the lack of brethren to do this kind of work. Epaphraditus is an example of this. [A few of the men who might be a brother and companion in labor: a fellow soldier, your messenger, the treasurer, the Sunday school superintendent, etc.]