Also available as MP3: The Makings of a Deacon – 1 Timothy 3:8-13
Most Bible teachers would say that “deacons” are those in charge of the material and financial things in a church, but the only time we are told what they do is here, where we are told they are to hold the mystery of the faith (3:8,9). The Greek word for “deacon” is sometimes used for men handling material things, but it is also used to describe spir-itual leaders in I Corinthians 3:5. So I believe the deacons were the Bible teachers in the local church. Ideally, the pastor shouldn’t be the only one. At our church, our board members do the job that spiritual leaders so spiritual leaders can give themselves to the Word (Acts 6:1-4).
Deacon teachers must be “grave,” deadly serious about teaching the Word. Not “double-tongued,” a word used only here, so we have to define it by Psalm 12:2,3. When a man with a double heart speaks it would be with a double tongue, which the psalmist describes as flattery. Flattering is thinking one thing and saying another, usually to get something from someone. Many pastors believe the grace message but teach something else to get money. Many teachers do it to get praise, or a larger following.
Teachers can’t be “given to much wine.” Drinking in moderation is a cultural thing. Wine is served at McDonalds in Argentina, and you can get a beer with your Big Mac in Germany. Wine was acceptable among believers in ancient Rome, but so was kissing (IICor.13: 12). In our culture, the acceptability of drinking among Christians varies, and some teachers drink in moderation. They just have to remember not to cause weaker brethren to stumble (Ro.14:21) by flaunting their liberty (v.22).
Teachers can’t be “greedy of filthy lucre” (cf. Mal.1:10), or of any kind of “gain” (Isa.56:10-12). Some teachers don’t teach the mystery to gain popularity and admiration, which will never lead to teaching something as unpopular as the mystery!
“The faith” is the body of truth God gives in any dispensation. The priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), the faith of Acts 2:38. But after Paul began preaching the mystery, men were obedient to “the mystery of the faith” (v.9 cf. Acts 14:21,22). Since spiritual leaders are also told to “hold” Paul’s words (IITim.1:13), the mystery of the faith must be the words of Paul’s gospel. Kingdom saints had to hold fast to their faith to be saved (Heb.3:6); we don’t, but teachers should hold the message of their faith as if it did. Since Paul alone teaches the faith-alone message of salvation that saves today, the salvation of others depends on teachers holding it tightly. Teachers who believe it won’t have a “pure conscience” unless they are doing all they can to promote that faith.
A teacher must first be “proved” (v.10) or tested (cf.Ex.16: 4) to see if they are “blameless” about holding the mystery of the faith. His wife must also be “grave”ly serious about holding it or she won’t let him give himself to studying and teaching it. She can’t be a “slanderer,” i.e., a false accuser (cf.Tit.2:3). She must be “sober,” not drunk, and not think more highly of herself than she should, another definition of “sober” (Rom.12:3). If she does, she won’t be “faithful in all things,” for she’ll think some things are beneath her.
“Husband of one wife” is dispensationally different than when spiritual leaders were husbands of more than one in time past. A man’s “house” in those days included servants as well as his “children,” so today if a teacher has employees he must rule them well. If a man can’t teach employees how to serve him by motivating them by gracious treatment, how can he teach God’s people to be motivated to serve Him by being motivated by His grace?
“Purchase” means to obtain by any means, so using the office of a deacon well helps you obtain a good degree. A “degree” is a step or stair (see a variation of the Greek word in Acts 21:40). The Bible speaks of men of low and high degree (Ps.62:9; IChron.17:17), so Paul is saying that if a teacher uses his office well he obtains a good degree, a good standing in the church, and great boldness. Boldness just comes with the territory if you’re a teacher. If you don’t think you are bold enough to be a teacher, it’s probably because you haven’t done enough teaching!