Can a woman serve as a deacon in a local church? Many churches have different practices and there are Bible teachers who disagree on this subject but today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg takes us to the book of 1 Timothy chapter 3 to help us understand how we should look at this important question.
We're looking today at verses 8 through 16. What are the requirements necessary to serve as a deacon? Number one, a deacon is to be serious. Secondly, these individuals are to be sincere. Not only are they to be serious in their outlook, but they are to be sincere in their conviction.
Thirdly, sober. Fourthly, these individuals are to be satisfied individuals. In other words, they're not pursuing dishonest gain. Thus, they must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. In other words, it is wrong for us to think that the service ministries of the church are to be exercised by people who are simply good at climbing ladders or doing things like that, and provided they are functionally okay, it really doesn't matter if they're very spiritual or not.
That is the height of stupidity. Because just in the same way as the fact that there are no menial tasks within the kingdom, there are no unspiritual tasks within the kingdom, the way in which we do everything will convey that which is the very bedrock of our existence. And so, says Paul, these individuals are to be men who hold the deep truths of the faith and do so with a clear conscience.
The word mystery in the King James Version is not something that is unable to be apprehended by the mind of a man, but it is a reference to something that was previously hidden and which has now been revealed, and it's one of the words that Paul uses as a description of the gospel. In other words, the deacons are to be gospel men. They're to be men who understand the Bible, who are committed to the deep things of the faith, and who are able to hold true to that and to do so with a clear conscience. So the idea that, you know, elders are spiritual and deacons or whatever you want them to be is not a New Testament concept. The spiritual demand is the same for both.
The function differs. Sixthly, these individuals are to be selected, verse 10. They must first be tested, and then if there's nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. Back in Acts chapter 6, you will notice that these individuals were set apart according to what people knew of them.
They weren't just grabbed in the hallway and given a job. In the proving ground was two places, one within their own home and also within the company of God's people. It was when they knew that they were not guilty of flagrant sins, either of omission or of commission, that would cast a shadow upon their qualifications for service, that they were then, after this, set apart to serve in this capacity. And seventhly, that these individuals were to be settled.
I'm referring now to verse 12 and to the issue of sexual and marital fidelity. They were to be individuals who could manage their children, manage their household. And of course, if they were going to have any kind of management, administrative responsibility within the larger framework of the family of God, it only makes perfect sense that they would be able to manage their own house. So if their place is a shambles in their house, it'll be a shambles whatever you give them to do.
If they are not scrupulous in relationship to their own financial dealings, they will not be scrupulous with the financial dealings of the church. That's why you see the idea of volunteerism as a way to populate ministry and church is not actually a very good idea. I don't particularly like, well, do we have any volunteers for this and any volunteers for that? I like initiative, and I like the fact that people would say they are up for service, but I think the way to do it is appointment. I think the way to do it is to come alongside. I think the elders have to take a far more serious look at what it means to be understanding who the sheep are, what they're doing, and what their capacities are, and that the congregation identifies one another in saying, you know, that man is so excellent at doing that. That lady is so wonderful at helping in that way, whatever it might be. Because if you don't do that, and you leave it simply to volunteerism, then there's no say in what you get, and there's no way to prevent what you get. And so what you get are a bunch of well-meaning people who can do the job, then you have to come behind them, put someone else in to do the job, or ask the people who try to do the job to go home and lie down on the couch for a short while.
Or a long while. Third question is, how then are we to understand the reference to women in verse 11? You'll notice, I think, that the deacons were distinguished from the elders at the beginning of verse 8 with the word likewise.
It's actually the translation of an adverb husautos, which means similarly or likewise, or in the same way. It's used at the beginning of verse 8 to distinguish between elders and deacons, and it is used at the beginning of verse 11 to distinguish between the women and the deacons who are mentioned in verses 8–10, and then again in verse 12 and following. Now, the question is, why does this happen in this way? Why are these women mentioned at this point? Now, the obvious and general answer is that it is on account of the fact that they are somehow, some way, involved in the diaconal responsibilities of the church.
But when we've said that generally and we then go to the specific question, it's not as easy to answer. And indeed, there is a great diversity of viewpoint in relationship to this. There are essentially four explanations as to what's going on here in verse 11. One is that these women are inherently part of the diaconoi, that they are deacons.
That's what they are. And they're mentioned here because they are as much deacons as those mentioned in 8–10, and the chap mentioned in verse 12, who must be the husband of but one wife. So people are saying, it doesn't matter, they are deacons. I know it says that a deacon is to be the husband of one wife, but it doesn't matter. Verse 11, the women are deacons in the same way. Two, the second explanation is that they're not deacons in the same way, but they are deaconesses, that they are different from but they are comparable to deacons, and that there is a separate group of women in the church who have diaconal responsibilities from a kind of feminine perspective. Now, if that were the case, you would have expected Paul to use the feminine form of diaconoi in order to make that clear.
He doesn't do that. Thirdly, third explanation is that they are somehow the female assistants of deacons. And fourthly, they are to be regarded as the wives of deacons. Well, what about number one, that they are inherently part of the deacons group?
I don't think you can argue that at all. Because they are so clearly distinguished from the deacons by the use of the adverb husautos, by the absence of the use of a title diaconoi, and also by the clear inference that is there in the opening phrase of verse 12, a deacon must be the husband of but one wife. Doesn't sound like a woman, does it? And indeed, if verse 12 had come before verse 11, there'd never be a question about verse 11, because verse 11 would be read in the light of verse 12. That is, if verse 11 followed verse 12, you understand.
So I don't think one has any validity at all. Number three is preferable to number two, i.e., that what we have here are female assistants to deacons, because, as I said, the whole notion of a separate group of deaconesses is not self-consciously pointed out in any way. I think the answer is either three or four, that what's being referred to here is some feminine assistants in the role of deacons.
The question then is, well, are they simply women who assist, or are they wives who assist? That leads us to a big discussion, which has to do with the use of the word gunaikas, which is the word that is translated, variously, woman or wife. And it is translated, variously, woman or wife in the very verses that are before us. For example, in chapter 2 here, it is translated woman in verse 9, verse 10, verse 11, verse 12, and verse 14. In chapter 3, it is translated wife in verse 2, in verse 12. And in chapter 5 and verse 9, it is translated wife there. And in Titus chapter 1 and in verse 6, it is translated wife there. Now the problem is that the word gunai, from which we get gynecological, both in its singular and in its plural, has the general meaning woman, women.
But it also has the general meaning wife or wives. Now there's a number of things, then, in the principle of interpretation that must be applied. First of all, we have to say, this is a very important place, and one in which undue dogmatism must be ruled out.
We may disagree on our conclusion here, and while we have right to disagree on our conclusion, and we must recognize that we're not all correct, nevertheless, there's no place for undue dogmatism. The other principle of interpretation is this, that it is legitimate to anticipate that the use of the word in any given verse will be the usage of the word in the surrounding verses. So verse 2 of 1 Timothy 3 is wife. Verse 12 is wife. Therefore, it would be no surprise if verse 11 were also wife. And that, of course, is why—and you wonder why I'm making a fuss about it—that is why the NIV translates it as it does, right? In the same way their wives are to be women, worthy of respect. The translators of the NIV have already made up their minds.
There's absolutely no question. These are wives. These are not just women.
The King James Version the same way, the New King James Version the same way, I didn't go much beyond that. Now if the reference were simply to women, we might have expected, at the same time, a reference to their marital status and to their fidelity. In other words, if it was in the same way women, who are deacons, we would expect that their marital status would be a matter of concern, as in verse 9 of chapter 5. That the widows are to be those who have been faithful to their husbands. So if it was simply women and not wives, we would anticipate that Paul would make a correlative statement to the effect that these women, as the men, we've said he says that the elders are to be faithful, we've said that the men are to be faithful, and what we're saying is that the women are to be faithful as well.
They need to be the wives of one husband. But he doesn't say that. And the reason he doesn't say it, I believe, is because he is in doubt either, that he is making a reference to their wives. His cautious approach to sexuality is such that if he was proposing that women be involved in diaconal ministry, he would far rather have the wives of the deacons serving with the deacons than the deacons serving with other women in the church.
Because it would lay things open to all kinds of confusion. So if that's the case, then what you have here in verse 11 is simply another qualification that is necessary for the individual who would be a deacon. In other words, if you're going to be a deacon, not only do you have to be marked by these characteristics, not only do you have to conduct yourself in this manner, but your wife needs to be also these things.
Well then somebody says, I don't buy that either. And the reason I don't is because you would think that if he was ever going to make that point, he would have made it of elders' wives rather than of deacons' wives. Because after all, don't the elders have a more significant role? Now, we're back thinking status number one. And number two, we're missing a vital point—namely, that the wives of elders do not share the elders' calling, role, care, or teaching responsibility.
You heard it here. My wife is my wife. She is not an elder at Parkside Church. She's not even an assistant elder at Parkside Church. She is my wife.
And as my wife, she fulfills the role that is given to her as wife as I fulfill my role to her as husband. But she does not take on board the jurisdiction that comes for which I, along with my colleagues, will answer before God on the day of judgment. Therefore, she is not privy to everything that goes on in eldership at Parkside Church. Therefore, she does not share in decisions that are made in eldership at Parkside Church.
She's not supposed to. But if I were a deacon and she was assisting me in the responsibilities of serving, there is no reason in the wide world why she may not be part and parcel of the totality of that. Because we've already discovered that a woman may not be involved in pastoral rule, but she may be involved in pastoral care. And that is why, if you are going to put the wives of deacons in that position, then they better be, as he says, sensible, not malicious talkers, not on the bottle, and trustworthy in everything.
That's what he says. Why? Because they are going to share the diaconal function. There's no need to say it about the elders, because if they understand eldership properly, they will know that as grateful as every elder is for the partnership, companionship of his wife, she will not answer on the day of judgment in the way that he will, not for the responsibility of the church. Because although she's being called to partnership in life, she has not been called to bear the burden of eldership. And while she may ease my disappointments and pour balm on my wounds and be my confidant in everything, I do not burden her with the responsibility that falls uniquely to the elders. And I teach that to my fellow elders, and I refuse to hold it as a standard for myself, and somehow or another anticipate that they will not hold it as the same standard.
And incidentally and in passing, no elder's wife should ever be the purveyor of information that comes from the responsibilities of eldership, because they are not called to that role. Now, the only time that you can have an effective, functioning, diaconal ministry in a church is when you have a church that has fully understood eldership, seeing things straightened out. And straightened out at the most vital of levels in order that when you see the church grow and develop and delegation takes place, it can be done correctly in light of the understanding of the eldership structure of the church. The last question is, what is the result of serving well? Because it's to serve us that we're called. Verse 13 tells us, those who do well as deacons earn for themselves a certain legitimate standing as well as gaining confidence and freedom in the Christian faith. That's the paraphrase of J.B. Phillips. In other words, if you serve God's people well, in whatever capacity, you gain standing before your brothers and sisters, and you lay up for yourself an abundant entry into the kingdom of heaven.
That's 2 Peter. If you add to your faith kindness and goodness and knowledge and self-control, then you will make your calling and election sure, and your standing before God and before the church will be obvious to all. But it is a standing that comes about as a result of taking seriously the privilege of being a servant. You see, this is what is so hard—it was so hard for the disciples, and it's so hard still today, is it not—to break the status idea and to understand the servant idea.
The disciples couldn't grab it. Even when in John 13 Jesus comes to them, and when none of them want to wash each other's feet, he takes a towel and a bowl and he washes their feet, and he wraps the towel around them and he dries their feet. And Peter says, You're never going to wash my feet, because Peter thought he understood, and he didn't. And Jesus said, Unless I wash you, you have no part in me. And then he said, Listen, do you understand what I've done for you? You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. And that's why to sing the song The Greatest Thing in All My Life is serving you is a bit of a challenge. And we make our journey through life in anticipation of the conclusion and the parable of the ten talents when his master replied, Well done, good and faithful servant. I told you before, I was a member of the Crusaders in Scotland.
I was a boy's Bible class, and then they let girls in, which made it different. And we had a Crusader chorus, and we sang it, and it went like this, The Lord has need of me, his soldier I will be. He gave himself my life to win, and so I mean to follow him and serve him faithfully. And although the road be fierce and long, I'll carry on, he makes me strong. And then one day his face I'll see, and all the joy when he says to me, Well done, my good Crusader. And I used to sing that, puffing my chest out, my kilt swinging in the afternoon, the Sunday afternoon.
That's fine for me, I said, I'd just like to hear just that, Well done would be good. Did you see the guy who died at a hundred and seven in the obituaries in the New York Times? He was still driving in the fast lane when he was a hundred and four. He went back to school when he was a hundred, a little Jewish man. And they asked him, what's the key? And this is what he said, Be involved and have a good attitude. I invite you to become a servant of church.
Get involved with a good attitude. That is Alistair Begg pointing us to what the Bible teaches about how we can determine the way we can best serve in our local church. You're listening to Truth for Life, Alistair returns shortly to close today's program. If you're finding our current study of the Apostle Paul's godly instruction to his young protege, Timothy, helpful, you might enjoy listening to Alistair's teaching through Paul's entire first letter to Timothy. There are 23 messages in the series, which is titled A Study in First Timothy. All of these messages can be listened to or downloaded and shared for free online at truthforlife.org. Here at Truth for Life, along with making Alistair's teaching library available freely, we carefully select books to help you grow in your understanding of the Christian faith. And we think you'll find the book we're recommending today fascinating. The title is How Christianity Transformed the World.
And that's what the book is all about. It's a sweeping exploration of how Jesus' teaching profoundly changed human views about freedom, human rights, and human dignity. Request your copy of the book How Christianity Transformed the World.
When you give a donation today to the Ministry of Truth for Life, go to truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. Now here's Alistair to close today with prayer. Father we thank you this morning for the gift of your Word that we're not left to try and think up sermons, but that you provide for us in the wonder of your instruction. Lord, we pray that you will give to us the grace that knows when to be forceful in our application and when to be cautious. And when we err, that you will correct us. Give us from undue dogmatism.
Remind us that we are learners from the one who knows the answers. Remind us again this morning that there are no menial tasks in the service of Christ. That it's not that if we would lead God's people we need to be spiritual, and if we would serve, then we can be whatever we choose, but that we are to be those who are being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Enter us now for opportunities that as yet we have not even conceived of, so that we might live to the praise of your glory. Let us learn how to serve and give our lives as an offering as we follow Christ our Servant King. May his grace and mercy and peace be our abiding portion today and forevermore, Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. We're glad you joined us today. It's becoming increasingly popular for people to define truth along the lines of what they believe. Tomorrow, we'll find out why the Bible says something is true whether you believe it or not. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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