Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ready to serve? 1st Timothy 3:8-13

"Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Deacons serve an interesting function within the Church of Christ. We first see them in the book of Acts where a contentious issue arose within the church. "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food." (Acts 6:1) Love feasts were not uncommon, even before the rise of Christianity. It was the tradition, at least in Christian circles, at the end of the feast, to take the remaining food to those who were sick, shut-in, or aged and could not come to the feast. There was an accusation against those who distributed the food that preference was being given to the native Jews over the Hellenistic (or Greek) Jews. The Apostles, knowing it was not for them to oversee this task, asked the people to select for themselves who should oversee this distribution of food. "Select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task." (Acts 6:3) These people were, in the classical sense of the word, "Deacons", or "waiters on tables". Deacons were those, both inside and outside the church, who helped with the service of an event, like a love feast. Here they not only helped with the serving of the food but also oversaw the feast; managing the necessary tasks of and serving those who attended.

There has been some disagreement as to whether Paul, when speaking of the "women," meant the deacon's wives or women deacons. It is my belief that Paul was referring to women deacons rather than the wives for several reasons. First, it would seem odd that Paul would add a qualification for a deacon's wife when he placed no such qualification on an elder's wife. If the behavior of their wives was of such great concern, I would have expected Paul to mention them when talking about elders, but he never does. Secondly, Paul does say that deacons should be the husband of one wife, but it is conceivable, in a male dominated society, that women deacons, in practice, were either unmarried or wives serving with their husbands so there was no need for a separate qualification for women. Finally, Paul writes of Phebe, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea." (Romans 16:1) Here using the same word for "deacon" that is here translated as "servant." I believe that she was a female deacon.

So why is wait staff so important and why does Paul require that they first be tested and promise a reward of high standing and great confidence for those who serve well? Deacons served during a time of great conflict in the church and they served with grace, character, and equity. They were able to serve people without prejudiced; seeing people not as who they appeared to be but as who God confessed them to be. In the end, the crisis was quelled by their gracious and confident service. It also appears that they were not just stewards but also managers; organizing and leading other servants (i.e. ministers) under them. While their tasks may not have been "spiritual" they brought order and, in their care for necessary things, served to fostered an environment where the spiritual could flourish. They freed people from the worry of the natural so that they could participate in the spiritual. Paul is right that those who lay down their lives for the service of others, not seeking their own interests but the interests of others, are worthy of high standing in the body and have no reason to doubt their worth even compared to others who might seem "more spiritual."

David Robison

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