06 May 2007

Portrait of a Servant

Just as the noble task of shepherding requires applicants to show themselves worthy, so also the recognized servants of the church must match certain qualities.

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Deaconesses too?The historical situation guaranteed that Paul was going to mention perseverance in “the deep truths of the faith” as an essential quality. Service motivated by financial gain (6:9) and malicious speech (5:13) had also infected the church through the heresy. Those who served the church must be tested and trustworthy, lest they become part of the problem rather than of the solution.

The word translated “standing” here and in most versions is somewhat ambiguous; English doesn’t really have a word with equivalent ambiguity. It can mean something like “social status,” as almost all English translations imply. In other words, Paul could be applying the sayings of Jesus to the office of deacon, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). However, the word can also mean, something like “spiritual progress,” as the standard Greek dictionary indicates. In other words, Paul could be saying that the spiritual discipline required for good deaconship also results in growth in Christlikeness (2 Cor 3:18).
In either case, godly reward (not financial gain) motivates godly service, and Paul doesn’t think that this is a second-rate way to motivate people to serve. As Jesus says elsewhere, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

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