Sermon – August 4, 2019
Great movements typically have at least one thing in common: great leadership. This is the ultimate secret behind the success of the Church: we have a wonderful leader in Jesus Christ our Lord! But all great movements need more than one great leader; it needs others to step up to make it successful. The church is no different. While Christ rules from heaven, he must also have his people rule well here on earth. Today we get the chance to think through what makes for great leaders in the church as we think through Paul’s directions on the qualification for both elders and deacons. Let each of us heed well Paul’s words on these two important offices.
Being an elder is a noble task. But there are qualifications for the role. First, elders must have generally exemplary character. Not perfect, mind you, but they must be the kind of people worthy of emulation within the church. These kind of characteristics should be seen in all Christian men and women (with the exception of being able to teach), and so the elders are not to be thought of as some odd race of super-Christian, but rather simply Godly Christian men who can teach. Further, their leadership is to be shown first, not in the boardroom or the classroom, but in the livingroom. They must be good leaders in their homes, for if they are not, they have no chance at being able to lead God’s household. Finally, new converts and those who are not respected are to be avoided – lest they bring judgment on themselves and disrespect on God’s people.
Deacons, like elders, are to be those with strong virtue and character. In fact, other than the ability to teach, those in the diaconal role seem to have the same qualifications for character placed upon them. There are two major differences, though. First, they are not to teach, or rather, they don’t have to teach. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. That is, they must believe the faith once and for all handed down to the saints without lingering doubts in their minds. They must hold to the work of the Trinity in securing salvation through Jesus’ atonement, applied to us through the proclamation of this good news.
Secondly, women are allowed to serve as deacons. The word used here (translated “wives” by the ESV) is flexible, and can mean both “wives” or “women” depending on context. Two things stand out. First, it would seem that, if “wives” is accepted, that Paul means to put qualifications on the deacons’ wives and not the elders’. This seems inherently unlikely. Secondly, bringing up women here makes good sense. Paul has implied in 1 Timothy 2:12 that women can’t serve as elders; therefore, when he speaks of them, he is likely under the assumption that Timothy will understand that only men are to serve in that role. He doesn’t clarify anything when mentioning deacons, which can lead to the assumption that only men can serve in that role, much like elders. So, Paul clarifies that women who serve as deacons must have the same qualifications as the men.
The roles of both elder and deacon, when abused, cause devastation and alienation from God. But when done rightly, can lead to glory and praise. Friends, let us pursue elders and deacons that faithfully live their lives in God’s grace. God has already given us a great leader and a good shepherd in Jesus Christ. We don’t need great leaders, we need faithful followers!