The ministry of deacons in the church supports and complements that of elders. In Paul’s list of qualifications for deacons, the focus is again on character rather than tasks. The significant difference between the two lists is the ability to teach. For elders (or overseers), teaching is their prime responsibility. This does not mean that deacons have nothing to do with God’s Word. They are expected to “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith” (v.9). They must have a good knowledge of Scripture and be committed to its teachings. We must always remember that belief is connected with behaviour; knowledge of Scripture is important for the development of Christian character.
Like the overseer, the deacon’s life must win the respect of others (v.8). There must not be evidence of drunkenness, greed or lack of integrity (“dishonest gain”) in his life (v.8). He must also be a one-woman man and manage his family well (v.12). Many interpreters consider verse 11 as referring to deaconesses rather than the wives of deacons (literally “the women” in Greek). If so, Paul also requires women holding the office of a deaconess (Romans 16:1) to be respectable people. They should not talk ill of others and should gain the trust of others through their sober living.
It is easy to think that those who are in “lesser” positions in church are excused from the high standards of Christian character and behaviour. But this is not true. Note the “likewise” in verse 8 and how Paul expects the same high standards of personal integrity and godliness in deacons as in elders. It is instructive that when the early church selected the first seven deacons, the qualification was that the men should be “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
Whatever our position or role in the church is, as members of the body of Christ, tasked and gifted for various ministries, we must show the highest standards of personal integrity, seriousness and Christ-like character. This will not be possible without a good knowledge of the Word of God and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
How can the church “test” people (v.10) to see whether they are qualified for various ministries and positions in the church?
Paul refers to those “who have served well” (v.13). What do they gain?