11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of diakonia, for building up the body of Christ,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —
For the last few months our church has been considering Paul’s first letter to Timothy and how the instructions for the household of God lead us to order our local church. As Paul unveils the purpose of his letter, “I am writing these things to you so that, . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14–15).
Immediately before this purpose statement, Paul gives qualifications for elders (vv. 1–7) and deacons (vv. 8–13). And in our church we have focused a great amount of energy thinking about this office of the deacon. In fact, this Sunday at our member’s meeting we will present an update to the statement of faith and the constitution to bring our church order in greater alignment with Scripture.
That said, there is actually very little written about the “office” of deacon in the New Testament. An argument could even be made that the office of deacon is not called for like that of the overseer/elder/pastor. It is clearly not described in the same detail as the office of elder. There seems to be good reasons for this disparity, namely the need to have a clear and consistent teaching office in the church, even as the office of deacon is more flexible, need-based, and church-specific.
With all that in mind, it is helpful to go back to the Bible and see what it says about deacons (diakonos), deaconing (diakoneō), and the ministry of service (diakonia). When we do, we learn a great deal about what “deaconing” is—and what deaconing isn’t. In particular, we discover this word-group shows up 100 times in the New Testament. Yet, in all of those references, it only refers to the office of deacon 3 or 4 times, depending on how one understands Paul’s description of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Most often the word relates to service of all varieties (cf. 1 Cor. 12:5), especially service to relieve the physical needs of others. Continue reading