What the Bible Teaches About Deacons & Deaconesses
We know that they are usually mentioned with church leadership. For example, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 gives qualifications of overseers and then beginning in verse 8 we read, “In the same way, deacons are to be …” In addressing the Philippians church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1).
We also know that they must be held to a high standard. See 1 Timothy 3:8-13 for a list of qualifications.
And, we know that they must be chosen wisely. You are not to take an “anyone will do” attitude in selecting deacons. 1 Timothy 3:10 clearly states, “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”
Also, we know that both men and women appear to have served in this capacity in the early church – so there were deacons and deaconesses. Phoebe is an example given of a deaconess (Rom. 16:1).
What the Bible Does Not Specifically Say About Deacons
We do not find much teaching in the Bible about what a deacon does. The primary passage pertaining to deacons, 1 Timothy 3:8-13, deals with the character and life of someone who qualifies to be a deacon or deaconess. Their duties are not provided in this passage or other verses. We can, however, look at the original Greek word for help. “Diakonos” is probably from the verb “dioko” which, according to Vine’s Dictionary, means “to hasten after, pursue” primarily denoting a servant or an attendant who waits on others. Accordingly, a deacon would then be someone who cares for the needs of others.
Acts 6 is often used as an example of the work of deacons. Be careful to note, however, that the seven men chosen for this responsibility were not actually called deacons in that passage. Yet, we do find the verb form of diakonos in verse two which says, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on (diakoneo) tables.” The early church leaders, the Twelve Apostles, could not do everything. When complaints surfaced that the “widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” they knew something had to be done. They said, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them” (v. 3).
Though we do not read that they were officially called deacons, they certainly seem like they could be:
1) Their responsibility was to care for the needs of others … specifically here, widows.
2) Those chosen for this task had to meet certain qualifications … known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
3) They fulfilled ministry that freed up the leaders to do what they should be doing … the ministry of the Word of God.
Caring for the widows would be just one example of how deacons might tend to the practical needs in the church, hence freeing up the elders to preach the Word and shepherd the Body. Undoubtedly there would be many other practical needs for them to meet besides benevolence.
And, the Bible does not tell us what spiritual gifts a deacon or deaconess should have to fulfill their responsibility. In light of what we have concluded about their responsibility, we can surmise which gifts would be good for them to have. That, however, is a topic for the next post.