Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: servants

Addressing needs in the church family

There were deacons in the church I grew up in, but honestly, I had no idea what that title meant for them.  Many Christian denominations have deacons on staff or as specially chosen volunteers.

What does a deacon do?  How are they different from the overseers?

The Greek word for deacon (diakonos) translates into humble servant.  While all Christians are called to serve others like Christ did, the early church found themselves in a situation where they needed officially identified servants to address specific needs in the church family.  Here’s how the apostles in Jerusalem established this office:

Acts 6:3-4
Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.

This division of labor makes a whole lot of sense.  We can’t expect our church’s pastors and overseers to handle every single ministry need of the congregation.  Notice that these first deacons were to be highly regarded men from within the church family – but their role as an official church servant was to then be appointed by the church leadership.

Paul wanted to keep this balance of structure within the churches outside of Jerusalem as well.  After explaining to Timothy the qualifications necessary to be an overseer, Paul then turns his attention to the qualifications necessary to be a humble servant for the congregation:

1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. 

Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything.  Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently.  For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s directions to Timothy do not list what places a deacon is to serve; rather, Paul is more concerned that Timothy understands the type of person who would be allowed to represent the church’s ministry to others by their serving. 

It should be noted, too, that the Greek word for wives is often translated as “wife” or simply “women”, depending on the context of the word.  Commentators have made reasonable arguments for either interpretation here – that Paul is referring to qualifications for the wife of a deacon, or that Paul is allowing for women to also hold the deacon-servant role within the church.  Supporters for the latter interpretation often refer to Paul’s comments at the end of his letter to the Roman believers:

Romans 16:1
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchreae.

Additionally, with the deacon role’s subordination and support function for the activities of the church’s overseers, having both men and women official serve the church would fit nicely into the leadership model Paul describe just a few verses prior (see 1 Timothy 2:1-15).

Paul then closes out his discussion about deacons by reminding Timothy of the two-fold reward available to those who serve well in this capacity.  First, that by their quality service, a good standing and reputation would be enjoyed by both them personally and the church corporately.  Secondly, a quality deacon would imitate Jesus’ servanthood so well that they would acquire a great boldness in the faith.  The Apostle John also believed that obtaining this boldness was worth working toward:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

A deacon’s actions are a great help to the pastors and overseers, allowing them to focus on spiritual needs of the congregation through teaching and prayer.  Serving and ministering the physical needs of the church congregation is an important and rewarding labor, which is why Paul wanted Timothy to carefully select those who would serve in this manner.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Playing favorites

Titus 3:13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 

Last time, we were introduced to Apollos and caught a glimpse of his impact on the churches in the known world.  However, there is another important lesson to learn with a continued look at his ministry.

Apollos later went to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he again successfully ministered to the believers.  His teaching was so well respected, that the believers in Corinth actually placed Apollos at the same teaching level as Peter, Paul, and even Jesus.  The debate of which-teacher-to-follow became such a problem in the Corinthian church that a good portion of one letter Paul wrote was to correct them in how they should be viewing himself and Apollos.

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ”.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Nowadays, if a situation like this arose and one of the popular teachers wrote a letter concerning how the congregation should view the other teachers, I would expect the letter to be very territorial.  Given today’s denominational climate in America, it’s easy to envision a letter being written that sounds theologically pretty, but the author’s core message is that the believers should listen to him only.  His arguments would sound something like – “I am best suited to help you develop your relationship with Christ”, or that “Since I ministered to you first, you should stick with me”, or he could suggest that the other preacher’s teaching style or approach to spreading the gospel was inadequate.  Unfortunately, concern for a congregation is also a potential mask for a preacher’s ego and pride.

However, Paul is not one to play these kinds of games.  Direct and to the point, Paul’s main concern was that the believers were properly focusing on Christ…and not on who the message of Christ was coming from or what teaching style the person used.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

All teachers, preachers, and church leaders are susceptible to the trap of thinking that it is “my church, or “my” class, or “my” ministry.  The cure for this selfish pitfall is the same for the teacher as it is for those who follow the teacher…our focus must be on God, for he is the one who makes things grow

A congregation does not grow because the preacher is preaching and an individual does not grow because of the particular teacher they are listening to.  The work of preachers, teachers, and church leaders is to provide the best conditions for people to grow.  Ultimately, it was God that built us with the capacity for growth in relationship to him, and the responsibility for the development of that relationship is between the individual and God. 

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Our favorite teacher is simply a servant of the God we love.  Don’t look for them to make you grow.  Don’t put God’s responsibility on your teacher.

Since Paul was the one who started the church in Corinth, he could have been territorial about which teacher they should be follow; however, he chose not to be.  The debate about which teacher to follow was already dividing the congregation, and could have easily led to a church split.  Imagine the damage to the church’s reputation!  A division of ‘Paul vs. Apollos’ could have also spread to the young churches in other regions if Paul had either ignored or participated in their debate.

Instead, Paul kept his pride in check and didn’t fuel the fire of their arguments.  Instead, he promoted harmony within the church by turning their attention appropriately towards Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Servants

Letters in the ancient world didn’t have return addresses or postmarks to indicate who the letter was from or from where the letter had been sent.  Instead, ancient letters begin with the sender indentifying himself before getting to the actual reason for writing.  This style is also found in all of the New Testament letters.

Titus 1:1  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness

Admittedly, we usually skim over these sections of the New Testament letters.  However, it is within these first few verses that we get close up look at Paul, how he views himself, and how he views his God-given mission.

The two descriptions he uses to identify himself – a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ are the basis for his work in strengthening the faith of God’s people and to impart the knowledge of the truth about God that affects the way we live.  So what did Paul mean by being both a servant and an apostle?

An apostle was a representative, a messenger, or an envoy.  This term was often used for the divinely appointed founders of the church.  While “Apostle” was an easy title to apply to Peter, James, John, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples, Paul’s claim harkens back to his Damascus Road experience.  After meeting the glorified Christ, Paul’s life and mission were radically altered.  He became the envoy for Jesus to the known world.

The word servant is often rendered as “slave” in other translations; however, given America’s history with race-based slavery, our understanding of slavery in the ancient world can be a little skewed.  A servant, or a doulos, was a person who was owned, often to repay a debt, and the servitude was for a limited time.  While some slaves did have a life of hard labor, slaves also performed many domestic services, and often highly skilled ones.  Some examples include teachers, accountants, and personal physicians. 

Perhaps a better translation would be bondservant, as that term more accurately indicates one who would sell himself into slavery for another.  An additional interesting aspect of slavery in the Old Testament was that after a slave earned his or her freedom, the former slave could choose to voluntarily bond himself to his master for the rest of his life (Deuteronomy 15).  This decision was based upon the slave realizing the benefits to being permanently associated with his master, that he loved his master so much that he viewed his freedom a worthwhile price to maintain their relationship.

While an apostle was chosen by Christ, to be a servant was a choice made by the individual.

Have we chosen to be servants of God?  Don’t answer too fast.  The Old Testament slave would have his ear pierced to signify to everyone that he had made his choice to become a servant for life.

What marks our lives that we are choosing to serve God?

Keep Pressing,
Ken