Ministry - Deaconship
Arthur G. Clarke
Ministry—" Deaconship "
(1 Tim. .1; I Pet. 4. 10, II ; 1 Cor. 1, 6)
DEFINITION. As used in the Word of God, " ministry " denotes any form of service rendered to the Lord or to others. Examination of passages where the Greek word (" diakonia " and its cognates) occurs, immediately confirms this. " Deacon " is a transliteration not a translation, and simply means " servant." The service performed may be a regular occupation or only a temporary commission. Derivation points to an earlier Greek word signifying" to hasten after," " to run an errand," etc. " Diakonos" expresses the servant's relation to his work ; " doulos " (bondservant) expresses the servant's relation to his master. In the N.T. the former refers to a domestic servant (Jn. 2. 5-9) and to a civil ruler, as servant of the State (Rom. 18. 4, 6). It is used of Christ Himself as Servant of Jehovah (Rom. 15. 8) ; and of Paul, Apollos and Timothy as servants of the Lord (2 Cor. 3. 6 ; 6. 4 ; I Cor. 3. 5 ; 1 These. 3, 2, R.V.). There were younger men who served the Apostle Paul and other leaders (Acts 19. 22 ; Col. 4. 7 ; Philemon 13, etc.). There were servants of the churches (Acts 8. 2 ; 10. I!) with 12. 25 —including a. woman, Rom. 16. 1). Even Satan has his ministers (HI. " deacons ") 2 Cor. 11. 14, 15. A related verb is used of angels (Mk. I. 13) ; of women (Mk. 1. 31 ; 15. 41 with l.k. 8. 3 ; 10. 4(1) ; and of Christ (Mk. 10. 45 ; Lk. 22. 27). The commonly-held view of a Christian " minister " is of one who holds clerical office in a church, usually at a stated salary, following theological training and subsequent " ordination " at the hands of superior clerics or " elders." This is a grave misconception. The idea of one " minister " or " pastor " over a local church is wholly foreign to the Scriptures. In I Tim, 3. 10-13 both the A.V. and R.V. show glaring examples of a mistranslation in the interests of ecclesiastical practice. " Office of a deacon " represents a form of the one Greek word meaning " to serve." Cf. verse 1 where "office of bishop" represents simply " overseership." Phil. 1. 1 shows that the "deacons" were a well-recognized group in the assembly. The expression " ministering brethren " gives the true idea.
COMMISSION. The current ecclesiastical practice of " ordination " to service is a clear usurpation of the prerogative of God Himself, the authority of the Church's risen Head and the functions of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 28 ; Eph. 4. 11 ; 1 Cor. 12. 7-11. Note that the seven stars, Rev. 1. 20, are seen in the hand of the 1-ord. As to apostolic practice, Paul gives directions to Titus (1.5) regarding the choice of elders, but nowhere do we find directions for the appointment of ministers.
Servants are appointed directly by their own Master, 1 Pet. 4. 11. It is obvious that natural gifts cannot be bestowed by ordination of men, much less so spiritual gills. Lack of education, however, is no commendation. Natural ability may be turned into spiritual channels but this is not to be confounded with education for the ministry. Peter and John were not illiterate men but they had not been trained in the recognized theological schools, Acts 4 J3, . Saul of Tarsus had exceptional ability, theological training and high attainments (Acts 22. 3 ; Phil. 3. 4-fi), but under the mistaken idea that he was serving God he was working, in fact, in violent opposition to Him, Acts 23. 1 ; 26. 9 ; 1 Tim. 1. 13. How like many misguided persons in Christendom today !
The source of all spiritual gift is the risen Christ, who endows. The power for its exercise in ministry is the Holy Spirit, who endues, 1 Cor. 12. 4-11 ; I Pet. 4. 11 ; Eph. 4. 30; 5. 18; Lk. 24. 49; Acts 1. 8. All fleshly activity in the things of God is wholly unacceptable to Him.
FUNCTION. Among God's people two forms of ministry (i.e. service) appear ; (1) Service according to grace-gifts bestowed by Christ as Head of His Church, and (2) Service of a temporal and special nature. These are differentiated in Acts 6. 2-4—in spiritual things (ministry of the Word) ; in temporal things (ministry of " tables ").
(1) Service according to the grace-gifts (" charisma ") of the risen Christ. Pour main passages should be studied—Eph. 4. 7-16, for the universal church aspect ; I Cor. 12. 4-31, for the local church aspect; Rom. 12. 3-13 and 1 Pet. 4. 7-11, for the personal aspect. In Ephesians, our Lord is seen as an illustrious Conqueror returning from a successful campaign against His foes and proclaiming His great victory at Calvary by the distribution of bounty. His " gifts " are men for the welfare and enriching of His Church. Four major grace-gifts are mentioned. Two were passing (as belonging to the foundation period of Church-building (Matt. 16. 18 ; Eph. 2) and two permanent. Apostles and prophets both possessed unique authority and miraculous gifts as those through Whom the Lord revealed N.T. truth, the former by personal teaching (|n. 14. 26; 16. 13, 14; Gal. I. II, 12). the" latter by inspirational means (1 Cor. 14. 30). The apostles had seen the Lord (1 Cor. 9. 1 ; Acts 1. 21, 22) and were specially chosen to be witnesses to His resurrection (Acts 3. 15 ; S. 32 ; 10. 41) ; prophets communicated the mind of God by a direct word from heaven. With the completion of the N.T. Scriptures fully revealing the will of the Lord for His people, the need for this great gift passed. The permanent gifts are evangelists, whose proper sphere is the outside world, and pastors and teachers (double gift in one person), whose sphere is in the assembly. The evangelist concentrates on preaching the gospel, planting new assemblies or bringing converts into existing ones ; he is concerned with the church's expansion. The pastor (lit. shepherd) and teacher concentrates on caring for the saints ; "shepherding" pointing to his occupation with souls, " teaching " to his occupation with the Scriptures. As shepherd his work is mostly in private, as teacher his work is in public ; he is concerned with the church's consolidation. The teacher has largely replaced the prophet (2 Pet. 2. 1),, as one who communicates the mind of God (but now from the' Scriptures instead of by revelation) and speaks to edify, vivify and mollify. Edification builds up, exhortation stirs up, comfort binds up, 1 Cor. 14. 3. Note that his ministry is constructive, not destructive, a point sometimes forgotten by platform speakers.
1 Cor. 12 enumerates grace-gifts in a local assembly, and it is significant that " evangelist " is omitted, for his work lies outside the immediate circle, though in full fellowship with it (v. 28). Here, too, passing and permanent gifts must be distinguished. Prophecies, tongues and even " knowledge " (cf. " word of knowledge," v. 8 ; i.e. of divine truth apart from written revelation), were of this temporary character, 13.8-10. Note that in Ephesians a later epistle, the " sign " gifts are entirely omitted. A most important truth emphasized in 1 Cor. 12, is that every individual believer shares the Christian ministry as a member of the Body of Christ. Not one member of our physical bodies is useless or merely decorative, and no believer is without some gift to be exercised for the welfare of the whole assembly, 12-27 with 4 (U.V.) ; 1 Thess. 5. 11 ; Rom. 15. 14. Women have their proper sphere in ministry, see Lesson 13. Some individuals may possess more than one grace-gift. It should be remembered that even the major grace-gifts are not in sole possession of those who are in what is termed " full-time service." Brethren who follow a secular calling are often Well equipped for ministry of the Word. The call to " full-time " ministry comes with distinct guidance from the Lord and must not be taken up lightly, 1 Cor. 7. 20 ; Mk. 13. 34.
All divinely-appointed ministry is primarily for the glory of God through Jesus Christ, I Pet. 4. 10, 11. The main purpose of the greater gifts is to prepare and to fit all members of the body of Christ for the exercise of their proper individual function with a view to the balanced and harmonious development of the whole unto full growth and maturity, Eph. 4. 11-16, R.V. Ministry also is a stewardship, 1 Pet. 4. 10 ; cf. 1 Cor. 4. 1,2; 9. 7, which looks to the day of accounting at the Bema of Christ. Diligence, love, patience and prayerfulness are some of the many qualities enjoined among exhortations which all servants of Christ need to lay to heart, Rom. 12. 3ff; 1 Pet. 4. 7-11. " Gift " is not to be neglected or laid up, I Tim. 4. 14, and needs at times to be stirred up (rekindled as a fire), 2 Tim. 1. 6, The true servant seeks not popularity but to please God, Gal. 1. 10; 1 Cor. 7. 23; Matt. 6. Iff; the approval of the Lord is better than the applause of men.
(2) Service of a temporal and special nature. An assembly may choose anyone to perform a service that he or she may be willing and competent: to undertake. Sec e.g. Acts 6, 1-6, where almoners were chosen in connection with the distribution of daily rations lo needy widows. They were already well-approved servants of God, so they are not termed " deacons " although their service is called (lit) " deaconing " (" ministration," v. 1, diakonia ; " service," v. 3, diakonco). Some of the seven, if not all, were able to minister in a higher capacity. Philip is known to have been an evangelist, Acts 21. 8. Compare his activities, 8, 5-8, 26-40. Note what is said of Stephen, 6. 6, 8, 10. Another example of " deaconing " is found at 2 Cor. 8. 18-24, and Phoebe, a sister in the Lord, is called a servant (lit. deaconess) of the church at Cenchrae, Rom. 16. 1. It is evidently a divinely-established rule that if an assembly contributes funds, etc., it should have a voice in the selection of those who administer or distribute them.
QUALIFICATIONS. The divine requirements are set forth in 1 Tim. 3. 8-13. There arc seven ; four positive, three negative. Note the high standard set, as with the " overseers "; cf. Acts 6. 3 where only temporalities are in view. Note also the four important essentials in the case of women who serve, v. 11. There must be consistency between preaching and practice. Service and spirituality should go hand-in-hand, 2 Cor. 6. 3-10 ; 1 Thess. 2. 1-12.
REGULATION. For notes on the regulation of ministry in the principal gatherings of the assembly, see Lesson 5. Others have pointed out that a brother may have gift suited to a small local company consisting mostly of immature believers, but not gift that would profit, e.g., a united ministry-meeting consisting of Christians drawn from a wide area and of all stages of spiritual growth. Much distress is often caused by some who have no proper gift for public ministry yet persist in taking the platform and wearying the saints with profitless talking. It wastes both time and money expended in the arrangement of such gatherings. In flagrant cases of offence the principle of Tit. 1. 10, 11 should be applied.
RECOGNITION. Those who claim the call of God to ministry are to be proved (tested) as to soundness in the faith, consistency in life and capability in service and, if approved, " being found blameless " (i.e. no ground for complaint), they are to be permitted the liberty of serving among the saints according to their proper grace-gift, I Tim. 3. 10 ; Matt. 7. 15-20. The assembly is responsible thus to recognize and to provide room for those whom God has set in the midst, 1 Cor. 16. 15-18. It is important to remember that the assembly cannot appoint or control any grace-gift, and certainly should not hire or retain solely for its own benefit any servant of Christ. Even an apostle had no authority to direct a fellow-servant of the Lord, 1 Cor. 16. 12. Moreover the servant of Christ is not to be judged as to service, sphere and motive, for he serves in view of the Bema of Christ, Rom. 14. 4, 10; I Cor. 3. 5-15 ; 4. 1-5. Elders, as responsible leaders in an assembly, should ever be on the watch for signs of gift in younger men and encourage such, affording opportunity for exercise and development towards maturity, 2 Tim. 2. 2. In these days there appears to be need to stress the importance of Paul's injunction, which will ensure a true " apostolic succession " in the church of God, 2 Tim. 2.2.
The Master supplies the needs of His servants, Lk. 22. 35. His promises arc all-sufficient to assure the one who has been charged with ministry. Nevertheless, where necessary, and particularly with regard to the greater grace-gifts, practical recognition by rendering financial support is enjoined upon the saints, I Cor. 9. 7, 13, 14 (evangelists) ; Gal. 6. 6 (teachers) ; 1 Tim. 5. 17-18 (elders who labour in the Word), " honour " here meaning " honorarium "; 3 Jn. 5-8. Paul's example in special circumstances and for certain reasons should not be overlooked by servants of the Lord, Acts 20.33-35 : 1 Cor. 9. 18.
COMPENSATION. For faithful service, recompense is promised, I Tim. 3. 13 (much better than the Masonic 33rd degree !). cf. R.V. ; also Matt. 25. 31, 24, 45ff. It will not be according to the measure of success but of faithfulness, I Cor. 3. 8 ; Rev. 22. 12.
CONCLUSION. It is sometimes asked, How can I recognize gift in myself?" The following questions have been put forward in one way or another :—
(a) Is there due ardour for a particular line of service ? FERVOUR.
(b) Is there definite ability for a particular line of service ? FACULTY.
(c) Is there divine approval upon a particular line of service ?—FRUIT.
Has the blessing of God been seen in service already rendered ? Godly desire for the " greater gifts " is not discountenanced but encouraged, 1 Cor. 12. 31 ; 14. 1, 39. "Greater" means greater usefulness, not necessarily of greater prominence. None should seek a position that he has no ability to fill, but if he uses gift already possessed, the Lord may add further gift.