1 Timothy 3:10-13
And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul states that the office of deacon is one to which only tested candidates be appointed, but he gives no further explanation as to what is meant by “testing”. He provides us with no written exam or standardized list of questions. He only says that deacons must be tested and proved blameless. Many churches have taken this language and have applied it by having the potential deacon sit before a council of ordained individuals for a an official period of questioning. This is not a bad practice if it is taken seriously. In such a questioning, important doctrinal and personal questions should be asked if the council for some reason is unfamiliar with the individual’s life and doctrine. In most settings, however, the questioning is a formality and it is almost always expected that the individual being questioned will be passed along into the ordination of the office. This is why the interview is often scheduled on the same day as the ordination service. True testing, however, happens over time. It happens over months and sometimes years of observation through a variety of circumstances.
Blamelessness as a character quality is not something that can be discerned in a onetime interview. To be blameless is to be above reproach. Accusations should not be able to stick to a deacon because of their consistently high character and their open life to the people of the congregation. If someone were to accuse a deacon of stealing, lying, or adultery it should be a very hard accusation to believe. Their blamelessness should be something that remains the same throughout the ups and downs of life. Anyone can appear blameless for a season, but few can remain steadfast during trials, storms, and spiritual drought.
Deacons should be both formally and organically tested by the congregation and the pastors over time. At the church I currently pastor, deacons are observed by the pastors for at least a year, they are assessed and trained for a month, and they are presented to the members for a month of observation before ordination. It will look different for different contexts, but the principal remains the same – deacons must prove themselves blameless after a time of testing.
In 1 Timothy 3:11, Paul addresses “women, likewise” and he proceeds with several more qualifications. I believe this phrase addresses female deacons, and not the wives of deacons, but a full discussion of this possible interpretation can be found here: Female Deacons?. Regardless of your stance on female deacons, there should be no argument that this qualification of sober-mindedness is a fitting qualification for all deacons male or female. If it is in fact a qualification for the wife of a deacon, it is of course a qualification for the deacon as well. So what does it mean?
Sober-mindedness can be understood as the opposite of drunk-mindedness. The drunk mind is clouded, confused, and quick to act on whatever emotion is evoked, whereas, the sober mind sees things as they are and thinks clearly in light of God’s promises. Deacons will likely be thrust into tense situations where emotions are high and peacemaking is needed. They must be stable in the midst of chaos, and never the cause of chaos. Sober-mindedness is a result of a mind that is controlled by faith in God’s promises and driven by obedience to his instruction. The sober mind sees all situations through a Biblical worldview of God, man, and eternity. They meditate on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, and anything worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8)
Faithful in All Things
Paul is not being exhaustive in listing deacon qualifications. Rather than list every qualification that comes into his mind, he uses words that are more comprehensive in nature. In 1 Timothy 3:11, he calls for faithfulness in all things. The emphasis is on total trustworthiness in all things that one should expect from a model of servant-leadership. Deacons should therefore be models of faithfulness in their personal spiritual disciplines, their workplaces, their home life, and their ministry responsibilities. They should be trustworthy to be timely, honest, and reliable.
People who are faithful in all things will be known in the church for being trusted with responsibilities of both small and great significance leaving no one to wonder whether the particular task or responsibility will be completed with excellence. Lazy, unmotivated, unreliable, and/or unpredictable will never be accusations that stick to the life of a deacon who has modeled faithfulness in all things. Unfaithful deacons will not relieve the burden from the pastors, rather they will most likely increase the burden on the pastors. Unfaithful deacons not only fail to fulfill their role, they can cause further damage and disorder in the congregation.
Much careful debate and thought has been given to the phrase, “the husband of one wife.” Both the office of elder and deacon require this particular qualification and in both places the phrase can be translated most simply from the Greek text, “man of one woman.” Many have interpreted this phrase to exclude any divorced person from either the office of pastor or deacon. It appears more likely that Paul is using an idiom to emphasize marital faithfulness. Consistent with his style in these qualifications, he is making a comprehensive statement about the type of marital relationship that deacons should be involved. If he wanted to more specifically prohibit any divorced man or woman from the office of deacon he could have used more precise language so that the issue would not be left to question. The emphasis, however, is a current state of marital healthiness between one man and one woman.
The marriage relationship is the God-given symbol of Christ Jesus’ love for the local church. It is through healthy marriages between one man and one woman that God puts the gospel on display, and deacons should be models of that marital display of glory. If a husband will not love his wife as Christ loved the church, he will not love the church as Christ loves the church. If a wife will not honor and lovingly follow her husband as the church follows the loving leadership of Christ, she will not be able to model it for the congregation. All forms of marital unfaithfulness disqualify an individual from the office of deacon. Pornography, adultery, and even spousal neglect are all sins that immediately disqualify from the office of deacon.
Furthermore, Paul emphasizes the healthy management over children and whole households. If deacons are to be living examples of faithfulness to the rest of the congregation, they must manage their households in a way that models godliness. If an individual refuses to serve and disciple his or her own children, how could they ever be trusted to disciple and serve the church. If one’s household is in disarray, then it can be sure that they will leave the church in disarray as well. The same logic from the elder qualifications applies here to the deacon, “he must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5)
- What questions do you think should be asked when testing a deacon candidate?
- What does it mean to be sober-minded?
- What would be some practical signs that someone is not sober-minded?
- What are some of the unmentioned “all things” that every deacon should be faithful in?
- What would be some practical signs that someone is not trustworthy in all things?
- How might someone be guilty of not being a “one woman man” or “woman”?
- What does it look like practically for someone to be actively managing their children and their household in the way of the Lord?
- Why is it so important that deacons have healthy marriages and healthy households?
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