The Character of Non-teaching Leaders Preserves Gospel Integrity for the Church and Community.

Content and disposition are both important in communication and leadership. Saying the right thing in the wrong way can hurt more than help. When Jesus spoke, He only scolded religious unbelief. He reserved harshness for those who should have known better.

The human authors that God used to pen the Bible each wrote with their own disposition and personality. We must read each of their books understanding their unique style. Paul gave Timothy essential information to govern God's church, assuming that Timothy was ready to embrace his instruction.


The next section of 1 Timothy 3 gives further qualifications for deacons in the church. They must imitate the same character as pastors that we have already studied, except skill in teaching.


1 Timothy 3:8-13 is one of two or three passages that directly address deacons, but the root word is used throughout the New Testament. The generic form refers to the disposition and tasks involved in service of many kinds. The earliest examples are in the Gospels (John 2:5, 12:2; Luke 4:39, 10:40, 17:8) and refer specifically to serving food. Romans 13:4 uses the same word for a law enforcement officer. In John 12:26, Jesus says that any and all of His followers are His servants.

The word is used more specifically about service in the church in the epistles. Apostles and other leaders were considered deacons of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23, Colossians 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:6). 1 Corinthians 12:5 uses the word for a variety of ministers. Every believer is a deacon as they serve according to their spiritual gift, whether or not they carry a title. 1 Corinthians 12:6-8 describes specific gifts of service.

The meaning of the word is further narrowed to a position in the church. 1 Corinthians 16:15 describes some who "devoted themselves for ministry to the saints." By the time Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8 were written, the office of deacon had been established. What qualifies certain believers to serve as deacons in the church?

Devotion (verses 8-9)

Paul repeats several qualifications from the elders' list. Deacons "likewise" are to live out these character traits. They should be known as servants in the church long before being appointed to the position. They must be respected for their worship life. Their example is worth being imitated because they are tied to God's Word both personally and corporately.

Deacons should not be flippant but sober-minded. They are not double-tongued but sincere. R. Kent Hughes said, "He is respectable because he is credible, and he is credible because he's truthful." This is how deacons should be known.

Just like elders, deacons are not to be found living alongside wine. They are not to be "fond of sordid gain," so they will not use the office to make money. They must hold to "the mystery of the faith," which is the full content of New Testament revelation. Deacons must embrace the Word and know it well. They cannot just keep busy doing the work of the church, but every leader needs to keep learning.

As leaders continue to live what they are learning, they will have a clear conscience. We cannot trust our conscience unless we are learning. This is true personally and corporately. One author said, "The changed life is governed by a changed compass. The Word informs one's life, and his conscience is governed by the Word." Jonathan Edwards likened conscience to a sundial and the Word of God to the sun. No other light will give the correct reading.

Evaluation (verses 10-12)

Deacons must be tested before they are appointed. Accurate discernment of their character requires time. Paul uses the same Greek word for testing that describes money approved as genuine. The congregation must determine if their leaders' character is counterfeit. This spiritual evaluation continues after they are appointed.

This evaluation is both personal and domestic. A deacon's wife must also be dignified and temperate. She must not be a slanderer, the chief characteristic of Satan. Like the elder and deacon, she must control her tongue and have integrity in all areas of practical ministry. She reflects the deacon's ministry in his home. Like the elder, the deacon must be morally pure and govern his household well.

Promotion (verse 13)

Living godly character will lead to a deacon's promotion. Ultimately, this promotion comes from God. The deacon will be looked up to by the saints because His character is governed by the Word. As he grows in the Word and in service, he will see an increase of God's power in his life, and the congregation will see him become more faithful. Some deacons may realize they have the pastor-teacher gift and move to the position of elder.

From time to time, a deacon will recognize that his life does not reflect the character required by this passage. At those times, taking a sabbatical is not a demotion but good. It is okay to be a faithful member and continue to grow. After all, we are all to be servants in the church!

Application Points

  • Do you have the disposition of a servant, whether or not you hold a titled position in the church? All believers are included in the wonderful opportunity to serve in the body of Christ. Investigate the disposition of our Lord, starting in Mark 10:43-45 and Luke 22:27. All of us embrace this mindset when we make Jesus our Lord.
  • Being busy in the work of the church is not the whole meaning of service. Are you also a learner? Do you know the Word and have a desire to keep learning? Be careful about trusting your conscience if you are not in the Word.
  • The whole congregation has the sober responsibility of holding deacons accountable. Do you know your deacons' personal character, home lives, and worship lives well enough to tell if their character is genuine?
  • What is the trajectory of your life? Are you following your leaders with God's Word as your guide? Are you open to being challenged on your weaknesses and encouraged on your strengths? If you are projecting a false front of godliness, turn from yourself and trust Christ. If you need to clean up any area of your life, do so. If you are faithful, keep striving to display more Christ-like character.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • James 3:13-18 – Earthly and heavenly wisdom.
  • Acts 6:1-6 Deacons are to be full of wisdom and governed by the Holy Spirit.
  • Mark 10:43-45, Luke 22:27 – The serving disposition of our Lord.
  • Matthew 25:21 – The reward of a faithful servant.
  • Romans 16:1 – Phoebe was a possible deaconess.
  • 1 Peter 5:6 – Humility leads to promotion.
  • Philippians 3:8-14 – Always keep growing.
  • The principle of being tested before being used by God in service appears throughout Scripture. Study the stories of Moses, Joshua, David, Joseph, Paul, and Jesus for examples.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Channels Only"

How I praise Thee, precious Savior,
That Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.

Channels only, blessèd Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.

Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in Thy hand;
With no power but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.

Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water
From our inner self may flow.