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Posted on Fri, Feb 20, 2009
Deacon MinistryThe Biblical Role of Deacons
by Derek Gentle
New Testament Deacons serve the Lord by conducting the caring ministry of the church-doing the benevolence work, visiting the sick, being alert to the spiritual needs of the congregation-for the purposes of freeing the pastoral staff to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word, promoting unity within the church, and facilitating the spread of the gospel.
Biblical Guidance on the Office of Deacon
Deacons and Elders Are the Two Distinct Offices in a New Testament Church
The two New Testament offices are mentioned together in Philippians 1:1 and in 1st Timothy 3 — bishops and deacons. In 1st Timothy 3 the qualifications are spelled out for the two offices, bishops in verses 1-7, and deacons in verse 8-13. The qualifications are similar, but not identical. For example, the bishop is required to be “able to teach” whereas the deacon does not have that expectation. The differences in title and qualifications mean that the offices are distinct.
The term “bishop” is translated overseer in some translations. It is the word from which we get our word “episcopal” which means, “to look upon, inspect, oversee, look after, care for” and refers to “the care of the church which rested upon the elders.” The term is used interchangeably with “elder” and “shepherd” (i.e. pastor) in Acts 20 and 1st Peter 5. There is no question about the authority of the office: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1st Timothy 5:17 NKJV)
Three facts stand out:
1. Deacons and Elders are the offices in the church. The offices are distinct. Elders are not deacons. Deacons are not elders.
2. The terms, Elder, Pastor (shepherd), and Overseer (bishop) are used synonymously in the New Testament.
3. In the New Testament, elders had the role of the general oversight of the church.
In the original language, the word, Deacon, means Servant
The title itself, is as descriptive as any job description could be. In the Bible, words have meanings and the word "deacon" means servant. Here is how the word has been defined in its various forms:
"Diakoneo and its derivatives, as their etymology suggests, are used mainly for personal help to others."
"Diakonia is found 34 times in the NT. It means service at the table in Lk. 10:40; Acts 6:1, etc."
"Diakanos is found 29 times in the NT. Its primary meaning is one who serves at tables."
("Serve, Deacon, Worship" in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, ed., volume 3, pages 544, 546)
"In Philippians 1:1 and in numerous references in early Christian literature outside the New Testament, bishops and/or elders and deacons are mentioned together, with deacons mentioned last. Because of this order, and because of the natural connotations of the word diakonos, most interpreters believe that deacons, from the beginning, served as assistants of church leaders."