The Expository Files



Elders & Deacons – The Biblical Teaching, Our Basis

1 Timothy 3:1-13


The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. – 1 Tim. 3:1-7, ESV.

A warning: while it is true, each individual qualification is part of the whole, if we become too focused on one or two of these, we can soon misplace our balance. We should guard against that. Often, our discussions lock in on the more controversial points. This can work to our detriment.

A Perspective: this is about character, not a typical checklist. Leadership among the Lord’s people is about and requires character; character that is consistent with mature discipleship. The descriptions follow:

“Above Reproach” is not a description of absolute perfection; rather, a man who has no pending, unresolved accusations or charges that are outstanding.

“The husband of one wife” is simply a phrase identifying a man whose marriage is in keeping with God’s law of marriage. God has one law of marriage for all. This phrase captures that necessity for the man who would serve as an elder.

“Sober-minded” means a man who is not impulsive, but thoughtful; good mental control; not influenced by human agendas; immediate emotions and impulses are guarded. He is not inclined to take sides. He is steadily on the Lord’s side. His mind is there.

“Self-controlled.” If a man is group-controlled; or wife-controlled; or friend-controlled or money-controlled or preacher-controlled, that doesn’t lend itself to sound leadership.

“Respectable” simply means – worthy of respect; a man who is known to be trusted.

“Hospitable” is the strong inclination to respond to the needs of others.

“Able to teach” means he can take the Word of God in hand, study it, digest it and present it to others.

“Not a drunkard” is a further description of the idea of being “sober-minded.” (This is not permission to drink just short of intoxication. We must never take a passage that conveys a prohibition and spin that into permission).

“Not violent, but gentle.” A man prone to violence, who doesn’t have in his heart and manner the meekness and gentleness of Christ, is certainly not fit to lead others.

“Not quarrelsome.” If a man has a strong passion for conflict, an inordinate interests in controversy for its’ own sake, he is not qualified.

“Not a lover of money.” None of us should be lovers of money – no matter how and where we serve in the Kingdom (see 1 Tim. 6:10).

“He must manage his own household well…” There is a tendency here to load into this, specific standards and opinions from one’s own experience and lobby for those, or investigate to make certain everything suits certain individual perceptions of family life. This passage simply teaches he must be a good family man, though he may not run his family the same as you.

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” It is without dispute, in recognizing men as elders – some judgment must be applied. You have phrases like this, “not a recent convert.” No age is specified. (Note, according to Acts 14:23, elders were appointed in churches after these men had only been Christians a few years.) Experience and maturity are the hall marks of good leadership. One word stands out from the passage – Character!


Sewell Hall: One does not have to be appointed to do most of what a bishop does. All can teach, be examples, restore the erring, warn the unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, and support the weak. The right kind of person will do such work whether he is appointed or not. It is unlikely that one who has these qualities and does this work will be overlooked when appointments are made; but if he is passed over he will just keep on doing the work since the work is what he desires—not the position. Note again the text: “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).[1]


Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 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. – 1 Tim. 3:8-13, ESV.

The English word “deacon” primarily denotes a servant or attendant, rendering service voluntarily. DIAKONOS simply means, “a servant, one who ministers.” Beyond that, the definition of the word does not identify the nature of the work in detail. The qualifications do as well as the needs.

Men selected to serve in this capacity “must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.” This mirrors what is said previously about elders, having to do with the character of the man. Spiritually minded, he must be a man of integrity, consistent speech, sober and honest. The NIV has “sincere.” This is a man who is faithful to the Lord.

“They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” This should be a man deeply rooted in the faith, and with a clear conscience that he is intentional, active and devoted to the that faith, actively and obviously.

Christians should never just put a man in his position and see if it might work out. No. “…let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” There is the need to know that men have a record of faithfulness before appointment to the work.

“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” Isn’t it clear – in the case of both elders and deacons – if the wife is not of similar faith and maturity, it will not work well. Ones’ family life is critical to engagement in the work of either oversight or service to the congregation. “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.”

“For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and so great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus,” (verse 13).

These are men who serve the needs of the local church. The qualifications do not limit their sphere of action to material or trivial matters. Rather, they are to serve as the needs of the congregation require. In so doing, these men gain “good standing for themselves” and gain “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Serving others builds them up.

Appended Resources:

What is a Deacon?

by Aude McKee

IF YOU LOOKED AROUND to arrive at an answer to this question by what you saw, you might come up with different answers. Brethren have been known to appoint a man to be a deacon because they either wanted to honor him or perhaps “strengthen” him. In another local church you might come to the conclusion that a deacon is like an appendix—the Lord is responsible for its being there, but it is difficult to determine what it does. In another situation it might appear that a deacon is just like an elder except that deacons are in charge of material things and the elders oversee the spiritual.

What is a deacon? Vine says that the Greek word (diakonos) “primarily denotes a servant, whether doing servile work, or as an attendant rendering free service, without particular reference to its character.” Thayer says the word means “one who executes the commands of another; a servant, an attendant, minister.” In the New Testament the word is used both generically and specifically, as are a number of other words. The word “apostle” is used in a general way of Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Jesus (Hebrews 3:1), and of the twelve in a specific sense (Matthew 10:2–4). “Elder” is used of older men in general (Titus 2:2), and of bishops specifically (Titus 1:5–7). In its common usage, the Greek word for “deacon” describes Jesus (Romans 15:8), the apostles (2 Corinthians 3:6), a gospel preacher (1 Timothy 4:6), civil authorities (Romans 13:4), a godly woman (Romans 16:1) and all faithful followers of Christ (John 12:26).

Now let’s think for a minute. Are you (or have you ever been) an apostle? If Barnabas could have been (Acts 13:2–3), I suppose such could be said of Christians today. Does every local church have elders? I cannot recall one that doesn’t have some older men. Are all faithful Christians deacons? Without doubt! Every local church has as many ministers as it has faithful members. Incidentally, preachers could well keep this in mind when they refer to themselves as “the minister”. But all of this simply places emphasis on the fact that we must differentiate between the common or generic use of terms and their specific use.

The Greek word for “deacon” is used but three times in a specific way in the New Testament. In Philippians 1:1, Paul refers to himself and Timothy as servants (Greek word for “slave”) of Jesus, and then addresses the letter to all the Philippian saints along with the bishops and deacons. In the church at Philippi there were, no doubt, a number of older men, but some of those had been appointed to serve as bishops (elders). Also, all the faithful saints in the church there were ministers, but some of the men had been selected to do the work of deacons. Then, in 1 Timothy 3:1–13, the Spirit gave the qualifications that men must have in order to be appointed an elder or deacon in a local church. Certainly an older man could be a faithful Christian and not have a wife, but he could not function as an elder and be single (verse 2). In like manner, a man could be loyal to the Lord and not be married, but he could not be appointed a deacon if he has no wife (verse 12).

What is a deacon? Now we can say (when we consider the word in a specific sense) that a deacon is a man, but a special kind of man. He is humble, he can take orders and carry them out. He is a man of sterling character and, in addition, he is a man capable of governing his own family and he has a faithful Christian for a wife. Not only that, but it must be observed that he has been under observation—he has been “proven” (1 Timothy 3:10) and has been selected to fill this office.

Have we misused the word “office” in the above paragraph? It is a fact that in 1 Timothy 3:1, 10, 13 (where the word is found in the King James Version) Vine says that it “has nothing to represent it in the original.” However, the American Heritage Dictionary defines “office” as “a duty or function assigned to or assumed by someone … a position of authority, duty or trust given to a person …” So when the word “office” is used in the sense of function, duty or trust that has been assigned, then it is not misused. However, we need to hasten to define another term—“honorary”. This word (according to the same dictionary) means “holding an office or title given as an honor.” It is an honor to be a deacon in a local church, but it is a work, not an honorary. This writer is thankful for all the men who function faithfully in this capacity.[2]

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  By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 22.4; April 2015