Online Bible Commentary
Deacons Must be Men
1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. 11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
Paul is writing this letter to Timothy who is helping at the church in Ephesus. False teachers were prevalent in the church at that time and this letter was intended to remedy that situation, by giving instructions for prayer and worship practices in general. In the previous passage Paul established qualifications for overseers (leaders, pastors), and now he establishes qualifications for deacons, those who serve in the church. This was one way that Paul could purge the church of those who were teaching, and supporting, false doctrine. He realized the previous selection process was flawed. People were appointed as leaders, who should not have been. This is still happening today.
We have seen in previous commentaries that the false teachers in the church at Ephesus were intentionally teaching false doctrine in order to advance their own personal agendas. Those who intentionally teach false doctrine, and those who support false doctrine even though they know better, are guilty of sin. Their sin causes others to sin. We see this happening today in some churches and denominations, with the recent false teaching concerning the acceptance of unrepentant homosexuals as members of the church. The Bible calls homosexuality sin. Repentance of sin is a requirement for salvation, and church membership. Church membership should not be granted to these individuals until they repent, turning from their homosexual lifestyle. But some church leaders today have their own social agendas.
These church organizations have ignored these requirements, given by the Lord, when selecting denominational, and church, leaders. In doing so, they have been led away from the true gospel. They are a pattern of the church in Ephesus of which Paul is writing. We see in this passage how churches are led into false doctrine by not selecting leaders, and servants, according to the qualifications laid out in this letter. The teaching of false doctrine is the reason Paul laid out these qualifications. Many churches and denominations of today have ignored this teaching, and, consequently, they teach false doctrine.
The word “deacon” means servant, one who officially serves the church, in this context. Paul is writing of the office of deacon, not a role. Paul begins this passage by requiring church deacons to be “men” (v. 8a). They are to be respectable, sincere, not ones to drink alcohol to excess, and not to be lovers of money (v. 8). In the culture of that day, these descriptions would fit the men, more so than the women. For example, the men were the ones who worked outside the home, and should not pursue “dishonest gain” (v. 8). These requirements are also requirements for overseers (leaders and pastors), in the previous passage.
The words “deep truths” (v.9) is the translation of the Greek word “mysterion”, meaning mystery or secret. It is a favorite word of Paul’s for the gospel, in that it was a mystery or secret until revealed by the Holy Spirit through prophets, apostles, and disciples. The literal translation of the Greek in verse nine is “having the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” Those false teachers of today purposely ignore the many verses in the Bible that identify homosexuality as a sin. They are not “holding” to the teaching of the Bible, and therefore do not have a “good conscience” towards God (v. 9). They are not qualified to be leaders, pastors, or even deacons, according to the Bible.
Verse ten calls for deacons to be “tested”. They are to be entrusted with small responsibilities, gradually earning larger roles as they show themselves faithful. The wives of deacons are to be respectful, of good temper, and trustworthy (v. 11). A deacon must be “the husband of but one wife” (v. 12a), just as a pastor. This means that, again, they must be men, and have only one wife if they are married. Again, this requirement is ignored by some churches, and many of those churches who allow unrepentant homosexuals to be members have women as pastors, or in denominational leadership roles.
Also, a deacon must manage well those living in his household, under his roof (v. 12b), just as a pastor. Finally, Paul gives us the reward for those who serve well, as deacons. They gain good standing in the church, and more importantly with the Lord (v. 13).
There are roles for women in the church. They can be teachers of women, or children. They can serve in many other roles, serving the church. Phoebe was described by Paul as fulfilling the role of a “servant in the church” (deacon) (Ro, 16:1), ten years prior to his establishing these specific qualifications for the office of deacon. It is obvious, ten years later, that he did not mean to portray Phoebe as having some official position in the church. There is no word in the Greek for “deaconess”.
So it is very clear to anyone that reads this chapter of the Bible, seeking the truth, that Paul intended those who fill offices in church leadership, including deacons, to be men. The qualifications for deacons, also apply to pastors and other church leaders (overseers). But, although church leaders and deacons must be men, they must be men who know and teach the Bible, with a clear conscience. They are seeking to glorify God, and not themselves or some social agenda. Their only agenda is God’s agenda.