Thursday, September 4, 2008

Paul on Leadership: Deacons

The second part of church leadership that Paul addresses in Philippians 1.1 and 1 Timothy 3 is “deacons.” The secular sense of the Greek term denotes one who waits at tables; a messenger; a servant; a steward; an assistant helmsman; a baker, a cook or a wine steward; or a statesman. The term diakonos appears in the Greek OT to describe an adviser to the king or the king’s bodyguards.


The overarching meaning over the word itself is “servant” and is the most common usage in Paul. He uses it: of Christ (Rom. 15.8), of government officials (Rom. 13.4), of himself (1 Cor. 3.5; 2 Cor. 3.6) and of his coworkers (1 Thess. 3.2; Col. 1.17). “Deacon” is a functional term designating someone who serves others. As is the case with “overseer”, the texts do not fully define the function of the “deacon.” If the functional sense of these terms is the clue to their “title” usage, then the overseers are probably those who give general oversight to the congregation, while the deacons are distinguished by their actual deeds of service.


Diakonos is a more common term because of the non-technical use to describe anyone who serves. The term expresses an important Christian idea. The Greek world viewed serving others as a menial task; people were to rule, not serve, and the highest aspiration was the development of the self, although service to the state was regarded as virtuous. Judaism held service in high esteem, especially when directed toward God and the poor.

Similar to “prophet” and “teacher”, the word “deacon” seems to fluctuate between an emphasis on function and a description of a position. In Ephesians and in Colossians, diakonos still describes a function. In Philippians and 1 Timothy it refers to a position. It is a position that is defined by its own definition. The mention of deacon in 1 Tim. 3.8 was not to outline the duties a deacon, but to point out what kind of persons would qualify as deacons.


If the overarching meaning to the term for deacon is defined by serving, then the position of deacon must take its responsibility of service as its primary responsibility however service is defined in the context that it is expressed.

2 comments:

The MAN Fan Club said...

I think I understand you sometimes. Instead of Cliffnotes could you do a few sentences of MANnotes?

billy v said...

Man, if you saw the original version of this, you would think that I was speaking a different language. I am going to try to simplify everything on one document soon.