The Testing of Deacons

Let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.”  

- 1 Timothy 3:10

One does not have to be a Christian for very long before he sees, as one commentator notes, that theology and ethics cannot be separated without fatal damage to both. A person’s view of God inevitably impacts the way he lives his life and vice versa. Without a biblical view of the Lord’s holiness, for example, it is all too easy to minimize sin and thus fail to confess and repent of it, which in turn makes the pursuit of godliness subject to our looking for loopholes in the law. How many people, for instance, try to justify an adulterous relationship by attempting to redefine Scripture’s teaching on love and marriage?

God’s Word, not our experience, is the final court of appeal when it comes to all matters of faith and life, and we find that Scripture affirms the interrelationship of theology and ethics. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, KJV). Those who are consumed by sensuality cause the way of truth to be blasphemed (2 Peter 2:2). Moreover, Paul’s list of qualifications for deacons bears witness to this principle. The deacon’s need to live a blameless life is mentioned in the same context as his need to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9–10). Blamelessness is not perfection; rather, as John Calvin writes, blameless people “are not stained by any marked vice.”

Note that this need to be blameless is shared also by the elders who must likewise evidence godly traits and be regarded as upright by outsiders (vv. 2–3, 7). Furthermore, the period of testing needed to ascertain the deacon’s holy character (v. 10) is most certainly required of the elder as well, even though the apostle does not specifically mention it when he is talking about elders. After all, how could the church know if a potential officer meets all of the requirements in 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9 if it has not taken the time to examine him?

Elders and deacons alike must pass the test of background, reputation, experience, and confession. Perfection is not the standard, for if it were, no man would be qualified to serve in Christ’s church (1 John 1:8–9). Instead, the potential elder or deacon leads a repentant life, free of grievous sin and having no tendency toward misbehavior that he is not trying to correct.  

Coram Deo

John Calvin also explains that “those men are to be chosen who are approved by their past life in such a manner that, after what may be called full inquiry, they are ascertained to be well qualified.” The concern is not the potential servant’s behavior but how he has lived since professing Christ. How have you lived since your conversion? All of us should be living in a way that would qualify us to serve God’s flock, whether we are eligible for ordination or not.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 17:14–20
Proverbs 12:8, 14, 24
2 Cor. 13:5–10
1 Timothy 5:22

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343