“‘When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (vv. 39–40).- Matthew 25:31–46
Elders are tasked with preparing the people of God for Christ’s day of visitation, but they are not the only church officers described in the New Testament. Scripture also tells us about the office of deacon, and we get insight into the nature of this role from its title and depiction in the Bible.
The English word deacon is derived from diakonos, a Greek term that can be translated “servant.” In the ancient world, the diakonos was often assigned to serve tables. However, the responsibilities of this person often went far beyond bringing food to the servant’s master. A diakonos could also be responsible for organizing large events, such as a wedding feast, and taking care of all the details involved.
Even when the diakonos had these added responsibilities, service was not highly esteemed in the ancient world. Only political service was respected, and few aspired to be servants in any other realm. Most people wanted to attain a position in which they would be served, not one in which they would serve others.
Ancient Jews, however, held a different view. They understood service to neighbor as a high calling that reflected the command to love God and neighbor (Lev. 19:18). Yet there was disagreement among ancient Jews as to the identity of one’s neighbor. The Pharisees, for example, only regarded as neighbors those whom they deemed righteous. They were countered by another group of Jews—Jesus and His Apostles—who taught that our neighbors include all people, even our enemies (Luke 10:25–37; Rom. 12:14–21). Christ sees service as the noblest calling, one so great that we can serve Him by serving others, especially His people (Matt. 25:31–46).
Broadly speaking, all Christians must serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). Still, in a narrower sense, God has given us the office of the diakonos, the deacon, to which some people are called as special servants to His church in order to meet needs that are difficult or that might otherwise go unmet. Acts 6 records the establishment of this office, as particular people were appointed to meet the physical need of the Greek widows in the church. Nevertheless, we are not to read this passage as if the deacons are to take over all the serving duties in the church. We remain called to serve others on our own and when the deacons call upon us for assistance.
Jesus tells us very clearly that those who want to be great in the kingdom of God must serve others (Matt. 23:11). None of us should ever think that we are too good or hold too high of a position to do particular tasks. Instead, we must be willing to do even the smallest and least enjoyable tasks when that is what is necessary to serve the needs of others. Let us serve others with gladness and fulfill Christ’s call to greatness.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 3:8–13