With his description of the elder’s qualifications complete, Paul moves in 1 Timothy 3:8–13 to outline the requirements for the second ministerial office in the church — the deacon. Scripture actually says very little about the duties of a deacon, but the office finds its origin in Acts 6:1–7, even though none of the seven men chosen for service were ever officially called diakonos, which is the Greek term we translate as “deacon.” But it is appropriate to refer to these men as deacons since the Greek verb for service in verse 2 (diakone__ō) is a cognate for diakonos. In any case, it is clear from Acts that the deacons are to focus mainly on mercy ministries, such as the assistance of widows, while elders are tasked primarily with “prayer” and “the ministry of the word” (vv. 2–4).
From the account of Stephen’s teaching in Acts 6:8–7:60 and the fact that even Jesus can be described as a diakonos (Mark 10:43–45), it is clear that deacons are not barred from teaching. But since an aptitude for teaching is the only qualification for eldership that does not overlap with the things to look for in deacons, we know that deacons do not direct their attention to the formal instruction of God’s people. Instead, they are to allocate wisely the church’s resources, feeding and sheltering the needy in the congregation, helping them to get back on their feet and making sure the local assembly never neglects the pure and undefiled religion of visiting widows and orphans (James 1:27).
Doing these things properly requires a special kind of person, one who is “not double-tongued” (1 Tim. 3:8). A deacon cannot say one thing and do another. He cannot promise things the church has not yet approved lest the person in need be disappointed when he does not receive what has been promised and then distrust the church. Not being double-tongued also means that deacons cannot share with everyone the dire situations to which they are privy lest they embarrass those brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing difficult times.
Also, deacons cannot be “greedy for dishonest gain” (v. 8). The funds entrusted to the diaconate is a temptation to many people, and the person who cannot be trusted with money must never be ordained a deacon.
The “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28) and so to be called to serve the church as a deacon is one of the highest callings Christ can give to us. But even those of us who are not ordained as deacons must always be looking for ways we can serve the people of God and our neighbors if we are to imitate Jesus. What is one need in your church that you are uniquely equipped to meet? Are you seeking to meet this need?