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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (3:8-13)
Deacons: A Blameless Reputation (3:8-13)

Candidates for the office of deacon come under the same careful scrutiny. The qualifications they are to meet are closely similar to the overseer's. As verse 10 indicates, "blamelessness" (the practical equivalent of above reproach in v. 2; compare Tit 1:6-7) represents the acceptable standard (the NIV there is nothing against them obscures this point). Verses 8 and 9 explain what is meant by "blameless," and again the concern for wholeness of development emerges. The qualities listed in verse 8 fall into familiar categories of observable conduct. Worthy of respect (or "serious"—2:2; Tit 2:2) implies a bearing or deportment that is obviously respectable. Following closely on this is sincere, the positive rendering of the literal negative "not double-tongued" (or "two-faced"). That is, the deacon's word must be reliable. The deacon must also have control over drinking and not be allured by dishonest gain. Plainly, the same kinds of qualities expected of the overseer are to be apparent in the deacon.

Paul next (v. 9) inserts what appears to be a "spiritual" requirement—namely, that the deacon keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience (compare 1:19). He means they must prove themselves to be unconnected with the false teachers. The latter, whose consciences were seared (4:2), rejected the faith and destroyed their spiritual lives (1:19). Very likely some had been deacons in the church. In Paul's thinking the clear conscience is the organ of decision. With it one can cross the distance from the faith, embraced with mind and heart, to godly conduct. Adherence to correct doctrine is also a matter of decision and, above all for the church leader, an aspect of godly conduct.

According to the criteria laid down in verses 8 and 9 (and also v. 12), the candidate's fitness to serve is to be tested. Both the term "blameless" (NIV nothing against them) and the notion of testing imply the public dimension of the candidate's life. The deacon's reputation among believers and unbelievers must be demonstrably acceptable.

Qualities enumerated in verses 11-12 clarify the meaning of "blamelessness" still further. However, at verse 11 a new sentence begins, and Paul issues instructions that refer to either the wives of deacons (so NIV) or women deacons ("deaconesses"; NIV margin). It is difficult to be certain which meaning Paul intended. Those who favor the meaning wives point out that requirements concerning the women are surrounded by those related to deacons. Furthermore, "women" is too common a term to designate an office. In defense of the meaning "deaconesses" others explain that (1) the introductory phrase in the same way (NIV; one word in the original; see likewise, 3:8), which is characteristic of exhortation to distinct groups, (2) the exact replication of verse 8's sentence structure in verse 11 and (3) the dependence of each verse on the initial must verb of the passage, verse 2, make a reference to women deacons equally possible. The question remains open; but it is well to keep in mind that in the absence of a technical term ("deaconess"), a reference to "women" in a code listing requirements for the office of deacon would have sufficed to direct attention to those candidates who were in fact women (compare Rom 16:1).

The actual qualities expected of these women parallel those expected of men (vv. 8-9). They are to lead lives that command respect, no doubt because they speak prudently with control (NIV not malicious talkers), do not drink in excess and generally are trustworthy in all things (5:10). The patterns of behavior that characterize overseers and deacons are also to be obvious in the lives of these women. Furthermore, as in the case of the deacons, these women represent the antithesis of certain other women who had come under the influence of the false teachers (5:15; compare 2 Tim 3:6-7).

A final word reminds deacons of responsibilities toward wife and family (3:12). Like the overseer, the deacon must be a faithful husband. He must also have proved himself a capable manager of his household. As we saw, this was a quality greatly admired in (and also expected of) the householder by that society. If the householder clearly lacked this ability he was quickly criticized. Paul's point is again that one who would lead in the church must first know how to lead in the family in a way that promotes harmony among its members and loyalty to its leader. It is a safe assumption that one who manages his home haphazardly, whether he is a heavy-handed tyrant and slow to listen or simply irresponsible and unconcerned for his family, is likely to leave a similar stamp on the church. To be a leader requires having leadership skills that are tried and tested in the most practical of situations, the home.

Verse 13 concludes the list of requirements for office with an encouragement to those who serve well. It parallels the "faithful saying" that heads the list (see on 3:1) and is probably similar in purpose. The apostasy of some elders and deacons in Ephesus almost certainly lowered opinions about leaders and leadership in the church and in the minds of outsiders. So confidence in the office and in the people filling that office needed to be restored. Today this same confidence needs to be maintained. Thus Paul reminds us that deacons who serve well will receive a twofold reward. Among people faithful deacons will gain an excellent standing, a good reputation. They will also grow closer to Christ in faith and assurance.

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