Ecclesiology 40, Philippians 1:1
11-25-18 Lesson 41
Father, we’re thankful for today and we’re especially grateful that the season that we’re in when we in our culture pause to really focus on what we have and we have so much Father, and so we have things materially and those could be taken away in a moment so we’re very grateful today for the fact that we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And He has not called us to crawl on a bed of nails to gain favor before You; You told us that You already have it and it’s just a matter of exploring the owner’s manual and figuring out what we already have. So we are in a tremendous place of blessing today in the church age and particularly as American Christians materially as well and so we thank You for that. I just pray that You’ll be with our services, the Sunday School class, church service that follows, and Your Spirit would be at work illuminating truth to us so that we can continue to live for You as Your people in the devil’s world. And we’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said… Amen!
Let’s open our Bibles to 1 Timothy, chapter 5 and verse 17. Just to remind you where we’ve been in our study of Ecclesiology; a lot of people have been asking me when am I going to show slides on our trip and all that stuff and I think my goal is to do that in Sunday School but I want to finish Ecclesiology first and I think the rest of the study will go by fairly fast and then I’ll do the trip and the biblical sites once we finish Ecclesiology, so a few weeks down the road if you can hang on that long.
Ecclesiology of course is the study of the church (as you know) and these are all of the things we’ve looked at the study of Ecclesiology. Before I left we had gone over the activities of the church which you find in Acts 2:41-47. And then from there last week we completed the government of the church and we saw that of the major views concerning church government within Christendom the one that really has biblical support, the best biblical support is the elder rule model where a church is basically governed by a plurality of godly men.
That leads into officers of the church, since the church is governed by a plurality of godly men then there must be an office for that and you’re correct; that office is called the office of elder. You say well, are there any other formal offices within a church. There are and there’s another office called the office of deacon. So now we’re moving away from the whole subject of church government at large to looking at specific office holders in the church and the New Testament reveals two offices, the office of elder and the office of deacon.
So we’re starting here with the office of elder and we started looking at that last time if memory serves, and if the authority structure in a church rests with a plurality of godly men then you would expect somewhere in the Bible to have an enumeration of their qualifications. In other words, what qualifications does a person have to have to serve as elder? And there are two areas of the Bible that reveal that and you should just take these two verses, addresses anyway, and memorize them so you know where they are because part of what we do at Sugar Land Bible Church is we put forth elder candidates that are confirmed by the congregation. So how do you know how to vote on somebody unless you read God’s manual on the subject.
So the office of elder, the qualifications thereof, are found in the pastoral letters; there are three books of the New Testament that are written to pastors so we call them the pastoral letters. And those are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and also Titus. And in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 you’ll find the qualifications for elders, primarily moral qualifications. And we read those verses last time and went through those qualifications, general qualifications, moral qualifications, personality qualifications, domestic qualifications, Christian experience qualifications, reputation qualifications, knowledge qualifications. You’ll find all of that in those two lists.
And before leaving the subject of elder there’s just a few more things that we want to talk about concerning elders. Beyond qualifications how many elders are you supposed to have exactly. One person says you’ve got to have three because there’s three members of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Another person says no, you’ve got to have five because when David went to kill Goliath he had five stones in his backpack. Another person says you’ve got to have seven because seven is the number of completion. Another person says you’ve got to have twelve because Jesus had twelve disciples or apostles. Another person says no, you’ve got to have twenty-four because we studied last week in the Book of Revelation twenty-four elder in heaven. Another person says no, you’ve got to have seventy because Jesus sent out the seventy.
The reality is how many do you have to have and the answer is the Bible never tells you and that relates to the nature of the church. The church is not like the nation of Israel which was confined to a specific geographic area on the coast of the Mediterranean. Israel is a country and is/was a nation. Song of Solomon that’s why when you go to the Old Testament and you look at Israel’s leadership structure there’s no flexibility at all in it because Israel is a specific locale. When Jesus formed the church He intended it to go global so part of the great commission is go into all the nations making disciples of all nations; preach the gospel to every creature. So the Holy Spirit’s design for the church is that it would be transnational and international. So once a movement becomes transnational or international then you can’t have fixed rules like you have for a specific nation.
So look at all the different kinds of congregations that exist on the planet. Having a set number of elders, like seven, might work really well in one part of this city or one part of the world but it wouldn’t work well in another part of the world. It might work well for a congregation that’s smaller but what do you do with a mega congregation, what do you do then? So the Holy Spirit or God knew that this would happen so in the church age what he has given us is not fixed rules like you have for the economy of Israel. But what you have are generic principles and you see this is the mistake, because people often ask well, you know, I’m a Christian, I want to give part of my income to the Lord, how much should I give, and always looking for a fixed number like it’s part of the United States tax code or something.
Now if you were living in Israel you would have a fixed number; it’s basically three tithes, two annually, one every three years, you would be giving twenty-three and a third percent of your money to the Lord if you lived within Israel. Just like in the United States of America you don’t have the option concerning how much tax money you’re going to pay. But the church is not a country; the church is not a nation; the church is transnational and so you don’t have a fixed number. What you find with the church, just like with the plurality of elders, is a general concept or generic principles that you’ll find in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. So it never gives you a number; what it’ll say is give joyfully, give cheerfully, give secretly, give generously, give sacrificially, give proportionately as the Lord has prospered you. And why don’t we have a fixed number? Because it relates to the nature of the church not being a nation.
So going back to my earlier slide when we were talking about the different issues related to the church you might remember there in Roman numeral five we spend several weeks on that—Israel church differences. If you can grasp the idea that Israel and the church are different entities, one more of an earthly body, the other one more of a heavenly transnational body, then you’ll start to see why the Old Testament reveals fixed numbers for Israel but the church has generic principles and that’s true in the area of giving. And it’s also true in this view of how many elders do you have to have? There is no number; every local congregation is given liberty to work on that in and of themselves via prayer.
The only thing the New Testament is going to do is give you a principle and that principle is this—there has to be a plurality of elders. So authority doesn’t rest with one person; authority rests with a plurality of elders. Now do you have three, do you have five, do you have seven, do you have twelve, do you have twenty-four, do you have seventy? The Holy Spirit says well go to the Lord in prayer and work that out amongst yourselves because something may work in one part of the world and not really work in another part of the world or something may work in a large congregation but not in a smaller congregation. But the principle is still there, it’s a plurality of godly men. And we went through last time several verses that reveal the elder model in the New Testament. Let me just give you a few of those again, I won’t go through all of them but just so you catch this idea of a plurality.
Acts 14:23 says, “When they had appointed” what’s the next word? I’ll read it again, “when they had appointed” what’s the next word, “elders” it doesn’t say how many, it just says a plurality. It doesn’t say when they appointed a dictator because a lot of pastors sort of have this mindset that this church is a theocracy and my name is Theo kind of thing, and that’s not the right model either. It’s a distribution of power amongst a plurality of godly men.
You may remember we brought up Philippians 1:1, you might want to look at that again just for a second. Just go over to the Gospels, then you have Acts, then you have your big books, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and then just remember Go Eat Popcorn, or God’s Electric Power Company, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and over in chapter 1, verse 1 it says there “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” including the what? “Overseers, a plurality of godly men. [Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:”]
If you slip over to the Book of James, which is a little further to the right, chapter 5 and verse 14, it says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the” what’s the next noun, “elders” it’s a plurality of godly men, “elders of the church and they are to pray over him….” So that’s sort of the generic concept.
So we have the qualifications for elders, we’re not given a specific number concerning how many elders you have to have. I think our church currently is functioning with six, if I remember right, I wasn’t at the last elder meeting because I was traveling abroad so I’m trying to remember how many elders exactly we have. Someone back there is going like this so six sounds good; that makes sense because God created the world in six days so there we go, we’re standing on biblical authority here. And so the numbers aren’t addressed in the Scripture but the concept is, it’s got to be a plurality.
And something else that’s very interesting about elders is not all elders do the same thing. Isn’t that interesting. Go over if you could to 1 Timothy 5. Of course when you say 1 Timothy that carries a little extra weight concerning church government because that’s one of our pastoral epistles. And it’s interesting that not all elders do exactly the same thing. There seems to be s distinction among elders. It say, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” [1 Timothy 5:17] So you’ll notice there that you’ve got some elders that are ruling or governing and then you’ve got other elders that are preaching and teaching.
And people like to refer to me as a pastor which is fine, the gift of pastor-teacher is in the body of Christ to help bring the body of Christ to maturity, but if you really want to be technical about it I’m more of what you’d call a teaching elder. Based on our constitution I’m a permanent member of the elder board and my primary responsibility at Sugar Land Bible Church is a teaching ministry. Now not all of the elders fill that role; all elders must be apt to teach but some are very good at other things, like governing, like keeping care of the budget, watching over the small groups, the shepherd’s groups that we have, etc.
And we as elders probably need to do a little bit better job I think communicating to people what different elders do because it’s not until you actually come to an elder meeting that you start to see this very clearly. But there is within the Scripture a concept were not all elders do the same thing; some focus more on some things and some focus more on other things. And you see the distinction happening here in verse 17 where it talks about some ruling and some working hard at preaching teaching.
But having said all that what is the general responsibility of an elder? What are elders supposed to be doing? An elder, and I’ve gone through some of this before when we talked about spiritual gifts, the best way to understand an elder or a pastor is kind of like what a shepherd does in the natural world. What does a shepherd do, because God, the Lord Jesus is the ultimate shepherd and He has appointed in the body of Christ under shepherds, 1 Peter 5, shepherds shepherding under Him. [1 Peter 5:1-3, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,  shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”]
And you can sort of figure out what a church leader is supposed to do based on what a shepherd does in the natural world. A shepherd basically does three things in the natural world over his flock of sheep. Number one, he guides them. These all begin with the letter g. He basically gives them direction, he leads them in other words. He is also responsible for guarding them or protecting them from pernicious or dangerous influences from the outside, like the wolf that seeks to come in and devour. And he is also responsible for grazing them or feeding them. So when you look at those three things that a shepherd does in the natural world those are basically the three things you look for in what an elder does. He’s, they together, are responsible for guiding the flock, guiding the sheep, guarding the sheep.
You wouldn’t believe the bad influences that want to come into a church, either to teach false doctrine or you’ve got issues with people want to come in to sell something or they want to come in to sort of cause trouble. Or God forbid you have situations happening in some churches, thankfully this has never happened here and we have policies in place to protect us from this but you have people that want to work in the children’s ministry and it turns out that they become pedophiles and things like that. So we have background checks on people that want to work in nursery or with children. We have a two person policy in every children’s room, someone is exercising oversight over children. So there’s some practical things that you can do to kind of protect yourself from that.
But this all falls under the purview of elders, how are we going to protect the sheep? So he guides, he guards, and then the last thing of the three major things he does is he grazes which means he feeds the sheep. So how are we to be fed? How are we to grow spiritually? Through the Word of God, right? “Man does not live by bread alone but by” what? “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 Notice it says “every word that proceeds from the Word of God.” You grow in a church when you’re under a ministry that’s teaching you “every word” of the Bible.
So that’s why on Sunday mornings we don’t float around from topic to topic; our policy is to start in a book of the Bible and go all the way through until we finish it and we largely get our ministry philosophy from that verse, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In other words, God put every word in the Bible there for a reason and if you skip words or skip chapters or skip verses then it’s sort of like skipping a food group. So when I’m preparing my sermons it’s always interesting, I’m always looking at the verses because I don’t have any real flexibility in terms of what I’m going to teach on since I’m committed to a verse by verse exposition I teach on whatever happens to be next in the chapter. I’m looking at some of these verses saying wow, how is this going to relate to people? And it’s interesting the comments you get from people, they say man, I’m so glad you covered such and such because I really needed that and the fact of the matter it’s really not my job to know who needs what, God knows that. My job is to just give them all the food groups and how it applies to their lives and who comes that particular Sunday God will take care of.
So anyway, that’s what an elder is supposed to do and so at least you have sort of an idea what the general duties are, if you will, of an elder. So we have qualifications for elders, the number of elders, the distinction among elders, duties of elders. Well here’s a sensitive one, can an elder be removed from office? I mean, are elders granted life tenure, you know, like at a university you get tenure and you just have a lifelong security. NO, for one reason is we have terms for elders at Sugar Land Bible Church, and you say well aren’t you a permanent member of the elder board? Yeah, by virtue of our constitution I personally am a permanent member of the elder board. But I can be removed if the plurality determines that I should be removed. And you say well is this found in the Bible, and it is, if you go over to 1 Timothy 5:19-20 you’ll notice what it says here. It says: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” It says,  “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.”
Now you look at those two verses and you study these out it’s amazing the wisdom found in these two verses. First of all clearly an elder can be removed because it says here do not entertain an accusation against an elder absent two to three witnesses so the implication is if you’ve got two to three witnesses indicating that an elder has moved into a moral failure, doctrinal failure, that that elder can be removed. So God designed the church in such a way that those in leadership are also under the authority of the Word of God and if it’s determined that such a person is living in a way or teaching in a way contrary to the Word of God then that elder can be removed from his office if the plurality of elders determine that’s to be the case.
But notice also the balance here, even though an elder can be removed it’s very clear that do not entertain an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two to three witnesses, so you’ll notice also that there’s protection for the elder because what people will do is they’ll come into a church and their preferences aren’t met in some way, you know, they want things to be run, they don’t like the color of the carpet, I mean—who could complain about our carpet, I just think it’s fantastic. Or they, you know, you part your hair on the wrong side of the head or you shouldn’t wear a tie or you should wear a tie, your sermons are too short, [laughter] I haven’t had that accusation hurled against me. Really what a lot of people do is they elevate their personal preferences to the level of a biblical maximum. And so they’ll want to remove people from authority just based on that. So you’ll notice that the Bible protects elders from the rumor mill or from the gossip mill or from people who just don’t like something on the basis of preferences because you cannot remove an elder unless you have two or three witnesses.
Now I really don’t want to get too far into politics but we just emerged from a whole national catastrophe or a nightmare where an accusation was brought against someone that was nominated for the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh, regardless of what you think about Kavanaugh, thumbs up, thumbs down, you’ll notice that in that whole scenario disqualification was never satisfied. There was never two to three witnesses against this man; it was something that was done basically from a rumor based on one person and what they were saying and you don’t have two to three witnesses seeing the person do what everybody says that he did. And you have this whole national nightmare taking place because the nation, by and large, has forgotten God’s Word and we just want to remove people from office based on things we make up because we don’t like their politics. And so what I’m saying is that would happen in a local church I think pretty regularly if this principle was ever abandoned — two to three witnesses.
So can an elder be removed? Absolutely. Can you remove an elder without evidence? No you can’t because the evidential standard is very high here, you’ve got to see the elder, two to three witnesses involved in doctrinal or moral failure, then you can remove the elder from office. So it’s a beautiful balancing act that the Holy Spirit has given us here. Yes/no they can be removed but at the same time there is protection of the elder based on this very high evidential standard.
And what do you do with a sinning elder? Verse 20 is very clear, “Those who continue in sin,” now who are “those”? The elder that just got removed. “Those who continue in sin rebuke in the presence of all,” why would you do that? “so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” So if you have a situation where an elder is actually removed what the New Testament calls for is a public rebuke of sorts. When you tell the congregation that this is what is going on, this is what’s happened and you do that for the benefit of others who are thinking about going into the same sin.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an environment where that’s actually happened. It’s always painful to watch and you say to yourself wow, these folks take sin pretty seriously here. And it really gives you deterrence or you think twice the next time you think about going down that particular road of sin. So these are all generic principles that govern the office of elder and there’s a lot of other things we could probably talk about related to the office of elder. But you have to understand these principles to understand how God’s church is supposed to function.
So let’s leave, for just a moment the office of elder and let’s go to the office of deacon and let’s go over to a familiar passage, Acts 6:1-7. We basically know what an elder does; an elder is like a shepherd fulfilling the three “G’s, governing a congregation through a plurality of elders. But what is this office of deacon all about? Take a look if you could at Acts 6; look at verses 1-7 and this is the origin of deacons.
It says, “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number,” so the early church was growing, “a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.  So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” So a real need arose here in early Christianity, in fact, these folks weren’t even called Christians yet but there was a new movement that started, an offshoot of Judaism, and these folks trusted in the Messiah the nation rejected.
So this is the beginning of the church. And it was growing and you have a situation where some of the widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food and so everybody ran to the apostles, who were the functioning elders of this group, and said fix this problem. And so you have a crisis because the apostles got involved in all of that as admirable a project as it is they would be neglecting their primary responsibility. What exactly is their primary responsibility? Their primary responsibility is to feed the flock of God through the Word of God. And of course if you’re involved in all of these service projects you don’t really have time for that nor do you really have time for prayer. So what is early Christianity going to do? Acts 6:1-7.
Picking it up at verse 3, “Therefore, brethren,” an important word, “select from among you seven men” an important word, “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” all important words, “whom we may put in charge of this task.” What task? The distribution of food to the widows. But we will end up watching cable the rest of the day and going to the mall and relaxing. NO, “we” since we’re alleviated from that responsibility,  “But we” since we are alleviated from that responsibility “will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”’ If the church hadn’t made a decision here the ministry of the Word and prayer could have stopped right there in its tracks. And I think Christianity or the life of the early church would have been derailed.
So this is a real crisis that emerged and so they resolved the crisis through the appointment of another office called deacons who took care of the service project thereby liberating the elders to doing what God called them to do and look at the result, verse 5. “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen,” here’s your first deacon, Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” and here’s deacon number two, “and Philip,” and then it mentions five others, “Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” And then it says in verse 6, “And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”
So this office is established, we now have our first seeded deacons in the church. And look at the result,  “The word of God kept on spreading;” why did the Word of God keep on spreading? Because the apostles could focus on what God called them to do. The Word of God can’t keep spreading if the apostles get bogged down in a service project as important as that service project is. “The Word of God kept on spreading and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem,” why is that? Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word, if you don’t have the Word of God being taught you don’t have conversions.
“The Word of God kept on spreading and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem,” and look at this, “and a great many of the priests” now aren’t all those the folks that rejected Jesus, the enemies of Christianity, even those people started to get converted because of the perpetual teaching of the Word of God. “… a great many of the priests were became obedient to the faith.” So there it is, right there in black and white, the origin of the office of deacon. What is a deacon? A deacon is a second office within the church besides elders, designed to take care of service projects or other things that happen within a church.
You look at all of the things that happen in our church, you look at building codes and taxes and parking issues and the printing of bulletins and cleaning the church and it just goes on and on and on. You get an elder, a teaching elder like myself involved in all of that stuff and the quality of the teaching will disintegrate very quickly. I really have to protect and guard my study time because I do this at this church three times a week and so praise the Lord for other elders who rule alongside of me and also for deacons who pick up the slack with the service projects, therefore liberating us to the ministry that God has called us to the Word of God and to prayer.
You notice in a lot of churches really what’s suffering is the pulpit; the messages are sort of topical, they’re sort of anemic, they’re sort of weak, and they’re very short and it’s usually three points and a poem kind of thing. And you look at the people in the church and you ask yourself are they really growing in the things of God? Are they really being brought into maturity? And you really can’t be brought into maturity as a Christian hearing the same sermon about the need to get saved every single week because once the child is born the child needs to grow and unless the teaching position of the church is protected so that the teacher has time to study and teach you can’t really expect a lot of depth in people concerning their Christian life and their Christian walk. So you start to see the logic here of the Holy Spirit raising up this very important office called the deacon.
Now if you look at the qualifications for deacons, let’s take a look at those for a minute, you see some qualifications right there in Acts 6:3, don’t you. “Therefore, brethren,” qualification number one, they have to be a believer, “select from among you seven men” now I know a lot of you are wondering about the gender limitation on office of elder and deacon and I’m hoping I can talk long enough this morning where I don’t have to address that issue, but we’ll address that at least next week because… and you might be surprised at my answer, but there seems to be a gender limitation. “… select seven men, “ now why seven? Well seven worked for the church in Jerusalem but that may not work well for the church in Antioch or Ephesus or Rome so the Book of Acts does give you a number but the Book of Acts, we look at it as a historical book, not so much a doctrinal book. There’s a lot of things happening in the Book of Acts that you don’t find in the epistles. For example, does anybody here own a home? Nobody owns a home? See you all are in sin because the Book of Acts says you should have sold your home and given it to the Jerusalem saints. So obviously there are things in the Book of Acts that we look at as historical rather than normative or doctrinal. Now you don’t find the number seven in the epistles but you find the number seven here because it worked well for the church in Jerusalem.
“…seven men of good reputation,” there’s another qualification, “full of the Holy Spirit, and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” What task? The task of the distribution of food to the widows, thereby liberating the elders (which in this case was the apostles) to pray and to teach so that the Word of God can continue to expand and you get more conversions and you get more depth in God’s people.
So looking at Acts 6:3 what are the qualifications? And we vote on deacons too, don’t we? So you should probably know what these qualifications are. Number one, the deacon must be a believer, obviously. Number two, the deacon must be a man, at least according to Acts 6:3. But before you pick up stones to stone me to death wait till I get over to 1 Timothy 3 because there’s a caveat in that which I’ll try to explain to you. The deacon must be a person of good reputation; I would take that to mean inside the church and outside the church. The deacon must be honest; now why does the deacon need to be honest? Because who do you think does the counting at Sugar Land Bible Church with the offering money that comes in week after week? The deacon’s responsible for that and to protect people from being tempted to embezzle me we also have a two deacon policy where you have two deacons whose character is trusted back in that office counting the money. But obviously you can’t have dishonest people in that position or the temptation is too great to do something that we in the legal system call embezzlement.
They must be Spirit filled according to Acts 6:3. [Acts 6:3, “”Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”] In other words, these are people who continually walk and depend upon the Holy Spirit. They must be wise; what is wisdom? It’s the application of knowledge. A deacon must be someone who is not just someone that has their mind filled with biblical data (which in and of itself isn’t wrong because you can’t apply what you don’t know) but they have to have sort of a life where they’re known to take biblical truth and apply it to daily life.
And in this story here, this historical account of the first deacons, you have two people mentioned; the two guys right out of the gate are Stephen (deacon number one of the seven) and the second is a guy named Philip. [Acts 6:5b, “…and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip.”] And I bring this up because there’s a mindset in people that a deacon is some kind of low level position, you’re kind of a glorified maintenance person. And may I just say to you that’s not at all how God views the office of deacon. Being called or selected to be a deacon in a church is actually one of the most honorable things that you could do and I know that because of who these two men were. The first deacon was Stephen, the second was Philip.
Now who was Stephen? Well, like Philip he was a worker or miracles. He was the first martyr of the church age and he is the only person that I have record of in the New Testament where Jesus is standing up, I don’t want to say salute but maybe a better word is giving honor to Stephen when he died. When you go through the New Testament what you’ll see over and over again is Jesus is not standing up but He is doing what? He is in a seated position. Hebrews 1:3 indicates that to show that Jesus’ job was completed because his final words on the cross were “It is finished.” [Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”]
Almost every time you see Jesus in His present session at the Father’s right hand He’s in a seated position but you might want to jot down Acts 7:56. [Acts 7:56, “and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”] Jesus is actually standing for Stephen, the first martyr of the church age, when Stephen’s immaterial part was separated from his body upon being stoned to death and his soul went into heaven or his immaterial aspect went into heaven, you’ll see Jesus standing there and I think He’s standing there whereas normally Jesus is seated He’s standing there to honor Stephen, not only the first martyr of the church age but also the first deacon. So all of that to say that being a deacon in God’s church is not just some kind of forgotten low level maintenance position but as far as God is concerned it’s a very high honor.
The second deacon selected there in Acts 6 is a man named Philip. Philip is a big deal because he is the one that brought the gospel to the Samaritans, Acts 8. And what you have to understand is the Hebrews and the Samaritans hated each other’s guts for seven centuries. You want to talk about racial division, there was a sharp racial division between the Samaritans and the Hebrews, really going all the way back to the removal of the northern kingdom seven hundred years earlier. And they brought in another group that became kind of a mixed breed, a hybrid race called the Samaritans, they intermarried with some Jews, they wouldn’t go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord like the rest of the Hebrews did. They went to Mount Gerizim, the mountain of blessing. Remember when Moses entered the land all the way back in 1400-1500 B.C., actually Moses didn’t enter the land but he gave instructions to the Jews that were about to enter the land and they were to go to Ebal, the mountain of curses and read the curses of the Law, and they were to also read the blessings of the Law and obedience to the Law from Ebal. That’s where these Samaritans went, they went to Ebal, the Mount of blessing and they didn’t go to Jerusalem like the rest of the Hebrews did.
And from that point in time there was an intense religious and ethnic hatred between the Hebrews and the Samaritans for seven hundred years. This is why everybody is astonished that Jesus is talking to a woman from Samaria, John chapter 4. This is why James and John, the sons of thunder, went into a Samaritan village, Luke 9 and the village rejected the ministry of Christ and they said “should we not call down fire from heaven to consume these people.” [Luke 9:54, “When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’”]
Why would someone say something like that? You have to understand the racial hatred that existed for seven hundred years between the Hebrews and the Samaritans. Seven hundred years of racial hatred is a longtime. I mean, the United States of America has only been here a little over two hundred years; think of seven hundred years of hatred between two groups. And who is the guy that the Holy Spirit selected to resolve this problem? This guy named Philip, because he took the gospel to Samaria and everybody was stunned that the Samaritans started getting saved in the age of the church. And so in this one instance only the giving of the Holy Spirit was postponed.
Normally when you get saved you get the Holy Spirit instantaneously but in this case it was postponed. And the Jerusalem apostles had to travel to Samaria to lay hands on the Samaritan believers so that everybody could see that this was true that these Samaritans got saved. And so when they laid hands on them then the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit. That way Jerusalem would understand that Samaria now belongs to Jerusalem in the church age and Samaria would understand that Jerusalem now belongs to Samaria because we are all what in the body of Christ? One! Galatians 3:28 is very clear, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
And so that was a huge ethnic bridge that had to be overcome and who is the man that the Lord picked to overcome that hurdle? This guy, Philip, deacon number two. So when you actually get into the background of the first two deacons, Stephen and Philip, you can see very fast that American evangelicalism might look at deacons as some kind of low level maintenance grounds-keeper but as far as God is concerned it’s one of the highest honors you could ever have, serving in a church as a deacon.
And by the way, one other thing I forgot to mention about Philip is he was actually caught up into heaven, I mean, talk about a high honor (no pun intended) and the word caught up (Acts 8:39) is the same word used to describe the rapture of the church. [Acts 8:39, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.”] So Philip was caught up, and then of course he was brought back down but Philip is a man of great reputation and he is deacon number two.
Now while we’re on this subject of deacons let me give you a parallel passage from the life of Israel and if you go back to Exodus 18:21 almost the same scenario is occurring as the nation of Israel is leaving the promised land and going to Mount Sinai there on the Sinai Peninsula. [Exodus 18:21, “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.”] Once they go the base of Mount Sinai Moses is standing out there all day long and you’re dealing with, if we take the numbers literally, and I have no problem taking the numbers literally in the Bible, you’ve got about a million and a half people out there. Think about that? And Moses is standing out there all day long and he’s judging every concern that the people have.
And consequently he’s wearing himself out and his father-in-law, Jethro… and you ought to listen to your father-in-law, you can get some good advice from your father-in-law, his father-in-law, Jethro, says what you’re doing is not good. You’re going to wear yourself out doing this. What you need to do is you need to appoint a lower court system and let the lower court system handle the minor disputes while you put yourself over the major disputes that the lower court system can’t handle because you’ll function as sort of a Supreme Court. And so the nation of Israel is preserved from judicial chaos here through Moses listening to the advice of his father-in-law and appointing a lower court system.
So just as the lower court system within the nation of Israel preserved Moses to do what God called him to do, deacons in the church age preserve the elders and protect the elders from being bogged down in endless assignments so the elders can do what God has called them to do so the church can continue to grow and flourish and mature. So when you study Acts 6:1-7 you should also study alongside of it Exodus 18 because it’s basically the same story, one for Israel, one for the church. And when you go over to Exodus 18:21 it lays out the qualifications for lower court judges, just like Acts 6:3 laid out the qualifications for deacons. And you find virtually the same qualifications.
Furthermore, “you shall select of all the people able” qualification number one, “men” number two, “who fear God,” number three, “men of truth,” and number four, “those who hate dishonest gain, and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” So Moses you’re liberated because you can focus on what God wants you to do and this lower court system is going to handle these other matters. But you’ll notice, just like with deacons there’s a heavy character qualification to qualify to be a lower court judge within the land of Israel. So these are all very important Scriptures to take a look at when you start thinking about qualifications for deacons.
Now having said all that let me go to one more list, go over to 1 Timothy 3:8-13, I may not have time to get into every detail but here becomes the major passage that you look at besides Acts 6:3 and Exodus 18:21 when you’re trying to figure you who is qualified to be a deacon. And notice what it says there. By the way, where do we find the qualifications for elders? The prior paragraph, 1-7. So now we’re learning about a different office, the office of deacons which we’ve defined that we learn about their qualifications in verses 8-13.
1 Timothy 3:8, Deacons likewise must be” what? “men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine” does it say no social drinking ever? It doesn’t say that, does it, it just says not “addicted to much wine, or fond of sordid gain,  but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These” what? “men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are” what? “beyond reproach.” Now here’s the debate about gender which I won’t get into today, praise the Lord. Verse 11, “Women” look at what it says there, “Women must likewise be dignified….
The debate here about “women,” it’s the word guna. Is this talking about the office of deaconess, in other words, can a female be a deacon in God’s church and hold that office? A lot of very good people say that’s so. Dr. Thomas Constable, whose notes I use and recommend to you all of the time, takes that position. That’s a legitimate position. Other people say no, the word “woman” guna, is not talking about the office of a deaconess; it’s talking about the wife of a deacon. Who holds that position? Charles Ryrie holds that position. The problem is both positions have weaknesses and the problem is the word guna can refer to a wife or it can refer to a woman, depending on the contest.
Now I used to be very dogmatic on certain subjects but as you kind of grow in the things of God you kind of learn to be less dogmatic about things. If a church wants to ordain the office of deaconess, now that’s not our current trajectory at Sugar Land Bible Church, but if a church wants to do that I am less likely to pick up stones and accuse them of heresy as I once would do. Now as I’ll be showing you, the office of elder is very clear that that is to be held by a male; the office of pastor-teacher is very clear that that is to be held by a male but the subject of a deaconess in a church, I don’t think that’s as clear as I once thought it was. But that’s my personal heresy and I’ll go into that as we progress in this study. But there’s a big debate there about that word “women,” guna.
[1 Timothy 3:11] “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.  Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.  or those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
So what qualifications do you have to possess to be a deacon? And there are so many qualifications here, I’ve got 8, 10, something like that, too many to do in the next two minutes so I will postpone that for next week. [Elder qualifications: General qualifications, Moral qualifications, Mental qualifications, Personality qualifications, Domestic qualifications, Christian experience qualifications, Reputation qualifications.]
But that’s the direction we’re going as we’re looking at these offices, what the offices represent and how do you become qualified in God’s church to serve in these offices. So I’ll stop here.