Establishing the first Deacons

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:27
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The first Deacons
It’s no secret that I am a Marvel fan (or at least a fan of the first wave. It’s getting a bit weird now). But in the early days of the franchise, they did a great job of developing the characters before bringing them together as the Avengers. I especially like Thor in the first movie because his story arch follows his transition from being unworthy of handling the hammer to being found worthy through self-sacrifice. He began as prideful, selfish, and arrogant. But, as the story progressed, he was humbled and learned how to put others’ needs ahead of his own, and therefore, regained his heroic mantle. I think that has a lot of relevance to our scripture today.
I’m also doing something a little different today. This will be part 1 in a 2-part mini-series of Acts 6:1-7. We see two sides of one coin in the passage, and I want to take a look at one side today, and then the other next week. The coin is the established leadership structure within the body of Christ, and the sides are the two main offices of leadership.

Outline & Passage

I - The need for Deacons
II - The role of Deacons
III - The requirements of Deacons
Acts 6:1–7 ESV
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

I - The need for Deacons

The early church thus far began with 120 + 3,000 + 2,000 men (not including wives and children) + daily additions. The streets were being flooded with people from around the city. As you can imagine, there were thousands upon thousands of believers at this point and the needs had to have been overwhelming.
And so it was, because word got back to the original twelve disciples that Hellenistic widows were being neglected and overlooked in the distribution of daily provisions. The Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews who likely had more fully embraced Greek customs and culture as well and were commonly seen as backsliders. To many of the faithful ‘Hebrews’ (or Jews who rejected Greek influences), they were compromising their traditional, cultural identity, which would have created tension and animosity.
Essentially, there were too many balls in the air and some were dropping and falling through the cracks. There was just too much to be done for twelve people to manage. All of this was developing while it was being lived out. There was no established manual for the church. The twelve apostles were painting this car while driving it down the interstate at 90 miles an hour. It was a lot to handle. They were wearing all the hats, and their heads just weren’t that broad. They recognized that they need to remove a few of them and entrust them to other, worthy people.
So, they came up with a plan. In the wisdom God provided, they saw a clear division of duty.
No doubt, they deeply related to Moses when he was completely exhausted by sitting as mediator and judge for all the complaints of the Hebrews. When his father-in-law, Jethro, saw his pending burnout, he recommended that Moses delegate his responsibility so he doesn’t go mad. He suggested allowing God-fearing, trustworthy men to handle the small cases and only take on the big ones. I’m sure they felt the same way as they surveyed the growing needs on a community of thousands.
And in that plan, they created the first separation of duties in official roles within the believing community.

II - The role of Deacons

The separation was this:
Elder role: The role of the 12 was to maintain spiritual authority (v6), devoted prayer (v4), and preach the word (v4).
Deacon role: The duty which needed delegation was that of serving the needs of the people (v3).
We see this division in other books of the Bible, such as the introductory greeting found in Philippians:
Philippians 1:1 ESV
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
I will save the explanation of the Elder role for next week, but I do want to get ahead of one question you may have. Right now, you might be thinking: I see them delegating, but I don’t see the title of Elder and Deacon in this passage. Why are you saying they are?
If you asked that question, then I am proud of you. You are thinking through the text, the claim, and the natural application. You are thinking biblically!
I mention the titles and roles now, because (while they aren’t mentioned specifically in this passage) they are identified and explained in other passages of scripture. That is why we are taking two weeks to review this. I want to ensure we all understand the significance of these official roles and the differences between them.
Elder. I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that the twelve apostles were the functional leaders of the church. I hope not. And, because the gospel has not yet been proclaimed outside of Jerusalem, there has not been a need to establish other Elders outside of the twelve. And, according to this passage, they maintained spiritual authority by being the ones to lay hands on the newly-selected deacons and commission them for the work, and kept the responsibility of prayer and preaching.
Deacon. What they delegated was the lion’s share of the service to the people. They recognized they could not lead the masses spiritually while also being the workhorses who tended to every physical need, so that role was given to others.
They were commanded by Jesus Himself to proclaim the gospel, so in order to do fully, they chose others to ‘serve tables.’ That might sound harsh and demeaning to our twenty-first century ears, but it wasn’t to the first-century ear. It was a simple truth that was being verbalized and dealt with.
Servant. It is also important to see the word choice. the word serve is the Greek verb diakoneō and is a standard word which means to serve and attend to the wants and needs of others. In fact, that is the mental image we get from the passage. The apostles were saying they didn’t have the time to serve tables, like a waiter at a restaurant or event. The ones who take your order and bring your food are your Servers. This is the verb form.
The noun form, which would be the Server in this illustration, is diakonos, which is where we get our word Deacon, and which is used throughout the New Testament for servants, ministers, and the office of deacon.
Though the official title isn’t in this specific verse, the birth of the position is and it’s function is in its name: a servant or one who attends to the wants and needs of others. And lest we think this is a lesser role because of the way we perceive the way it was delegated, let me point a few things out:
It was delegated by the apostles. Let’s not forget that this was a function of the twelve up to this point. Until now, they managed the service of the believing community.
There were qualifications. This duty wasn’t available to everyone. We will get into the specifics in just a moment, but there were pre-requisites to this office and not every believer was qualified. The fact that a person had to meet higher standards show how valued the position and the work is.
There was a commissioning. This didn’t happen often. We only see a few cases in the New Testament where someone (or a few people) where appointed and commissioned to a task by the laying on of hands. Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the church in Antioch and Timothy was commissioned by the Elders in his hometown, for example. The fact that they were commissioned shows just how valuable and meaningful this was.
And so seven men were chosen by the people and commissioned. All seven had Greek names and were likely chosen from the Hellenistic Jewish community precisely because it was the Hellenistic widows who were being overlooked. We will see more about Stephen in the next chapter and more on Philip in chapter eight. Their stories confirm their worthiness to fill the role. The others are never mentioned again in scripture, but were no doubt faithful servants.
As a result of this delegation of duties, Luke summarizes this section by confirming that more people came into the Kingdom, the word continued to spread, and even many of the Priests came into the faith. What an incredible outcome!
I want to see that happen here. I want to see the word of God expand throughout the entire county of Ashe. We are at the point where we need to establish our deacons and equip the saints (which means you) for the works of service. On December 31st, I want to look back on 2023 and see how this happened in and through our small congregation, because our impact isn’t limited by our size, but by our willingness to serve.
In that light, I want to spend the rest of our time today by looking at the requirements for Deacons outlined in scripture so that we can establish these crucial roles at Ashe Alliance.

III - The requirements of Deacons

There is one other main passage that we need to navigate to, but first, let’s look at the requirements here in Acts 6.
29 times on the NT, referring to ‘deacon,’ ‘servant,’ and minister.’
The servant/minister sense is the majority:
Servant examples: The times where Jesus teaches that the greatest among them will be a servant. Jesus became a servant. The servants who drew water for the wedding celebration in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Paul calls himself and Apollos a diakonos (1 Cor. 3:5).
Minister example: 2 Cor. 3:6 says we are all ministers of the new covenant.
Deacon examples: Then, there is the sense in which the servant is the official role and capacity of Deacon. We find this four times. We already saw this in Phil. 1:1. We will see it two more times in 1 Timothy. The fourth is Phoebe: a woman described in Romans 16 as a diakonos and the only diakonos who is associated with a specific church. We’ll talk a bit more about this in just a moment.

Acts 6

Acts 6:3 ESV
3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
According to the Apostles, only men of good reputation, wise, and full of the Spirit were able to fill the role of deacon. If you had a poor reputation in the community, if you displayed foolish behavior, or if it was evident that you were not devoted to the Spirit’s filling, then you were disqualified from the task.
It is also important to note that this wasn’t just evident to the applicant. It had to be known among the people. One can’t just say that they have good repute, follow the leading of the Spirit, and make wise decisions. This is the sort of thing that takes time. You can’t just say you qualify. You must also live and operate in the community long enough for this to be recognized by the people around you. Your qualification is verified by the way you live.
And, to go one step further, Stephen was also said to have been a man full of faith, which should coincide with being full of the Spirit, but should be pointed out, nonetheless.
Does your life demonstrate these attributes? These traits can (and should be) be true of every believer. Even if your past is tainted with sinful living, your life as a follower can change that. How are you living out these attributes in your own life?
So according to Acts 6, anyone who is to be chosen as a servant of the people… a diakonos... they must be:
filled with the Spirit
full of faith
have a good reputation
possess wisdom
But, that is not all that scripture has to say about qualifications. Even if these seven men were only the first iteration of what would eventually become the office of Deacon, it was further developed and described by Paul.

1 Timothy

The most straight-forward list of qualifications for a Deacon is found in Paul’s letter to his young protege, Timothy.
1 Timothy 3:8–13 ESV
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Similar to the qualifications in Acts 6, Paul confirms that anyone who qualifies to be in the office of Deacon (which very closely resembles the list for Elders in 3:1-7) must be:
dignified (good reputation, carry yourself in a manner worthy of respect)
holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience
The New Testament Canon was still being written, so they had to hold many of these truths and core doctrines in faith as they were being more fully developed and understood.
To hold in good conscience means that their knowledge must go beyond the intellectual and into their wills and actions. A person’s conscience has to be clear as they live out these mysteries of the faith in their personal lives.
Beyond these, further qualifications are given:
not double-tongued (you can’t act/talk one way with one group of people, and act/talk a different way with another group)
not addicted to alcohol (or given to drunkenness and excess)
not greedy (especially pertaining to gaining wealth in inappropriate ways)
be submitted for testing and come out blameless
the husband of one wife (concerns fidelity and living the model of Christ and the church)
proper manager of his household, including his children (if you can’t do it in your own home with a small group of people who are directly under your influence, how can you manage it in a larger setting indirectly?)
Interestingly, there are also qualifications for women in this same passage. Some translations insert the word ‘their’ into the English translations, but no such word exists in the text here in the Greek. It simply says “likewise, wives (or translated as ‘women’ in other translations) should be:
not slanderers (not given to gossip or speaking well of sister Susie within the church but speaking poorly of her to other friend groups)
sober-minded (you make wise choices under the influence of the Spirit and not through lesser means)
faithful in all things
The fact that women are mentioned here raises a relevant question. Can women be Deacons (or Deaconesses)?
This is a big question in our culture and in the church right now, and hotly debated. Churches have split over this question and ones like it, so as we dip our toes into this theological pond, I want to encourage us, as a church body, to maintain unity in the bonds of peace. If this is an issue that is central for you, I want to let you know that I love you no matter which side of the line you stand on. This should not be a divisive issue. Can we talk, debate, and have discussions from a biblical perspective? Of course! That is how we grow in our knowledge and understand, but I want you to distinguish between primary doctrines and secondary or even tertiary doctrines. This is not a primary doctrine, that if viewed incorrectly, would leave one outside of christian orthodoxy and considered to be a non-believer.
Many would say that because Paul discusses qualifications for women servants alongside (and in the middle of) qualifications for the men, he is allowing for women Deacons. This view is strengthened by the fact that no such qualifications are given for the women as Elders or wives of Elders in the same chapter. There is also a woman named Phoebe mentioned in Romans 16, who is called a diakonos, which as we have established, is the title for Deacons. She is also the only diakonos in scripture that is paired with a specific church - Cenchreae. She is one of Paul’s patron’s. Paul also asks the Roman congregation to help her in whatever she needs. And, because this is a servant role and not one that requires one to teach or hold authority over specific individuals, it does not conflict with other scriptures (for example, ones that prohibit women from having authority over men).
I agree with this assessment. I believe there is biblical evidence for women being official servants in the church, though there is a clear distinction when it comes to the office of Elder, which we will discuss next week.
Paul then concludes this list with an encouragement that the fruit from such a person is a good reputation and develops great confidence in the faith. And that is just for the individual… not to mention the fruit it bears in the lives of the people who are being served.


This is an important section of scripture as it pertains to church structure and operation. We are all called to serve one another through our God-given gifts. That is a command for every man, woman, and child in the church who profess Jesus as Lord.
However, there are other, official offices given to the church, for the benefit of the church as outlined in scripture. This does not create second-class christians. This does not give rise to a group of believers who are more holy or more spiritual than others. Hear me say that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We are all sinful and in need of a Savior. We are all equal in worth and in status as sons and daughters. That does not mean, though, that there aren’t designated roles within the church. God has ordained structure within the body, and it is for the health and wellness of the body.
The Elders are given to lead and shepherd the flock as Overseers, and Deacons are given to serve as the Doers and Servers of the flock.
Praise God for godly men and women who desire to sacrifice their comforts and wants for the benefit of the rest of us!
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