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The ordaining of women in the ministries of the church is one of the most controversial topics of our day. One reason is that people care much more about their positions and their glory than about the glory of God. I am convinced that any person who feels a need to fight for his or her “right” to hold any position in the local church is automatically disqualified from serving as either an elder or a deacon. If people really served humbly in the local church, conflicts would not arise because of people’s selfishness. This morning, we will be ordaining a few women as deaconesses to The Church at Sunsites. I want to take a few moments and talk about why we are doing this Biblically. We are not trying to be relevant to the world, adopt the world’s values, be progressive, cool, or jump on some sort of cultural, feministic bandwagon. We are simply striving toward God’s design for His local church and His polity (church government). We are conservative in our theology. We believe in the inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture. We are complimentarian in our view of men’s and women’s roles in the home and church.
The deacon’s role (Acts 6:1-7)
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the cHellenistic 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. 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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
This is the only place in all of Scripture that describes the role of a Biblical deacon. The Greek “διακονια (diakonia, transliterated)” is literally translated “servant” in english (those who wait tables in verse 2 and those who do the ministry of the word in verse 4). These seven men, who were elected by the church body to be servants or Deacons, did not practice oversight, but dedicated themselves to simple service so that the apostles, whom Peter would later compare with the elders of the local church (1 Peter 5:1), could focus on teaching God’s word. Sadly in our day, this sort of Deacon is almost extinct. I think we need them more than ever. These servants were chosen by the congregation and were men of good reputation in the faith. Remember, Acts 6 is descriptive and not prescriptive.
This speaks volumes about the honorable nature of the Deacon’s position. Though he is a simple servant, a servant’s character is the most admirable virtue in the life of the believer. So, all believers should strive to be simple servants. The ministry of the word, which is the positional elder’s responsibility is even described as an act of service in verse 4. In our churches, without proper deacons, we simply cannot expect to have proper elders- who are dedicated primarily to the preaching of God’s word and to prayer. Yet, we try to structure churches differently and expect to win a greater result than God. I guess at that moment, we actually become a church unto ourselves rather than unto God.
In Romans 16:1-2, Phoebe is described as a deacon, or servant. By every indication, she worked in simple service to others. In Philippians 1:1, the deacons are addressed along with the overseers as a part of the body of saints, indicating that these are two different offices in the body given to fill two different and specific roles. This role is often neglected by those who hold the title of Deacon. Anyone filling any position of service at any local church is a biblical deacon. Small group leaders are deacons. Those leading ministries are deacons. Those who administrate, handle church finances, organize the media ministry, serve as secretaries, and so on, are Biblical deacons who have taken some responsibility in simple service so that the elders, or pastors or overseers or bishops, can focus their time and energy on the ministry of the word and prayer.
The church desperately needs this. More often, those with the title of deacon are trying to fill a role that is not described in Scripture. As a result, the ministry of the word through the local church suffers and not much, if any, fruit is produced through that local church. In Acts 6 God continued to build His church, adding people to her number (even Jewish priests). This is why we want to equip and empower people in our congregation to do the ministry that God is calling them to and fill needs in our community. This is how the ministry of God’s word flourishes through the local church—not the charisma or talent of a preacher.
Women in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 11:1-12)
1 Corinthians 11:1-12
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
In verse 1, Paul exhorts the church body to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In context, this refers specifically to Paul’s own use of Christian liberty. It is the same view of Christian liberty that drives his instruction in this current passage.
As always, Paul then states a theological truth before applying that truth to behavior or methodology. Christ is the head of every man. The man is the head of the woman. God is the head of Christ. What can be said here is that, in some way, the Biblical view is that men are the head of women, Christ is the head of men, and God is the head of Christ. These are statements of fact, not metaphor or allegory. Paul is stating positions of subordination as doctrinal truth. The Biblical view of subordination will become clearer as we move through this passage of instruction. As Paul addresses our method of prayer, his goal is also to have us understand this truth and apply this truth in the methodology of the church gathering. In this section, this is the doctrinal truth which is applied to the method of prayer at the gathering.
We remember that these instructions are given within the context of Christian liberty and as application to the Corinthian church based on the Biblical doctrine of subordination. While all things are permissible, Paul is instructing based on what is or is not profitable and on how, in this context, God’s glory might be served rather than the self-glory of people. The goal is not to belittle one gender and exalt another. It is to honor God and teach humility and servanthood to the body.
While this application may not look explicitly like this in our contexts, the Biblical truth and motivation remain. God does not change and His words are true.
In v. 1-3, Paul mentioned the theological truth of subordination. As he gives a reason, here, for his methodological instruction to the Corinthian church, he describes the anthropological truth of subordination. It has nothing to do with any human person’s glory, power, presence, or status and everything to do with the glory of God. It is presented as a picture of the relationship between the Father and the Son (v. 3).
The man is the image and glory of God and the woman is the glory of man. The man was made first (Gen. 2), and the woman was made from the man for the sake of the man. Genesis 2 uses the language, “helpmate,” “suitable helper,” or “complimentary helper.”
This verse gets at the very reason humanity was created in the specific and intentional form that God purposefully chose for us—to be the image of God in His creation for His glory alone. It is for this reason that we must receive God’s righteousness, not living according to any righteousness of our own. Just as God receives all glory in the creation of man, so God gave the gift of woman so that we all might understand the purpose of our relationship with God.
The misunderstanding and aggression against Biblical gender roles comes as a result of our misunderstanding with regard to our positions in Christ. Everything about God’s design for humanity reveals something about God such that He may receive all glory and honor in the highest form in and from His own creation.
Verse 10 seems awkward in English. Paul instructs women in the church at Corinth to wear head coverings because of the angels. There doesn’t seem to be any other explanation as to why this is because of the angels. Commentators even admit that this is the most difficult verse in this letter to translate or interpret. It is agreed upon that Paul has Christian liberty in view. Women are free in Christ not to wear head coverings, but what is permitted is not always profitable. So, we seek to do what honors God and serves others, not merely what is allowed.
Since she is the glory of the man as the man is the glory of God, Paul instructs women to wear the symbol of this authority on their heads. This is not an instruction regarding marital relationships. Marriage has not been in view in this part of the text. It is the case that women were encouraged to wear these head coverings because of the angels. The word, there, “αγγελους,” simply means “messenger.” It can refer to a preacher, envoy, letter-carrier, or heavenly angel. In context, Paul is writing about praying and prophesying. Prophesying is, in the New Testament sense, proclaiming God’s written word. Both men and women were able to do this according to Paul here in 1 Corinthians 11. “Angels” might refer to those who are proclaiming God’s message, both men and women. The word for messenger might be used by Paul in order to elevate the importance of the message being communicated.
Since women are the glory of men as men are the glory of God, they ought to show, in some way (head coverings for the First Century Corinthians), that they are under the authority of the men as the men are under the direct teaching authority of God. This is all for the sake of both the message and the messengers. Neither the man nor the woman is exalted, but Christ and His word to the glory of the Father.
Just as the Father is the head of Christ (Christ speaks according to the Father’s will), so Christ is the head of man (man is entrusted with Christ’s message), so man is the head of woman (who are under the teaching authority of men). In this way, women are the picture of Christ’s eternal subordination to the Father. While the members of the Godhead are co-eternal and co-equal (v. 11-12), the Son always speaks according to the Father’s will. This aspect of human design exists because we are the image of God. In their pride and self-interest, people debate about this because they care not to represent God—only themselves.
Remembering Paul’s context of Christian liberty and remembering that the subordination of the woman to the man is a picture of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father so that we might be the image of God in God’s creation, we read Paul’s description of the interdependence of man and woman. Neither gender is more important or exalted. God is the only independent being. So, even though Scripture describes the subordination of the woman to the man, it also describes her cooperating equality with the man.
This is a picture of Christ’s eternal subordination to the Father. He is and must also be cooperating eternally and equally with the Father. The Godhead is one essence existing in three persons. The Father wills. The Son reveals according to the Father’s will. The Spirit does the effectual work according to the Father’s will and the Son’s revelation.
It is important for us, when we read about the subordination of the woman, not to commit the sin of narcigeses (reading ourselves into the text). This is less about what we have to do (remember the context of Christian liberty) and more about who God is and who He designed us to be for His own glory.
The deaconess (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.
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. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives the qualifications for those who would serve as deacons.
- Worthy of respect- The first qualification is an embodiment of the others. Notice that the text does not say deacons are to be respected. Anyone can be respected because of outward appearance, because they are people pleasers, because of their secular positions, or because of their money. They are to be worthy of respect, which speaks to a condition of the heart, not necessarily what society’s opinion of them might be. The remaining qualifications speak to what it means for anyone to be worthy of respect.
- Not hypocritical- Some translations will even say, “not double-tongued.” The deacon, as part of the person’s character, should be honest, genuine, real, and not make different claims to different people in order to try and achieve a certain end. Openness, honesty, and consistency in speech and action reveal a non-hypocrite character.
- Not drinking much wine- Like the qualification for elders, this is not a prohibition of alcohol, but a recognition of the need for balanced thinking and judgment at all times. If the deacon does anything that would impair judgment and does not repent, that deacon has disqualified self from service as a deacon. If his judgment is impaired because of the degradation of his mental facilities, age, or an accident, he should resign with all dignity. He has served Christ faithfully.
- Not greedy for money- Again, self-explanatory.
- Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience- This qualification is given to deacons and not elders, just as the qualification of being an able teacher is given to elders and not deacons. This is because of their differing roles as described in God’s word. Elders are to seek understanding in order that they might teach. Deacons are to seek understanding in order that they might apply the truth of God to their service in the body. They should have such a demeanor as to hold the mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience, holding to a true gospel and trusting the biblical teaching unlike the false teachers mentioned earlier in 1 Timothy. The deacon’s conduct reveals his faith.
- Must be tested first and prove to be blameless- The deacon’s character is to be tested because the role of the deacon is so important in the local church. Deacons are not merely to be trained, but they should be found to have these character traits before being placed in a position of service. While everyone is encouraged to volunteer and help, those leading ministries and handling finances and doing regular visitation and checking on members who are absent should be found to be blameless regarding these character traits. Just as with pastors, deacons are not going to be perfect people because there are no perfect people. Instead, having a character or Christ-likeness produced in them, the deacons will strive to be blameless with proper accountability. When a deacon fails, and he most definitely will, he will be quick to repent, reorient, and continue following faithfully after Christ. Any deacon who refuses to repent and, instead, elects to live in sin disqualifies self from ministry but cannot separate self from the love of Christ.
- Women, being worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything- Here, there is a translation issue that readers need to be aware of. The word usually translated “wives” (γυναικες) is actually a general term that means women. It could refer to wives, but could also simply refer to women who are being considered as servants (or deacons) in the church. In the same way as men, women were to be tested, found to be worthy of respect, not slanderers (or double-tongued), self-controlled, and faithful in everything. They must have this type of character, which matches the character qualification given to men. While there are no qualifications given to women who desire to become elders, there are for women who desire to become deacons. This is fitting with 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where Paul clarifies that Women are not to teach or exercise authority over men. Paul does this because of the complementary nature between the offices of elder and deacon as compared to the complementary nature of men’s and women’s roles in the church. Men and women filling the biblical deacon’s role presents a proper picture of Christ and His church and of God and His Christ. Biblically, there is an explicit place for women in ministry.
- Husbands of one wife- The exact same language is used here as with the qualifications for elders. Within the one who desires to be a deacon, Christ produces the character of marital commitment. In essence, a deacon is to be a one-woman type of man. In the case of the women referred to in verse 11, a one-man type of woman. A past sin, which is forgiven by God, cannot keep the deacon from serving, and singleness is not to keep that person from being a deacon (else neither Jesus nor Paul nor any person who has had a spouse pass from this life would qualify to serve as a deacon). If one is single or divorced, it will be the case that this person is not given to lust or youthful passions, but self-controlled (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul also wrote that it is good for a person to remain single because singleness itself is also a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). The character of the deacon is then resistant to sexual immorality. It does not prohibit remarriage or singleness. It would, however, prohibit polygamy since polygamy is the opposite of sexual purity and commitment.
- Managing their children and their own households competently- Just as with elders, the deacon is a good manager over what God has given, this can be seen particularly in the family. If the deacon does not know how to manage his own household, how will he or she help care for God’s church? This is not a prohibition of childless people becoming deacons. It is a recognition that good and wise management is necessary. It also sheds some more light on the role of the deacon. They are also managers in the church. Whereas the elders are to be concerned with the ministry of the word and prayer, deacons are to be concerned with the ministry of physical service.
There is a promise, here, because of an obvious temptation, not only for deacons but for those who serve in any capacity. Those who serve well according to God’s calling, here particularly the deacons, acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. The reward God gives for our service will be according to our faithfulness to serve as He has directed.
We are here and have been called to a position of service in order to serve Christ and His purposes. Christ desires that we strive to be faithful to fulfill the role that He has given. When we fulfill our own ministries faithfully and according to Christ’s instruction, there is great reward, Christ is glorified, and His word flourishes through the local church.
Imago Dei in ministry
The Biblical Deacons’ office is fitting for both the roles of men and women in the local church—enabling women to serve in ministry such that they represent the body and bride of Christ in the worship setting. We understand that Christ is exalted and the Father is glorified because we strive to do church in such a way that we paint a picture of who God is. This is less about cultural relevance and more about God’s relationship with His people. Let the reader understand that this is not about women in ministry but about Christ and His church.