Bishops and deacons




According to the Scripture, if a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good thing in the sight of God. However, both he who desires the position of a bishop and the Church must know the qualifications which those who desire the office of a bishop must have in order to be ordained bishops. Here is what Paul says to Timothy: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

From these words the apostle Paul spoke to the elders of the Church of Ephesus: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops], to shepherd the church of God ….” (Acts 20:28 – NKJV), we learn these things:

- a bishop must take care of the sheep of the Lord, keeping watch over them (that is, protecting them from the savage wolves which, in sheep’s clothing, come in among the sheep) and giving them the spiritual nourishment they need that they may be strengthened

- it is the Holy Spirit that makes a man bishop so that he may do these things

- since Paul called the elders of the church ‘overseers’ or ‘bishops’, the terms ‘elder’ and ‘bishop’ are synonymous. The term elder (which comes from the Greek word presbuteros) indicates the age of the believer who holds the office of bishop; while the term bishop indicates the function of the elder, which is to oversee the flock of the Lord, for the Greek term translated ‘bishop’ is episkopos which means ‘overseer’.

Now let us look closely at the qualifications which a man must fit in order to be ordained bishop in the Church of the living God.

A bishop must be: ‘blameless’, that is, above reproach, irreproachable; ‘the husband of one wife’, this means that he must be a married man (with regard to this, I remind you that Simon Peter, who was an elder, was married), and also that neither a man who was called by God while he was remarried (and his former wife is still alive) nor a Muslim or a Jew who has more than one wife can be ordained bishops; ‘vigilant’, that is, temperate, therefore he must not be a glutton nor a heavy eater (nor a sleepy-head); ‘sober’, that is, self-controlled, a person who conducts himself wisely toward both believers and unbelievers; ‘of good behaviour’, that is, respectable, therefore he must not be a man who entertains the saints with buffooneries and scurrilous jokes; ‘given to hospitality’, that is, ready to entertain strangers and the brothers of the church he shepherds; ‘apt to teach’, that is, he must be able to teach the things which are proper for sound doctrine and, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict; ‘not given to wine’, that is, he must not be a drunkard; ‘no striker’, that is, not violent, therefore he must not be a person who beats other persons but he must be gentle to all, meek and slow to wrath; ‘not greedy of filthy lucre’, that is, not a lover of money, therefore he must not teach for the sake of dishonest gain nor must he sell himself or the truth to the merchandisers of the Kingdom of God, who live by extorting money from the saints, but he must be content with what he has; ‘not a brawler’, that is, not quarrelsome, he must not be a person who takes pleasure in quarrelling; ‘not covetous’, that is, he must not yearn for the things belonging to someone else; ‘one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity’, that is, he must have faithful children not accused of being disobedient to their parents or fornicators or drunkards, for if he does not know how to rule his family he will not be able to take care of the church of God as he ought to; ‘not a novice’, that is, he must not be a recent convert, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil; ‘moreover he must have a good report of them which are without’, that is to say, he must have a good testimony among those who do not belong to the household of God, lest he fall into reproach (a deserved reproach because of his evil conduct) and the snare of the devil.

I want to remind you that it is written: “Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?” (1 Corinthians 9:7 – NKJV). This means that the elder who shepherds the Church of God has the right to refrain from working so that he may devote himself exclusively to preaching and teaching the Word, thus he has the right to reap the material things of those whom he teaches, as it is written: “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6 – NKJV) and again: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’, and ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 – NKJV. Deuteronomy 25:4; Luke 10:7).

As for deacons, they are appointed in the church to tend to the needs of widows, of orphans, of the poor, of strangers, and also of the minister of the Gospel and of all those who need to be helped among the saints. Also those who desire the office of deacon must have certain qualifications, which are these.

Deacons must be: “grave” (1 Timothy 3:8), that is, they must conduct themselves seriously and properly; “not doubletongued” (1 Timothy 3:8), that is, they must be sincere (they must not be like those people who first tell you one thing and then they tell you a completely different thing); “not given to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8), that is, they must not be inclined to drink too much wine; “not greedy of filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3:8), that is, they must not be lovers of money; “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9), that is to say, they must keep the faith with a conscience which is to be pure before God and before men. “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12), which means that neither a man who divorced and remarried before his conversion (and his former wife is still alive) nor a Jew or a Muslim who has more than one wife can be a deacon; in addition to this, a deacon must rule his children and his own house well, therefore he must have faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination and also a faithful and godly wife.

“And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10); this means that both the candidates for the office of deacon and those for the office of bishop must be first tested and then if they are found blameless they are allowed to serve as deacons and bishops.

The wives of the elders and of the deacons must be grave, not slanderers, sober, and faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11).

It is written: “For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13); this means that when the Lord of glory, who is the Master of the house, appears, those who have served well as deacons in the house of God, will be praised and rewarded by the Lord Himself for their faithful work on behalf of the saints.

According to what the Scripture teaches, a woman also can serve as a deacon in the Church of God, if she is blameless, grave, sober and faithful in all things. Paul commended to the saints of Rome a certain Phoebe, who was a deaconess of the Church in Cenchrea (Romans 16:1-2). I find it necessary to remind you that in order to serve as a deacon a believing person does not need to be able to teach (in other words, the ability to teach is a requirement for an elder but not for a deacon). The reason is that deacons are not appointed to teach the Word of the Lord but to minister to the pastor, the elders and all the saints. Therefore, a woman is allowed to minister to the saints, but she is not allowed to teach the saints; that’s why she can be ordained as a deaconess.

In addition to this, I want you to know that it is right that both the elders and the deacons should be elected by the congregation of the saints, because this is confirmed by the Word of God which says that after the apostles Paul and Barnabas had elders elected for the disciples in each church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:23. – Both in the NIV [in a footnote] and the IBRV we read ‘had elders elected”. In the KJV we read “when they had ordained them elders in every church”; however the word ‘ordained”, used for the selection of elders, literally means ‘to raise the hand’ or ‘to be a voter by raising the hand’ and thus it indicates the congregation’s participation in electing an elder); as you can see, in ancient times, the elders were elected after prayer with fasting because it was considered a very important thing which had to be taken seriously. As for the election of the deacons there is an example in the Word of God which shows not only that they were elected by the congregation of the saints but also that they had to have certain qualifications. Here is what the Holy Scripture says about the election of the deacons which took place in Jerusalem: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6).

I conclude by saying this: as we have seen, according to the Bible, those who are to be appointed elders must be upright, holy and blameless men. However, today many Churches don’t consider at all these qualifications. For their elders must hold a diploma or a degree, have a ‘prestigious’ social status, and an elegant and expensive wardrobe. In other words, they must be apt to preach with words of human wisdom, and dressed in fancy clothes, that they may appear ‘presentable’ in contemporary society. These are the qualifications that a believer must have in these Churches to be ordained elder!! That’s why in many Churches there are elders who are free with their hands, violent, haughty, lovers of money, not apt to teach and who have children who commit all kinds of sins. These Churches have appointed elders who are ready and willing to satisfy all their cupidity and lusts, that’s why they are at the mercy of merciless predacious men who act out of self-interest and whose glory is in their shame. Thus they are to be rebuked, as the children of Israel were rebuked by the prophet Hosea for having set up kings, but not by the Lord, and for having made princes, and the Lord knew it not (Hosea 8:4). They say with their mouth that they want a revival, yet at the same time they do not want to submit themselves to the commandments given by the apostles; they want to elect an elder who has the qualifications they want him to have, rather than the qualifications that God wants him to have; they say to God: ‘Your will be done’, but they lie to Him because in their heart they have already decided that the elder must be corrupt like them, he must not be holy and righteous because they are ashamed to have an elder who is holy and righteous. Brothers, let no one deceive you; hold fast the sound words of the apostle Paul and you will prosper.