Bible

Resources for Every Stage of the Christian Life (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 93)

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We do a data dump of the best resources for every stage of the Christian life. Whether you are a new believer, have some years in the church, or are a longtime elder, you’ll find something to challenge you!

Podcast Audio:

The Resources:

Pilgrim Theology – Michael Horton

ESV Study Bible

NIV Life Application Study Bible

Reformation Study Bible

John MacArthur Study Bible

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Abridged and in Modern English) by Tony Lane & Hilary Osborne

Podcast: The Briefing by Albert Mohler

Podcast: Mortification of Spin

Podcast: Renewing Your Mind by RC Sproul

Vodcast: Look at the Book by John Piper

40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible by Robert Plummer

Knowing God by JI Packer

Core Christianity by Michael Horton

Gospel and Kingdom by Graham Goldsworthy

What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Peacemaker by Ken Sande

The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman

Podcast: The Whitehorse Inn by Michael Horton

Website: Monergism.com

Preachers: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper…

Biographies: Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Confessions of St Augustine, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Martin Lloyd Jones.

Ligonier Ministries Resources: Tabletalk Magazine, “Connect”

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols

Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

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What’s Wrong With Weed: The Bible and Marijuana (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 77)

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Does the Bible allow the use of Marijuana or Cannabis?  What about medicinal and fiber use?

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Subscribe and rate us on  iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use one of these FeedBurner links)

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!)

4. Send a question or comment through Facebook Twitter, or E-mail!

5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)

6. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com and our Media Kit with your friends and church. Sharing is caring!

5 Reminders for Students (Carnivore Theology – Ep. 73)

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Whether you’re going into High School, College, University or Post-Grad, Pastor Al gives some important reminders to students returning to school this semester.

1. Guard your reputation.
2. Remember why you’re there.
3. Find a good church.
4. Keep your devos going.
5. Try to find balance.

Podcast Audio:

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Subscribe and rate us on  iTunes and watch us on YouTube!! (If you don’t have iTunes use FeedBurner)

3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!)

4. Send a question or comment through Facebook Twitter, or E-mail!

5. Buy some cool stuff from our new Merch Store! (And check out our friend Kim’s amazing art while you’re there!)

6. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com and our Media Kit with your friends and church. Sharing is caring!

Called & Cleaned Part 3: A Biblical Case for Pursuing a Godly Life

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Right now, and over the past few weeks, we’ve been working through an extended introduction to the first few verse of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It begins as most letters began, by stating who the letter was from and who it was to. It reads:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, – To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

To get the context for what is happening, it was important that we start out by working through the historical background of the letter, introducing who the Apostle Paul was, where he came from, and what the city of Corinth was like. It’s critically important when we study the scriptures to keep in mind the original audience and intention of the author because that helps us understand what God is trying to say to us these many years later.

But these first few verse, called the “greeting”, is much more than a standard introduction before we get into the meat of the letter. We believe that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired, or “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16). God wasn’t wasting space or beat around the bush when He worked through Paul to write these letters, and therefore it is required that we take every single word as important.

God, through Paul, used some very specific language in His greeting to the church in Corinth, and so we’ve been taking some time to take those words apart and understand them better, because they contain concepts and truths that will keep coming up throughout the rest of the letter.

In the last couple weeks we talked about the importance of Paul reminding the church that his authority wasn’t his own, but God’s. He was an “apostle” (or “official messenger of Christ Jesus”). His job in this letter was to tell them everything that Jesus wanted to say to them. And further, he reminded them that they were “the church of God that is in Corinth.”

To drive this point home Paul uses another important word: “called”. They weren’t Christians because anything they had done, but were “called by the will of God”, “called to be saints”, who in turn “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Paul’s mission and their existence in Corinth wasn’t their idea, but God’s – and therefore they needed to listen to what He had to say.

But there’s another word here that is critical for our understanding of not only God’s intention for this letter, but our understanding of how salvation through Jesus Christ works. Paul uses the word “sanctified”. Paul says that all Christians, or as it’s put here, everyone who “calls upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, are “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints”.

Sanctification, for Christians, has two important meanings. We covered the first last week. The first meaning gives us our understanding of how we are saved by Jesus on the cross. Jesus took our penalty and became the final, atoning sacrifice, for our sins. Just like in the Old Testament, after we are called by God, or “consecrated”, God purifies us from sin using the blood of Jesus. God makes us fit for His presence by the death and shed blood of Jesus. I covered that last week.

Sanctification in Action

But sanctification has another meaning as well, and this is why we talked about “paradoxes” last week. Sanctification, according to scripture, is both a present reality and a life-long process. Last week I used the term “already, but not yet”. Everyone who is “in Christ”, who believes in Him as their Lord and Saviour, is already perfectly clean before God and there is nothing they need to do in order to achieve perfection. They can’t get any better in God’s eyes, because the full righteousness of Jesus has been given to them. Their ledger is clean, their record deleted, their sins cast as far as the east is from the west. They are perfect in God’s eyes.

However, the other side of sanctification is the life-long work of obeying God, killing our sin, battling our fleshly desires, and trying to become more and more like Jesus every day. Both are present in scripture, and both are a reality for Christians. Both are present in the Corinthian church as well. They were people who believed in Jesus as their saviour but continued to make mistakes were falling into darkness. And so God through Paul, in this greeting and throughout the rest of the letter, reminds them of their present reality of being sanctified saints who have received grace and peace from God. That was presently true. They hadn’t lost their salvation because it wasn’t theirs to lose.

However, they weren’t living like Christians. They had a “religious knowledge” of God, but that knowledge wasn’t being worked out in their lives. While they knew all about salvation through Jesus Christ, they hadn’t let that knowledge sink deep into their hearts and change their behaviour.

Jerry Bridges in his book “The Practice of Godliness” gives an example from 1st Corinthians about how their salvation hadn’t yet captivated their hearts:

“They knew that an idol was nothing and that eating food sacrificed to an idol was a matter of spiritual indifference. But they did not know about their responsibility to love their weaker brother.”

You see, they had faith in Jesus as the one and only God of the universe, and they had put their faith in Him to such an effect that they know understood the foolishness of idols, had turned away from pagan beliefs, and would even argue against and defy the culture around them – but their hearts weren’t soft toward their fellow believer who was struggling with their faith and had concerns, and it hadn’t changed their behaviour towards one another.

Do you see the difference? They had head knowledge of salvation, and had even given their lives to Jesus – so I believe they were saved – but they hadn’t yet reached the maturity of faith where the grace they had been shown was being poured out to others.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this – religion without grace, rules without relationship, wrath without mercy. There are a lot of people who have turned away from Christianity because of hard-hearted churches who know the truth about God, but don’t show His love.

Maybe you even struggle with this. You know the truth, read the scriptures, believe in Jesus, but instead of having that knowledge settle in your heart and change your behaviour towards those around you, you keep it all in your head or use that knowledge to beat people up.

This is where the second part of sanctification comes in. We are already made right with God through the miracle of salvation through Jesus Christ and have been turned into a new creation by His Holy Spirit, but now we must do the work that comes with living out that new reality.

Two Mistakes

To start, I want to talk about two mistakes people make when thinking about this, and then I want to make a biblical case for why we need to do the work of sanctification. Why? Because a lot of Christians get this wrong, and they get it wrong in two important ways.

The first way they get it wrong is to not take their sanctification seriously. They assume that God doesn’t care if they do the work of sanctification (Rom 6:22; 1 Thess 4:3), which we can also call pursuing “godliness” (1 Tim 4:8) or “holiness” (2 Cor 7:1; 1 Thess 4:4) or “purity” (1 Tim 4:12) or “Christlikeness” (1 Cor 11:1; Rom 8:29).

They assume that since they have the head-knowledge of salvation, then God is pleased. They believe what they’re supposed to believe, go to church, say their prayers, read their Bible sometimes, and are generally good people, so, they conclude, God must be happy with them. They compare themselves to others and think, “Well, I’m not a murderer, or a thief, or a whatever, so God must be ok with me.” They know that there are a few things they could change, like they eat, or yell, or spend, or gossip a little too much, or have a lust problem, but no one’s perfect and no one is getting hurt, so it’s not really a problem, right? So they conclude, it must not really bother God either.

This is a total misunderstanding of the holiness of God. God wants His people to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He wants us to live by His standards.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

That’s God’s standard for His people. He cares very much for how we live. He knows the danger of sin and doesn’t want His children to be affected by it anymore. Just as a good parent or friend wants the best for the person they care about, so God wants the best for us. He doesn’t want us living lives of compromise and apathy towards evil.

For a Christian, every moment of every day is an opportunity to bring worship to God – there are no unsanctified moments in a Christian’s life. For a Christian, every place is holy because God is there, and every part of our life is a matter of holiness because it can be offered to God.[1] That’s why Paul says in Romans 12:1-2,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

God cares very much about how we live every part of our life, and that we show discernment to know right and wrong.

The second way Christians get sanctification wrong is to think that God is going to do all the work. Let me read from Bridges again,

“We Christians may be very disciplined and industrious in our business, our studies, our home, or even our minister, but we tend to be lazy when it comes to exercise in our own spiritual lives. We would much rather pray, ‘Lord, make me godly,’ and expect him to ‘pour’ some godliness into our souls in some mysterious way. God does in fact work in a mysterious way to make us godly, but he does not do this apart from the fulfillment of our own personal responsibility. We are to train ourselves to be Godly.”

I think he’s exactly right! And, I’m as guilty as anyone else for asking God to just change me and then expecting Him to do it in a miraculous way without me actually lifting a finger. “God, make me more disciplined. God, fix my marriage. God, make me a better parent. God, make me pray and read my Bible. God, take away my lust, my pride, my greed, my anger, my bitterness.” And then I say “amen”, stand up, and do exactly nothing to sanctify, or purify, or cleanse, my life. I pour the same chemicals into my body, watch the same shows, harbor the same bitterness, keep the same calendar…. I do nothing to pursue a holy and changed life, and then I blame God for not changing me.

A Biblical Case for Pursuing Sanctification

Bridges said, “We are to train ourselves to be Godly.” Where does he get that? Scripture. He’s quoting 1 Timothy 4:7. I was absolutely floored this week as I came across verse after verse that commands Christians to partner with God in the pursuit of godliness, purity and sanctification!

Let me give you a few examples. First, let’s look at 1 Timothy 4:6-16. If you’ve ever played sports – I used to play a lot of Fastball – then this is going to sound very familiar to you, because when Paul is telling his young disciple Timothy how to conduct himself as a leader in the church he talks to him like a sports coach talking to one of his players. He says, almost literally: learn the rule book, do your exercises, get lots of practice, be a good example for your teammates and give it your best. It’s standard coach stuff. Read with me:

“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Over and over and over Paul reminds Timothy that even though his “hope is set on the living God, who is the saviour of all people”, he must also work hard towards pursuing a life worthy of that call. The Bible presents the Christian life as a dualism of being a partnership between the power of God and our personal responsibility. “Timothy was personally responsible for his progress in godliness[2]” and so are we. Notice what Paul didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Trust in the Lord Jesus enough and He’ll do all the work for you. Just relax and let God clean up your life.” No, Paul embraced the paradox of sanctification, just as we must. He knew that any progress that we make in purity and godliness is certainly through God’s power, but that we also have the responsibility to keep pursuing, training, toiling, striving, and persisting in these things? Why? Because our sanctification is a natural outworking of our faith and has ripple effects on everyone around us.

Scripture absolutely pounds this home over and over. Philippians 2:12-13 shows us this paradox again,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The idea of putting the effort into our sanctification is found over and over.

  • King David said it this way in Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you…”
  • The author of Hebrews tells the church in 12:11-14, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
  • In Luke 13:24, Jesus says, “Strive to enter by the narrow door…”
  • Paul at the end of his life said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)

Turn to 2 Peter 1:3-10 and let’s read how Peter exhorts the church as well. He starts with a reminder of their salvation and their sanctification through Jesus Christ, and then moves straight into their personal responsibility:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

We have “escaped corruption” by “His divine power”, and that gives is everything we need to pursue “godliness”. He even goes as far as to say we are “partakers of the divine nature”. You see, that’s the first part of sanctification. We are already seated with Christ!

But then he says this: “For this very reason”… what reason?…  Because we are saved and sanctified by Jesus…. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith…” What does that mean? Just like when we talked about the Corinthians, Peter is telling Christians to not only confess Jesus as Lord with their words and believe it in their minds but to allow that truth to completely change the way they live their lives.

We are not saved by pursuing godliness. No one can be saved by their own good works (Eph 2:8-9). But we show that we are called and cleansed, saved and sanctified, by making the effort to live out that faith every day. Titus 1:1 calls it the “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness”. We know the truth, the truth sets us free, and we live in that truth.

Two Motivations to Pursue Sanctification: Fear and Love

There is so much more I want to say about this, but let me close with this. Where does the desire to pursue godliness, sanctification, purity, and holiness come from? Maybe as I’ve been speaking you’ve realized that you really don’t care about how you live and that that’s not a good thing. You don’t feel a passion for purity and holiness, but you want to. Where does that passion come from?

Or maybe you are caught in a sin today and haven’t been able to get free. You’ve tried over and over to conquer it, but it keeps getting the better of you? How can you work to defeat it once and for all?

There are many practical things I could tell you in answer to that question: Things like pray, read your bible, set up boundaries, find different friends, change your schedule, get rid of the thing that tempts you, find accountability partners, etc. But that’s not where the root of a desire for personal sanctification really lies. It’s not in our activities, but in our hearts.

Paul, throughout 1st Corinthians, gives a lot of practical advice, but he always roots it in one place: their relationship with God through Jesus Christ – and for a Christian, that comes down to two things, two polarities, of our faith: Our love for God and our fear of God.

Throughout the book Paul keeps reminding them of the love they’ve been shown, grace they’ve been given, the peace they now have, the calling they received, and the Spirit that now dwells inside them because they are God’s people. He said this as a motivation to stop sinning. “God loves you, Jesus loves you, the Holy Spirit loves you! He chose you, cleansed you, and is with you forever. Why would you work for His enemy? Why would you divide His church? Why would you insult His apostles? Why would you profane His table? Why would you hurt each other?”

That’s one of our main motivations to seek purity, holiness, godliness, and sanctification – because of the great love we have been shown by God, and our desire to love Him back. We hate sin because our Heavenly Father hates sin. We work to remove the things in our life that separate us from Him because we want to be near Him. We obey His word because He knows what’s best. We hate and work against evil and satanic things because they are an insult to God. We do good things because He has done good for us. We love because He first loved us. That’s one motivator – our knowledge of how much God loves us and our own love for Him.

The second motivator is different. It is our fear of God. Partly this means that when we are about to do something wrong, there is a sense of dread within us “produced by the realization of God’s impending judgement upon sin…. The Christian has been delivered from the fear of the wrath of God. But the Christian has not been delivered from the discipline of God against his sinful conduct, and in this sense, he still fears God. He works out his salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)…”[3] with a healthy fear of not wanting to incur the discipline of his Heavenly Father.

The other part of fearing God is that we choose not to sin because we respect, honour, and stand in awe of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe. He sits on the throne. He has written the rules for how we live. He created us out of dirt, and will one day return us to the dirt. He controls everything and has the right to tell us what to do.

Some Christians aren’t comfortable with this, but it is an important part of our understanding of God. In fact, it is the non-believer and the pagan that the Bible says, “has no fear of God before his eyes.” (Psalm 36:1, Rom 3:18) Proverbs says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. (Prov 1:7, 9:10) When God promised to save Israel from their sins, part of his promise in Jeremiah 32:40 was,

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”

And it’s the same for the church. Acts 9:31 describes the growth of the Christian church this way:

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

You see, it’s both: Christians walk in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Both of these are motivators towards sanctification, motivators to living a holy life – our love for God and our fear of Him.

If you want to kill that sin inside of you, you need to grow in both of these. Grow in your love for God – read His word, talk to Him every day, listen to sermons about how much He loves you and what He has done for you. Ask God to fill your heart with love for Him, and seek ways to acknowledge and remember His love for you every day.

And also grow in your fear of God – realize that if you don’t clean up your act, He may discipline you and that discipline can be quite severe. Remember Ananias and Saphira, who were struck dead right on the steps of the church for lying about their offering. Remember that Paul tells the Corinthians that God has actually brought a sickness because they had desecrated the Lord’s Supper.

Remember what it says in Hebrews 12:5-6,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

The word “chastises” there is also translated “scourges” or “whips”! God doesn’t sit idly by when His people disobey, fall to temptation, and start playing Satan’s game. No, as a good parent, He gets involved and sometimes even brings painful discipline meant to drive us away from the sin that is harming us and others. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do and He loves us. It would be cruel of Him to leave us alone.

My encouragement to you today is to take your sanctification seriously, and you can start to do that by cultivating a greater love for and fear of God. How? Read His word and take it seriously. Examine your life and ask God to point out the parts that are wrong and commit to changing them – because you love Him and because you don’t want to be scourged!

[1] William Law, “Call to a Devout Life”

[2] Practice of Godliness pg 42

[3] Practice of Godliness Pg 25.

Aliens, Ghosts and the Bible (Carnivore Theology. Ep 67)

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Aliens and Ghosts 2

This week we look at the biblical perspective regarding ‪‎aliens‬, ‪‎ghosts‬ and the ‪‎paranormal‬!

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How to Have a Quiet Time (Carnivore Theology Ep. 62)

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Doing your devos discussed! We talk about what devotions are (and are not), why they’re important, and some practical ways to spend time with God.

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Behind the Scenes Video:

Links:

Spiritual Journaling Using Scripture as Your Guide

Two Traps To Avoid in Your Daily Time with God

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The Role and Qualifications of Deacons

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Deacons

(I want to start by thanking 9Marks for some great articles that helped me put this together.)

Intro to Deacons

This week, however, I want to talk about something that I’ve never covered here before – the role of deacons in the church. This is both important and pertinent as the Nominating Committee is meeting to discuss who will be asked to stand for various positions around the church.

In our church, the deacons are asked to stand for the position by the Nominating Committee and, if they agree, are then voted on by the congregation. What I want to talk about today is where deacons came from in the Bible, and what their qualifications are.

Why is this important? Well, I think you can agree that the people who are elected to official positions in our church – or any church – are going to be people that have influence and help set the spiritual temperature of the church. Most of us have experienced or at least witnessed what happens when the wrong people gain influence in an organization. Whether it’s choosing a bus drive for your kids or the Prime Minister of the country, it’s important to be sure that the person is both called and qualified for the job.

God knows the importance of having the right people with the right heart, in the right places, and so He gives careful instruction to the church about the kind of people they should choose for the various positions within it. That includes pastors, teachers, servants, missionaries, deacons and more. God is very concerned that we choose the people that He has called for the job, and not place someone else in there. A lot of grief has happened in the church over the past couple thousand years because people weren’t listening to what God had to say about the character and qualifications of the people that are meant to lead and serve the church. We don’t want to replicate those problems, and we want to seek His blessing, so it’s important that we know what He wants.

The First Deacons

Let’s start by opening to Acts 6:1-6:

“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. 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. 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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ 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. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.”

 Here we see the beginning of what would later become the office of Deacon. At this point, however, the seven men chosen here were not elected to a position that already existed, but were chosen to start something new as the result of a problem.

The Christian church, despite harsh opposition from all manner of different opponents, was growing rapidly. Thousands of people, in and around Jerusalem, were hearing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and turning their lives over to Him. This brought them into the fellowship of believers that was led by His Apostles.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what this group looked like in Acts 2 – fellowshipping in homes, caring for each other’s needs, and worshipping in the temple – but now, not much time later, the church had grown into a much larger organization.

As we know from Acts 2, one of the things that God did at the birth of the church was to give people the temporary, special ability to share the Gospel in many different kinds of languages. That meant that as the Christian church grew, there would be a lot of languages and cultures that would need to work together under the banner of Christ. Just in the church in Jerusalem, there were Jewish Christians, Greek Christians, Samaritan Christians, Gentile Christians, and many more cultures and languages represented. And while that all sounds well and good, just wait until you try to get anything done.

There were language barriers, cultural differences, and perhaps, the beginnings of theological differences over how the Old Testament Law applied to New Testament Christians. These people loved Jesus, and loved each other, but these were some serious problems that were creating friction in the church.

One area this friction bubbled up was a problem with the distribution of help to the widows and orphans. One of the priorities Jesus gave the church was to care for the helpless, but as they were trying to do it, some people were being forgotten. The question was: Were they forgotten on purpose? Was it racism? Was it poor administration? This was obviously a big deal, was becoming a serious problem in the church, so the Apostles gathered to talk about it.

The Apostles realized that they were overrun with responsibilities and it was distracting them from their most important priorities – prayer and preaching.

Of course, charitable works were important, but not as important as talking to Jesus and teaching people about Jesus from the scriptures. Their calling, by Jesus, was to go, teach, and baptize new believes – not organize food drives. So what should they do? Let it go? Forget about the widows? No, it was still important, so they brought the problem to the church.

Look at verse 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.’”

This was a big meeting! There were practical issues that needed to be taken care of, and though it was the Apostles job to lead the church, it wasn’t their job to actually serve at the tables. So they brought the problem to the group: “Ok, folks, this is an issue. Charitable ministries are important, because Jesus says we are supposed to serve the helpless among us – especially widows and orphans. But here’s the thing; it would be wrong and disobedient of us to give up the ministries of prayer and preaching the word of God to organize all of this. So…”

Now look at verse 3-4:

“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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

This wasn’t the Apostles punting the problem. This was them doing their God-given job and providing a solution to the practical problems of the church.

Shock Absorbers and Servants

These men would have an important role. They weren’t just administrators and servants, but were meant to be the shock absorbers for the rough road the church was going over. These seven men, chosen by the whole church because of their good reputation, devotion to Jesus, and wise living, would be the ones who would oversee the practical, charitable ministries of the church – but to be clear, their main task wasn’t to “wait tables” or organize the food drives. Their real job was to preserve unity at a time when administrative confusion was causing divisions in the church. They were the shock absorbers that would take the hits, do the hard work, and help everyone have a smoother ride as they bumped over this rough patch.

That’s why it was important that the church chose the right people. They weren’t supposed to be a group of bean counters and list makers. They were to be people of godly character and good reputation, folks that the whole church knew and trusted would have their best interests at heart. Everyone new that when Stephen, Philip, and the rest were at work, everything would be done in a fair and loving way. Their main job wasn’t about getting food to the widows and orphans, but doing a job that would restore unity to a fractured church by doing good administration in a godly way.

Qualifications of Deacons

So, as the Apostles and missionaries spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to new places, they would start a church and appoint Elders to care for the spiritual well-being of the new believers (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Later, as these churches would grow, they would follow in the pattern of the Jerusalem church and choose from among themselves, deacons to organize care for the practical needs of the whole group.

The word Deacon, is not a special title, it’s literally the word “servant”. Greek people used the word to describe anyone who serves someone else, like a “waiter” in a restaurant. Deacons were chosen to be official servants of the church. They would handle the practical aspects that came with organizing help for a group of people. The Apostles, and later the Pastors, Teachers and Elders, were meant to devote their time to overseeing the spiritual health of the church, praying, and preaching the Word, while the Deacons were to ensure that the day-to-day needs of the believers were met. Deacons and Elders are partners in the leadership of the church.

And so, by the time we get around to AD 65, after 20-30 years of this pattern, Paul feels the need to write a list of qualifications for these groups, to his fellow church planters, Titus and Timothy.

Please turn to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and let’s read the official qualifications for deacons as set forth by God through the Apostle Paul to Timothy. Remember, Timothy was Paul’s protégé and was left in Ephesus to take care of the church, deal with some false teachers, and fix some leadership issues.

Part of fixing those leadership issues was to make sure that everyone who had influence in the church was qualified to be there. Let’s read the list of qualifications for deacons:

“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 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.” (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

The first thing I want you to notice is that that this list has no skills in it! It doesn’t say “good at managing money”, “successful in business”, or even “well organized”. This list is exclusively made up of spiritual and personal characteristics. The qualifications for deacon are very clear, and have little to do with a person’s skillset. They have everything to do with the person.

Remember the problem in Acts 6. Thousands of people were depending on a group of seven men to organize the distribution of food to widows and orphans. This was, potentially, a matter of life and death! People could starve if they got this wrong. Too much to one person, not enough to another, a family forgotten, could prove disastrous – not only for the needy person, but also for the spiritual life of that family, and the reputation of the church. They would need to figure out how to collect the food and money, divide it properly, and distribute it fairly. They would need to come up with rules as to who gets help and how much.

One would think that the first qualification for these people to be strong administrators, good financiers, type-A personalities, and good business men – but it wasn’t. The qualifications for the first seven deacons weren’t based on their skills or work-history, but on their reputations and their faith in God. And it’s the same with the qualifications for deacons in 1st Timothy. In fact, the qualifications for deacon and for elder are quite similar. Let’s go through them:

First, a deacon must be “dignified”, meaning they are honourable, have a good reputation, and are worthy of respect. It would be a bad thing for the church if the people they put in charge of administration in the church were undignified, dishonourable, had a poor reputation, and weren’t respected, right?

The second qualification for deacon is that they are “not double tongued”. In other words, they don’t manipulate people with their words. They don’t say one thing to one person, and then something different to someone else. They don’t say one thing and mean another. They are not two-faced. A deacon in Christ’s church must be someone who is trustworthy, consistent and careful with their words

The third qualification is that they are “not addicted to much wine”. Now, this doesn’t mean they can’t have some wine now and again, but that they are not to be an addict – and doesn’t just mean alcohol, but anything: gambling, food, internet, sex, drugs, work, shopping, video games. An addiction would mean that they lack self-control and discipline. If a deacon is in charge of the money and resources for the church, then an addiction will spill over into their work. They will not only do a poor job, but put themselves in a place they would be tempted to steal.

The fourth qualification of a deacon is “not greedy for dishonest gain”. If the person loves money, then they are going to be terrible at giving it away for charitable works! If the idol of money rules the person’s heart, then they will bow to it before they bow to Jesus. They will use the churches resources for financial profit and believe that the church’s security comes from money, rather than use it to help others and trust that God will provide.

The fifth qualification is that they “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. In other words, they are convinced that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ is true. They are not required to be able to teach, like an elder is, but they are required to have a good grasp of the gospel. To state it differently, they can be less mature in their walk with God than an elder, but they must be rock-solid in their faith that Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Saviour.

The sixth qualification is that they are “tested” and “prove themselves blameless”. This doesn’t mean perfect. No one is perfect. This means that they have been examined and no one has anything against them. Their background, reputation, and theological positions are already known. Deacons are people who have been vetted by not only the congregation, but by the Elders and by the Spirit of God. This keeps new Christians from being appointed as deacons, and protects the church from choosing someone who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Deacons are people who have been “tested” and “proven”.

Wives or Deaconesses?

The next qualification is a little controversial because it’s hard to translate. If you look at your bible, it probably has a note on verse 11 that says there are a few ways to translate it. It either says, “Their wives likewise…” or “Women, likewise….” So this could either be a list of qualification for the wives of male deacons, or a list of qualifications for female deacons.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time taking this apart, but I’ll let you know where I stand. I’m sort of torn down the middle. There are people much smarter than I who would go either way! The word used there isn’t the word “Deaconess”, it’s simply the word “women”. It’s linguistically awkward to shoe-horn female deacons in there. This most naturally translates to be talking about the wives of the male deacons. It’s saying that their wife’s faith and reputation should be taken into account, just as the families of the overseers should be taken into account, while testing their qualifications.

Now, it’s not that there are no female deacons in scripture. We know that there were female deacons in the church. The Deaconess Phoebe is mentioned in Romans 16:1. But why would Paul single out the wives in this list? Well, contextually, it’s likely because the women of this church were being singled out for attack by the enemy. Paul talks a lot in this letter about specific problems with the women in the Ephesian church that had come about as a result of listening to false teachers. I don’t have time to go into that here, but read at chapters 2 and 5 to see how women were singled out and deceived by heretical teachers.

My personal leanings are that the whole list of qualifications for deacons applies to both male and female deacons, and that this section is specifically talking about deacons wives. I think that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to extrapolate out that the faith and reputations of the husbands of the female deacons should be taken into account too – but it doesn’t say that. Paul was writing to a predominately male group that had serious issues among the leadership, and because of cultural issues and predatory false teachers, the women were especially effected. Therefore he was reminding the church them that the deacon’s wives needed to be just as qualified as they were – or else there was going to be more trouble in the church.

Notice that the list for the wives is almost a repeat of the list of qualifications for deacon:

  • “Dignified” is repeated
  • “not slanderers” is close to “doubled tongued”
  • “sober minded” parallels “not given to much wine”
  • and “faithful in all things” goes along with holding “the mystery of the faith” and being “blameless”.

It’s a repeat of the previous list, seemingly as a reminder to Timothy and the church to keep the reputations and attitudes of the spouses in mind as they were choosing their deacons. If the deacon doesn’t have a godly spouse, then that could lead to some serious problems.

Continuing Qualifications

The qualifications of deacons conclude with “the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well”, which basically means that the deacon must be faithful to their marriage and family. If their home life is a mess, then how can they be expected to take on the added responsibility of being a deacon? Signing up for any position in a church paints a spiritual target on your back – and it’s going to affect your home life.

If the deacon is having inappropriate physical or emotional relationships with people other than their spouse (including pornography, of course), then they are a danger to the church and disqualified from the position. If they cannot be faithful to their spouse, then they are not being faithful to God. If that cannot manage their own children, how will they be able to manage a larger group of people with even more diverse needs? As it says in the qualification for elders, if they can’t keep their household together, then how can they expect to “care for God’s church” (vs 5)?

Rewards for Good Deacons

Paul concludes this section with two promises to the deacons.

The first promise is that those who “serve well”, or literally, “deacon well”, will have the benefit of gaining for themselves a “good standing”. What does that mean? It means being a deacon is a tough job, but their hard work won’t go unrewarded. Others will see them and they will gain the trust and respect of their peers, but more importantly, God will see their work and will reward them in heaven

And the second reward is that those that serve as deacons will gain “great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” This means that as they serve, they will grow closer to Jesus. Serving the people of the church will require that they pray more, seek God more, know Jesus more, and read the Word more. Their work will be hard, confusing and kick up a lot of spiritual dust – and will therefore drive them to their knees. That will grow their faith and confidence in Jesus. As the deacons serve, they will be tested and tried, and that will lead to their maturing in their faith in Jesus Christ.

I can assure you, and so can many here, that this is true. Being a servant in the church is a tough job, and often thankless. It’s heartwarming at times, and heartbreaking at others. But one thing is certain – it will test your faith as silver in a furnace. The weaknesses in your personality, your faith, your knowledge, your areas of temptation, your marriage, your discipline, will all come out. Whatever idols are in your life, will be exposed. But it’s when that happens that God can refine you.

Conclusion

Let me close with this: The role of deacon is one that is often misunderstood, but when it’s boiled down, a deacon is a godly servant. The church needs deacons to provide practical, administrative and material help to the church so that the congregation’s needs are met and the elders can concentrate on preaching the Word of God and prayer. A deacon may not always teach with their words, but they certainly teach with their actions. And so, my hope today is that you would do two things.

First, thank the deacons of our church. They have worked hard and been in their respective roles for a very long time. They’ve done so much over the past four years (since I’ve been here) and even more before that. I could give you a list, but it would take a long time. So please find and thank the deacons of this church for all they’ve done.

Second let me encourage you to ask yourself if you qualify as a deacon. And if not, why? What do you need to do in order to get your heart and life right with God to where you could serve him as a deacon? Remember, deacons aren’t specially gifted. They are simply people who believe in God with all their heart, listen to Him, serve His church, and are careful to live by His Word. That’s what we should all be trying to do, because that’s what Jesus did.

Matthew 20:28 says, “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve [to deacon], and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Deacons give their time and lives in service to the church – to us – because they are following the pattern set by the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ, who served us on the cross.