1 Timothy 3:13 Rising To the Top

I have said before that there is nothing whatsoever that you or I can do to make God love us more. That is the truth. He already loved you enough to send his son to die in your place. But that does not rule out the amount of pleasure God takes in us. Certainly God is pleased with faithfulness and disappointed with faithlessness. If your own children stray into error you do not cease to love them but you are grieved by them. When your own children walk in obedience and wisdom you do not love them more but you are certainly brought joy by them. The question before us then is, "What can I do to bring God Joy because of me?" The answer is: "walk in obedience." As John writes in third John, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4)

As you open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 3:13 we come to the conclusion of this passage on deacons. It won't be the last mention in Timothy concerning proper church polity but it does close the requirements for the office with a great encouragement for those in the position of deacon to be diligent and faithful in their execution of the office.

"The third chapter began with a word of encouragement for anyone aspiring to the office of [overseer]. The section for the deacons ends…"1 with a similar encouragement for deacons. The remaining serves as an incentive for deacons to do a good job at their given post.

It is easy to perceive why an incentive might be needed. Being a servant in any capacity is often perceived as a thankless task. But being able to look forward to the coming reward is

a definite incentive to continue. Has not God himself continually offered us the promise of eternal reward with him? Certainly he has. And it's in this sense that can see this passage which directed at Deacons as a reminder to us, that our hearts goal and desire need not be focused on the rewards and comforts of this world. Shunning those we should labor more diligently so that our reward in heaven might be greater.

Read with me please now the full passage of 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

Great Rewards

One of the questions we might be a bit prone to ask is, "Why are the requirements for deacon so stringent if a deacon is only a servant?" We've already dealt with the answer from one perspective. It is God whom a deacon represents, and thus a deacon must be of the highest character for that reason. We could also say that a deacon is frequently going to deal with material goods as well as with people who are often in tender situations. Because of these things a deacon absolutely must be beyond reproach. And here at the close of the requirements for deacon we are given a more personal reason yet.

A deacon must be all of these things because the rewards are great. But I want you to notice the condition attached to these great rewards, "those who have served well…" God reserves these rewards for those deacons, those servants of the church who fulfill their office well. For one thing, that means that those deacons who don't serve well don't get these rewards. And as soon as we perceive what they are – I think you'll realize that is a real tragedy.

Imagine asking someone to do a job for which they are not simply not equipped. Now who would you rather have build an addition to your house; me or Paul2? Would you rather have my son or Jerry3 fix your car? If Brandon worked on your car he'd no doubt have it taken apart in no time. But I'm not even sure Jerry could put it back together when he was done.

In the same way, the role that deacons are called to fill is so important that not only are it's responsibilities great but it's rewards are equally great. Since that is true it is not only foolish to put the ill equipped into that position, it is actually cruel to that person to put them in over their head where they have no chance of serving well and thus no chance of obtaining a good reward.

Good standing (v13)

The first and greatest reward perhaps is a good standing in faith in the eyes of God. Listen to these passages for a common theme:

  • John 13:12-17 (Jesus washes the disciples feet)

  • Matthew 20:25-28 "those who wish to be great must be a servant of all (Mat 20:26-28, Mark 10:42-45)

It should come as no surprise that the Christ who came to serve should greatly reward those whose "exalted" position in the church is that of a servant.

Notice that our text says they "obtain" or "Gain" a high standing. But what is this high standing in particular? We might be inclined to think4 that this means a promotion from Deacon to Overseer. But nothing of the sort is hinted at. The first problem with that is that a promotion like that assumes that being an Elder is more important or better than being a Deacon, when in fact the servant is greater than all in God's eyes.5 Remember also that Paul is writing this to encourage deacons to do a good Job, not to motivate them to an ill conceived lust for advancement in human power which would hardly produce godliness of character.

On the other hand faithfulness in the area of deacon service will demonstrate maturity, which God may use to expand the opportunities and responsibilities of a deacon who has done well.

The high standing which is attained by faithful deacons has less to do with rank than with esteem.

If it doesn't mean a promotion in rank, than it certainly doesn't mean that people are going to think well of you. Galatians 1:10 reads, "am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." It can hardly be the goal of a deacon to serve well so that people think highly of him. Only one choice remains then. Those who serve well will be held in high esteem by God. While the fluctuating opinions of men do not matter, the unchangeable opinion of God is priceless!

Now we can step away from this text as it relates directly to deacons and apply the same principle to ourselves. If Deacons faithfully serve then they obtain a good standing. By the same token, If you will faithfully do what God has given you to do – whatever the task and whatever the purpose – than God himself will be pleased with you. In the church we can look at specific ministries – every thing from Treasurer, to Music, to teaching, to keeping the building up – if you will faithfully perform the task God has given you, you will be rewarded by God.

Confidence in the faith

Not only does a faithful deacon obtain a high standing with God but his personal faith in God is equally bolstered so that the benefits come both ways. From God to us as well as from us towards God.

This confidence in the faith is both personal and visible. In terms of visible confidence: A deacon who has served well and who is well thought of in the community will have no reason to hold back but rather will, by that accomplishment, in some way be emboldened to speak out regarding the faith.

Another way of looking at boldness might rather be with the concept of assurance or certainty. Someone who serves well has not only amassed a great reward (high standing) but has also a certain assurance that God will accept him in Christ Jesus. Not because being a good servant somehow earns his salvation but because in his good performance there is proof that his faith is both genuine and fruitful. As Bill Mounce put it, "…a deacon's confidence… is 'not because he is a good deacon, but because as a good deacon he knows well the meaning of faith in Christ Jesus'."6 Surely such a confidence is a great Reward.

I recently read a newsletter in which the author wrote

"I was sitting in my room in a Muslim country this week. I was a bit jet-lagged and kind of day dreaming. I looked up at a corner of the ceiling and noticed there was a well-positioned arrow pointing in the direction of Mecca! It was put there for the convenience of Muslims so they could offer their "five times each day" prayers.

That same day, I would stand in front of 200 pastors… Those who attended were likely converted Indians and Chinese who were pointing men and women in a completely different direction – they were pointing their countrymen to Jesus Christ. The odds against them are great, but their passion for their God is greater.

I can't imagine how they do it, and I am sure the rewards are few …"7

In terms of earthly rewards that statement is completely true, and I know that's what the author was referring to. However in terms of their eternal rewards nothing could be further from the truth. Their rewards are not few. Their rewards are not by any comparison meager, they are awe inspiring! They are faithfulness inspiring and they are glorious!

Sometimes you might feel like there isn't much for you. Sometimes we all grow weary in doing good. Let this passage be an encouragement for you to keep going. How do we regain the capacity to keep on keeping on when we feel like giving up? By remembering that we are not laboring for the rewards of this earth but for the rewards of heaven.

Let's get ourselves focused on the rewards of eternity. Let's get a reward mentality! Lest you think that focusing on the rewards of heaven is not a righteous thing to do, let me remind you that this is exactly what Jesus did. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him (Heb 12:2). Jesus was living for the goal. We really should do the same.

Specifically I can urge the members of our church council to serve this church and our Master Jesus well. The rewards for doing so are great. For the rest of us, I want you to think about those things which God has given you to do. Take what God has called you to, and do it well for His name's sake.

Let's serve Him well.

1George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 173.

2Paul is a skilled carpenter in our church

3Jerry likewise is a skilled mechanic in our church

4As does Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002), 4:237.

5Nor is there an indication that Deacons will incur a stricter judgement which is promised of a teacher (James 3:1) and by extension obviously applies to Elders (cf: 1 Timothy 3:2). Moreover, a deaconess certainly wouldn't move into eldership – that would be wrong.

6Bill Mounce referring to Barrett p63. William D. Mounce, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary : Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 206.

7H.B. London. Pastors Weekly Briefing email 9-4-2007