Fit To serve – Part Two
Every one of us are called to be servants and yet in Acts 6 the early church saw a distinct need to select and ordain a unique group of men for a specific servant task in the church. They did not merely select warm bodies for the job a practice that is all too common today. What they did was issue a call for the congregation to select seven worthy men who could be trusted completely to do the job not only with integrity but in righteousness as well. It was required that they would be fit to serve the church.
If you would return to 1 Timothy 3:8-13 we will continue with the second half of the requirements for being a Deacon or a Deaconess in the church of the Living God. The first part we covered two weeks ago, namely that a servant of the Living God must be worthy of respect, neither being double tongued nor a gossip. Free of addiction, and trustworthy with money. On top of those first four requirements the Apostle adds four more.
Since we are all called to serve one another in love it is required that we all grow in maturity and in the likeness of Christ. Those which are called to serve the Lord's gathered people are held not merely to a higher standard but rather they must first have achieved a greater maturity.
Secure in Your Faith
Doubts and questions are sometimes viewed as a normal part of the process of growing in faith. For many if not most people, there is a time of searching out the answer to questions like, "Is Jesus really the son of God?" "Is this Bible really the truth?" "Is God really going to forgive me based upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross?" But at some point we should outgrow those questions.
The essence of faith is assurance of what you cannot see. Maturity demands that we move past them to a firmer grip on the truths of scripture which are no longer subject to the same fears and doubts. It is required that someone who serves the Lord have a firm faith.
In the ninth verse, Paul the apostle continues that a deacon must be "holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience."
Remember please, the meaning of the word Mystery in the New Testament: A New Testament mystery is a doctrine (or "teaching" if you will) which while consistent with the Old testament was not clearly revealed in the old testament, but which is now revealed.
The "Mystery of the faith"
The NIV translates it as "the deep truths of the faith" but the word is "mystery". That of course generates the question though, "what exactly is the mystery of the faith?"
The Mystery of the faith encompasses the entirety of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A New Testament "Mystery" is something which is beyond human discernment and which must be given by God. It was hinted at through the Old testament and the prophets foretold it, but until God reveals it, the mystery remains hidden. Hence the Mystery of the Faith is equal to "the revealed truths of Jesus Christ"1
Jesus Christ is the son of God, born to a virgin, sinless in life. Eternally and fully God and now fully human. He was murdered on a Roman cross as a sacrificial replacement who though sinless himself paid the price – the death-sentence we each one deserved for our own sin he took upon himself. He was buried in a borrowed tomb for three days and on that third day he rose again to eternal life. Now by humbling ourselves, confessing our sin and repenting before the Lord God almighty the righteous judge and by accepting Christ as our sacrifice our sins are cleansed and his eternal life and righteousness becomes our own. Thus through his Life we Live!
In brief the mystery of the faith is "salvation by faith in the name of Jesus Christ." Redemption by the sacrifice of the son of God was an old testament "mystery". The prophet's foretold it, the sacrifices foreshadowed it and the Old Testament saints were saved by it, but it was not fully understood until it happened and God revealed it.
Holding to the Mystery
In order to qualify for service as a deacon in the church of the living God you must have a firm personal faith in Jesus Christ. Anyone with misgivings about the faith should continue to study and grow and build their faith by learning the word of God and by walking in relationship with the Living God. Only there will their faith grow strong.
When he says "holding to the mystery" he means that the servant of God has a personal faith that is all their own. You can't rely upon the faith of others. To serve him as your master, he must be your master; and he cannot be your master without faith. Christianity cannot be passed on by good genetics. Two believing parents do not make a believing child any more than two heathen parents guarantee that a child will never believe. The reason that it is God's program that Christian parents will pass on the teaching of the gospel of Jesus to their children is because that's how the gospel is spread. It is heard, believed and embraced and ultimately passed on to someone else.
With a Clear Conscience
The Mystery of the faith must be held with a clear conscience. That means that far more than mere mental assent or head knowledge of the faith is needed. Holding one with a clear conscience means comprehending it and believing it with no reservations. This is the call for maturing in Christ. The ability to know the faith in your head is not the same as knowing it in your heart. Doubts and persistent insecurities should give way to a mature faith which trusts wholeheartedly in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moreover it also means living in obedience to the gospel. If sin renders us worthy of an eternal punishment which is cleansed and paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ than having come to know him, we ought not to live in those sins any longer. The Law which once condemned us now instructs us in living with holiness.
Faith is expressed in living life with a clear conscience. Looking back at 1 Timothy 1:19 we see that the false teachers in Ephesus had rejected a good conscience. The result for them was disastrous, they were corrupting the faith. Not only was their faith a problem but they were not able to pass on the faith correctly to others.
Even though we've been in the new parsonage for a year, we're still trying to get a good reading on our water. Each time we've tested the reports come back with contaminants. So we disinfected the well again and tomorrow we're going to test it again; and we're going to hope for excellent reports this time. Now, when you send in a water sample to the laboratory it has to be in a specially sterilized container which is guaranteed pure up to the moment you put the water sample in it. The reason for that is because even if the water you're testing is perfectly pure, if you take clean water and pour it into a dirty container the water itself is tainted and yields bad results. In the same way the purity of the faith is quickly corrupted and spoiled if we attempt to hold it with an impure conscience.
Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience means not only holding it without reservations but it also implies personal purity. It shouldn't come as a surprise that God requires holiness of his servants.
It is imperative for us as Christians that we walk in Holiness. Even as God has said, "Be holy for I am Holy." If we will claim to be servants of the Living God than holiness is a must for us. But holiness is all too often left behind. This should not be. Therefore let us leave sin behind and embrace the forgiveness which comes from the father by the blood of his Son and let us begin living in holiness.
In order for you and I to be "fit to serve" it is required that we hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
How firm is your faith? How strong is your own grip upon the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ? Are you struggling with reservations and doubt? Or are you stuck in a sin pattern which you lack the strength to get out of?
The resolution to both problems begins the same. Humility, repentance, prayer and faith. If you're struggling with either sin or doubt it's time to humbly confess it to God. Where sin is concerned it's also time for a change – repentance. Where doubt it concerned it's time to build your faith.
This means exposure to the word of God for "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." It also means honest – God seeking prayer. One of my favorite prayers in scriptures is the man who looked at Jesus and cried out, "I do believe, [but] help my unbelief!". In the same breath he called on God in faith and also confessed his reliance upon his faith coming from God Himself.
As we would earnestly pray, "Lord I haven't the strength to overcome this sin on my own I need your help, help me to overcome this sin with obedience to you" so we can also pray, "Lord I want to trust you more, but I lack the faith – strengthen my faith O Lord and purge my doubts!"
Let these prayers become constant for you, and God will make you fit to serve.
1George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 169.