In 1 Timothy 3:8-13, the Apostle Paul presented the qualifications of deacons. He wrote, “Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 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” (KJV).
The word “grave” comes from the Greek word σεμνός, which means to be “worthy of honor,” or “dignified.”1 The implication of this for today’s deacons and deaconesses is that they are to carry themselves in such a way that they earn the respect of others–including church members, residents of their community, their co-workers, their colleagues in ministry, and members of their own family. By gaining the respect of others, these officers will be in a better position to minister to them and influence them to accept the Christian faith.
To be doubletongued means “saying a thing to one person and giving a different view of it to another.”2 Being doubletongued is the result of being unstable and double minded. According to James 1:8, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” In her Beatitudes for deacons, Maurice Riley says, “Blessed is the deacon who is not ‘doubled-tongued’ and will not engage in gossip. Cheap talk will defile you. Shun unsavory conversations. Talk your Church and Pastor Up, and not Down, and always protect their image, for righteousness sake.”3 Howard Foshee, quotes Walter A. Bennett, Jr., a pastor and denominational leader who said, “‘Church activities are much more successful when deacons give them verbal endorsement and active participation. One deacon with an indifferent attitude toward a revival or visitation campaign can weaken the effectiveness of his entire group.’”4
Paul’s injunction to be “not given to much wine” can be rather difficult to understand whether we believe Paul was referring to unfermented wine (grape juice) or fermented wine (intoxicating beverage). The SDA Bible Commentary presents the dilemma as following:
Some hold that Paul here speaks of unfermented wine— grape juice—because for him to speak otherwise would place him in conflict with his declaration against defiling the body (see I Cor. 6:19; 10:31), “and contrary to the general teaching of the Bible regarding intoxicating drink (see on Prov. 20:1; 23:29-32; John 2:9). Others hold that Paul here permits a temperate use of ordinary wine. They declare that if he were speaking of grape juice he would not need to warn the deacons against drinking ‘much’ of it, and would have no valid basis for forbidding the elders to drink it at all. The passage is admittedly difficult.”5
The difficulty in understanding this injunction is lessened, however, by translating the Greek phrase μή οἴνῳ πολλω προσέχοντας to mean, “be not addicted to much wine” instead of “be not given to much wine.” This translation places the emphasis or warning against being addicted to wine (alcoholism) rather than a warning about the amount of wine that one can consume. If Paul was instructing deacons not to be addicted to wine, then the only sure way to prevent addiction is abstinence, which is in harmony with his declaration against defiling the body, and with the general teaching of the Bible regarding intoxicating drink. Anne M. Fletcher quotes a woman she refers to as Karen M. who said, “‘It’s not so much the frequency of drinking but how it affects your life when you do.’” Therefore, to be consistent, “be not addicted to much wine,” is the better translation.
Thus, the apostle Paul was advocating abstinence from fermented wine.
The next qualification listed for deacons is that they be “not greedy of filthy lucre.” They are not to accept ill gotten gain, bribes, or show favor to individuals or group(s) in the church for personal gain. They are to remain fair and objective in carrying out their responsibilities, otherwise they will forfeit the trust of those whom they are called to serve. This command also warned against taking advantage of people. The implication of this for today’s deacons and deaconesses is that they see the importance of gaining and maintaining the respect and trust of church members in a post-modern era when everyone and everything is suspect.
1 “Grave,” SDA Bible Commentary, 7:299.
2 W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (1952), s.v. “Doubletongued.”
3 Maurice Riley, The Deaconess: Walking in the Newness of Life, 2nd ed. (Newark, NJ: Christian Associates Publications, 1993), 145.
4 Howard B. Foshee, Now That You're a Deacon (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1975), 51.
5 SDA Bible Commentary, 7:299.
Vincent E. White, Sr., D.Min., is a retired pastor and author of The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model; The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model Workbook; and Problem Solvers and Soul Winners: A Handbook for Deacons and Deaconesses.