Men love titles. Men love position. Men love status. People love men of status. People love the illusion of security that comes with men having titles among them. These things have been abused in the church. This is obvious to most people. But why? And more importantly, what can we do to correct it and how can we relate to these truths in a healthy way?
First of all, our modern idea of an “office” is not a Biblical one. The Bible was not written in Dallas, TX. We’ve tried to interpret and apply Eastern ideas in a Western culture. When we read about offices, we interpret it as being the same as someone who has a management position in corporate America.
A Biblical office is not the same as having a title, a business card, a sign on your desk, and a salary with benefits. We cannot forget that the church is alive. She is a living organism and the church is relational. Hopefully in this chapter, we will see gifts, titles, and offices the Bible speaks of, are much different than what we’ve made them to be.
The word office simply means the “function of” or the “work of.” In 1 Timothy 3:1 the phrase “office of a bishop” comes from one Greek word. The one Greek word is episcope. It simply means to do overseeing or to do the work of an overseer. …“If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” All this is saying is that if you want to help others in their lives by watching out for them and helping them in their growth, then that’s a good thing to do. But when we typically read that verse, it runs through our filter of our Western culture. Read the verse again. When you read the word “office” this time, think of the word as “doing a work,” because that’s what the word means. A Biblical office is more of a description of activity, as opposed to a title.
Next, we see the word “office” again in 1 Tim. 3:10, 13. Here it is used in conjunction with the work of a servant or “deacon.” The phrase “office of a deacon” is the one Greek word, diakoneo. To be a deacon is to be a servant or to do the work of a servant, or “to wait upon.” If you serve someone in the church then you have just entered into the office of a deacon. Remember, the word office is a description of activity. To be a deacon is not to have a position; it just means that you are doing the work of serving others on a consistent basis.
In Acts Ch 6, the church was brand new in Jerusalem. Thousands of new believers were hanging out together, listening to teachings, and eating together. In chapter 6, verse 1 of Acts, we see that there were some widows who were not getting served food at the daily gatherings. They were being looked over. Now that could cause some real hurt feelings! What did the church do about it? The whole congregation chose 7 guys who were filled with the Holy Spirit, of good reputation, and who had wisdom to remedy this situation. Note that the same word for deacon, “diakoneo”, in 1 Tim. 3 is used here in Acts 6 as well. These 7 men entered into the office of a deacon. Or, to not be religious about it, we could just say that they were doing some serving. But why the big deal about who did the serving? Why did they have to be filled with the Spirit? Why did they need wisdom and have a good reputation just to hand out food? Why did the apostles lay their hands on them just to serve some tables?
In our day and age, we would probably choose any brother just to serve a few tables. “Hey Joe, grab a few of those teenagers over there and pass out that food would ya? The widows are getting a little upset ‘cause they didn’t get their ham sandwiches.”
Be aware that the same qualifications for doing serving found in 1 Tim 3 (office of a deacon), are the same qualifications that the 7 men had in Acts Ch 6. Same function – serving. Why the qualifications for serving? Well, look at the results.
Immediately after the passage about waiting on tables it says in verse 7 that “the Word of God kept spreading and the number of disciples continued to increase…”
Wow! Then in verse 8 it tells us more about Stephen. In verse 8, “Stephen full of grace and power was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” Remember? He was one of the guys that was waiting on tables!
The point is that the men who were serving tables were among the people. They were with the people, mixing up with them, speaking to them, and loving them. Passing out the food was a great opportunity to speak, love, pray with people, and to serve. That’s why anyone wanting to serve (do deacon work) should have a strong relationship with God. Because when we serve, it is an opportunity to increase the Kingdom. Someone who is serving half-heartedly not filled with the Spirit will eventually complain about it. Sooner or later they’ll have a bad attitude and not represent Christ at all.
I Timothy Chapter three provides us a list of character qualities for people who are wanting to watch others lives or who is wanting to do serving.
In this passage, Paul tells Timothy that they need to be living right, not addicted to wine, managing their own household well, etc. This is important because anyone who is serving or leading has a tremendous opportunity o advance the Kingdom, just like the brothers in Acts who were waiting tables. Their character should be of good quality. Let’s look at a common error however, that is made concerning those character qualities.
“Blameless .” This is the Greek word anepileptos. It simply means there is nothing in your life that needs a rebuke. It doesn’t mean that this man has never committed sin. That would disqualify everyone. It simply means that you are living a right and clean life with God. To be above reproach or blameless simply means that you are not walking in sin. Past sins can not disqualify anyone from leading out, serving, or helping others because then no one could ever be qualified to do it. If it is in your heart to help others in the church in such a way that you are watching their lives and helping in their growth, then you must have your own life working well and not be walking in sin.
Gifts Are to be Observed, Not Filled.
Again, the church is organic and alive. We should never force anything. We are not to try to find people to fill positions. We are not to see the lists in scripture of the various gifts and functions, and then try to fill those job positions. We see in scripture that there are teachers, prophets, shepherds, evangelists, apostles, deacons, administrations, helps, etc. We should not shop the list by saying, “Ok, we need a prophet. Who is going to be our prophet? Now, we need an evangelist. Who is going to be our evangelist? We need a shepherd. Who is going to fill the role of shepherd among us?”
These gifts and various functions are to naturally evolve and just organically operate among us. A person’s gift is, whatever it is. If a person naturally functions in the gift of evangelism, then we might say that he is an evangelist. If a person operates in the gift of the prophetic, then over time, we might say it looks like he or she may be a prophet. If a person naturally functions in shepherding, then we might say that they are a shepherd. We don’t go out and try to find a shepherd. And we certainly are not to conduct job interviews and hire a shepherd.
Let’s briefly look at Titus Chapter 1. In verse 5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above approach as God’s steward, not self-willed not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self – controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
This is a great passage. Paul told Titus, who was in Crete, to appoint elders in every city. Who should Titus appoint as elders? Those who were already elders! He didn’t make them elders. He just recognized them publicly. They already had the qualifications within themselves.
Look at the word “namely” that Paul uses in the first sentence. If you will read that word with understanding, you will see that Titus was to just publicly recognize what already was. Those who already were elders, the seasoned brothers who could do overseeing effectively were to be pointed out. He was not to groom men for a position. They were not to take a six week training course. He was not to run an ad in the paper. He was not to conduct interviews. He was not to form an elder search committee. The elders were already there in the midst of the people. They already had the qualifications evident in their lives, they just needed to be pointed out. The list of qualifications Paul gave was just to help Titus recognize them and find them from among the people. Notice also that the qualifications for overseeing or eldership have nothing to do with having education. It’s all character.
Whatever gifts happen to be among us, simply happen to be among us. One particular group may not have anyone who functions as an evangelist much. You may not have any apostles among you. You may not have someone who functions primarily as a prophet. That’s OK. Don’t try to create one. If your numbers are small, you will not have all the gifts and functions among you. But you will have some. As more people begin to come around, you will observe more gifts and functions operating in different members.
You cannot learn how to be an evangelist. You either are one or you are not one. You can’t go to school to become a pastor. You either have that kind of heart or you don’t. These gifts are from God, they are not skills to be learned. You cannot study and then become a prophet. You either have a gift from God or you don’t. These are supernatural, spiritual gifts. As you mature in Christ, your gifts will become more potent or fine tuned, but you can’t take a course and become a gift to the church.
You the reader, have gifts, right now from God that He gave you to edify the church. Today, there is a real over emphasis in the church to “know what your gifts are.” There is no need to take a personality profile test to discover your gifts. As you are abiding in Jesus and filled with the Spirit of God, your gifts will come to the surface and you will naturally function in them. You will know what your gifts are as you and others observe how the Lord is using you and has used you in the past. Don’t sit in a living room together and say, “you’re a this and you’re a that.” Christians are often labeling themselves according to personality types, and there is no profit in it. The overemphasis in the church today to know what different people’s gifts are largely stems from self focused, humanistic, feel good psychology.
Having a focus on labeling ourselves with gifts does not help us be more of what we already are. It only trips us up in trying to fulfill something that we think we should be fulfilling. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. And we need to keep our eyes on the cross.
We don’t even fully know the full definition of the various gifts. Over the centuries, we’ve modified them, interpreted them, categorized them and canned them. Just look at what we’ve done with the gift of shepherding.
Looking at another example, an evangelist is listed as a gift to the church. Our modern day definition of an evangelist is someone who converts lost people to the faith. The word means “bringer of good news.” What if an evangelist really is a gift to the church, as it is stated in the New Testament? A true evangelist may be someone in the church who is always sharing good news with not only unbelievers, but with Christians as well. There is a tremendous benefit from encouraging other Christians with various messages of the good news of God, even if they are already saved. We as Christians really need good news all the time. Could we be limiting or even missing the true gift of an evangelist by defining him and categorizing him as we tend to do?
We have so many assumptions, that we would do better to not focus on what our gifts are so much and then try to fulfill them, when we may be working from an erroneous model in the first place. We are whatever we are. Let’s let the gifts that we have, organically define themselves . Our identity is in Christ, not the labels or gifts we are to the church.
An apple tree makes apples because it is an apple tree. Apple trees don’t learn that they are apple trees, and then start producing apples.
The School of Life
As individual Christians, how do we grow? How do people in general grow? How does a plant or a tree grow? How do childrenlearn? How did you learn to swim? How do you learn to have a good marriage? How do we learn to raise kids?
I’m not talking about gaining head knowledge. I’m not talking about the ability to regurgitate information. I’m talking about true growth. How do we get those things in us that no one can take away? How do we truly learn the lessons in life that are now rock solid in us? How do we arrive at things that are unshakeable? How do we gain those precious gems in our character that remain forever? One word:Struggle.
The way of true growth is through struggle. The way of true growth is by pain. Sorry, but there is no way around it. You can hear teachings all day long about how you need to cry out to God – but unless you feel the pain, you will not really be crying out. You can hear a teaching or read a book about how you need to be broken, but unless God breaks you, you will still have some form of ambition and self reliance.
The Absence of Dominant Men Builds a Strong Church
During Paul’s missionary journeys, he entered a town, preached the gospel, stayed a while, and then he left. After the early churches were planted, the apostles left them shortly afterwards. They did not recognize elders in those cities until much later. Sometimes it was months, sometimes it was years later until elders were even recognized. It was Paul’s habit to appoint elders during his second time through a town. We even see in Titus 1:5-9 Paul instructing Titus to recognize elders in Crete. This is after the Jews accepted Christ in Crete from the preaching of Peter years before.
After the apostles preached the word and left town, the new believers in that city only had the Lord Jesus and each other. They didn’t even have a New Testament. It had not been written yet. Paul’s letters came much later. How did the early churches survive without Paul staying with them? How did they survive with no leadership in place? How did they survive without a local strong leader present? Very well. They changed the course of history.
When Paul, Barnabas, and Silas preached the gospel to a town, they left it with no leadership in place because it was necessary for the church to not depend on anyone. That was the best way for them to grow and to learn how to function. You cannot learn to stand on your own two feet, unless you are required to do so. This is true both individually and corporately. If Paul would have planted the church in a city and then stayed there, they would have become dependant on Paul. They would not have become strong. They would not have thrived the way they did if Paul would have stayed for years and taught them many messages a week. Teachings and messages don’t grow us. They can only point us in the right direction.
The absence of dominant men builds a strong church. Once the foundations are established of a functioning and active church, then the church can properly relate to and continue to function with strong brothers present. This is why those who lead should slowly and naturally evolve from among the group itself. This is why Paul recognized those who were elders only after the church had time to become rooted. If strong leaders are established right away, then everyone shuts down and defers – which is what we have in the church today.
The best thing for a new group of believers is to be told the truth, pointed to Jesus and then be left to themselves to learn how to need Christ, learn how to do their share, learn how to pull their own weight in the church, and learn how to need one another. This is a crucial time when essential foundations are laid. From among this assembly of strong fellowship and intense love for one another, then and only then should organic, naturally occurring plural leadership arise and over time be recognized.
Because of our misapplication of leaders among us, we have become addicted to men leading us, instead of being addicted to Christ. We have become addicted to only certain people functioning, instead of everyone learning to function for the very survival of the group. We have become completely accustomed to a certain few taking the responsibility for the church, when we should all have equal responsibility. We will only learn to rise to the occasion, hold fast to one another, and become a strong church if we have no one else to do it for us.