So far in this series, we have seen that deacons are to serve and be faithful. Next, we want to look at how they are to be tested.

“But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.”

1 Timothy 3:10

The idea of testing spans the entire scope of Scripture. The words ‘test, tested, tested, try, prove’ are used hundreds of times in the Bible. Here are the primary words we used in our study along with examples from Scripture for each word –

Hebrew

נָסָה (nasah) .. to try, to test, to make a test, to put to a test

“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!'”

Genesis 22:1

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”

Exodus 20:20

“Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, ‘Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.’ Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua.”

Joshua 2:20-23

“So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.’ So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.”

Daniel 1:11-14

בָּחן (bachan) .. to try, examine, prove, test

“Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, But establish the just; For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.”

Psalm 7:9

“Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart.”

Psalm 26:2

“But Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’ In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.”

Genesis 42:14-15

“I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You.”

1 Chronicles 29:17

Greek

πειράζω (peirazó) .. to try, tempt, examine, prove, test

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Matthew 4:1

“Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.’ So they brought Him a denarius.”

Matthew 22:17-19

“Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”

Acts 5:9

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”

2 Corinthians 13:5

δοκιμάζω (dokimazo) .. put to the test, prove, examine, discern, acceptable, approve after testing

“Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?”

Luke 12:56

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Romans 12:2

“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

1 Corinthians 3:12-13

“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

1 Corinthians 11:28

“But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.”

Galatians 6:4

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”

Ephesians 5:8-10

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:9-11

“Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.”

1 Timothy 3:8-10

The Tested Deacon

With that brief view of testing and approving from the history of Scripture, let’s consider what Paul meant when he told church leaders to test people before they served as deacons.

Notice the process –

  1. let these also first be tested
  2. then let them serve as deacons
  3. being found blameless

Tests are not finished until they are graded – pass or fail. The requirement for passing the test for becoming a deacon is “being found blameless.” The Greek word is ἀνέγκλητος (anegklétos) .. not reprovable, unaccused, not legally convictable, irreproachable, blameless.

The definition is clear .. there is no grading on a curve for serving as a deacon. Nothing less than blameless is acceptable to God.

Blameless does not mean “perfection.” Only Christ met the criteria of sinless perfection. However, blameless does mean that deacon candidates “are not stained by any marked vice.” (John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3)

“Let no man be put into an office in the Church till he has given full proof of his sincerity and steadiness, by having been for a considerable time a consistent private member of the Church.”

Adam Clarke Commentary, 1832

Paul told church leaders what deacons should be (reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience), then brought up the importance of testing people before they served as deacons.

I think Paul may have done that to show how Jesus Christ had set a very high bar for serving as deacons and that a test was needed before approving people for that important position in a church. The expectations for the position were presented clearly before the mention of the test. How can church leaders test someone if they don’t know the criteria for the examination?

We’ve already seen one important test for people who would serve in a special way in churches –

“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

Acts 6:3

The apostles told the Hellenist disciples to look for seven men who had three important attributes –

  1. good reputation
  2. full of the Holy Spirit
  3. full of wisdom

That’s a good start for developing a test for people who want to serve as deacons in a church. Paul added to that list by what he wrote in 1 Timothy 3:

  • reverent
  • not double-tongued
  • not given to much wine
  • not greedy for money
  • holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience
  • being found blameless  
  • not slanderers
  • temperate
  • faithful in all things
  • husbands of one wife
  • ruling their children and their own houses well

It would seem that a good test for deacons would include what we read in Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 –

  • Does the potential deacon already demonstrate growth in all of the areas mentioned by the apostles?
  • Have church leaders and members had adequate time to observe the growth of the potential deacons and believe they would make good deacons?
  • Have they gone through a process of testing (examination) to see how they respond in areas of service?
  • Have they demonstrated humility and loyalty toward leaders in the church?

Those are some of the questions for developing a solid test for people interested in deaconship. Remember the grading system – blameless.

Deacons in the Early Church

Here are some insights to how deacons were tested and viewed in the early Church. We begin with quotes from the writings of three Apostolic Fathers (they knew some of the apostles personally).

1Clem 42:4
So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.

1Clem 42:5
And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.

Clement of Rome, 95AD (approx)

CHAPTER 6
6:1 Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. I am devoted to those who are subject to the bishop, the presbyters, the deacons. May it be granted me to have my portion with them in the presence of God. Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together, lie down together, rise up together, as God’s stewards and assessors and ministers.

Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp, 108AD (approx)

CHAPTER 8
8:1 [But] shun divisions, as the beginning of evils. Do ye all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. Let no man do aught of things pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be held a valid eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it.

Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, 110AD (approx)

CHAPTER 2 2:1 For when ye are obedient to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that ye are living not after men but after Jesus Christ, who died for us, that believing on His death ye might escape death. 2:2 It is therefore necessary, even as your wont is, that ye should do nothing without the bishop; but be ye obedient also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope; for if we live in Him, we shall also be found in Him. 2:3 And those likewise who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ must please all men in all ways. For they are not deacons of meats and drinks but servants of the Church of God. It is right therefore that they should beware of blame as of fire.

Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians, 110AD (approx)

CHAPTER 2
2:1 Forasmuch then as I was permitted to see you in the person of Damas your godly bishop and your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius and my fellow-servant the deacon Zotion, of whom I would fain have joy, for that he is subject to the bishop as unto the grace of God and to the presbytery as unto the law of Jesus Christ: —

CHAPTER 6
6:1 Seeing then that in the aforementioned persons I beheld your whole people in faith and embraced them, I advise you, be ye zealous to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the worlds and appeared at the end of time.
6:2 Therefore do ye all study conformity to God and pay reverence one to another; and let no man regard his neighbour after the flesh, but love ye one another in Jesus Christ always. Let there be nothing among you which shall have power to divide you, but be ye united with the bishop and with them that preside over you as an ensample and a lesson of incorruptibility.

CHAPTER 13
13:1 Do your diligence therefore that ye be confirmed in the ordinances of the Lord and of the Apostles, that ye may _prosper in all things whatsoever ye do_ in flesh and spirit, by faith and by love, in the Son and Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, with your revered bishop, and with the fitly wreathed spiritual circlet of your presbytery, and with the deacons who walk after God.
13:2 Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit.

Ignatius to the Magnesians, 110AD (approx)

CHAPTER 2
2:1 But as touching my fellow-servant Burrhus, who by the will of God is your deacon blessed in all things, I pray that he may remain with me to the honour of yourselves and of your bishop. Yea, and Crocus also, who is worthy of God and of you, whom I received as an ensample of the love which ye bear me, hath relieved me in all ways — even so may the Father of Jesus Christ refresh him — together with Onesimus and Burrhus and Euplus and Fronto; in whom I saw you all with the eyes of love.
2:2 May I have joy of you always, if so be I am worthy of it. It is therefore meet for you in every way to glorify Jesus Christ who glorified you; that being perfectly joined together in one submission, submitting yourselves to your bishop and presbytery, ye may be sanctified in all things.

Ignatius to the Ephesians, 110AD (approx)

Polycarp 5:2
In like manner deacons should be blameless in the presence of His righteousness, as deacons of God and Christ and not of men; not calumniators, not double-tongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all things, compassionate, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord who became a minister (deacon) of all. For if we be well pleasing unto Him in this present world, we shall receive the future world also, according as He promised us to raise us from the dead, and that if we conduct ourselves worthily of Him we shall also reign with Him, if indeed we have faith.

Polycarp 5:3
In like manner also the younger men must be blameless in all things, caring for purity before everything and curbing themselves from every evil. For it is a good thing to refrain from lusts in the world, for every lust warreth against the Spirit, and neither whoremongers nor effeminate persons nor defilers of themselves with men shall inherit the kingdom of God, neither they that do untoward things. Wherefore it is right to abstain from all these things, submitting yourselves to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The virgins must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.

Polycarp to the Philippians, 110AD (approx)

Conclusion

We see clearly from both the Scriptures and writings of the apostolic fathers that deacons were to serve to the highest expectations of church leadership and to serve after being tested. Their loyalty to bishops and presbyters was expected and appreciated by the apostles and the fathers.

If Christian churches would follow the directions outlined for leadership in the Gospels and apostolic writings, we would see a different kind of power and influence in our families and communities. It would be the power of the Almighty God living through His people to His glory.

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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.