The Third Qualification: The Deacon's Wisdom
A deacon is to have a good reputation and to be a mature, Spirit-filled believer. And yet more is needed. Deacons are charged with a heavy responsibility: safeguarding the unity of the congregation by caring for practical needs in the church. The very fact that this responsibility requires dedicated attention should tell us that it may not come easily, and that not just anyone will be able to fulfill it. It’s no surprise, then, that the third qualification emphasized by the apostles in Acts 6 is wisdom: “pick out…men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3).
What is wisdom? God’s Word has much to teach us about wisdom. Clearly, then, it’s something that needs to be pursued and cultivated. We dare not assume that it comes naturally. Thankfully, much of the Old Testament, and particularly the book of Proverbs, is wholly devoted to this subject, and helpfully directs us in this way: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). Biblical wisdom, then, begins with fearing—that is, honouring, respecting, obeying—the Lord, knowing who he his and who we are in light of him. From that foundation, Proverbs lays out hundreds of practical examples of what wisdom looks like in practice.
Interestingly, for those considering the marks of a New Testament deacon, among the wise sayings in Proverbs are many warnings and exhortations that echo Paul’s more detailed deacon qualifications list in First Timothy 3. Speaking of “unjust gain,” Proverbs warns: “such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (Prov. 1:19), and “wealth obtained by fraud dwindles” (Prov. 13:11a NASB). Warning against drunkenness, Solomon writes: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1), and “Who has woe? Who has sorrow?….Those who tarry long over wine” (Prov. 23:29-30). Paul’s command that a male deacon be a “husband of one wife,” or more literally, a “one-woman man,” reflects Proverbs’ repeated warnings against adultery: “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Prov. 6:32). And Paul’s directions that deacons manage their households and children well find precedents in many of the Proverbs, which state: “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (Prov. 29:17), and “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself gives shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15). Finally, while the women Paul describes in First Timothy 3:10 aren’t directly given a “household management” qualification in that verse, the fact that Paul connects their qualifications to those of the male deacons with the word “Likewise” calls to mind Proverbs 31:10-31 and its description of skillful household management as a model for these women.
Since deacons are called to cultivate unity, and to deal with administrative problems, their role clearly requires intelligence, sound judgment, and keen insight. In other words, deacons are to be wise. That’s why wisdom is the deacon’s third qualification.