Biblical Ministries for Women (Part 4)

By Rev. Prof. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, Th.D.. Ph.D.

10.          Biblical job description of a Deaconess's callng

Together with the great Presbyterian John Calvin, we believe that --  quite distinct from the office of male Deacon  (cf. Acts 6:1-8 & Phil. 1:1 & I Tim. 3:8-10 & 3:12-13) –   there is also the Biblical office of female Deaconess.   Rom. 16:1-2 & I Tim. 3:11 & 5:9-10 cf. Acts 9:36-41.   Scripture states that this job of female Deaconess centrally involves: (a) general assistance in congregational affairs as diakonon tees ekkleesias, see Rom. 16:1; (b) succouring many in need as prostatis polloon, see Rom. 16:2; (c) providing comprehensive help en pasin, I Tim. 3:11; (d) collaboration in promoting the gospel en tooeuangeliooi  suneethlee,  Phil. 4:5; (e) teaching young women to become good homemakers, Tit. 2:3-5 cf. I Tim 5:9-14; (f) caring especially for needy widows and orphans, I Tim. 5:4-10; (g) performing a ministry of constant praver, I Tim, 5:5; (h) combatting frivolity, gossip, insobriety and unfaithfulness, I Tim. 5:11 cf. 5:4-16; and (i) performing good works, I Tim. 5:5,10 see W.C.F. 16:1-2 & 19:1-2 (such as washing or dressing ill persons or even dead bodies, or providing shelter for needy believers such as strangers and widows and orphans etc.).

Regarding such a Deaconess: “She does not function in the office of Preacher; she plays no role in the Eldership; but she is chosen to the office of Deaconess (I Tim. 5:9).”   Thus the famous Dutch Presbyterian theologian, Rev. Prof. Dr. Abraham Kuyper Sr.6

His eminent colleague Rev. Prof. Dr. Herman Bavinck even more specific about “what Paul says in I Tim. 5:9-10.   While also recommending that first the family members (v. 4) and then the members of the congregation (v. 16) care for the poor widows, in vv. 9-10 he mentions the election of a widow  at least sixty* years old who had been the wife of one husband.  

“Many demands were made of such a widow.  She must have a reputation for good works -- if she had children, she must have finished raising them and educating them; she must have been hospitable (‘having washed the feet of strangers’); she must also have helped the afflicted; and she must have been diligent in every good work..”  

Why indeed a minimum of specifically sixty* years old?   Perhaps this was also because of one’s average life-expectancy.   As it were: ‘six decades you shall labour and do all your work; but in the seventh decade you shall sabbath from your labours in the twilight of your life expectancy!’ Cf. Ex. 20:8-11; Lev. 25:2-10;  Ps. 90:3-10.     See too sections 5 to 7 above.

“From these verses [I Tim. 5:9-10], continues Bavinck, “it is to be concluded that this widow was called to a special ministry within the congregation -- and was probably required to visit the poor and the sick and those in jail as well as to educate orphans and to give advice and direction to younger women.   For the contrast made in the following verses (11-16), commends this viewpoint....  

“Such female ministry as that referred to here, is also frequently mentioned in later ecclesiastical literature....   It was not just works of mercy like care of the poor and visiting the sick which belonged to the duties of  these women.   But their services were uti1ized also in visiting women in their homes and acquainting them with the teaching of the Gospel, and by working in situations where men could only operate with difficulty on account of the ease with which evil rumours could arise.”

11.          Biblical qualifications to be met before becoming a Deaconess

The candidate for Deaconess obviously needs to be trained and equipped for the above exacting job or jobs.   Here are the minimum qualifications she must possess.  

First, the candidate for Deaconess must be female, I Tim. 3:11; just as a candidate for Eldership or for Deaconhood must be male, I Tim. 3:1-10.   Second, she must not be young and inexperienced, but she must be mature and possess a long-standing reputation for diligence in good works, I Tim. 5:9-14.   Third, she must be grave or serious; not a gossip or a loquacious speaker; she must be sober and temperate; and she must be trustworthy or faithful in all things (I Tim. 3:11).   Fourth, she should not have marriage plans or marriage responsibilities; for her job as Deaconess is so exacting that it is not simultaneously compatible with the proper demands of  a marriage career for a woman (I Tim. 5:9-15 cf. I Cor. 7:24-40).   If a Deaconess later falls in love and then desires to marry a Christian man, she should do so -- but must then relinquish her Deaconesshood.

Fifth, if ever previously married but now widowed the candidate for Deaconess must be of  mature age and unlikely to remarry; if she has children, they should be full-grown, so as not to need her attention thereby  distracting her from her Deaconess work (I Tim. 5:9-14).   Sixth, she must also have a reputation for sexual morality; so that if a mature widow, she must have been the wife of only one man during the course of  that previous marriage (I Tim. 5:9); and if a mature spinster, she must have a reputation for gravity and not for frivolity (I Tim. 5:11 cf, 5:11-15.   Seventh, she must have a reputation for faithfulness in all things -- for hospitality, for compassion, and for diligence in every good work (I Tim. 3:11 cf. 5:10).    For the office of Deaconess for which the candidate is being considered is a permanent job, and is to be viewed as a lifelong career.   Rom. 16:1-2 & I Tim. 3:11 & 5:9-15.

To be continued.


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