A quick update from the Athens Church of Christ

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Servants of the Kingdom of God, Part One 

When discussing roles and responsibilities in the church, we need to begin by laying a foundation of understanding about the church, the kingdom of God that has come and is coming.  What I mean by that is that the church that we see now is the kingdom of God that has come, but it is not yet completed.  It is still being created, shaped, molded by God.  One day it will be fully complete, presented as the perfect bride of Christ, spotless and radiant.  We are that bride, but he is still preparing us for the wedding.

Eph 2:19; Php 3:20
Eph 4:15-16
1 Pet 2:17
Eph 4:21-24
2 Cor 6:16-17

First and foremost, we must understand that we are citizens of God’s kingdom and that we have willingly chosen to separate ourselves from the kingdom of this world, to renounce the ways of the world, to bow to the will of Jesus Christ our Lord, to adopt the ways of this new life in Christ, and to devote ourselves to building up God’s kingdom, the body of Christ.

Heb 10:19-22
Eph 2:4-6; Eph 1:4, 13
2Cor 6:1-2; Eph 2:8;
1Tim 6:12; Joel 2:32
2Cor 3:18; Col 3:1-10

Each one of us made this choice and commitment in the presence of God and before witnesses when we made our good confession.  God heard us; he honored our vow, and by God’s grace through faith, we were saved from our sins; our guilt was removed through the blood of Christ offered on the cross; and dying with him, we were raised with Christ into a new life, chosen in Him to be holy and blameless, filled with His Spirit, seated with Him in the heavenly realms, and by God’s power at work in us we are being transformed to become like Him as we continue to obey all that he teaches us.

  • This new life is not like the old life. 
  • This new kingdom is not like the old kingdom. 
  • This new Lord is not like our old lords.
Col 3:1-3; Gal 2:20

Being a part of this new life, this new kingdom, and following our new Lord, requires transformation: transformation of our minds, our hearts, and our lives.  We cannot expect to look at things the same way we have always looked at them.  We cannot expect to feel about things the same way that we have always felt about them.  And we cannot expect to follow our new Lord in the same ways that we followed the lords of our old life. What do I mean?

1Jn 2:15-17
1Jn 2:1; 1Tim 3:15
Is 28:16; 1 Pt 2:6-7

The foundation of God’s kingdom is different from the foundations of the world’s kingdom(s).  The foundation of God’s Kingdom is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, and he has established the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth.  Jesus declared to the apostles and therefore declares to us today, that we must NOT seek to be like the world, for the world and its desires are passing away, rather, we must seek to be like Jesus and to build his kingdom with the values and practices that he provides us in the written word of God.

1Jn 2:1; 1Tim 3:15
Mt 20:24-28

First and foremost, that means that unlike the world, we are not to lord it over one another, but the one who would lead must become a servant, and the greatest must be the servant of all. 

Php 2:1-8; Rom 8:7; 1Pt 5:5;

The world loves power and authority, but God’s kingdom is built on humility and service. 

Php 3:18-19; Rom 2:7; Jas 4:10; Php 2:5-11

The world uses law and force to make people comply and bow to authority, but God uses grace and love to call us to willing submission and eager devotion.

Mt 6:24-33; Php 3:7-10; 1Pt 3:10-15; 4:1

Citizens of the world seek worldly glory: titles, wealth and fame.  Citizens of God’s kingdom seek godly glory: becoming like Jesus Christ, dying to pride and embracing humility, generosity and service. Citizens of the world seek security and comfort; Citizens of God’s kingdom find security and comfort in God, and instead seek righteousness and the willingness to share in Christ’s sufferings.

1 Cor 3:10-15

Because the kingdom of this world is so completely different from the kingdom of God, we must pay careful attention to how we build the church.  If we build using the things the world values, we will fail.  We must use the right building materials and we must build in the right way.

How then does God call us to build his kingdom and to adorn the bride of Christ?   First of all, He calls us to look to Jesus as our King, our Lord.  He is the one who leads the church.  We must have no other king. 

No Other King

God’s vision of his kingship over us is communicated in 1 Sam 8:1-7.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a] The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.  So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”  But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 

You see, it was God’s plan for his people that he would be their one and only king. When Israel chose to pattern themselves after the world, they rejected God as king.  They wanted a worldly form of government rather than a spiritual form of government.  But why?

From the time of Moses to the time of Samuel, the nation of Israel was a nation with God as their king.  They had elders in each town and clan, but there was no central authority other than the Lord.  From time to time, God would raise up a Judge, a Prophet, to serve in resolving problems that arose, but never a ruler, never a king.  In the book of Judges it seems to us like kingdom life was a messy situation, but most of the “mess” was caused by failure to follow God’s commands.  Was the structure of Israel seemingly disjointed and decentralized?  Yes – at least from a worldly perspective.  But God never failed in being their king; they failed in obeying him.  Was unity across the kingdom challenging? Yes, it required the elders of the various towns and clans to choose to communicate and work together.  By the time of Samuel’s old age, they were concerned in whose hands they would be left, honestly, the elders probably wanted more structure, more clear lines of authority, more centralization of power, someone to give them cohesion – just like the nations around them.

Fast-forward a thousand years, and the nation of Israel is ruled by Caesar and multiple kings and governors below him.   Israel has drunk deeply from the cup of worldly leadership and they are sick of it; they await the coming of the promised King who will rescue them.  Jesus comes, but rather than sweeping away the Romans and establishing another earthly kingdom, he creates the promised Kingdom of God, a spiritual kingdom that returns the people to God as their King in Jesus Christ.  He rejects governors and lords, and instead provides messengers, prophets, proclaimers, shepherds and teachers to tend the new nation of Israel, the church.  (Eph 4:11-12)  We do not see a structural hierarchy defined for the church the New Testament documents.

Fast forward five hundred years, and we see what was called the church had retained the names of roles identified by Jesus and the apostles, but they imitated the empire and established an earthly central authority that ruled through a hierarchy of authority over all the individual churches.  The church, like Israel, had rejected God as king.

We are not immune to the temptation to pattern ourselves after the world:  Fast forward another 1500 years, and our fellowship of believers who grew out of the restoration movement of the late 1800’s, sought to be unified in order to have a global impact in reaching the world for Christ. The desire for unity is not a bad one, in fact we are called to maintain our unity, but in pursuit of the goal, a hierarchy of structure over the churches evolved, a centralizing of authority occurred, and in an imitation of worldly corporate structure, we found ourselves rejecting God as king.

Why is this is hard for us to learn?  Because we all came from the world. And although we are now citizens in the kingdom of God, we still live in the world, and the world’s ways of thinking can creep in.   

When it comes to building the church here in Athens, how can we address these issues?

  1. We must continually transform our thinking:  Rom 12:2  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

If we don’t transform our thinking from the worldly pattern around us, we will never be able test and approve what God’s will is.Individually and as a church, it won’t make sense to us. We will fight his will, we will think there is a better way, and as a result we will reject God as king.
Now obviously, we want to do things the right way. We want God to approve of what we do.
So what is His pattern for our roles in the church? As men and as women, as leaders and as followers? What is his pattern for our service in the church, the using of our gifts, the giving of our means, the kind of lives that we live, our devotion to doing what is good?
There are several practices that we can apply that will help us transform our thinking. And rather than enumerate them here, let’s look at one area of building the church here in Athens and discover these practices as we proceed. The topic for tonight is what is commonly known as appointing Deacons or Servants.
We previously appointed several servants a few years back; needs have changed, people have moved or needed to do other things, and it is time to refresh how we are managing needs in the church. In the light of our discussion so far, we’re going to read from 1 Tim 3 regarding Paul’s directions to Timothy for appointing servants.
1 Tim 3:1-13 NIV

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

What are we doing when we appoint Deacons? What is a Deacon and what does a Deacon do? This is actually POINT #1.Unless you grew around church, you might not even know what a deacon is. The word is a transliteration of the New Testament Greek word diakanos, which means servant. Because of church history, the role of the servant at some point became an office, an authority. The Deacon became a part of a hierarchical structure. The role became a title, and this is so ingrained in church history, that translators add words to the text to that perpetuate a worldly pattern of thinking. Let’s read verse 10 again:
10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

What Paul actually said was: “they must first be tested, and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve.”  He never gives these men a title.  Their role was never intended as an “office” in the church.  They are called to be servants.  They are servants appointed to a task. 
But Ron, you may ask, if we refer to them as servants, won’t that be confusing since we’re all supposed to be servants? That’s a fair question. But here’s another question: if they referred to them only as servants in the NT, should we make any greater distinction today? By using our English equivalent of the Greek word Paul selected, and using it in the way he used it, we can begin to transform our minds:
You see, it is our worldly thinking that wants to create a chain of command, elevating one person over another. And let’s face it, being a “servant” isn’t much of a resume builder from a worldly perspective. Jesus knew this. He spent his entire ministry teaching the disciples this central lesson, and he brought that lesson home to them the night before he was crucified.
Luke 22:24-27  24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus replaces pride, arrogance, and lording over with humility and service. Servants of the church are selected and appointed to be exactly that: servants. There is no authority conferred, other than that which is implicit in fulfilling their responsibilities. And, unlike the overseers, there is no requirement that they be able to teach. They are simply called to serve.
Now, let me open a can of worms.
Another interesting translation issue in this passage relates to verse 11.
11 In the same way, (their) wives are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

There are two possible ways to translate this verse. The word for wives is the Greek word gunaikas. This word can mean either women or wives. It is not clear whether Paul is referring to the wives of servants or women workers.
At this point in time, there was not a separate feminine form of the word “servant” (deaconess).
In Rom 16:1, Paul writes:  I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 
We don’t know why Phoebe was in Rome, but it appears that she was sent for some purpose and that Paul introduces her as a servant of a particular congregation. It is possible that she was delivering Paul’s letter as a part of her service. Was she an appointed servant or just a servant? This is exactly the lack of clarity we were just discussing right?
There is some good evidence of women servants appointed in the church, fairly early in church history; more so in the eastern churches than in the western ones. Arguments in favor of verse 11 being translated as women and not wives includes: the passage is structured just like the one for male servants, and it includes a very similar list of requirements. Arguments in favor of verse 11 being translated as wives includes the structure of the sequence of verses moving from men, to women and back to men. But there is a lack of clarity and translators are divided on this issue.
From a practical standpoint, would appointing a woman as a servant of the church contradict any other passages of scripture?  No.  The verse typically found in conflict with the idea of such an appointment is in the same letter: 1 Tim 2:12  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
However, because an appointed servant has no specific authority other than to serve, and has no teaching responsibility, there is no conflict with this and other passages addressing role issues between men and women. When we remove worldly thinking, translating either as wives or as women works within the Biblical construct.
So I raise this as a matter that we as a church should discuss. I am not saying the issue is decided, but I am saying we should study it, discuss it, and come to a concensus as a church. We need servants. We need men who will serve. We need married men who will serve. And whether it is their wives who serve alongside them, or it is individual women who serve, we need servants in the church.
This is as far as I’m going to take the lesson tonight. Next time we will look at the specific requirements for servants. What I hope you take away from tonight are these few points and questions to reflect on:

  1. The thing that has historically caused God’s people to make bad choices is worldly thinking.  When it comes to living for Christ and to building the church we must have transform our minds.
  2. In the example tonight about Deacons vs. Servants, we see how easy it is to transfer worldly thinking onto the scriptures and see titles and authority structures that do not exist.
  3. Within the Biblical concept of a servant of the body of Christ, we find 1) a role that God can use to build up the church, 2) a way of understanding distribution of responsibilities that frees us from putting people on pedestals and setting one over another, and 3) a clear imitation of Jesus who calls us to serve those who are at the table.

How does the world impact my view of the church today?
What can I do this week to transform my mind: what spiritual principles can I dwell on?  Is there an area where I’ve been struggling with worldly thinking:  whether it is how I perceive my own value to God, how I use my gifts and talents and money and time, or how I look at the church itself as more of an earthly organization as opposed to the kingdom of God on earth.
What do you think about appointing women servants for the church?




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