I specifically used the word “ministers” in the title of this post. I could have just as easily used the word “deacon” or the word “servant.”
So, which one am I planning to write about? Am I planning to write about “ministers,” “deacons,” or “servants”? Yes.
You see, all of these terms are used as glosses and translations for the same Greek term. Why do we have three different English terms? “Deacon” is a transliteration of the Greek term. “Minister” is a transliteration of the equivalent Latin term. And “Servant” is the English term.
In English, the three words have completely different meanings. But, we must understand that these different meanings have grown out of traditions and practices, not from the Greek text of the New Testament. All three words should be synonymous with the meaning of “servant,” but unfortunately, in modern English, they are not synonymous. This leads to many misinterpretations of Scripture.
So, why am I writing about ministers, deacons, and servants? Well, this all stems from a few questions that people asked me last week in the comments of my post “Q&A Session.” For example, Bobby asked, “Is there a biblical distinction between deacons and elders?” Hutch asked, “Do the NT scriptures contain examples of female apostles, deacons, elders and pastors/shepherds?”
Before I can answer those questions, I must first try to find out who are called “servants” in Scripture.
Jesus said that he was a servant (Matthew 20:28). He also told the Twelve (and other Christian “leaders”) to be servants (Matthew 20:26). Paul introduces Phoebe as a servant (Romans 16:1). Furthermore, Paul says that he and Apollos (and by extension all those listed earlier including Peter/Cephas) are servants (1 Corinthians 3:5). Paul says that Tychicus (Ephesians 6:1) and Epaphras (Colossians 1:7) are servants. Finally, Paul exhorts Timothy to be a good servant (1 Timothy 4:6).
When you include the noun for “service” and the verb form “to serve,” you see others listed as servants. Interestingly, both the apostles and the seven are said to be servants in Acts 6.
I think this kind of review is important before we try to understand a passage such as 1 Timothy 3:8-12. The connection becomes more clear when we understand that Paul encourages Timothy to be a “good servant” (1 Timothy 4:6) immediately after that passage (which is usually attached to “deacons” but not “servants” or “ministers”).
Furthermore, with the many exhortations to serve one another (Galatians 5:12 and 1 Peter 4:10 for example), it seems that the authors of Scripture want all followers of Jesus Christ to be “servants.” Are they? Obviously not, otherwise the exhortations would not be necessary.
So, to conclude, we see many examples of “servants.” It is misleading to describe some of them as “minsters,” some of them as “deacons,” and some of them as “servants.” Why? Because while these English terms have different meanings, in Scripture, they are all servants.