“This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.” – Col 1:7
I’ll be ordained an Episcopal priest in less than a week. As for now, I’m just a “lowly” deacon. It’s a transitional position. Six months according to the canons of our church. A stepping stone - like wading into a pool instead of jumping off the diving board. A priest with training wheels. A part-time gig. But in less than a week I’ll move into something new. But will I leave behind the old? Will I cease to be a deacon? I hope not. And I hope you’re a deacon too - maybe not in the formal liturgical sense, but in the Biblical sense. I hope you’re a deacon like Epaphras was. Like Jesus was.
Epaphras was a deacon. Paul calls him “a faithful minister,” but minister is a translation of the Greek word diakonos, which is where we get our English word deacon. And so the question is - what is a diakonos? What does it mean for us to be a deacon?
In antiquity, the word diakonos had three distinct meetings. Our call as Christ-followers is to live into all three. After all, our Master did. Jesus was a deacon.
First, a deacon is someone that “executes the commands of a king.” Jesus was a deacon because he didn’t “come down from heaven to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent” him (Jn 6:38). And Jesus was sent by a King – “the Lord is king, he is robed in majesty” (Ps 93:1). In the same way that Jesus was sent to execute the commands of his Father, so too are we sent to execute the commands of our King. When Paul says that “we are ambassadors for Christ,” this is exactly what he means (2 Cor 5:20). An ambassador is someone who lives in a foreign land but remains loyal to and executes the commands of the ruler of his own land. For example, the US ambassador to China doesn’t report to the Chinese government. He lives in China and represents the interests of the United States. In the same way, we live on earth, “but our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). To be a deacon is to know who our king is and to execute His commands above all else.
Second, a deacon is one that “cares for the poor.” This one is a no-brainer. Jesus was a deacon because he blessed the poor (Lk 6:20) and preached really good news to them (Matt 11:5). Jesus also fed them, hugged them, and healed them. In the same way, we should always “remember the poor,” and even be “eager to do” so (Gal 2:10). God has a special heart for the poor. As deacons, so should we.
Finally, a deacon is a waiter – someone that serves food and drink to someone else. It doesn’t sound like spiritual work, but Jesus was a deacon in this respect too. Jesus feeds five thousand in the wilderness. His Father rains manna from the skies (quail if you’re lucky). He prepares a table before us and our cup overflows (Ps 23:5). And Jesus will always be a waiter. After all, when Jesus returns and we take our place at our King’s banquet, Jesus “will fasten his belt and have us sit down to eat, and he will come and serve” us (Lk 12:37). We too should “wait” on others. I’m not suggesting that we get a job working nights at Joe’s Crab Shack. But, we can let our lives nourish others. We can feed them. We can give a little one a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matt 10:42). We too can be deacons.
As I live into the new, may I never leave behind the old. After all, a deacon is truly a “lowly” position. But in the Kingdom of God, we descend into greatness, and to live into a “lowly” position is to reach the true heights.