Acts 6: 1-7

Christian Service is not something you can just phone in

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith

Understanding And Applying the Text

Luke shows us the idea of a pure early church is a myth. There was discrimination even in the early church. Those born outside Palestine were outsiders. They referred to them as Hellenists. Those born in Palestine considered them outsiders. As a result, their widows did not get their share of the food distribution

Satan assaults the church from both inside and outside the church. Christ redeems us but our sanctification is a continuing process. God used this evil to create something good. Through the apostles, God instituted the first group of deacons.

God’s sanctifying work is continuous. Acts 4:34-35 tells us there was no needy person among the disciples. They distributed the goods as any who had need. But now we see sin creep into the church. Men’s hearts polluted this ideal. God commanded giving to the poor, the widows and the orphans. But man’s sinfulness caused to show preference to some and ignore others.

Caring for widows is a major biblical theme. (Deu_10:18; Deu_16:11; Deu_16:14; Deu_24:17; Deu_24:19-21; Deu_26:12-13; Deu_27:19; Isa_1:17-23; Jer_7:6; Mal_3:5.)

Yet, there is no command from God men cannot corrupt. Many have claimed they would like to return to the purity of the early church. Such a claim makes clear they know nothing of the early church. The early church was not more pure than the church of today. Sinful men make up the church.

The daily distribution became more than than the Apostles could do themselves. So they divided up the labor. The apostles took the advice Jethro gave Moses. (Exodus 18:14-23) They divided up the labor. They put in place leaders to create and administer a process to care for those in need.

When the apostles said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” They were not placing a hierarchy of value. They were not saying, “Serving table is beneath us.” After all Chris Himself had washed their feet. They were acknowledging their calling. There were only so many hours in a day. When they chose to do one thing they chose not to do others. If they waited on table, they would have no time for preaching the Gospel. Christ tasked them with preaching and teaching. Taking time to serve tables would be in disobedient to Christ. Thus they refused anything that drew them away from teaching. But serving the physical needs of people was still a requirement. So the apostles set up the diaconate.

The apostles gave the criteria for the church to choose. They were to choose men who were honest.

They were to choose men whom the Holy Spirit had given wisdom and other gifts. The apostles also gave a quick job description. They were to oversee the distribution of food to those in need.

The church is to use the resources God provides to the best of its ability.

The intent of this passage is to introduce Stephen and the persecution of the church. Yet it also tells us a lot about the roles men are to play in the church. Christ is not serviced when we try to make the minister serve roles to which he is not called. A minister’s job is to preach and teach. He is not called as an administrator. He is not called as a fundraiser. He is not called to build buildings. He is to teach and preach. Things we demand outside of that reduces the time he may spend “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But let us not err in an extreme in the opposite direction. Pastors must not think they do their job when they have given the Sunday sermon. There is much more to do. First there is the matter of study. Second, they are to be zealous in preaching and teaching. They are to teach constantly. They are to teach in various ways with various methods.

The apostles also mentioned prayer. They were to devote themselves to prayer. They did not intent to say they alone were to pray. Prayer is something the Lord calls all believers to do. But ministers have a peculiar call to prayer.

The congregation selected the diaconate. They were then dedicated by the apostles.

One of those selected was Stephen. Stephen was to become the church’s first martyr.

Luke describes Stephen as full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Luke does not separate faith from the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Rather Luke is saying Stephen met the criteria the apostles set forth. “full of the Spirit and of wisdom”

The congregation chose the deacons. The apostle prayed and laid hand on them. Yet not all were full of the Holy Spirit. The church has and continues to err. Nicholas appears not to be full of the Holy Spirit. Ancient writers are consistent in their claim. They claim one of the seven, Nicholas, is the same Nicholas John mentions in the Revelation. (Revelation 2:15) He founded a sect that practiced sexual immorality.

The sentence about the laying on of hands is a bit clumsy. They set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. “They set before the apostles.” The people presented their selection of deacon to the apostles. “And they prayed.” This “they” refers to the whole the people and the apostles, both prayed. “And laid their hands on them.” This “they” in all probability refers to only the apostles. It is unlikely all the people literally laid their hands on the seven. They did lay their hands on the seven virtually that is, through the apostles.

The church continued to grow. God even converted many Jewish religious leaders to Christianity.

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