Lessons

Lessons

Appointed to the Duty (Acts 6:1-7)

Series: You Are the Temple of God - 2024 Theme

Acts 6:1-7 - At request of the elders, we are beginning to the process to add new deacons to our leadership. As such, we will discuss their work this morning, and this evening we will walk through the qualities they must have in 1 Timothy 3.

To begin, we need to understand what a deacon is and what their job is. Every christian is to deacon - the word diakonos is almost always translated servant or minister. Some examples are lines like these in (Matthew 23:11-12, Mark 9:35, and John 12:26). Deacons then are used in a general way, and then with respect to the specific leadership role we will talk about today. But every christian, and every deacon or servant, is to live in a way that models and imitates the ultimate deacon, the suffering servant - Mark 10:45.

The role that a deacon has in a local church is so important. Churches might be able to function and be healthy in some ways with evangelists and shepherds, but inevitably the robust and fully functioning body that God desires will not be achieved with out deacons. But, deacons are not to be raised to the point of de facto elders, and they are also not to be lower to the point of glorified janitors. There is an important role they have and when they do their work well, the church will be blessed. We will see that as we walk through our text today

The Problem (Acts 6:1)

In Acts 6 we come in contact with the church thriving - the disciples are increasing, the work is progressing. Satan’s attempts to destroy it from outside with persecution have not been effective (Acts 3-4), and his attempts to destroy it within with corruption have been foiled as well (Acts 5). But now, the church is threatened with a new and subtle attack - distraction.

We are introduced to a problem that has entered the congregation, a complaint has come that the hellenists widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Now, apparently part of the money that had been laid at the apostles feet was going to provide daily needs. However, there was a breakdown in that process and it divided along ethnic and cultural lines. Hellenists were Jews, but they were raised in the greek language while the Hebrews were raised with Aramaic language. We should not miss the point, this could be a potentially explosive situation that threatens to divide the church.

Immediately we should realize that the work of deacons today is not menial and insignificant tasks. This was a charge for a very important situation that required mature christians who would not make the situation worse.

The Purpose (Acts 6:2, 4)

Wisely, the apostles gather the full number of the disciples - they had a church meeting with all members present to resolve this particular problem. This would prevent the divisions and exclusions that can happen with communicating through smaller groups.

What we see is that the Apostles actually are not going to handle this situation themselves, they wisely understand their role and the outcome of following this path “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” They understood this is not the right way, they had an important role of the word and devoting themselves to prayer (v 4). If the apostles began to busy themselves with serving tables they would end up neglecting the important work and charge that they had been given. This not to say that what was being given over to these servants was unimportant, it was not their role.

Now, one element to appreciate is that these men were going to be appointed to this duty or set over this work. The idea is not that they would constantly come back over and over and report to the Apostles and have to ask permission for every single thing. While there is an accountability to the leaders, the idea is of delegated authority over the particular area. These men might not have even done all the specific feeding and distribution, but they would have been responsible for making sure that these women were not being neglected.

This is just critical for a local church. In a church there is a tendency for the preacher to do the elders work, the elders to do the deacons work, and the deacons are unsure of their role. You can see that they understand the purpose and diversity of each person and their contributions to the local church.

This is where we see that subtle attack of Satan for what it really is. He could not destroy the church by persecution or corruption, so what he tried to use was the power of distraction. When a church is disordered and people are being distracted from their important work, then Satan is getting the upper hand. Imagine if the Apostles did stop their work and become distracted, what would happen to the number of disciples increasing?

This is an important lesson for local churches today: Satan wants distracted churches. Satan wants churches that aren’t busy in the work of evangelism and edification. He wants churches to have personality conflicts, to have leadership distracted, and to divide churches. Understanding roles and having leaders function in those roles helps to keep that back.

The Process (Acts 6:3, 5-6)

Now, I want to speak to a bit on process. This is important for us because we are going to begin the process of selecting leaders, but there are important elements recorded here for when we appoint leaders and how we go about making decisions in a local church.

First, notice that the whole congregation was involved. That’s not to say that leaders don’t have to meet and make certain decisions, but there is a mutual trust and respect that is present. This could be a divisive issue to the entire group, the entire group needed to be unified.

Second, notice that the Apostles did not choose. They saw the need and showed that they needed seven men to accomplish this work, but in verse three, the church was told to “pick out from among you…” Now, we aren’t given a specific pattern or instruction in how exactly the picking was done. In my experience, each church tends to do it similarly, but a little different. But it’s important to note that this is not prejudiced or where the apostles are picking their favorites, it was the church selecting men they trusted to handle the situation.

Third, the Apostles taught on the qualifications. This was not a position open to just anyone, these men needed to have a good reputation in the group, they were to be full of the Spirit (I believe he is saying they exhibited the fruit of the Spirit or walking according to the Spirit of Christ, not necessarily that they had spiritual gifts, even though that is possible), and they were to be full of wisdom. These are essential attributes to resolve the situation at hand and to do their work well. 1 Timothy 3:8-13 give more specifics, but these are summations.

Fourth, the Apostles appointed selected men. This does not mean the men were chosen by them, but that they were put in place by the leadership. This role is passed on to evangelists as we look further in the new testament (Titus 1:5, Acts 14:23, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). This is part of my particular work and role in the church here.

Then look at the reaction, this pleased the whole congregation - sometimes it’s hard for every person to be pleased with a church decision. And then the congregation chose these men to serve. One item to notice is that these men all had greek names. This likely meant they were hellenists and would have made sure that the overlooked and underprivileged part of the church was well cared for.

Then finally, they were set before the apostles, the apostles prayed and laid hands on them. This was a cultural symbol that signified appointment to a particular task. But this is something that is an important ritual that should be repeated in the culturally appropriate way.

Some might not like all of these pieces, but this is the only pattern we have in the new testament for appointing leaders to positions. There is wisdom woven into this decision and it is going to be what we follow at this church as we strive to do all things according to the word.

The Power (Acts 6:7)

Notice then that we have a back here that is formed with verse 1 and verse 7. Because of the wise action of the Apostles, the congregation, and the service of these men, the word of God continued to increase - that is that the word of God was spread more and more and the result was that the number of disciples multiple greatly. This is really saying something, if the church had grown to the point of 5,000 men in (Acts 4:4). This was an enormous amount of people that were being added and it allow the church to scale and continue growing despite already being so large. And we have a note here that a great many of the priests became obedient - even the existing leadership among the Jews were being reached and converted as a result of the word spreading through Jerusalem.

There is power in following the plan and pattern of God. God doesn’t give us these directions because he wants us to be lazy and inactive in his service. God gives us the best and most effective way to accomplish his will. The reason that the church has biblically qualified and capable evangelists, shepherds, and deacons is not because God wants to hold the church back - it is because God wants the church to go forward. But we must beware, many times this  plan of God is attacked and the impact is diminished as a result. When we have unqualified men taking these positions, when we have people not serving and doing their work well in these positions, when we try to change and modify the structure or roles to include things that are not in the biblical structure, we end up damaging the process in our efforts to be “more efficient”. We need to have trust in the wisdom of God and to honor him by obeying his will.

So, going forward, we need to go to the various leaders that are responsible for their areas, the division of labor is what makes the work effective. If you have an area with the building, don’t go to the elders about that, go to the deacon over building maintenance. If you have a website issue, go to the deacon over that area. This is true for all of the various areas.

Further, we need to understand what the deacons were doing was spiritual work. We have these categories and hierarchies in our mind regarding the work of leaders. While the deacons were obviously serving tables, can we not see that this was spiritual work? It freed up the leaders to continue the work with the word and for disciples to be multiplied. As such, the deacons need to be highly respected for their work, they need to be entrusted with things like buildings, budgets, etc. They meet very specific qualities because they have responsibilities.

Conclusion

However, where I want us to end with a bit of perspective and where the power to serve really comes from. As deacons, it is very easy for their work to be overlooked and under appreciated. They may think that the work they do is not valuable. Please do not fall into the mentality of    (1 Corinthians 12:14-26) where we think some contributions are not valuable because they don’t look like others, or that we do not need the value of others.

The reason that all of us serve is because we imitating the ultimate servant - Jesus. Jesus is the chosen servant of God (Isaiah 42:1) with the goal of bring back the tribes of Israel to God so that they can be the light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The way that this was done was through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) - the suffering servant of God. Jesus applied Isaiah 42 to himself in Luke 4 and then his life and teaching were about molding us to be like him - Mark 10:42-45.

But the one of the greatest examples of Jesus service is seen in the last few hours of his life. It was Jesus who did the menial work of arranging for the passover, then he lowered himself to the position of a servant and washed the disciples feet. While Jesus had the enormous burden of giving his life for the sins of the world, he was still focused on serving the ones he loved and even including the one who betrayed him. That servant attitude was so ingrained that it becomes the core and model of the gospel - (Philippians 2:3-11) and the model for how operate and serve one another because we all have failed Jesus and he served us with grace.

What we see in Jesus is God stepping into the mundane and everyday nature of life and doing the things that are “below Him”. But it shows us that if service is below us, then leadership is above us. For us to serve like Jesus, we must see Jesus first serving us and then seeing the value and exaltation that came from the Father. He is our pattern and our motivation to serve.