The In-Between Years - Part 31

Series: The In-Between Years

March 21, 2021
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 31

We went one verse in to Acts chapter 6 last week…

1 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.  Acts 6:1 (ESV)

Luke doesn’t edit out what would have been most likely the first major problem the growing church faced. Some widows were unintentionally being overlooked in the daily food distribution, and they were all from the same ethnic group, Hellenist AKA Greek-speaking Jews. They weren’t as Jewishy as “Hebrew” Jews in Jerusalem.

Widows were some of the most vulnerable and needy people in the 1st Century. Without sons, they had no means of support. Feeding them every day was a huge ministry for the early church. It was big on their minds and hearts. We learned ministry to the poor wasn’t something the first Christians just came up with, it was in their very DNA. Jesus made the poor and marginalized important. And God did as well in the OT. And so should we.

The early church wasn’t just about preaching the Word as critical as that was. They were also about meeting needs. It wasn’t one or the other, it was both.

We’ve figured out what the problem was, now let’s observe how the early church handled it…

2 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. 3 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. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  Acts 6:2–4 (ESV)

Alright, let’s break this down, then put it back together and see what we can learn.

The twelve. The disciples chosen by Jesus during his earthly ministry (minus Judas, of course) who became the first apostles. The early name attributed to Luke’s second volume was The Acts of the Apostles because they play a key role in the birth and spread of Christianity.

Technically an apostle was one of the original twelve, but it will later apply to a Paul and even Barnabas. It means messenger, someone sent out on a mission. The apostles at Jerusalem were that church’s first pastors in a sense, since the office of pastor or elder hadn’t come into play yet.

Summoned the full number of disciples. Here is a rare instance of where I don’t care for the ESV’s translation of a Greek word. What they translate as “the full number of disciples” is from the Greek word plethos (play-thōs). The apostles could not have called together as many as 10,000 believers in one place at one time without causing a problem. “Full number” would be better translated as multitude or assembly or congregation. It wasn’t every single believer in Jerusalem, it was probably key leaders, notable men, and such.

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” At first read, this seems kind of snobby and even rude. It sounds like the apostles think they’re too important and too good to handle the daily distribution themselves so that no widows were overlooked. No. It’s not that at all. 

What they are saying is “We have a primary role in the church that cannot be set aside — preaching the Word. In order to handle the widow’s issue, we’d have to stop preaching and handle the deliveries ourselves. That wouldn’t be right. The ministry of the Word is too important.” And yet at the same time, the ministry to widows was equally important. It wouldn’t be right to let that slide either.

We can only imagine what they — the apostles of the early church in Jerusalem — must have been going through. Twelve men responsible for as many as 10,000 people. No doubt they were overseeing everything. The movement just kept growing and growing. And then this problem arises needing attention. Reminds of a similar situation in the OT.

In the OT, there was a leader — a kind of pastor —who oversaw the people of God. His name was Moses and he tried juggle all the balloons of shepherding as many as 2,000,000 Israelites out in the wilderness. It wasn’t going well. The demands outweighed his ability to meet them. If it weren’t for a visit from his father-in-law, the story of God’s people on their way to the Promised Land might have turned out differently…

1 Jethro was the priest of Midian and the father-in-law of Moses. And he heard what the Lord God had done for Moses and his people, after rescuing them from Egypt.  Exodus 18:1 (CEV)

5 While Israel was camped in the desert near Mount Sinai, Jethro sent Moses this message: “I am coming to visit you, and I am bringing your wife and two sons.” Exodus 18:5 (CEV)

13 The next morning Moses sat down at the place where he decided legal cases for the people, and everyone crowded around him until evening. 14 Jethro saw how much Moses had to do for the people, and he asked, “Why are you the only judge? Why do you let these people crowd around you from morning till evening?” 15 Moses answered, “Because they come here to find out what God wants them to do. 16 They bring their complaints to me, and I make decisions on the basis of God’s laws.” 17 Jethro replied: That isn’t the best way to do it. 18 You and the people who come to you will soon be worn out. The job is too much for one person; you can’t do it alone. 19 God will help you if you follow my advice. You should be the one to speak to God for the people, 20 and you should teach them God’s laws and show them what they must do to live right. 21 You will need to appoint some competent leaders who respect God and are trustworthy and honest. Then put them over groups of ten, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand. 22 These judges can handle the ordinary cases and bring the more difficult ones to you. Having them to share the load will make your work easier. 23 This is the way God wants it done. You won’t be under nearly as much stress, and everyone else will return home feeling satisfied. 24 Moses followed Jethro’s advice. 25 He chose some competent leaders from every tribe in Israel and put them over groups of ten, fifty, a hundred, and a thousand. 26 They served as judges, deciding the easy cases themselves, but bringing the more difficult ones to Moses. 27 After Moses and his father-in-law Jethro had said good-by to each other, Jethro returned home.  Exodus 18:13–27 (CEV)

The parallels here are obvious. Bible scholars even believe the apostles had this very account in mind when they offered a solution to the widows issue. They did what Moses did.

“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.” They weren’t able to take on this ministry and still fulfill theirs, but they would make sure it was handled and handled well. Seven men would be chosen to oversee the daily distribution.

If you still think they were kind of rude and snotty, that they devalued the ministry to widows, consider the kind of men required to handle the serving of tables. They had to be men held in high esteem by all in the church; they had to be men full of the Spirit; and they had to be men full of wisdom.

I am blown away that those are the qualifications for handling the wheels on meals ministry. They took ministry seriously ya’ll! Those three things right there disqualify a lot of men from serving as pastors today, maybe even this one. 

Those guys would make sure the widows weren’t neglected anymore, and the apostles — who were pastors at that time — would get back to doing what they were called to do.

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. We don’t have time to go into it much today, but Paul writes a number of letters to pastors and in those letters he emphasizes what their primary roles are. They line up exactly with what we see here in Acts. Here’s just one example…

17 Church leaders who do their job well deserve to be paid twice as much, especially if they work hard at preaching and teaching.  1 Timothy 5:17 (CEV)

So we kind of come back full circle from where we started. Last week we saw how doing church isn’t just about the Word. It’s about remembering the poor. Meeting the needs of the down and out. It’s part of our DNA. This week we see the other side of the coin. It’s about making sure the church’s leaders devote themselves to the ministry of prayer and the Word.

Why the church is fighting over this I don’t understand. You don’t get to say something like, “Well if I had to choose one or the other…” The testimony of the early church in Acts makes it crystal clear. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

There’s more here if we hang around a bit. You probably know these seven men we’ll meet in a minute are called the first what? Deacons. That’s not exactly true. They’re actually not the first deacons because…

The office of deacon isn’t seen until later in the church. Just like the office of pastor. But you could call them proto-deacons. It is believed they were the model from which the official office came. The word serve in verse 2, where the apostles said it’s not right that they serve tables, is from the Greek verb diakeneo (dee-uh-kuh-now). Remember that and look at…

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:  Philippians 1:1 (ESV)

The Greek word for the office of deacon, as seen here is the noun diakonos (dee-ah-kuh-nōs). It’s the noun form of the verb in Acts 6:2. By this time the office of deacon and pastor/overseer is in full effect. They function as leaders in the church alongside pastors, helping with the demands of ministry. The connections are obvious.

The church adapted to meet the demands of ministry in Acts 6 and kept it going by making the position of deacon within the NT church. There’s much application here for the office of deacon today.

Deacons are not called to run the church. They are called to help carry the burden of ministry so the pastor can devote himself to the ministry of prayer and the word, to overseeing the spiritual shepherding of the flock. You see Jethro’s advice in Exodus and the apostles’ actions in Acts convey a Biblical principle:  the burden of ministry is meant to be shared officially by the deacons and ultimately by every single member…

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  Ephesians 4:11–12 (ESV)

One commentator writes…

The principle here can be applied to almost any ministry situation. People never run out of needs; so when we take on the responsibility to help meet those needs, we will have as much work as we can handle. The problem comes when we try to carry burdens that are bigger than the ones that God has actually called us to bear. God never intends for us to do all the work ourselves. This is why he has placed us in the body of Christ, in which we are dependent on the help of others. It is utter folly for ministers or other spiritual leaders to think they can do it all by themselves. Christian ministry should never be a one-man (or one-woman) show. It is not good for us to try to do God’s work all on our own. The Scripture says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought … in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Rom. 12:3, 5, 6).[1]

There’s something else here too. Something Baptist churches in particular need to see but most don’t.

3 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.  Acts 6:3 (ESV)

3 My friends, choose seven men who are respected and wise and filled with God’s Spirit. We will put them in charge of these things.  Acts 6:3 (CEV)


3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.  Acts 6:3 (NLT)

Pick out. Choose. Select. But how do most Baptist churches get deacons? They ELECT them. No translation I’m aware of uses elect here. That’s for a reason. There is a huge difference between elect and select.

Elect: choose (someone) to hold an office or position by popular vote.

Select: carefully choose as being the best or most suitable.

One of the biggest problems in Baptist churches today is folks are electing deacons rather than selecting them.

Let me take a minute and just say how much I appreciate our deacons. They have never thought it was their job to run the church. They’ve always supported me. And because I know they are the kind of guys you select and not elect, I gladly submit myself to them.

There’s a whole lot more we could talk about, but that’s enough for now. Let’s see what happened when the early church handled it’s first big problem…

5 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. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  Acts 6:5–6 (ESV) 

There’s something even here for us to see. All seven men have Greek names. What group of people within the church had a problem getting their daily food distribution? The Greek speaking widows. See what they did there? 

The community acts to ensure care for those outside its original social and cultural bounds—those who were previously marginalized—by appointing to leadership people who are from the same background.[2]

What an act of humility and love and wisdom within the early church.

Conclusion: By now you should be aware that throughout Acts, Luke gives these little snapshots of what the church is like from time-to-time. Verse 7 is one of those. Check out what happened when the apostles devoted themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer, and the seven men made sure the ministry to widows was working right.

7 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.  Acts 6:7 (ESV)

Did you catch that? They didn’t just see more folks follow Christ, they saw a bunch of priests believe! Tim Keller kind of wraps things up for us today…

…we see the early church took care of the poor. Radical ways of doing it. [When] things went wrong… the apostles decided, “It’s because we’re trying to do too many things. We’re wearing too many hats.” So they gave the job of caring for the poor, for the economically and for the politically powerless, to a group of people who specialized in it and they said, “You all do it.” We’re told in verse 7, as a result of this enhanced ministry, of not just word ministry but deed ministry, not just ministry to the soul, but to the body, holistic ministry … It says the word of God spread rapidly.

Look at verse 7. A whole lot of priests were converted. Why? The priests saw a whole community doing what the priesthood should do. In the Old Testament, it was the priests who took care of the poor. They got the tithes. The priests and Levites took care of the poor. They looked at this church and said, “Here’s a whole group of people, and they’re all acting like priests. The sympathy, the service, the involvement with people’s needs.” There was an impact, and they were converted.[3]

The story of the church’s first big problem is a case study on what happens when the church emphasizes the word and ministry.

We can’t close without giving you an opportunity to respond to the good news that Jesus lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died and he gives all that to you like a gift so you can become part of God’s forever family. You receive that gift by taking him up on his offer…

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

[1] Ryken, P. G., & Hughes, R. K. (2005). Exodus: saved for God’s glory (pp. 482–483). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ac 6:5). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church