Thus far in Acts Luke has reported the conversion of thousands. Some time has passed. The number of believers is increasing. But a little matter of food distribution is threatening to divide the church. Acts 6:1–7, in describing the solution, sets the stage for one of the permanent offices in the church.
God calls you to serve. He expects you to be concerned about the practical affairs of life. Tensions arose in the church over perceptions of inequity between Grecian and Hebraic widows in the distribution of food. Yet the problem was an outgrowth of the church’s practical concerns for its members, and the solution points to a permanent way of dealing with the issue. God expects his people to be concerned about the poor, especially those of the household of faith (Deuteronomy 10:12–22; Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8; 9; James 1:27. This contradicts a false notion of spirituality” in the church. That rediscovery is part of the Reformation. Compassion needs to be guided by the Word of God. The tensions arose because of diversity in the church, but the diversity is part of God’s plan for his people. “These early Christians found, however, that the differences that threaten division can be God’s prod to look beyond oneself, beyond the circle of ‘our kind of people,’ to see the rich diversity of people ‘from every nation, tribe, people, and language,’ being woven together by the Spirit into a multicolored many-textured tapestry (Rev. 7:9–10). If we try to keep the peace by filtering out folks who are not ‘like-minded,’ or who will not or cannot adjust themselves to our comfort zone, then the artificial and superficial unity that results will rest on the shifting sands of culture, tradition, and familiarity. God has a way of unsettling this comfortable ‘fellowship,’ challenging us to pursue the real thing instead: ‘He himself is our peace, who made both [Jew and Gentile] become one, dismantling the dividing wall, the enmity, in his flesh… in order to create the two [Jew and Gentile] into one new man in himself, making peace, and to reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, by which he killed the enmity’ (Eph. 2:14–16).” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 88)
Recognize the gift of serving. Appropriately, this passage is seen as foundational to the office of deacon, described in more detail in 1 Timothy 3:8–13, though the word, “deacon” is not used in this passage. “It is probable that the appointment of the seven, and more particularly the principle that led to that appointment (Acts 6:2), provided the pattern for the erection of the diaconate as a distinct office, and also for the kind of service rendered by the diaconate in and for the church.” (The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2, p. 364). Yet the gift of serving is not limited to those holding formal office. In fact, an important part of the work of the diaconate is to encourage God’s people to generous, effective help of others. But recognize the too often undervalued office of deacon.
Serve in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Diaconal service reflects God’s covenant compassion. The Levites were associated with the tithe for aliens and widows, Deuteronomy 14:28, 29. Show mercy, because God has first been merciful to you. The command to be generous in Deuteronomy 10 is grounded in God’s covenantal deliverance from Egyptian slavery. Isaiah describes the coming Messiah as the Lord’s Servant. In Matthew 20:28 Jesus defined his Messianic ministry in terms of service. Biblical service is in Christ’s name. These seven relieved the Apostles. Not all may have Stephen’s ability to preach, but diaconal help must be in Christ’s name and should be accompanied by the Word. The deacons are specifically called to reflect this compassion of the covenant God, but so are all us as a redeemed people.
God fills you with the Holy Spirit so that you can serve. Numbers 27:18 describes a crucial transition point in the Old Testament covenant people. Moses, who had led Israel out of Egypt and through the 40 years of wilderness wandering, was not to enter the promised land. Who would lead God’s people? God equips Joshua with his Spirit, and Moses lays his hands on him. Joshua becomes the one who leads God’s people into the next phase of redemptive history. Seven men of wisdom and full of the Spirit were selected to serve. Stephen was noted for being full of faith and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, who had equipped Christ for his earthly ministry of service, now is poured out on the church—and these officers receive an additional portion. This diaconal work is part of the church continuing to do the work of Jesus, Acts 1:1.
The too often neglected work of the deacons is a place where your covenant God reveals his compassion in Jesus Christ! Serve—in the wisdom and power of the Spirit!