As our nation’s War on Poverty began decades ago, a bumper sticker appeared, “Poverty is Where the Money’s At.” Whether the government stepped in because the church was neglecting her work, or whether the church neglects her work because the government has taken it over, we have years of experience of underemphasizing the church’s ministry of mercy. Acts 6:1-7 is a corrective.
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.
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. 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.
Serving is hard work. It requires wisdom. Serve in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This service reflects God’s covenant compassion. The Levites were associated with the tithe for aliens and widows. 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. 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 giving must be in Christ’s name and should be accompanied by the Word. “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).
God fills you with the Holy Spirit to serve. 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.
The too often neglected work of the deacons is a place where your covenant God reveals his compassion in Jesus Christ! Serve—in the power of the Spirit!