Acts 6

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“So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council” (Acts 6:12 NLT).

June 8, 2018

Stephen was the first among seven deacons appointed by the Apostles. His name means “crowned one.” In addition to his ministry of service (“Deacon” means “servant”), he was a powerful witness for Jesus. It was his preaching that brought him to the attention of the Jewish high council, where lying witnesses falsely accused him.

Stephen, the first deacon, was also the first to experience the persecution in Jerusalem that scattered Christians throughout the Roman world. He was part of a kind of “first fruit offering” from the great harvest of believers in Jesus that gave their lives for their witness. As a result, Christ’s command in Acts 1:8, that they would be His witnesses in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” was urged forward by the very persecution that sought to stop them.

“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:3-4 NKJV).

June 8, 2017

It didn’t take long for the early church to experience the complaints of its members. The apostles had apparently started a food distribution ministry to the widows, but the church had grown so rapidly that the size of the task had become overwhelming. Plus, the Greek background believers complained that the Jewish background believers were neglecting their widows. What began as a complaint about unfair food distribution had become an accusation against the apostles of racism.

Depending on how the apostles responded, this problem could have either split the early church or severely slowed it down. If they had turned a deaf ear to the complaint and done nothing to address it, the disunity probably would have split the church. But if they had focused the work of the apostles on working at the tables to distribute food fairly, then they would have neglected their true calling, namely, the ministry of the Word and prayer, which would have severely slowed the growth of the church.

However, the apostles responded wisely, gathering the people together, they asked for seven men to be appointed as “deacons” (Greek: diakonos – “servant”) to administer the widow ministry and to address the disunity. In this way, they wisely delegated this ministry, so that they didn’t neglect their own ministry calling.

The first-century church offers a wise paradigm for ministry in the 21st-century church. It is wise to set apart certain ministers to focus on caring for the physical needs of the flock. But it is equally wise to set apart pastors who are to focus on preaching and teaching the Word and praying for the flock. Both are needed in the church today.