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Saved to Serve

AN EXPOSITION OF

ACTS 6:1-6

    1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

For about forty years believers looked to the leadership in the Holy City, but then the church in Jerusalem failed for several reasons. There was the growth of legalism. Excessive rules and regulations were imposed on God’s people. There was the rise of Judaism with its return to the sacrificial system and observing of days and months. There was doctrinal impurity due to mingling law and grace. There was the lack of love as the divisions grew among the Greeks and Hebrews. People became territorial, bitter, and vindictive. There were sins of the tongue.

The Grecians is a reference to Jews who allowed the language and culture of the Greeks to influence their lives.

One of the first controversies that arose in the emerging church was a social issue. Jewish women were being looked after while widows from another culture were being neglected. People have a sense of right and wrong. People know if they are being treated fairly within in the church. People do not hesitate to let their displeasure be known. While murmuring is considered to be a great sin in Scripture, it does happen, and must be addressed.

2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

Even though there were only eleven disciples, officially, the remaining apostles were still called, The Twelve. The selection of Matthias was not divinely authorized as far as the Scriptures indicate. Paul was ordained to be an apostle. Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.

The primary responsibility of a pastor is to study, and teach in order to feed the flock of God. Two times Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:16, 17). Paul instructed Timothy to show himself approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). Because congregations do not understand the primary role of a minister, unholy and unwise demands are made on his time, and his divine calling. The faithful minister of the gospel is to give himself continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.

     3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

There are many Bible scholars who believe that the office of a deacon originated in the early church on this occasion. If that is true, then a sense of what it means to be a deacon is revealed.

First, a deacon is to be honest. Second, a deacon must have a good reputation in the community. Third, a deacon must be full of the Holy Spirit. Fourth, a deacon must be a person that has demonstrated wisdom. Fifth, a deacon must be a humble man, for he is an appointed man. A deacon is to be a servant in the church. He is to be one who is humble enough to wait on tables.

Just as a note, it is not the church, as a whole that is to appoint the deacon, but the church leadership. The church, when given permission, can select, or suggest those whom they feel would be good servant of the Lord, but ultimately, the appointment of a deacon is to be done by church leaders.

This is to be the proper way for deacons to emerge, because in the Day of Judgment God will hold the apostles, and then the elders (pastors) accountable for whom they have laid hands on. The Bible says, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22).

When an unqualified deacon emerges to control a local congregation, much harm is done. Happy is the congregation that is careful in recommending Biblically qualified men to be deacons.

Initially, the apostles appointed the deacons. Later, the elders appointed the deacons. Once more we find that democracy is not the divine ideal in the local assembly. Ideally, the church is to be a theocracy, ruled by God, and then by those whom He has delegated authority to by a divine call.

Unfortunately, today, many church leaders are unbiblical individuals, invested with worldly authority, and are more familiar with, and guided by Robert’s Rules of Order, instead of the Word of God.

4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

A true Biblical ministry is a spiritual ministry that involves prayer, and spending time with the Lord in His Word. It is not a matter of formal education, but a divine call. “We have the strange idea today that a man must go to theological seminary, or some particular place of learning, in order to be prepared to minister the word of God. That’s one of the great errors of our day. Education is very useful, and many men would be helped considerably by it, but in the ministry in the truth of God, ultimately, everything depends upon the Lord laying his hand upon the individual, and equipping, and preparing him for the ministry of the word of God. And without that, all of the training that we may have is really fruitless for carrying on the work of God” (S. Lewis Johnson). What is needed is for individuals to give themselves to the Lord.

     5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

If these men were the original seven deacons in the emerging church, then they are worthy of a second look. Consider whom the church set before the apostles for the purpose of approval.

Stephen (crown). Of the seven men appointed to serve tables, Stephen is singled out for his faith and spirituality. Stephen would soon have the honor of being the first Christian martyr.

Philip (lover of horses). Also known as Philip the Evangelist, little is known about this Philip. When persecution came to the saints in Jerusalem, Philip was forced to flee to the city of Samaria where he performed many miracles for people who gladly listened to the gospel. He was opposed by Simon Magus who practiced sorcery. After Peter and John came to Samaria to minister, Philip was instructed by an angel of the Lord to go to Gaza. On the way, he met a court official of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, to whom he was able to preach Christ. The Ethiopian was converted, and wanted to be baptized. Philip continued his ministry at Azotus (Ashdod) and other cities that once belonged to the Philistines. The last mention of Philip in the New Testament is in the account of the journey of Paul to Jerusalem. He and his four unmarried daughters opened their home to the apostle, and his companions, which means that Philip was a man with the gift of hospitality.

Prochorus (leader of the dance). This is the only mention of Prochorus in Scripture. Perhaps he was involved in the theater. There is a tradition that Prochorus was consecrated to be the bishop of Nicomedia by the apostle Peter. Nicomedia is an ancient city in Turkey. In AD 286 Nicomedia was made the eastern capital city of the Roman Empire during the time of Diocletian (b. AD 244-311).

Nicanor (victorious). Apart from his name, and his inclusion of those selected to serve tables, nothing is known about Nicanor. It is enough that he had a good name, and a good reputation among the saints. Proverbs 22:1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

Timon (reckoning, worthy). Like Nicanor, nothing further is known of him. Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

Parmenas (faithful). There is a tradition that Parmenas suffered martyrdom at Philippi, a town of Macedonia, in the reign of the emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170 – 235) said that he was at one time bishop of Soli, an ancient city on the island of Cyprus. He is commemorated in the calendar of the Byzantine church on July 28.

Nicolas (victor over the people). A native of Antioch, Syria. Nicolas became a proselyte to the Jewish faith. His selection to serve tables is a reflection of the inclusiveness of the emerging church. A cloud of controversy hangs over Nicolas because of a sect known as the Nicolaitans. They are mentioned in the Revelation in association with the church in Ephesus.

Revelation 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 Revelation 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

The doctrine, or teaching of the Nicolaitans included the belief that it was lawful to self-indulge, and worship idols. They also taught that God was not the creator of the world. Immorality was permissible in order for the grace of God to flow more freely.

     6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

The laying on of hands representing biblical authority, and spiritual power, is considered to be a foundational principle of the Christian life. Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit.

 In the Old Testament the laying on of hands represented specific spiritual realities. The blessing of God. When Jacob blessed Joseph and his two sons he laid his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh. Genesis 48:14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

The identification of a sinner with a substitutionary sacrifice. When the people, or the priests, laid their hands on their offerings, there was a spiritual identification with the sacrifice, and a transfer of sin, or defilement to the offering. Leviticus 1:4 And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

The establishment of a specialized priesthood. The laying on of hands was used to appoint the Levities to spiritual service, thereby separating them from the people.

Numbers 8:10 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the LORD: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites.

Levites…8:14 Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine.

The commissioning of a spiritual and political leader over the nation. According to divine instruction, Moses appointed Joshua as his successor, thereby giving him authority. Numbers 27:18 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; 19 And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. 20 And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.

In the New Testament the laying on of hands was also significant. Blessings were conveyed by the laying on of hands. Mark 10:16 And he [Jesus] took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Healing power was conveyed by the laying on of hands. Matthew 8:3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. 7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankles bones received strength. 8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God:

The Holy Spirit was given. Acts 8:17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

A spiritual gift was conveyed to Timothy from the elders, and from Paul. 1 Timothy 4:14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

Individuals were appointed, or set apart to a work. Acts 6:6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. Acts 13:3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Because of the importance of laying on of hands, it is not to be done lightly. 1 Timothy 5:22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure,

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