Message – Selecting & Appointing real deacons vs. modern deacons (The Power of Practical Wisdom & being Filled with the Spirit)
Podcast: Download (Duration: 1:25:48 — 197.6MB)
Subscribe: Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS
Selecting & Appointing real deacons vs. modern deacons
Subtitle: The Power of Practical Wisdom & being Filled with the Spirit
We are going to read through Acts 6-7 today and we will see how decisions were made in the early church.
In today’s world we have a tendency to either over-spiritualize things or over naturalize them.
There are churches which couldn’t even pick a color for the carpet in the church unless they had something akin to a supernatural move of God. Others, I’m sad to say, will make decisions regarding doctrine and Christian living without hardly even consulting the scriptures.
A modern example of this was conveyed to me by Dr. Alexander Strauch. He is the man who wrote the excellent book, “Biblical Eldership” and who I had the privilege to speak with one day over the phone not long after our church switched from a single, female led church to a (at the time) multiple male eldership. He told me most churches never successfully make the transition and that is with those few who actually tried. Out of the hundreds of churches he had been invited to, to help them better understand true Biblical church leadership, he told me that He would often begin his meetings with asking them what their current criteria was for appointing a pastor. He told me that an appalling number of these churches did not even include the requirements outlined in scripture as part of the decision making process.
I believe as we press forward in Acts we will see both the obviously practical working together with the supernatural guidance of the Spirit. We’ve already witnessed it once in the upper room with the appointment of Matthias as the replacement for Judas’ Apostleship. Here, beginning in chapter 6 we will see it again.
“(1) Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”
Notice that nowhere in the book of Acts have we seen a rule being established that widows were to be taken care of in the first place. This was simply something which was understood.
You may not immediately see the great significance of this, but is it another nugget of truth which should serve as a glaring testimony to the fact that the from the very beginning of the church, where the Apostles whom Jesus Himself trained were present, they continued to follow the teachings and instructions of the Old Testament! They knew from their youth and from the teachings of the Messiah Himself that the Old Testament represented the very will and counsel of God for human earthly conduct.
This particular command was lifted from Exodus 22:22; Leviticus 19; Deuteronomy 24:17-21; 27:19; Isaiah 1:23; Ezekiel 22:6-8 & Zechariah 7:10. They teach us about loving your neighbor, and protecting the rights of the widow, the orphaned and the stranger who lived among them – even to the point of leaving the gleanings of the field for their provision.
Furthermore, and most importantly these and EVERY command of God was predicated upon His Own unchanging character as is seen in Deuteronomy 10:16-18,
“(16) Therefore, cleanse your heart and stop being so stubborn! (17) For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, (18) Who justly treats the orphan and widow, and Who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing.”
Now, the problem they were facing was that there seemed to be a discrepancy between the way the widows of those Jewish Christians who had come from the Greek speaking sects of Judaism and those who were of the more strict Hebrew speaking Jewish Christians. This is how they dealt with it…
“(2) So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables.”
What do you think they meant by “neglect”? It means to leave behind, to abandon
What “Word of God”? The ONLY word of God they had – the Old Testament.
I know you all probably get tired of hearing it, but the Old Testament and the Old Covenant are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! These men were not placing themselves under the obligation of keeping the commandments in order to obtain righteousness by their works. They WERE in a place of obligation or debt, but to the Spirit. They were to live BY the Spirit, Who Himself wrote the words of the Law in their hearts – thus pressing an obligation upon them to keep those words BECAUSE they were MADE righteous by Faith – not to GET righteousness by works.
“(3) But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. (4) But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The people were to do the selecting, and it had to be a careful, well thought out process. The words “carefully select” mean SO MUCH.
The first thing it meant was that the Apostles did not micromanage the church. They trusted in the character, heart and wisdom of Christ’s followers to heed their instructions and follow through with wisdom and discernment. They TRUSTED THEM!
This can hardly be overstated.
SO OFTEN in modern ministry, the leadership never truly relaxes their grip on the steering wheel. They feel the need to manage everything. The early church trusted one another.
This also says something by way of implication. Their numbers were such that they could know each other well enough TO TRUST!
They were told to “carefully select” – this means they were to pick out some men for careful, accurate and diligent consideration. They were to seek these men out, as if persons being appointed to an office.
The criteria was not very different from that of a pastor-elder which we read about in Timothy and Titus and with good reason. That list of requirements for a Pastor-elder are the exact same as those given in Timothy and Titus for a deacon – except they were not required to be teachers.
What were the requirements here given?
- “Brothers” – This did not mean a fellow Jew since one of them wound up being a Gentile from Antioch. No, the only ones open for consideration had to be brothers in the Lord.
- “Men” – They had to be MEN
- “Well-attested” – They had to be of well-attested good & moral character
- “full of the Spirit” – They had to be full of the Spirit (meaning men with whom it is obvious that they were Controlled by the Spirit – which implies maturity)
- “Wisdom” – They had to possess practical wisdom offering them skill in the affairs of life. The idea of men of good sense and sound judgment.
- “put in charge” – They had to be men who could properly carry authority without misusing or abusing it.
- “this necessary task” – They had to treat their work as imperative and necessary.
I think if you were to look at the requirements for deacons given in Timothy and Titus this would agree with them nearly point for point. Notice NOTHING is said here about being scholastically trained by a noteworthy scribe, or Rabbi which would have been on par with today’s Seminary. I find it very telling that the list of requirements were not scholastic, but practical, not academic but relational, not the result of training but of approved character. God is NOT impressed with what we know, or from whom we learned it, but rather with how we live.
“(5) The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Gentile convert to Judaism from Antioch.”
Though the congregation of men made the selecting, that did not sidestep the respect and authority of the Apostles.
“(6) They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them.
(7) The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
(8) Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Notice, it was a deacon in the early church who was said to be full of grace and power and performing great wonders and miraculous signs.
I wonder how many times in the modern world this passage is referenced as men are ordained into the deaconship of a local assembly.
“(9) But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, as well as some from Cilicia and the province of Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.
(10) Yet they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.”
It appears the church made a good choice with Stephen. He met the qualifications of wisdom, being full of the Spirit as well as grace and faith!
“(11) Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard this man speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
(12) They incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law; then they approached Stephen, seized him, and brought him before the council.”
You remember last week I told you that the Jews could not simply arbitrarily drag someone to court. They had to have an accusation against them which represented them as breaking the Law. In this case, they fabricated one.
“(13) They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. (14) For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
(15) All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel.”
So Sephen is accused of blaspheming against Moses and God, against the Law and the temple. So when he spoke in reply to these accusations, he addressed all of the above.
It is important to realize and remember that Stephen was not an Apostle, a Prophet, a Teacher or any other officially called member of the body of Christ. Stephen was simply one of the congregation who had walked with Christ and reached a level of dependible maturity in Him.
Stephen had no warning, no time to prepare a well thought out speech, he was dragged before the counsel and demanded to answer their accusations. As such all we read here is Stephen answering, as it were, on the fly. As a Christian, his knowledge of scripture was good and thorough. One has to wonder how well a modern Christian would have faired under the same circumstances – even a modern “deacon“.
In the following defense, Stephen sets them up by proving his honor of God, Moses, the law and the temple and gets them to agree with the way the Jewish people have always mistrusted and rejected those called by God to lead and deliver them. Then he connects the dots between Moses, Jesus and even himself as one who worked miracles among them and yet they still rejected the message God was giving them.
This response to their accusations, if “heard” with real and unbiased ears, would have stood up as sufficient to equit him an any court, but their self focused agenda and anger at the church, wanting to set Stephen up as an example – drove them to ignore the wisdom with which he spoke and even kill him.
“(1)Then the high priest said, “Are these things true?”
(2) So he replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, (3) and said to him,
‘Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.’
(4) Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.
After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live. (5) He did not give any of it to him for an inheritance, not even a foot of ground, yet God promised to give it to him as his possession, and to his descendants after him, even though Abraham, as yet, had no child.
(6) But God spoke as follows: ‘Your descendants will be foreigners in a foreign country, whose citizens will enslave them and mistreat them for four hundred years. (7) But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ said God, ‘and after these things they will come out of there and worship me in this place.’
(8) Then God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision, and so he became the father of Isaac and circumcised him when he was eight days old, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
(9) The patriarchs, because they were jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt. But God was with him, (10) and rescued him from all his troubles, and granted him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.
(11) Then a famine occurred throughout Egypt and Canaan, causing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. (12) So when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there the first time.
(13) On their second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers again, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. (14) So Joseph sent a message and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come, seventy-five people in all.
(15) So Jacob went down to Egypt and died there, along with our ancestors, (16) and their bones were later moved to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a certain sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
(17) “But as the time drew near for God to fulfill the promise he had declared to Abraham, the people increased greatly in number in Egypt, (18) until another king who did not know about Joseph ruled over Egypt. (19) This was the one who exploited our people and was cruel to our ancestors, forcing them to abandon their infants so they would die.
(20) At that time Moses was born, and he was beautiful to God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house, (21) and when he had been abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.
(22) So Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds. (23) But when he was about forty years old, it entered his mind to visit his fellow countrymen the Israelites. (24) When he saw one of them being hurt unfairly, Moses came to his defense and avenged the person who was mistreated by striking down the Egyptian.
(25) He thought his own people would understand that God was delivering them through him, but they did not understand.
(26) The next day Moses saw two men fighting, and tried to make peace between them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why are you hurting one another?’ (27) But the man who was unfairly hurting his neighbor pushed Moses aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? (28) You don’t want to kill me the way you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’
(29) When the man said this, Moses fled and became a foreigner in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
(30) “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the desert of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. (31) When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and when he approached to investigate, there came the voice of the Lord, (32) ‘I am the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look more closely. (33) But the Lord said to him, ‘Take the sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. (34) I have certainly seen the suffering of My people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
(35) This same Moses they had rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge?’ God sent as both ruler and deliverer through the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.
(36) This man led them out, performing wonders and miraculous signs in the land of Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years.
(37) This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers.’
(38) This is the man who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors, and he received living oracles to give to you.
(39) Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him aside and turned back to Egypt in their hearts, (40) saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods who will go in front of us, for this Moses, who led us out of the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him!’
(41) At that time they made an idol in the form of a calf, brought a sacrifice to the idol, and began rejoicing in the works of their hands. (42) But God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘It was not to Me that you offered slain animals and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, house of Israel? (43) But you took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan, the images you made to worship, but I will deport you beyond Babylon.’
(44) Our ancestors had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as God who spoke to Moses ordered him to make it according to the design he had seen.
(45) Our ancestors received possession of it and brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors, until the time of David.
(46) He found favor with God and asked that he could find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. (47) But Solomon built a house for him.
(48) Yet the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands, as the prophet says, (49) ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth is the footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is my resting place? (50) Did my hand not make all these things?’
(51) “You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did!
(52) Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, Whose betrayers and murderers you have now become!
(53) You received the law by decrees given by angels, but you did not obey it.”
(54) When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him.
(55) But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
(56) “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
(57) But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent.
(58) When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
(59) They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!”
(60) Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died.”
“(1) And Saul agreed completely with killing him. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. (2) Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.
(3) But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”