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Acts 6:1-7 (12/10/00)
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to chapter 6 of the book of Acts and follow along as I read verses 1-7. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
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.
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.
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.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
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:
6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Since we have ordained and installed deacons today, let us talk to deacons and about deacons. Of course all you other folks can listen because much of this applies to you also.
In AC6, The young church in Jerusalem was doing what Christians have always done so well--quarreling. On one side of the quarrel were the Grecians--converts to the young church whose native language was Greek. The other faction in the church consisted of those former Jews who spoke Aramaic and read their OT in Hebrew; hence, they were called Hebrews. Both factions, both Grecians and Hebrews, had been converted to Christianity by the witness of the Apostles to the Resurrection, but both had much to learn about Christ and Christian love, and they showed it.
The admirable custom of the early church was to help the poor and unfortunate of the congregation. Those first Christians believed, and rightly so, that they should take care of their own. The poorest people of that day were childless widows because they had no way to make a living and no family to help them. The church became their family and ministered to them.
But a controversy arose. The Grecian Christians complained that their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of relief. So there was murmuring and bickering, and the Apostles decided that something had to be done to clear the air and to stop any rumor of favoritism. They convened a congregational meeting, and said, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables" (AC6:2). By "serve tables:" they meant distribute relief or administer the property of the church. Now this does not imply that distributing relief or administering the property of the church is somehow wrong or demeaning. It simply means that God had not called the apostles to do that. God called them to preach. That is what they were supposed to be doing. God will call others through the voice of the church to do other jobs.
So in AC 6:3 the apostles said to the church, "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." The apostles established a new office in the church. The first officers in the church were apostles. The second were deacons. V3 also shows us that from the very beginning of the church, deacons were elected by the congregation. And the verse shows us the kind of character that deacons are to have.
Let us examine that character. They are to be "of honest report." That means, deacons, that your lives should be free from scandal. As a deacon of this church, you should live in a way that will cause your neighbors to respect you. Your watchwords should be integrity, trustworthiness, and virtue.
Let me illustrate: When Abraham Lincoln was president, one day he was visited by a man who pretended to be his political ally but who had in fact played false him on a number of occasions.
This man coaxed one of Lincoln's sons to sit in his lap by promising to give him a little charm that he wore on his watchchain. A few minutes later when the man rose to go, Lincoln said, "Aren't you going to keep your promise to my boy?" The man said, "What promise?" Lincoln reminded him, "You promised him the charm on your watchchain." "Oh no," said the man, "I was just kidding. This is a valuable charm you see, made out of gold, and I would not give it away." Lincoln thundered, "Sir, you will give him that charm, because I do not want my son thinking that I associate with people who do not keep their word." Now it is said that the man realized that Lincoln was talking about more than charms on watchchains, and he silently undid the charm and gave it to the boy and went away with his head bowed.
Lincoln was doing a couple of things in that conversation. For one thing, he was telling this man that he was not going to put up with unfaithful allies, but also Lincoln said what he believed. He believed that a leader should be a person "of honest report." He believed that his stock-in-trade as a politician was based upon people's faith in his honesty. Now I have read that a man like Lincoln, with such a high regard for his word, could never be elected president in our current political climate. If so, that is our failure and Lincoln's glory. We all need to recover more of Lincoln's attitude. Our word should be our bond, and a handshake should be all that is needed to seal a deal. We should be more concerned about what people think of us and less concerned about what we can get from them.
Part of being "of honest report" is that we will carry out the office to which God has called us by the voice of this church. AC6 shows us that from the very beginning the office of deacon has been a office of service. It is an honor to be a deacon or an elder or any officer in the church. But note this: No one is elected to be an honorary deacon. We elect only working deacons.
Our word "deacon" comes from the Greek word "diakoneo" which means "to serve or minister." For example, the apostle Paul writing in RM16:1 says, "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea." The word that is translated "servant" in our KJV is "diakoneo," deacon, or in this case the feminine "deaconess," and "servant" is a valid translation of "diakoneo." A deacon or deaconess is a servant.
We have said that to be "of good report" means to be esteemed, to have a good reputation, to be a good example. When a person accepts the office of deacon, that person is looked upon by the community as an example of what it means to be a Christian. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "So and so did so and so, and he is a deacon in the church." Now you may say, that is not fair. It is not fair to hold deacons and elders and ministers to a higher standard of conduct than everyone else. And that is true, but people do it anyway. So whether you like it or not, in accepting the office of deacon, you have accepted the responsibility to serve as an example.
The way you conduct yourself--in your home, business, church--is part of your testimony. The church of Christ will be judged to some extent by your words and deeds. This is true of every Christian, but more so of a deacon, or of an elder, more so of any church office holder. Your life is a sermon. Your life reveals to the world the depth of your faith in Christ and the width of your love for Christ. You preach the sermon of your life every day.
Thus you need spiritual energizing every day. As a Christian and a deacon you need the spiritual power that comes through everyday prayer and everyday study of God's Word. You should begin, if you have not already, the practice of a daily devotional. The exact method of your daily devotional is up to you. It does not have to be anything long or complicated, but you ought to pray every day and read some of God's wonderful Word every day. A daily devotional can be a major source of spiritual power.
Next preach the silent sermon of your life by worshipping in the Lord's house on the Lord's Day. How can you be "of good report" if someone can say, "So and so is a deacon of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and he never goes to Sabbath School," or, "So and so is a deacon of the ARPC, and he never attended a deacon's meeting." Now I do not want to get personal and ugly here, but I went to some deacon's meetings this year, and at least half the deacons were absent. On one occasion, the deacons were unable to transact business because they did not have a quorom. That is not setting much of an example. That is not a good report. I know that there may be occasions when a person cannot come to a meeting. As the phrase is that person may be "providentially hindered," and that is understandable. If a deacon is out of town or sick or something of that nature, then we do not expect that deacon to attend that meeting. But as a regular thing, as a rule, we do expect deacons to attend meetings of the diaconate. The deacons meet the second Sabbath of the month at 7:00 p.m., except during the summer. This year there was one summer meeting. That is ten meetings. If you are a deacon, you need to be at those ten meetings. That is part of the example you are setting to your community, your church and your family.
Another thing we ask the deacons to do is to be ushers on Sabbath mornings. This does not apply to deacons who are choir members, but all other deacons serve their time as ushers. The secretary of the diaconate posts a list of ushers for every month of the year. If it is your month, you are supposed to be here early and be out front, greeting people who come into the church. Perhaps you should be out back also, since most of our congregation comes through the back door. If you cannot be here on a sabbath during a month in which you are an usher, then it is your duty to get someone to serve in your place. That is your responsibility.
Part of the sermon of your life is your dedication of your material goods to God. According to our FOG p183, it is the task of the diaconate "to encourage practice of total stewardship among the members of the congregation." Total stewardship means the devotion of everything we have to Christ. The giving of the tithe, or 10% of our income, is only the starting point of stewardship. Deacons are to encourage the people of the church to be at least at that starting point. Deacons encourage by example, by giving at least the tithe of their income.
II. Secondly, AC6:3 tells us that deacons should be "full of the Holy Spirit." How do we know when we are "full of the Holy Spirit"? As always, we find the answer in the Bible: we know that we have the Holy Spirit when we have the fruits of the Holy Spirit. GL5:22 lists the fruits of the spirit. They are "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance." A person who manifests those characteristics is a person who is full of the Holy Spirit. Every elder, every deacon, every Christian ought to strive for that kind of character. Christians are a people of compassion, and happiness, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness and meekness, humility and gentleness.
Now you might say, "We should all be that way, but most of us are not there yet. How do we get there? The answer is prayer and effort. The fruits of the spirit are not things that just happpen. We must consciously work for them.
Take one of the fruits: temperance, which is self-control or self restraint. How do we get self-control? Millions of people in the United States buy self-help books or go to self-help seminars seeking an answer to that question. How do I get control of my life so that I can live the way I know I ought to live? People pay big bucks looking for answers to that question. I am going to give you the answer for free. How do you get control of your life? Prayer and Practice. I realize that this is not the kind of message that people want to hear, but it is true anyway. We work for something like self-control just like we work for anything else. There is no free lunch. We do not get something for nothing. That applies to character as well as to everything else in life. If we pray, the Holy Spirit will be with us as a power in our life, and as we work and strive for the fruits of the spirit, we will develop them.
III. Lastly, the apostles said that deacons should be full of wisdom--worldly wisdom. They should be able to deal with the things of the world and the people of the world. What sometimes happens in the church is that we drop the first two requirements to be a deacon and concentrate on the third. We think that deacons are the businessmen of the church. They take up the offering , keep the records, count the money, make the budgets, take care of the building and grounds. But notice that when the apostles listed the qualifications of a deacon, worldly wisdom is last, and by implication least. First of all, a deacon should live a Christlike life. Secondly, a deacon should be filled with the holy Spirit, and only thirdly a deacon should be the kind of person who can deal with money and property and that sort of thing.
But all three of these qualifications of a good deacon are listed together--which tells us something else. It tells us that the apostles believed that we can put worldly wisdom and a Christlike life together. Sometimes people say, "I want to be spiritual and I do not want to have anything to do with the world." Or, the opposite, they say, "I am a businessperson. I will leave that spiritual stuff to the preacher." What the apostles say to us in AC6 is that both of those attitudes are wrong. The apostles believed that we can live in the world and be successful at the things of the world, and at the same time we can live a Christlike life and be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what every Christian is supposed to do. The deacons in AC6 were outstanding Christians but they were only people like us. Like those first deacons, we must live here and now; hence, we can never despise the wisdom of the world but as Christians, we also live for Jesus. The message of AC6 is that we can do both. Many people, like you and me, have done both. Go you and do likewise. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 12/08/00