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Please turn in your Bibles to chapter 6 of the book of Acts and follow along as I read verses 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.
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.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
When Abraham Lincoln was president, a man visited him one day who was supposedly a political ally but who had in fact played him false several times, and Lincoln knew it.
This man coaxed one of Lincoln's sons to sit in his lap by promising to give the child 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 never give it away." Lincoln thundered, "Sir, you will give him that charm, because I donít want my son thinking that I associate with people who donít keep their word."
Now 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. He was telling this man that he was not going to put up with unfaithful allies, but more importantly, 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. That is not surprising, Lincoln was barely elected in 1860. He did not win the popular vote. He won only because the democratic party was split three ways.
Nevertheless, we should all be of honest report, especially deacons and officers of the church.
In Acts 6, 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 Christianity whose native language was Greek. On the other side were the Hebrews, converts who spoke mostly not Hebrew but Aramaic. 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 the 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, and there were no government programs. The church became their family and ministered to them.
But controversy arose. The Grecian Christians complained that their widows were discriminated against in the distribution of relief. Greek-speaking widows did not get any food, so they claimed, and so murmuring and bickering filtered through the church. 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" (Acts 6:2). 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 did not call the apostles to do that. God called them to preach. That is what they were supposed to be doing. God would call others to do other jobs.
So in Acts 6:3 the apostles said to the church, "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." The apostles established a new office in the church, the office of deacon, and V3 shows us the kind of character that deacons are to have.
I. First of all, as already mentioned, they are to be "of honest report." Their lives should be free from scandal. Deacons should live in a way that will cause other people to respect them, and not only deacons, every Christian should live that way.
We all need to recover more of President 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.
Every Christian is a servant. Part of our service is to be "of good report," 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 she 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 church, even Christ himself, will be judged, to some extent, by your words and deeds. This is true of every Christian, but more so of a deacon, or an elder, more so of any church office holder. Your life is a sermon that reveals to the world the depths of your faith in Christ
So begin the 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 member of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and he or she seldom or never goes to church." That is not setting much of an example. That is not a good report.
Again, part of the sermon of your life is your dedication of your material goods to God. According to our Form of Government (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 are to Christ. The giving of the tithe, or 10% of our income, is only the starting point of stewardship. Deacons are to encourage others to be at least at that starting point. Deacons encourage by example, by giving at least the tithe of their income.
II. Secondly, Acts 6:3 tells us that deacons should be "full of the Holy Spirit." We know that we have the Holy Spirit when we have the fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruits of the Spirit. They are "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance." A person who has those characteristics has 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 happen. 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 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 business people of the church. They take up the offerings, 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 was last, and by implication least. First of all, a deacon should live a Christlike life and have 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 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, they say, "I am a businessperson. I will leave that spiritual stuff to the preacher." Acts 6 says that both of those attitudes are wrong. We can live in the world and be successful at the things of the world, and we can live for Jesus. This is what every Christian is supposed to do. The first deacons, Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, 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 Acts 6 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 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06