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David's Commentaries

Acts 6:1-6 ‘But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.’

This Week’s Focus Passage: Acts 6:1-6

‘But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.’

 

    These words uttered by Peter on the occasion of a discrimination scandal regarding the care of the widows in the recently formed Jerusalem church right after Pentecost, were his response, his answer to this apparent dilemma. It strikes us that it corresponds very well with Paul’s descriptions of the offices of bishop [elder, presbyter], and deacons, that are to be found in his first epistle to Timothy; 3:1-9:

Faithful is the saying, If a man seeketh the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach; no brawler, no striker; but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have good testimony from them that are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double- tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a clear conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless. 

It appears, on the surface, and if examined, we believe that it can be shown in depth, that the requirements of bishops [episkopos] and those of deacons are distinguished only by the requirement for bishops of being apt to teach. This is well coordinated with the statement of Peter when he called upon the people before him, to look out among themselves for seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. Namely, the business of ‘serving tables,’ as it were. This involved specifically, and at the time, resolution of the murmuring that was taking place because of a certain discrimination and neglect, being charged about the daily ministration. In the margin, we read, minister to tables. Ministering to tables would, at the very least, include providing food for the said tables. 

    Peter has asserted that it is not fit that they, the apostles, should serve tables. Not that they were above menial labor, [apostles included fishers and tent-makers] but that their calling was of a different nature. They were, he informed, or reminded, them, to continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word. they were, in other words, to be preachers and teachers of the Word, with prayer being such an absolute necessity if God the Holy Spirit was to guide and uphold their preaching. So Paul has expressed it with the argument that bishops are to be ‘apt to teach.’ We should take note of another distinction between the statement of qualifications of these two offices. Peter called upon the people, the Pentecostal host, if you will, before him, to choose seven men to be made deacons through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. But give attention to the stated qualifications for such men; seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. It is noteworthy, to say the least, that this requirement that they be full of the Spirit and of wisdom, is not a stated requirement for bishops/elders. Now we firmly believe that the Holy Spirit and wisdom are both essentially to be found in a bishop/elder, yet it is not specifically so stated in our texts. It is, of course, strongly implied in the Scriptures; but it is remarkable in its absence from these particular passages before us. What, if anything, is to be made of this ‘absence?’ 

    Whether intended, or not, one effect of this ‘absence,’ and especially in view of the language of Peter in Acts 6, is that of apparently deliberate importance to be directed toward the ‘deacons,’ being men that are eminently qualified to meet every and all exigencies of the office to which they were being called. Sadly, in our day, and a vast number of days before our day, deacons have become something very much less that the picture given us in Acts. They are commonly used as janitors, or perhaps, as a group of ‘sub-elders’ under the tyrannical arm of the ‘senior pastor.’ In many churches of our day, the deacon is a thing of the past with regard to the biblical pattern set forward by Peter and Paul; a serious non-entity in multitudes of churches purporting to follow Scripture. In a large number of churches, they are employed, for the most part, simply as trustees for the local church. Of course, these things ought not to be so. Even in some historically reformed denominations, for example, the Free Church of Scotland [continuing, or not continuing], there seems to be little regard, or use, for the office of deacon. This may, or may not, be because of the two-tiered office of elder, where there exists a teaching elder, basically the same as the ‘senior pastor’ of other, ‘less-reformed,’ churches, and ruling elders. These are elders that don’t teach, but only rule—try to find that in Paul’s teachings. 

    It would seem to this writer that the office of deacon is, not only important, but one requiring great qualities in the men whom God would have to fill the office. They are, we repeat, to be both wise and gracious; surely this is the intent of the desiderata, being men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. And was not this wisdom and grace necessary for them to properly distribute material needs to the widows most in need, and most deserving of aid? It is true that we do not read of any of the seven examining any of these widows among the Grecian Jews, nor are we apprised of their examining any among the Hebrews, yet this responsibility was not turned over to the apostles to make determination. We should be able to conclude that either there was no need for any such examination, or the deacons—whether one or all seven examined where required. Remember, they were full of the Spirit and of wisdom; what more than God-given wisdom, and guidance of the Holy Spirit is to be imagined necessary to this task? We do not witness any activity on the part of the apostles; that was the idea of the calling for the seven, that the apostles could continue steadfastly in prayer and the ministry of the Word. Is that not the very thing that Paul has taught us are the requirements of the bishop/presbyter/elder/ preacher? Are they not to be freed from concerns about widows and orphans in order to their praying and preaching through the diaconate satisfying the needs of these widows? Do we not recognize here the imperative of the office of deacon? Paul, addressing his letter to the church at Philippi, addressed it to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.  Both bishops and deacons may not be essential to the being of a church, but it may be that they are both necessary to the Well-being of a church. We, everyone in this body of believers, need to look out among yourselves, therefore, for men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. And, yes, we ought be on our knees, asking our Father in heaven to direct our hearts and our brains to recognize such among us. It was done in Acts 6, and it can be done in the church today. Peter must have had a pretty good idea (inspiration) that there were such men among them, in order to direct the people to be looking out. We are not apostles, but we are called to give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word of God, even as were the apostles. I cannot believe that there are no such men among us today; God help us if we don’t have men full of the Spirit and of wisdom.

David Farmer, elder,

Fellowship Bible Church   

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