Acts 6: The Word and Prayer
January 10, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
We begin with another critically important object lesson that Luke introduces from the story of this gospel expansion in the early church. There was a dispute. The Hellenistic (or Greek speaking and influenced by Greek culture) Jews argued against the Hebraic (or Hebrew speaking and influenced by Hebrew culture) Jews. The dispute centered around distribution of food to widows. What to do?
The twelve apostles recognized that this was no minor matter. Dispute, disagreement, especially when it has the potential for division, is not something merely to “wish away.” We need to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. Something must be done. But what? The apostles wisely take the following steps. They call everyone together. They specify their own calling as apostles to the ministry of the Word and prayer. And they ask the disciples as a fellowship to pick a group of men – filled with the Spirit and wisdom – to take care of this task before them.
The whole group agrees with this proposal, and they wisely pick people who are from Hellenistic backgrounds to take care of the complaint from the Hellenistic group. These men are brought to the apostles who lay hands on them and pray for them to formally set them apart for their task. And, Luke concludes, “so the word of God spread.” Of course it does! The task is delegated to those who are amply skilled at doing it, which enables the apostles to keep on focusing on the ministry of the Word and prayer. And so with undistracted focus on the Word, the Word is now once again able to continue to spread.
In our churches, it is important that those who are called to the ministry of the Word and prayer find ways to give their whole attention to that ministry. But that does not mean that other ministries are unimportant. If they are not tackled carefully and well, then division will arise. So these first deacons (or servants of the tables, compared with the apostles who were set aside for the ministry of the Word or servants of the Word) function as a group who generate unity in the church by taking care of tasks that otherwise would cause friction. Deacons need to be filled with the Spirit (godly, spiritually minded, holy, empowered by God’s Spirit) and wisdom (practically capable, prudent, able to get things done in a way that that is wise and biblical and godly).
After this decision by the apostles and the early church leads to such good fruit, Luke next tells us of one of these early deacons: Stephen. Immediately we read of Stephen doing things that are not precisely in his job description. His role of deacon does not exhaust all he can do or is called to do. He preaches with power, performs miracles, and “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” But persecution is on its way, and his opponents gather false witnesses against Stephen. But Stephen continues to shine for Christ: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” We will read more of this remarkable man Stephen, and his extraordinary sermon, tomorrow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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