Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why Not 8?

We’re going through deacon training, so I looked online to see what other people are saying about the subject. It is interesting that nearly everyone mentions Acts 6:1-7, which is calling of the first deacons, but they don’t mention verse 8 and following, and they don’t mention chapters 4 and 5.

I can understand why they don’t mention chapters 4 and 5. These chapters don’t have deacons mentioned at all. But they do give us an understanding of what is meant in Acts 6:1 where it says, “their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Or as some versions say, “the daily distribution of food.” In the early church, some had a lot and some had very little. Those who had more started selling their possessions and the money was used to buy food for everyone—not just the widows—everyone. The food was distributed daily, but somehow, the Grecian widows were being overlooked and going hungry. It may have been a cultural thing. It may have been a language thing. It may have been an age thing. Whatever it was, they weren’t getting their part. Perhaps there wasn’t any particular person responsible for the food distribution until the seven were appointed over it, but it was for that cause that the first deacons were chosen, freeing the Apostles to continue in prayer and the Word of God.

But verse 8 is a little harder to explain, both in what we ought to do with it and in why preachers don’t usually include it when they are talking about the calling of the first deacons, Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus. In verse 8, we see the words, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” If you keep reading, you see that there were people from the synagogue that tried to dispute with Stephen, with no success. So they found some false witnesses and put Stephen on trial. And in Acts 7, we have one of the most powerful sermons you’ll ever read.

Verse 8 is clearly connected to the writing concerning the seven deacons. We’ve just been introduced to Stephen, Philip and the others and we’re about to see what these men did. The problem is that Stephen and Philip don’t fit the division of labor we think of in the church. There are two offices in the church, pastor and deacon. The pastor is the guy who is the primary leader and is the guy who stands behind the pulpit on Sunday and preaches. The deacons are the guys that do the other stuff, so the pastor doesn’t have to. If we had a common food pot, they’d distribute the food, like in Acts 6. They’re supposed to look after the widows and needy (benevolence). They look after the physical needs of the church (building and maintenance). They monitor whatever budget, so the money goes where the church intends. At least, that’s the idea we have concerning deacons, and if you read Acts 6:1-7, you can kind of see that. But what deacons don’t do—never, ever, ever—is preach. That’s the pastor’s job. The pastor is supposed to be the one out front talking. The deacons don’t have to talk (and some seldom do), but serve as an example by getting their hands dirty.

I suppose someone forgot to tell Stephen and Philip that. The other five, may have fit our expectations of a deacon very well. They may have distributed the food, collected the money, and had very little to say. The fact that Stephen was a preaching deacon doesn’t mean that every deacon is supposed to preach, or even that most deacons are supposed to preach. But at the same time, we know that Stephen wasn’t wrong to do what he did because the Bible makes it very clear that he was “full of faith and power.”

What do you do with that if you’re trying to teach deacons their role? “You’re supposed to take the load off the pastor, so he can pray and study the Word and otherwise prepare sermons that lead the church. It isn’t your role to be a preacher. And as your example, the Bible provides Stephen who is known for his preaching, and Philip, who is known for soul winning.”

While it is necessary for us to read verse 8 and the verses that follow if we hope to know all that God intends for us to know about the early deacons, and while the deacon Stephen preached the longest sermon recorded in Acts, it tells us nothing about pastors. What I mean by that is that even if Acts included a sermon from each of the seven deacons, the position of leadership and the responsibility to shepherd the church is not removed from the instructions the Bible has for pastors. The pastor’s responsibility to lead in the spiritual affairs of the church is not lessened by the fact that when the Holy Spirit grabbed ahold of a couple of deacons, they went out and started preaching. Nor is it a reason for deacons to decide that the Lord didn’t really intend for them to be leaders in the temporal affairs of the church.

The men that the Lord leads a church to ordain as deacons will have a diversity of gifts and skills. Some, when obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit, are gifted teachers and soul winners, as Stephen and Philip were. Some have a knack for visiting the sick. Some may be as introverted as can be, but put a hammer in their hands and they will build things that will amaze you. Others have skills that lend themselves to keeping the financial records in order. One of the things that verse 8 and the verses that follow tells us is that the diversity of gifts that God gives these men goes beyond the division of labor many people carry in their mind.

But the strength of Stephen’s preaching was also necessary for the path the Lord had laid before him. Because of the power of Stephen’s preaching, the Jews disputed with him, but to no avail. They hated him so much and the message he preached, they stoned him. And the gospel began to spread. If all Stephen had been doing was distributing food, I very much doubt he would’ve been killed. Even that was the will of God. The preaching deacon Stephen was able to look up into heaven and report that he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. By that, Stephen was an example to the saints, not only how we should live, but how we should die.