Fellow Workers: The Gospel Demonstrated through Church Officers

Jan 31, 2019

Over the past two weeks, we have had the privilege of installing new deacons and elders at 2PC. These men and women are a manifestation of God’s grace to our church. About this time last year, we studied Acts 6:1-7 together in our morning worship service.

As these officers begin their service, I want to remind both our officers and all our members of what we learned from that passage. We saw the beauty of the gospel demonstrated in the way God attends to his church through church officers. Ultimately, we see Jesus: he is one who takes our needs to the Father, cares for the physical needs of God’s image bearers, and serves the spiritual needs of his children.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6:1–7

I. People Attended to with Equity (1,7)

First, notice that people’s needs are attended to with equity. As Jesus carries all of our needs to the Father, regardless of who we are, so we imitate his work by carrying people’s needs to the proper sources when we become aware of them.
This text begins and ends with a record of the Church’s numerical growth. Verse 7 forms the conclusion for the first of what one author has called “six panels,” each of which covers about five years.[1]Some estimate that the Church in Jerusalem at this stage is nearly ten thousand members strong. At the same time, you and I must see that while the Church was growing numerically, people were not viewed as numbers.

Members of the Church became aware that a segment of this large congregation was being neglected—the Greek-speaking widows. It is key to note that it was the membership surveying itself which discovered the neglect. They had realized that it was their duty to exercise mercy and to make sure that everyone in the Church was being properly cared for. They took responsibility to bring the matter to the Apostles’ attention.

Every member of the Church is responsible for every other member. We are called upon to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We are a family and no healthy member of any family ever says about another member, “his problems are of no concern to me.” Each of us can do at least one of three things when we become aware of a need in the life of one of our fellow believers: we can meet it ourselves, we can pray about it, and/or we can take the need to our officers.

II. Elders Attend to Word and Sacrament (2,4)

The second role we observe is that of spiritual shepherds representing Jesus’ attention to the souls of his people. That function belongs officially but not exclusively to the ministers and elders of the Church. The Bible gradually transfers the responsibilities of the twelve Apostles for attending the Word and worship to the ministers and elders of local churches. Therefore, the way we see these Apostles acting is instructive for people and elders.
Therefore, let us first look more particularly at the way elders and congregations should deal with “complaints” since that word is used here. I want you to see from this passage that there are times when members of a congregation must complain. I want you to see four characteristics of a goodcomplaint:
First, it is unselfish. These church members were not concerned for themselves but rather for people who could not speak for themselves.
Secondly, it is redemptive. They are concerned for a group of people they know occupy a special place in God’s heart. If their situation is not helped the Gospel’s message will suffer setback.
Thirdly, they did not go to anyone else but the elders of the church. When you spread complaint to others you help the devil in his work; however, when you take it to the elders you make it the problem of authorities who can do something about it and they have to answer to God for it.
Finally, notice the elders listened. Elders must always listen whether they do anything with your complaint or not. They must represent God in hearing your complaint and answer with a yes, no, or wait. Sometimes, as in this case, they will need to move on your complaint immediately. At other times your complaint is selfish so they will need to absorb it in order to preserve you and/or the church from judgment. And still other times, they will have to urge patience because a situation cannot be changed immediately. In other words, they are called to be wise and gentle shepherds like Jesus the Chief Shepherd.

III. Deacons Attend to Tables (3,5,6)

Finally, we come to the real focus of this passage, which is the appointment of deacons. Deacons represent Jesus’ care for the physical conditions of people when he lived on earth. Deacons help us to carry on that merciful ministry. Although Luke does not call them deacons, these men perform the functions delegated to deacons elsewhere in the New Testament (Ph. 1:1; 1 Ti. 3:8-13) and the early Church regarded these men as the first deacons.
The first thing we are to realize is that the deacons’ primary task is to take care of widows. Widows were not only singled out in the Old Testament for care, they are so in the New Testament. Specific regulations are given for the care and activities of widows (1 Ti. 5). James even says that the essence of true religion is in part to care for widows (Ja. 2).
Another requirement for deacons is to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. The need for wisdom is obvious because they handle funds and deal with complex needs. They need wisdom to go about their work in a systematic way and be good stewards of the people’s money. But why do they need to be full of the Spirit? We have learned that to be full of the Spirit refers to the faithfulness and power of one’s testimony. Deacons need to be full of the Spirit because they are not merely called to dole out material resources; they are called to do so in the name of Jesus. They must be men who know, love, and share the Gospel with enthusiasm. In the following chapters of Acts we see that two of these deacons knew their Bibles well. As a consequence, they were able to apply biblical truths when the need arose. Just as elders are to provide shepherding care to the congregation, so deacons provide examples and opportunities to be servants like Jesus.
Jesus has set up his church in such a way that you might continue to experience the same love of his incarnation now through his people. I want to encourage our officers that the work you do of shepherding and serving God’s people is a demonstration of the gospel of Jesus. And I want to encourage all the members of 2PC to experience God’s love to you when your officers shepherd and serve you. May we all, motivated by God’s grace, work together to build his kingdom.

[1]C.H. Turner, “Chronology of the New Testament,” Hastings Dictionary of the Bible,v.1, 421-23.