Today’s Reading: Acts 6
God sees beyond anything we can ever see. That’s why the Bible is quick to point out to us in Isaiah 55:8 that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways. That’s important for us to remember as we look at today’s reading in Acts 6, because this is where the early church starts to get organized. It’s all brand new for them, as there has never been a church before.
I heard it said before: “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t go anywhere.” Well, the church had obstacles . . . and they were going somewhere. They were on a path to change the world.
Growth means life. But growth also means more people, and where there are more people, there are more problems. This is exactly what we find in Acts 6:1: “At this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.”
I have heard people say that we need a church today like the early church. I know they don’t mean exactly what they are saying. They want the presence of the Holy Spirit but they forget that the early church had problems too. By Acts 5 and 6, the church already had people lying about the offering and dying and really upset widows who were not getting any food and being overlooked, and the implication was racism. The upset widows were Hellenistic and the widows who had food were Jewish. That’s the early church. They had their problems, but they also had leadership responsible to deal with it well.
That is our focus in today’s reading—how they dealt with this issue. The disciples knew this problem was not simply telling the people to start feeding the Hellenistic widows, it was also a great lesson on leadership and delegation: do what only you can do and not what others can contribute. So in response to this issue, they decided to choose the first deacons of the church. And this point is key: remember that His ways are higher than our ways. People need to be fed and served:
The twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
Pick people who have a good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom.
God has higher ways. It would have been easy to look for those who had been in the restaurant business, worked as a waiter or maître’d or a race relations person. I’m thinking of the issue at hand and trying to connect the issue with experience. But God’s ways are higher.
God says we need to be Spirit-filled and we need wisdom and a good reputation. Why? Because God is higher and He sees further down the road and knows what we need. Because the requirements will be a weapon we can use later on.
Why these requirements?
It seems that the enemy knew that the Twelve were willing to die for their faith in God, so he had to attack the next level of leaders, which he did. It didn’t take long for these deacons to come under attack just as the twelve apostles had:
The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” (Acts 6:7-11)
The deacons’s three requirements would become their three weapons to fight the enemy’s attacks.
The widow issue was fixed. The church was still growing and even a great many priests were becoming born again. And that made the religious institution really upset, so they attacked the next level of leadership, and Stephen was in the crosshairs of their attack.
And this is amazing. When the religious leaders rose up to fight them, they were unable to cope with Stephen’s wisdom and the Spirit. Sound familiar from the verse 2 requirements?
We are still not done! They hired people to spread lies about Stephen (verse 11). But they had a problem with that: Stephen had a good reputation. That means all three requirements became weapons to fight their attacks.
When you see God giving prerequisites to a task, whether that be in pastoring, lay leadership, or even in marriage, it is because God sees further, and what you think is going to be a bother is going to be useful in the future. When God says not to marry an unbeliever (a prerequisite for a successful Christian marriage), but you are dead-set on marrying that person, you just lost your weapon for marriage. Marriage is hard enough, but to have two different worldviews for life and children? That’s almost impossible.
And by the way, when the devil thought only the apostles were willing to die for their faith, he got that way wrong! Stephen was all in and willing to lay his life on the line. As we’ll read tomorrow in Acts 7, Stephen died for Jesus. The first Christian martyr was a deacon.
It’s really easy to find people who know the truth. It’s really hard to find people who will stand up for the truth. No matter the cost.
You can’t skip steps with God. When God gives a requirement, it’s for a weapon. What you think is cumbersome is really armor.