“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.” – Acts 6:3-4
What should leaders do when more must be done to serve the people of God? Delegate!
A dispute occurred in the early church. By this time, the church had some system of distributing daily necessities to widows who otherwise could not provide for themselves. This is an important role of the church. To fulfill social justice among its members, the poor and rich, the racially, culturally and linguistically diverse. However, the system had kinks. The Greek-speaking Christian widows (likely migrants from the Jewish Diaspora and not locals from Jerusalem or Roman-occupied Palestine) felt they were not getting the fair share of food distribution compared to the Hebrew-speaking ones (likely locals from Jerusalem or nearby regions).
The apostles had to delegate the administration of food distribution. This does not make it less important. Rather, the apostles knew their role in the light of their unique God-given time spent with Jesus directly. Indeed, the food distribution was important that those chosen to assist the apostles in it had to fulfil a certain criteria: good repute, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Not just any person from the street.
Thus, seven men were chosen from the rest of the believers by the believers based on this criteria. They became the first deacons of the church. Something we may not realize immediately is that the seven chosen were Greek-speaking Christians. And likely the majority of the Jerusalem church members were Hebrew-speaking. I speculate the majority wanted to ensure that the minority would not feel unfairly treated so they chose Greek-speaking deacons. This shows the consideration that the majority had to make the minority feel like one family. We should be like this in our church too: always considering those among us who might feel marginalized or unfairly treated.
We see that in the new covenant made through Jesus, not only a select few (whether Moses or the 12 apostles) would receive the Holy Spirit and be able to speak forth the Word of God, serve God and His people with wisdom, and fulfill Jesus’ commission to witness to the world. All who truly follow Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit and thus be able to serve and be witnesses to Jesus.
Mind you, the 7 deacons were not filled with the Spirit because they were appointed deacons. Instead, they were appointed deacons because they were already full of wisdom and the Spirit.
In an incident in Numbers 11, two men started prophesying under the power of the Holy Spirit. Joshua told Moses to stop them. Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). This would come to be fulfilled in Acts 2. The point is that having the Spirit is not to be taken lightly. Some of us Christians today may tend to diminish the significant privilege of having the Holy Spirit abide in us, empowering us for service and witness. We should not squander this great privilege!
As a result of this delegation of authority and responsibility by the apostles to the deacons, it was observed that the Word of God increased and many more people came to the faith. God has given in every time and church different people with different abilities and different life circumstances. These are meant for the service of God and His people, for witnessing to the world about Jesus. Each area of service is important and requires specific abilities and thus specific people planted by God for those tasks. But God-given natural ability is one thing. It is only when a person grows in faith and obedience to God, grow in wisdom and Spirit, and is put into service of God that the church may fulfill her purpose.
What are our God-given abilities, traits and circumstances which He can use to serve Him and the Church and to witness to Jesus? How are we using them to fulfill the purpose of the Church? How are we growing in wisdom and obedience to the Spirit? Because the church’s fulfillment of the mission of God depends on it! And it’s our privilege to serve God and witness to Him by the Spirit!
By Ronald Wong, Deacon (YCKC Bulletin 26&27 May 2018)
for the extended version of this reflection