Saturday, April 16, 2022

2022.04.11 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 5:42–6:7

Read Acts 5:42–6:7

Questions from the Scripture text: What were the apostles doing daily (Acts 5:42)? In what two locations? What did they not stop doing? What was still happening (Acts 6:1)? What arose? Among which two types of Jews? Why—what was happening? Who summon the multitude in Acts 6:2? What do they say is not desirable to leave? Why would they have to leave it? What do they tell the people to seek (Acts 6:3)? How many? Of what three qualities? What would the apostles appoint them to do? To what two things would the apostles keep giving themselves (Acts 6:4)? How did the congregation respond (Acts 6:5a)? How many of them? Whom did they choose? How does it describe Stephen? What is specifically noted about Nicolas? What do they do with these men (Acts 6:6)? What do the apostles do with them first? Then what? What spreads as a result (Acts 6:7a)? And where do the disciples multiply, and how much (verse 7b)? And from what specific group (and how many) do they see new converts (verse 7c)? How is this conversion described?  

The Purpose of the Deacon (free the Apostles for their work). The work of an apostle was intense. Daily, they were preaching not only in the temple but also from one household to another (Acts 5:42). There was much evangelism and public preaching to do, and much discipleship and household pastoring to do. But all of the evangelizing and discipling occurred by the same basic function: teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. This is the sum of the message of the Bible. In Him is the essence of all that we are to believe about God, and He is the only ability and great reason for all of the duty that God requires of man.

To this was added the ministry of prayer, to which they also gave themselves continuously (Acts 6:4). Indubitably, this included private prayer, but the implication is that verse 4 is tied to that ministry that “did not cease” in Acts 5:42. Prayer is an act of worship, and there is a right way of doing it. The disciples of the Pharisees and of John the baptizer knew this, and so did Jesus’s disciples. 

After hearing Jesus Himself pray, the disciples had asked Him to teach them to pray as well (cf. Luke 11:1–13). Jesus not only gave them a model prayer but taught them about persistence and the laying hold of God’s good gifts—especially the Holy Spirit, Who helps us to pray according to God’s Word (cf. Romans 8:15, Romans 8:23–27). Leading in public prayer and training households in prayer was an apostolic duty that continues to be the duty of elders—teaching the men in every place to pray, among the other parts of discipling them (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8). 

But up to this point in the church, the work of the apostle had also included the Work of the Deacon. Wherever the apostles were, if someone knew of a need and had sold something in order to supply that need, the benefactor would come lay the money at the apostles’ feet (cf. Acts 4:34–5:2). 

But the number of disciples was multiplying (Acts 6:1), and as happens with finite people and increasing tasks, mistakes were made. The Jewish widows of Greek background and culture fell through the cracks in the daily distribution, while the Jewish widows of Hebraic background and culture were always taken care of. Perhaps, there was even grumbling that all of the apostles were of Hebraic background. 

The language of “serving tables” in Acts 6:2 doesn’t imply that the twelve were themselves purchasing the money and distributing the food. But even the oversight of this good work was not to be compared to the more necessary duties involved in maintaining that worship and discipleship that was the core ministry of the church (Acts 5:42Acts 6:4, cf. Acts 2:40–43). Overseeing such an increasingly extensive and sensitive distribution was something that others were needed to do. Acts 6:3 makes plain that this new office is an office of overseeing the ministry of the church in these temporal things. 

The qualifications of a deacon were therefore similar to the qualifications of judges in God’s church ever since Exodus 18. In Exodus 18:18 and Deuteronomy 1:9–12, the same problem had arisen. There were just too many Israelites in that newly founded church, and they had too many complaints. 

So it doesn’t surprise us that the qualifications are similar. The new deacons must be men. There is a generic word for human sometimes translated “man,” but the apostles use the male-specific word in Acts 6:3. And these men were to be of good reputation—not just men who claimed to be godly, or about whom an individual had claimed that they were godly, but men about whom the wider congregation generally acknowledged that these claims were true.

In Deuteronomy 1:13, the qualifications were “wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men.” In Exodus 18:21, the list had been “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” The last three qualifications in that list cover the same character as “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” in our passage. The Spirit first and foremost gives knowledge of God, faith in Christ, and the justification and sanctification that come out of faith-forged union with Christ. The fear of the Lord, which the Spirit gives, is the beginning of that wisdom in Acts 6:3

The speech as a whole is gladly received (Acts 6:5a) and the instruction immediately carried out. The list in Acts 6:5 is probably in order of prominence, as we will hear more about Stephen and Philip until the end of chapter 8, as the Spirit authenticates their diaconal ministry with Word and sign. Here, Stephen is called “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Nicolas being from Antioch implies that he has a Greek culture background, and the same is probably true of Stephen, since his “home synagogue” seems to have been the one in Acts 6:9

The ordination of a deacon is seen in Acts 6:6. Now, it’s not money that is laid before the apostles but men who are laid before them. Their last “distribution” with respect to material goods is officers who will oversee their use.

Then the apostles pray. It is not enough hat these would be men in whom the Holy Spirit has already done work. The work depended upon the Spirit’s continued work in them and ongoing work through them. 

The gift of the Holy Spirit’s specific empowering, calling, and helping them was then signified in the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:17, Acts 9:17, Acts 13:2–3, Acts 19:5–7; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 6:2). 

The success of a deacon is seen in Acts 6:7. His goal is not merely to see the money distributed wisely but to see God’s blessing upon the work that he has freed up the minister of the Word to do. The Word of God spread. The number of disciples, which was already a multitude, now multiplied greatly. From among the priests, who had been arch enemies, a great many became obedient to the faith. This is the goal unto which a deacon labors.

Who are to oversee the management of the earthly things of the church? What kind of men should they be? What should they especially be trying to do for the ministry of the Word and prayer? What are they hoping that the result of all of this would be?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for redeeming us and taking care of us, body and soul. Please promote the care of our souls in the church by freeing up the pastors for prayer and the ministry of the Word. Unto this end, please give us good deacons, in Jesus’s Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP87 “The Lord’s Foundation” or TPH404 “The Church’s One Foundation”

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