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Deacon Ordination Sunday
The church of our Lord Jesus Christ is not simply a local organization, it is a living organism. It is supernatural in its function. A study of the rapid growth and divine blessing upon the early church reveals that one of their most important ingredients was love and unity among the family of faith. By the time we reach the sixth chapter of Acts the church has been exploding and thousands of people have been born into the family of God. It is at this point that God gives a gift to the local church. It is the gift of the ministry of the deacon. There’s nothing in the New Testament that gives credence to what has evolved into a “board of deacons” in the modern church. The New Testament model was more of a “fellowship of deacons” whose primary function was to be servants and to maintain the unity of the fellowship in the bond of peace. The ministry of the deacon finds its roots almost 2,000 years ago in the church at Jerusalem. Note first:
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables” (Acts 6:1-2).
As the “number of the disciples was multiplying” there arose a problem in the church. Great numbers were being saved. Satan had tried his best to corrupt the church from without in the fourth and fifth chapters of Acts. He had seen that Peter and John were arrested and others of the Apostles met similar fates and were thrown into prison. They were placed before various tribunals, they were beaten, and they were commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus Christ again. But persecutions from without simply grew the church that much more. Now, as we come to Acts chapter 6 we see that Satan’s modus operandi changes. Now he seeks to corrupt from within. How? Jealousy. There arose murmuring and complaining among members of the church. It is now that the ministry of the deacon is born. In fact, it was birthed out of a problem in the church.
The Hellenistic Jews were convinced that the Hebraic Jews and the Apostles were showing favoritism to each other and that they were being slighted. Jealously arose within the family of faith. The Hebraic Jews were natives of Palestine. They were more conservative and traditional in their approach to life. The Hellenistic Jews were Greek-speaking Jews from other nations who had gathered in Jerusalem. They tended to be more cosmopolitan and more progressive. They began to complain that partiality was being shown toward their Hebraic brothers. Jealousy had raised its ugly head.
There were two primary dangers that faced the early church at this stage of its growth. One was prejudice. The Grecian Jews perceived that the Apostles were prejudiced against them. The other danger was professionalism. That is, that the preacher and leaders could be hired to do all the work. The Apostles very wisely threw the ball back into the court of the fellowship of faith. Thus, the office of the deacon was born out of a potential problem. The wisdom of the early church leaders is apparent when we read the names of those first seven deacons. Listen to their names ... Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas. All seven of these names are Hellenistic names. In reaching out to those who felt slighted, the Apostles appointed the first seven deacons solely from the group of Hellenistic Jews.
Thus, the ministry of the deacon finds its instigation in service. In meeting the needs of the membership. Why? In order to keep the unity of the family of faith in the bond of peace. Deacons ought to be the best at that of anyone. The primary reason for their existence is not to cause dissension but to maintain love and unity among the family of faith. This is their origin. This is the very reason the ministry of the deacon was instigated.
“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).
What are the qualifications, the requirements, for initiation into the ministry of the deacon? Acts 6:3 lays them out, “therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to whom we may appoint over this business.” The first qualification is that they be a believer. Note the word “brethren.” In Greek it comes from a word that means “from the same womb.” These were brothers in the truest sense. Born out of the same blood: the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. This ministry of the deacon was born out of fellowship of a life based on a common origin. That is, they were to be of one heart and one mind with the Apostles. They were to be brothers in the truest sense.
Note secondly that they were to be “men.” The Apostles said, “seek out from among you seven men” (Acts 6:3). Often when we read the word “men” translated in the New Testament, it is the Greek word anthropos. This is the generic word from which we get our word anthropology. It means men and women. For example, it is found in Matthew 5:16 when Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men.” Obviously, he didn’t mean that we were only to be a witness to men but by using the word anthropos He meant generically men and women. However, this is not the word we find in the initiation of the deacon into the fellowship of the church. Here it is the word andras. This word means male or husband as opposed to female. These seven who served in the initial ministry of the deacon were not only to be believers but they were to be men.
Next, they were to have integrity. In the words of Acts 6:3 they were to be “of good reputation.” This word comes from the word which means witness or martyr. These were to be men who could be counted on, whose life was characterized by an inner power and not an outer promotion. Integrity is rooted in private life and good reputation resulted in the witness of these good and godly men.
They were also to be “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3). There are a lot of deacons who are believers, men, and filled with integrity who have been chosen to serve the church on the basis of social standing or scholarship, rather than spirituality. It is important that the deacon be a man who is “full of the Holy Spirit.” This is the direct command of Ephesians 5:18 which is to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The evidence of that is found in the following verses in the Ephesians 5 passage. In verse 19 there is an inward expression. The evidence is “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The one who is full of the Holy Spirit will have a song in his heart. It is the inward expression of a life that’s full of God’s spirit. There’s also an upward expression in the next verse, Ephesians 5:20. You will find him “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He will have an attitude of gratitude. And, finally, there is an outward expression. Ephesians 5:21 finds him “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” The initiation of a deacon should be for one who is a believer with integrity and who is full of the Holy Spirit.
Note also that he is to be “full of wisdom.” The word is wisdom here and not knowledge. There is a world of difference. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. Wisdom is the ability to discern between facts and apply them to points of need. We get wisdom from God. James says that if any of us lack wisdom we can “ask of God” and it will be given to us.
Thus, we find the instigation of the ministry of the deacon being born out of a problem of murmuring and complaining. The number one job of a deacon is to maintain love and unity in the family of faith. Next we find its initiation. Those who qualify as deacon are those who are men who know Christ, who are filled with integrity, and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4).
Here we see the beautiful expression of the church as the Apostles integrated their gifts with the gifts of the layman. They blended together to serve the church in mutual appreciation and mutual respect.
The deacon had his particular points of reference. They were appointed by the Apostles to be “over this business.” The Greek word translated “business” appears 49 times in the New Testament and this is the only time that it is translated “business.” The other 48 times it is translated “need.” We get our word “deacon” from the word that’s translated “distribution” in Acts 6:1 and the word translated “serve” in Acts 6:2. The same Greek word translates both of these words. It is the noun “diakonos.” It is a compound word from two words in Greek. There is a preposition meaning “through” and a noun which means “dust”. The very word means “through the dust”. Its root is found in that of a foot washer, a servant who was charged with the task of washing the dust off people’s feet. This word appears 30 times in the New Testament and 27 of those times it is translated “minister” or “servant.” Only three times is it translated “deacon” or “deaconess.” Phoebe is referred to as a deaconess which obviously means she was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. For those who have been initiated into the ministry of the deacon as we find the seven men in Acts 6, we see that their primary task was that of serving. They were primarily responsible for “serving tables” and distributing relief supplies to widows. They had their origins in meeting the needs of the fellowship in the spirit of a foot washer and in the spirit of service.
When the deacon performs his ministry there’s a beautiful integration with that of the pastor. We note in Acts 6:4 that this freed the pastors to “give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This integration of the ministry of the deacon and the pastor provides a means for building great churches in the eyes of God.
The most important factor in church growth is the integration of the lay people and the ministerial staff. Every member should be a ministry. No one is unimportant. The usher and the preacher are in the same ministry. I always told our ushers in my pastorates that if an individual walked through the door and felt unwelcome or had a bad experience he would never hear a word the preacher was saying. Churches that have the blessing of God are those who are wise enough to see the integration of the ministry of the pastor and the deacon.
“And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. Whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:5-7).
What is the result of all these things coming together? It inspires unity. “The saying pleased the whole multitude” (Acts 6:5). Unity prevailed in the family of faith. It is interesting that of all the seven men who are listed in Acts 6:5 as the original deacon body, only three of them are ever mentioned again. This illustrates the principle that most of God’s work is carried on by unknown, unsung heroes who quietly and without self-promotion carry out their God-given duties off the stage and away from the spotlight. When you see a healthy church you’ll know it is because there have been generations of deacons who have lived their lives, tithed their income, been faithful to their church, and were serious about their task, and left a legacy for those who came after them. The integration of the deacon and the pastor inspires unity.
It also inspires the spreading of the Gospel. “Then the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7). Previously in Acts we hear how believers had been “added” to the church in Jerusalem. Now we read that the disciples “multiplied greatly” in Jerusalem. This always follows unity. Unity is the number one factor in church growth.
The ministry of the deacon finds its instigation in Acts 6. Every deacon should ask himself a question…“Why am I a deacon?” The very office of the deacon was born out of a problem. The deacon’s primary task is to serve and to keep the unity in the church. It is not to dictate nor rule over the church. Initiation into this ministry is vitally important. What should characterize the deacon? He should be a true believer of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom. Next, integration is vital. How should the church be run? It should function by an integration of the ministry of the pastor and the deacon. The early church was wise in that it gave up leadership to the Apostles and they gave up ministry to the laymen. Finally, there’s an inspiration in the functioning of the deacon ministry. It should all be about the business of inspiring unity which in turn inspires the ministry of the word which in turn inspires a multiplying of men and women coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
Our prayers should be that it might be said of the 21st century church of the Western world what was said of the 1st century church in Jerusalem, that “the word of God spread and the number of disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).