Every pastor and every deacon knows well the story in Acts 6:1-7 where the Jerusalem church encountered their first internal dissension. We hear it at every deacon ordination and often in deacons meetings.
In leading retreats and training sessions for deacons, I ask them to read this passage slowly and to meditate on it. Then, we discuss it. At the conclusion, I give them this assignment.
In the days to come, read this passage again and again until you know it thoroughly. Then, when you are driving the car or walking alone or lying awake at night, meditate on it. My friends, there are more truths and insights in these few verses than any of us have ever discovered. See how many you can find.
Here are twenty-five such insights to get us started. There may be a hundred more. As you reflect on this passage, see how many more insights and lessons come to mind…
One. People are going to have problems. Even the godliest among us.
Two: The fact that a church is experiencing a problem is no indication they are in sin, are doing something wrong, or are flawed.
Three: Problems are often God’s way of introducing some new insight or blessing to the church. Or, based on our Lord’s instructions of Matthew 10:16ff, the problems may be His way of getting the gospel to the watching world.
Four. The church’s reputation was at stake when dissension broke out. Whether they would end up acting just like the pagan world or handle this matter in a Christlike way was the question.
Five. In an ideal world, the disciples would have anticipated the problem and solved it before the murmuring broke out. But this is not that ideal world, and no one should ever blame the ministers when problems break out in the congregation.
Six. Ministering to the needy in the congregation was a system already in place in the early church. It dates back to Old Testament times.
Seven. A fast-growing church may be likely to overlook a needy group.
Eight. Listen to complaints; don’t neglect the need. Often that squeaking wheel has a legitimate concern that needs addressing.
Nine. When the apostles heard about this problem–they were probably the last to know!–they dealt with it. They did not sweep it under the rug or say, “These things usually work themselves out.” Much was at risk here.
Ten. In dealing with the issue, the apostles stayed on task. They did not allow it to divert them from their greatest responsibilities.
Eleven. The leadership–apostles and others–realized the need was genuine. They took this matter with the utmost seriousness.
Twelve. The apostles involved the entire congregation in solving the problem so everyone would be invested in its handling.
Thirteen. The apostles did not dictatorially hand down a verdict, a decision, an instruction, even though they could have, and had every right to do so.
Fourteen. The congregation, charged with selecting godly men for the assignment, must always know its own. They were to choose, not the most popular, but the most godly.
Fifteen. All workers need to be Spirit-led and Spirit-filled. Not just the preachers.
Sixteen. The seven men chosen were members of the minority group which had been neglected in the food distribution (based on their Greek names).
Seventeen. The initiative in all of this remained with the apostles. They called the meeting, asked the congregation to select the seven, who were then sent to the apostles for further instruction. At no time was the responsibility handed off from the apostles to anyone else.
Eighteen. The apostles ordained the seven. The sentence reads, “After praying, they laid their hands on them.” That’s ordination.
Nineteen. Not one word is given on exactly how the seven dealt with the issue. We find that odd until we realize that the passage in I Timothy 3:8-13 which gives the qualifications for deacons nowhere says what they are to do. From that we deduce that Scripture leaves it for each church to decide what they need from the deacons, just as the Jerusalem church did. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say some churches might not even need deacons except in emergency situations. While these two passages–Acts 6:1-7 and I Timothy 3:8-13–speak of their work, nowhere does Scripture instruct a church to have deacons. And in Ephesians 4:11, deacons are not found in that famous list: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…”
Twenty. The seven did their work wonderfully. The reason we know this is verse 7. “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem; and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Twenty-one. That tells us that the outside world had been watching to see how the church would handle this uprising and discontent. They’re always watching us, eager to catch the church violating the teaching of the Lord. When Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten, then thrown into prison and locked into stocks, even though their backs were open wounds and they must have been miserable, we read that “about midnight, they began praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:25). But don’t miss the rest of that verse: “And the other prisoners were listening to them. They’re always listening.
Twenty-two. One of the great proofs of the resurrection–as well as everything else about the gospel message–is that “a great many of the priests” turned to Jesus. No one knew better than these on the inside of Judaism what was going on. Their conversion to Christ is as eloquent a testimony as we could hope for that Christ was alive and well and the church was doing His wonderful work.
Twenty-three. With additional growth will come additional problems. Expect them and don’t be blind-sided. The church which handles these things from time to time will be better able to face them when they arrive.
Twenty-four. Stress is a great way to produce muscles. Ask any strength coach. To build a body, one puts stress on it. So, when God wants to enlarge His people’s ability to handle life’s challenges, He allows them to undergo stress to build muscles.
Twenty-five. The word “deacon” is not found in this passage. But the common agreement is that the passage is describing the origin of the deacons in the early church. If someone disagrees, that’s fine, also.
Okay, that’s the first 25 on your way to 100 lessons of Acts 6:1-7. (Okay, I pulled the number 100 out of thin air. But no doubt there are more lessons here, great insights being overlooked. So, would love to have yours!)