Proto-Deacons and Growing in Godliness
Proto-Deacons and Growing in Godliness
6/23/2019 at Sawyer Highlands Church
Lawn Mowers and Gifting
Have you ever tackled a fixing something? About a month ago, a neighbor gave me their extra riding lawn mower. I tried it out. It was so fun. It is like a go-cart for adults. Then it stopped working. I went online. I spoke to the men at men’s prayer. The problem was the battery. So I bought a new battery. No problem. I have done that before. I hooked it up. Guess what. It still didn’t work. Then I watched some more youtube video and tried to troubleshoot more. Maybe it was the gasoline. No, it was good. I ran to the end of my capacity. I had to call in an expert. A number of you have giftings that I don’t. I called one of you. You know who you are. I don’t want to get you in trouble, but if you need someone really good with machines, see me later, and I will give you his name. He came over, and like an elementary teacher, he gave me a lesson in small engines. With a few dollars investment and some trial and error, he helped me get it up and running. Without him, I was back to the push mower. It is moments like those where I realize I don’t have the gifting that some of you have, and it is best to find people who do. I was stretched beyond my capacity and gifting and didn’t realize it until I had to. Can you relate? Today, we get a look at the leadership of the early church stretched beyond its capacity. The church had to make adjustments. The church was equipped to meet their deficits. They just needed some help in organization. The story we read today is from Acts chapter 6 and continues our series in the book.
Luke, the author, describes the exponential growth of the church, a consequent problem, and how they solved it. This will show us something for our pursuit of godliness that is critical in our day. If you have your Bibles, please read with me Acts chapter 6. We will project the words on the screen behind me. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s word. Stand with me now, if you are able. T&L.T will be reading for us today.
6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 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. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Prayer
Let’s pray. Dear God, I, we, need your help. Take these words. Encourage our hearts. Help us to know how to respond to your holy Word. We need you. We all want to fit in, to find our place, and thrive. Help us know what value and value what you do. AMEN. You may be seated.
As we read, the poor are being neglected, and the church was experiencing increasing antagonism from the outside. Tensions were mounting. Something had to change. If you take notes, I have four points.
- Confrontation (6:1-2)
- Communication (6:3-4)
- Construction (6:5-7)
Point 1: Internal Confrontation 6:1
Let’s talk about Confrontation. The setting was Jerusalem. It was a hub for international commerce as well as a sacred site for Jewish people. Verse 5 we hear of a Jewish convert from Antioch who converted to Christianity. He was one of those from out of town. In verse 9 we learn that there were also
- Cyrenians, (That is from North Africa, nowadays Libya),
- and of the Alexandrians (That is Lower Egypt, which is the north side by the Mediterranean),
- and of those from Cilicia (Which is on the coast of Turkey),
- and Asia - (Also known as Asia minor describing lands east of Rome)
Jerusalem was a melting pot of sorts. Jesus’s followers were there too. The city had a population of an estimated 100,000 people. Some were Hellenists meaning they spoke Greek instead of the local language, Aramaic. Hellenistic comes from the root word Hellas, which is the ancient word for Greece. Luke mentions them in verse 1.
6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
You will remember people were converting to Christianity who had been visiting Jerusalem. In chapter two and chapter four, everyone was sharing and meeting their daily needs. It was magical. Sadly, in chapter six, not everything was going so well. Now, the church was neglecting the needs of some widows. Why? We don’t know for sure. It may have been because the church grew so quickly. Why this demographic? It could have been that the cultural and linguistic barrier isolated their needs. The leadership just may not have been aware. They may have been out of sight and out of mind. Some think it may have been racism. I don’t think that was the case because the apostles did not offer a moral rebuke to solve the problem. How did they respond? Go to verse 2.
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
How were they going to care for these widows? The leaders don’t think it is right for them to do it. Who will care for them? That brings me to my second point if you are taking notes: Communication. The confrontation in verses 1 and 2 leads to the communication of a plan in verses 3-4. Jump to verse 3. What does Luke say?
3 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. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Confrontation leads to a Communication of a vision moving forward found in verses (6:3-4). These verses offer a sneak peek at the different roles of elders and deacons. At Sawyer, we seek to get back to the Bible and pick up the titles and instructions of the church organization. Note, the similarities, in the text between apostles and elders and the seven and deacons. I want to highlight these now. Note as we see similarities, Luke doesn’t use either of the terms. It is not until chapter 11:30 that Luke uses the term “Elders” for leaders in the church. He never uses the term deacon in Acts. I also want us to notice something Jeff said a while back; history is descriptive, not prescriptive. One illustration of that fact is we don’t have apostles at our church and make no apologies for that. The term can be problematic because we don’t have much information about the, office and many people use the name to justify abusive spiritual authority. On the other hand, Scripture is clear about the definition of elders and deacons, and we are comfortable using those terms.
Let’s look at the similarities between apostles and elders. I see four.
- In verse two, the apostles were leading the church.
- In verse two, they speak of preaching the Word.
- In verse two, they express their desire to not focus on “serving tables” or distributing funds to the poor. A side note, why is that? I don’t think they thought that was below them or they were better than that. The New Living Translation interprets the Greek this way,
- “So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, ‘We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.’” That sounds less emotionally loaded or condescending to my ears.
- Vs. 4, tells us they want to devote themselves to prayer as well as the Word. All four convictions are commendable and applicable for the roles of pastor/elder.
Many of the elders would not want to preach. I understand that, but I think we westerners have developed a taste for preaching that did not exist in the early church. Their standard for preaching was much more rudimentary, read Peter’s or Stephen’s message. You don’t have to go to seminary to preach a good message. All of our leaders should be able to defend the faith verbally and share the gospel simply.
We want leaders who not only have leadership aptitude, but more importantly, spiritual wisdom, insight, character, and vitality. We want men of prayer, not just planning leading the church.
Over the last seven years, I have been here we have tried as elders to embrace the ministry of prayer. I think we pray more than when I first got here. We spend a month in January to pray. We pray after the service. We take our eldership meetings and begin and end in substantial prayer. Payer is important. We pray for you by name.
Secondly, in regards to the ministry of the Word. We are deeply committed to this book more than any other book. We try hard to not speak from opinion or topic but from the text. We never borrow another pastor’s message but pray and seek what God wants to say to us through his Word. God’s Word is true, and in it, we find life. We want to get at the point of this book. Jeff, Mike, and I go to a pastors’ gathering twice a year specifically designed to help us better understand how to handle the Word of God. We devote ourselves to the Word.
We also lead. We don’t want to micromanage but equip (Eph. 4:12). Our desire as leaders is to identify, empower, and encourage your ministry. You have gifts and talents. Some of you are called to help the poor like these seven mentioned; others are gifted to maintain our facility. Some of you can teach our children, others of you can run projection and sound. I look around and see the many ways you are critical for our church. You are the body of Christ. God doesn’t have a hierarchy of jobs: apostles, are the best, then comes pastors and elders, then missionaries, then teachers, and least of all the groundskeepers. Where does the Bible teach where our value comes from? It is in Christ, not our titles. We each play a vital role in the life of the church. The apostles are saying there is a role for seven men, that the church needs to fill. They don’t have the capacity or calling for this role. These were what I call the proto-deacons.
QUALIFICATIONS OF PROTO-DEACONS
What were the criteria of these proto-deacons? The requirements were five:
- Full of the Spirit
- Full of wisdom
- Having a good reputation.
The first two qualifications I think that were more circumstantial than the later three.
At Sawyer, we have more than seven deacons
- Chris Kauffman is over physical ministries,
- Devin Sullivan is over worship,
- Ken Welch is over finances,
- Amber Smith is over women’s ministry,
- Katie Nash/Cara Bettig/Kelsey Zielke all share children’s ministry responsibilities,
- Bob Tjernlund is over the senior ministry,
- Bob Dryden is over benevolence,
- and Matt Hunt is over social ministries.
Did I forget anyone?
You could count Joe Koehler over youth, and us pastors function as deacons in some ways as well. I don’t think we are straying in having more than seven deacons. The concept of seven is descriptive, not prescriptive.
The other reality we find here is that the apostles call for men to fill this role. Does that mean only men can serve in such a way? If we say the seven were proto-deacons, do we going against the Bible in having women deacons? Remember, the seven were not called deacons here. So then we are okay. However, let me discuss this topic of women deacons further. The scripture doesn’t say too much about this. However, the most explicit argument for women deacons I find is in Romans 16. Paul writes this.
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [Deacon] of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
The term servant, “diakonos” or Deacon. So, why do the apostles specify just men? Is the term a general for humanity? No, for two reasons. First, they only chose men for the role. We know that because all the names are masculine.
5... Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Secondly, the reason we know these are men is because of how Luke uses the word “men” in the previous passage. He used it next to the word for women, demonstrating he could have written choose seven men or women, but didn’t. So why only men? It could be that they were representative like Adam represented humanity, the twelve tribes of Israel came from twelve sons who represented the country, and the twelve apostles were all men and representing all. A representative is not greater than his or her constituency, but why only men? I don’t know. However, I think it has to do with their circumstances.
I appreciate those of you who hold to a more stringent interpretation. I think I understand the rationale. Let me offer this pastoral advice. If you struggle with the concept of a deaconess, consider other titles like minister, director, and servant. Besides, consider the logic of whom better to head up a women’s ministry than a woman. I am grateful for the Amber’s and Kelsey’s, and Katies, and Cara’s out there. You women out there who serve faithfully and sacrificially, have a role to play in the church. We are not a church without you. The leaders in Acts had reached their capacity and needed help. We need each other here too. This passage is great on letting us know what they did. That doesn’t mean we have to do it the same way. If we keep looking at the rest of the qualifications, I think we will want to do more than compare and contrast. The text is more than a history lesson. I believe the three other requirements of deacons that will challenge us all. The qualifications go beyond aptitude to character. In fact, character is more important than aptitude, which is something I think society can learn from as well as us. Character is key.
What kind of character?
- Being full of the Holy Spirit,
- Being full of wisdom,
- And having a good repute.
Let’s look at each. First, they were full of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t every believer full of the Spirit? I would say “Yes” and “no”. Ephesians 5:18 commands the believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That command is to be obeyed present tense and assumes a continual pursuit. Peter was full of the Holy Spirit in chapter 4. That is a mark that sets him apart from others. So, what does being full of the Spirit look like? I think one passage that comes to mind is Galatians 5:22-25 helps us understand what a Spirit-filled life looks like.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control... 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Have you seen someone who is filled with love and joy? Have you met someone saturated with peace and patience? They might be naturally optimistic, woke on the right side of the bed, and be sanguine. Or, they may be filled with the Holy Spirit. How do we know? One test is who we are under pressure. The fire shows what remains in our hearts. When you are stressed, how do you respond? Are you filled with the Spirit? That was a qualification of these seven men. Acts 6 goes on to give two examples that these guys were genuinely meeting the qualifications.
Not only were they filled with the Holy Spirit, but they were also to be filled with wisdom. Wisdom is not information. It is knowing the right thing to do. It is practical knowledge. Proverbs teaches that The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom can come from time. However, not everyone who is old is wise? You have heard of students that are wise beyond his or her years? We say that because youth can be wise as well. Are you? Would people identify you as full of wisdom and fearing the Lord? That is a second qualification we all should strive after.
Not only were the seven to be filled with the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom, but they were also to be of good repute. That means they were to have a good reputation. What is your reputation? Do people think of you as a shady? That would be bad. Are you trustworthy? Alternatively, are you known for partying? How do people view you? What are you like at work or with your friends? What kind of jokes do you tell and movies do you watch? What are you saying on Facebook and Twitter and posting on Instagram? What is your reputation? When I say that, I don’t want us to live in fear of other people or be overly concerned about them.
On the other hand, maybe another way to put it is, how is your witness? We should all care about our witness. God is on trial, and you get to take the stand when you are in public. What does your life say about God?
The seven were going to be serving. They would be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and a good reputation. What about you? This passage points us to who we are when outside our gathering. That is important. Some of you could be chosen to fill these seven spots today, others of us need some more work. We all can grow.
Point 3 Construction
Acts 6 is not over. The church complies with the leadership. They implement a solution to their problem. That brings us to my brief third point: Construction - 6:5-7. The community confronts the leader who communicates a vision, and the congregation complies constructing a list. I find it interesting that the charge from the leadership was for the congregation to put forward seven ministers. They were to choose seven men, full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and of good repute. The balance between the plurality of leadership and the dynamic of the body is fascinating. I tend to like small leadership teams. However, the congregation owned this decision. If you were looking for proto-congregationalism: here it is. We have proto-deacons and proto-congregational input. We have seen this before in the selection of Mathias, Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:21-26). Verse 5 They chose:
Verse 5 tells us whom the church picked to fill the seven spots. Verse 6 and 7 bookended this story in the same way it began. Look at verse 6.
6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
That is amazing! The apostles continue to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. The church is growing and functioning in the way it should be. Things are back in order.
POINT 4 External Consternation
Luke is not done. He explores the character of two of these proto-deacons. First, he shares about Stephen. Then you have to come back in two weeks to hear about Philip. We learn something counterintuitive in verses 8-15. You can have been confronted, communicate a great plan, construct it perfectly and still face consternation. Look at verse 8.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
Remember the qualifications? Stephen has them: full of the Spirit, wisdom, and good repute. On top of that, he is full of grace and power, preaching the Word, doing signs and wonders. He obviously has more than the serving and an administrative gift. The leaders are frustrated with Stephen’s message. That is not what we would expect. Bad things are about to happen to a good person. When they can’t beat him in a debate, what do they do? Jump to verse 11.
11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”[Not true] 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”[Not true]
Persecution is real.
There is a false hope out there that if we do the right thing and say the right thing, you will be blessed. Yes, God will bring ultimate good out of any circumstance for the Christian. However, faithfully following Jesus, you might still get cancer. You still might lose your job. You still might get water in your basement. Bad things happen to good people.
Moreover, some bad things are happening to Stephen. How does he respond? Does he fight back? Does he run? He responds with grace. He is the real deal. How do you respond to trials? I think under pressure, real character comes out. Stephen’s character remains. He is not the only one who has thrived under pressure. All around the world, persecution continues. God offers opportunities for us to demonstrate who He is and what He has done, when under fire. Let’s watch a short video of a pastor and his wife, who recently experience some persecution like Stephen. Listen to how they respond to evil.
This pastor and his wife could not sleep for three months. He was attacked. The church was burned. Their Bibles were destroyed. What was their response? Prayer and Love. They were the real deal. I am pretty sure they were filled with the Spirit, wisdom, and godly character. How about you? How would those around you describe your faith? How can you grow in this kind of faith that is vibrant under attack? How do you become full of wisdom, Spirit, grace, power, and character? The chapter ends with everyone …
15 gazing at him[Stephen], all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
What do people see when they look at you? The church is constantly changing. The leaders can’t do it all. God gifts his people as their impact is growing. What they were looking for in these proto-deacons, I think we all should be encouraged to pursue. How? I believe the only way for us to know this kind of power, grace, wisdom, and Spirit is through believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He paid the ultimate penalty for us so we wouldn’t have to. He loved us so we can love. That was the radical message that people were responding to in droves that required an expanding administrative team. That was the Word they preached and devoted themselves to.
How do we grow? I think it is in the devotion of what the apostles were pursuing. They were devoted to prayer and God’s word. In chapter 2 we learn that the common man and woman devoted themselves to prayer, the Word, service, and fellowship. We need God like we need lunch. We die without Him, spiritually. In the midst of confrontation, communication, construction, and facing worldly consternation, let us be devoted to God and His book.
*All rights reserved
*All rights reserved