Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim.3:8-12
God is not the Author of confusion but of peace (1 Cur. 14:33 ). Rule in an Assembly is a spiritual matter that has practical consequences. People will soon recognise those whom God has set apart for the care of their souls. The elders are the shepherds of the soul deacons under the direction of the elders care for the practical needs of the people.
It is important to “prove” their readiness and fitness for service. They must have spiritual qualifications and be men of good character. When the apostles came under pressure and criticism because they could not teach and provide the help the poor needed, they appointed others to serve in the ministry to the poor Acts 6:1-6. This was the wise solution to the problem. The choice of seven men by the apostles corresponded with Jewish practice of setting up boards of seven men for particular duties. The proposal made by the Twelve was put before a Church meeting and gained their approval. Today the deacons are brought into office to relieve the Pastor/elders, and assist them in their tasks. They are charged with the temporal welfare of the Church while the elders are charged with its spiritual welfare.
First Timothy was written to teach Timothy how to get the Church in to order, and to minister to certain groups within it. In this section Paul wanted Timothy how to conduct himself as a leader of a local assembly and manage it. But first of all we will trace the beginnings of the necessity for deacons. In this section three groups are mentioned: elders, deacons and deaconesses. Those who hold an office in the Church are not perfect but their aim is to improve the qualities they have. Some have qualities to a certain degree but they are eager to be a better deacon or deaconess.
THE FIRST ORGANISATION IN THE CHURCH ACTS 6:1-7
In these seven verses we have an account of the first organisation within the church. It is not a full order of organisation of the Christian Church but one in order to meet the immediate need; not so much to see an office or a system, but that underlying spirit and life method. Trouble came into the church because the needs that were not being dealt with adequately. The blessings and growth had been phenomenal. The preaching had been confirmed with signs and wonders. The Holy Spirit’s presence was evident and yet the frailty and human infirmity of the believers was evident. The Holy Spirit does not gloss over problems in Scripture nor does He hide it this is because of God’s character, He is a true reporter and tells us how it was. He is the same today and will show us were we are going wrong and give us the wisdom to correct it. . The Word of God is true and infallible and God records events exactly as they occurred, good and bad. He recorded the suicide of Judas, one of the twelve, the hypocrisy of Ananias and Saphira in their jealousy over Barnabas in Acts 5. Peter’s struggle about refusing to eat all kinds of food clean and unclean, which was God’s way of teaching him the gospel was for the gentiles also (Acts 10-11.) The Word of God records the conflict over circumcision and the solution to the problem (Acts 15). The sharp division between Paul and Barnabas when arguing over John Mark, they went their separate ways (Acts 15). And here, in chapter six, He records a problem in the church.
God did not hide the church behind four walls. He allowed the church to have problems and trouble tin order to show His continuing grace to sinners, to help them mature and be real, to give them wisdom to sort out situations and grow into maturity. The Church lives in a real world, with real problems but have not got God’s solution and so God uses the Church to show the world how to deal with problems graciously, wisely and honestly.
THE ISSUE-NEGLECTED WIDOWS
Vs 1 “Now in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a certain complaint against the Hebrews (they were the native Jewish population of Palestine who spoke Aramaic) by the Hellenists, (they were Jews form the Dispora foreigners born outside of Palestine who spoke Greek) because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” A confrontation had taken place between them.
“A certain complaint…because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” The Hellenists believed their widows were not receiving an adequate share of the food the Church provided for their care.
RESPONSIBILITY TO WIDOWS (1 Tim. 5:3-15.)
Paul gives informative instruction concerning the Churches and the families responsibility to widows.
Vs 3. He refers to those who are “really widows.” Not all widows are truly alone and may have financial resources and family support. The church was obligated to provide help for those who had no means for their daily needs. In our western society we do not fully understand widows who have not any sort of help or income. This is because we have pensions, social services charities but that does not mean the church should not find out if the widows have unmet needs. When and why they should remarry, responsibility of their children to them and of the Church. The church was to support the widows and treat them graciously.
Vs 4 The children and grandchildren were to care for their parents or grandparents.
Vs 5 “Now she who is a real widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” A real widow is on her own and without resource. Since she has no one else she trusts God to provide for her.
Vs 6 A widow who lives in the world and for the world is not a truly regenerated person. The church is not obligated to provide for her.
Vs 7 “Blameless” means no one can fault their conduct. They live right. There was a need to practically help the Hellenistic widows in the distribution of funds that had resulted from the sharing principles of the Church.
Vs 8. “If” is since, people at Ephesus were violating this principle. “Anyone does not provide for his own” does not meet their obligation of loving care; and especially for those of hi sown household” his own family members; “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Most pagans naturally fulfil this duty, so believers who have God’s love, His power and His command should carry it out and be not worse then the unbeliever.
Vs 9 “Do not let a woman under sixty years old be taken in their number.” In New Testament culture, 60 was considered retirement age. By that age women would have completed their child rearing and would have the time, maturity and character to devote their lives in service to God. They would also likely not remarry and become preoccupied with that comittement. A woman under sixty was not to be put on the list of widows. A woman who had been devoted to her husband was included.
Vs 10. The Godly widow was a good Christian woman who had nourished and reared their children. She had a humble servants heart productive in God’s service.
Vs 11 “But refuse the younger widows for when they have become to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry.” When the feel the impulse of natural desires for a marriage relationship and including sexual needs. Paul was being real. It is the norm to be married but the exception to be single. Super spiritual people fight these natural passions and fall into all sorts of mental difficulties and fleshy sins. Many good, young widows have stayed single and God has given them grace to do so.
Vs 12. “Having condemnation because they have cast off their faith.” This could refer to those young widows who pledged they would never marry again and asked to be included in the widows list. They may have promised to devote their lives in service to the church and the lord. They may have been well meaning at the time of their bereavement, but now were f a different mind and broke their pledge.
Vs 13. “And beside they learn to become idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busy bodies, saying things which they ought not.” Such people speak nonsense, talk idly, make empty charges, or even accuse others with malicious words. This idleness and talk also made them suitable targets for false teachers (1:6). The word busybody means “one who moves around.” The implication is that some people pry into things that do not concern them; they do not mind their own business.
Vs 14. “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary, to speak reproachfully.” These widows were still of childbearing age. Although they had lost their first husbands, there was still the potential privilege and blessing of remarrying and having children. “Managing the house,” means all the aspects of household administration, not merely rearing the children. The home is the domain where the married woman fulfils herself in God’s design.
Vs 15. “For some (widows) have already turned aside after Satan.” Some young widows gave up their commitment to serve Christ. They may have followed false teachers and spreading their false doctrine, or by marrying unbelievers and bringing disgrace upon the church.
Vs 16 “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those that are truly widows.” Paul reiterates what he has been saying in verses three to fifteen but adds one more thing. He tells Christian women they are also included in the responsibility to widows.
Let us now get back to our passage in Acts 6.
Acts 6:1 This was not a quarrel between Jews and gentiles; these people were all Grecian Jews. They spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and observed all the customs of Hebraism. They still worshipped Jehovah, still followed the ritual of ancient economy, but very largely spoke the Greek tongue, and had come under the influence of Greek thinking, apart from Christianity. There was a very clear line of division between the Hebrews and the Hellenist Jews.
The early Church was not and still is not perfect. But it is important how it dealt with problems when numerical conversions increased, and there was wonderful success and victory. There were difficulties within the Church, murmuring in the midst of development.
There were some materialistic and social distinctions that should not have come into the church. However, God gave the necessary equipment and information to solve problems.
The antagonism between the Hellenist and Hebrew was within the Church. This is a record of schism not heresy. A schism is a rent, a sect is a piece torn off. There are no sects in Christianity but we may find schisms. The church is one in Spirit and in the fundamentals of their faith. There may be social, cultural or material schisms and they can be overcome or at least we learn to disagree, agreeably.
There is no mention of disunity here at all. The paragraph deals with a quarrel, a schism; and yet, looking back at the whole company, there is revealed the Christian Church; not finally organised but a great organism. It is a living body of believers, drawing the same life from its Head, Christ.
They had one Lord and all were loyal to Him.
They had one faith centred upon Him.
They had unity of purpose. They expressed divergent opinions without breaking the unity.
They manifested one Spirit, who presided over the whole company and inspiring all of them.
There was one life, but all the organs in the one life, necessary for the fulfilling the purpose of that life.
There were men quite capable of managing all the business enterprises of the Church. There were men there equally capable of proclaiming the great message of the Church.
There were men there to whom had been committed the service of the word, the preaching of the Word.
There were men there who had the ability necessary for the serving of tables, for carrying out the business side of the Church.
In that company there were all the organs necessary for the fulfilment of the full meaning of the life of the Church. They had not been found, they had not been set in order; there was a little conflict between them; a little misunderstanding; but they were there. There existed a perfect organism, possessed of all the organs necessary for fulfilling the meaning of its own life.
There was one purpose. The one purpose was the proclamation of the Gospel, the presentation to men of the Person of the world’s redeemer, the increase of the Word.
Vs 2 “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the Word of God to serve tables.” It was done under apostolic guidance. They were wise men and could see that if the problem was not addressed it could cause great hurt, bitterness and rupture. Leaders in the Church should sense trouble brewing. They knew that if they let it breed it would multiply and destroy so many. They couragously and boldly faced the problem. They called together the multitude of people.
Vs 3-4 “Therefore brethren seek you out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom you may appoint over this business: but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” In this situation the apostles let these people make their own decisions and solve their own problems. The apostles instructed the people as to how they should act. They appointment of the seven was a Church appointment. The multitude of disciples were gathered together; and they, chose these men. The details of election are not given. There is no detail except that the Holy Spirit was the safeguard of the method and choice. It was His selection of the proper men for the work, His making known the will of the Lord for the whole company of disciples, under the direction of the apostolic teaching and authority. The apostles divided the assignments some people were to look after the take care of the business and responsibilities of the church while others pray and study the word. The prayers of these men shook buildings, brought spiritual power to minister and evangelise and changed the world. We need men like that today. Their depth of praying is a rebuke to preachers today. Preachers must pray for unction to preach. The people were would take on the business of the church, the finances, the building projects and maintenance as well as the multitude of other needs in the church. They men and women to do this would have been wise enough and adequate enough to do it. The preacher works with the people to make sure all things are done decently and in order.
FOUR QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE SEVEN
Look at the seven men who were chosen and their qualifications:
1. “Men from among you.” They were Christian men from their own company. They did not bring in some unsaved financial experts from the outside to do this. The financial situation was shared by others not just one person. This safeguarded from temptation or from people accusing. They did not bring them in from another place.
2. “Of good report.” A good report could be given of their good witness that gave a good report. They were men of whom others spoke well off. They were men who could be trusted and were not one way to your face and another behind your back. They were men who could be counted upon, men with whom one could entrust the destiny of the church. The men who were chosen had good character in the Church.
3. “Full of the Holy Spirit.” They knew the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not poured out upon apostles and preachers only. These men lead a Spirit filled life. Every man and woman can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. What ever we do if we do it in the fullness of the Spirit it will glorify God. They lived normal Christian lives in the fullness of the Spirit. This is the normal Christian life. The fullness of the Spirit does not mean the abandonment of interest in things on earth; but it does mean that the things of this earth – home, business, profession, and all of life-are touched by the hand of Christ, dealt with heart and soul and mind, under the dominion of Christ. Such men, men of faith, of Christian devotion, and Christian life, are to hold office in the Church.
4. “Full of wisdom.” Their love and zeal was combined with common sense. This wisdom is a moral quality that goes to the best ends to produce by the best means and result in the best. They were not super spiritual and saying God will take care of it all but God gave them the common sense to do the work. A lot of men learn common sense in the workplace, in business, in the factory where they meet real situations and are not just talking about something they learned from a book. There is a difference between the office and the shop floor, there must be understanding of each department. The man who holds this office needs tact, he must be shrewd, and astute, he must have good judgment, he must be a disciple, a man of good report, a normal Christian filled with the Spirit; but must be full of wisdom.
MEN CHOSEN FOR A PARTICULAR WORK.
Vs 5. “The saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch .” Seven men among the church were chosen; and all names were of these men were Greek names. There was not a Hebrew among them. One was a proselyte that is a Greek who became a Hebrew by religion. The Hellenists in the Church imagined that the Hebrew’s inside the Church were neglecting them in the daily administration. The church rose to the occasion and wisely concluded that in taking the advice of the Apostles appoint seven men. It was men from their own company who thought their widows were neglected. These men henceforth would have to do with the distribution of alms, not to the Hellenists only but to the Hebrews also. This is the very spirit of Christianity. It overcomes prejudice and gives honour and responsibilities of office to those who felt neglected.
IDENTIFYING THE DEACONS
Vs 6 “ ..whom they set apart before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands upon them.” In the Old Testament those who offered animals laid their hand s on the animal as an expression of identification. Symbolically it is an affirmation of support, and identification of someone in and his ministry (1 Tim. 4:14 ; 5:22 ; 2 Tim. 1:6, c.f. Num. 27:23).
Vs 7 “And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied…greatly.” When people are filled with the Spirit of the Lord such things will happen in the church.
The organisation of the Church is its unified variety at work; all the variety unified in order to work; the whole church obedient to one life principle; the whole working without friction, working the power of the Holy Spirit; then the accomplishment of results which is success.
We need God’s people to be filled with the Holy Spirit to evangelise effectively, serve the church well, minister our gifts and talents to glorify Him. When we get our order right then we may say with the early church, the “The Word of God increased” And “The number of disciples multiplied.” By fulfilling this function there was growth of the organism, and by growth of the organisation is a growth of capacity. All of God’s people share in evangelism, in mission, in ministry. We all are to glorify the Lord. It was spiritual, it was simple, it was sufficient but it was not final.
THE CHARACTER OF THE DEACONS 1 Tim. 3:8-12
Vs 8. The word translated “deacon” here is the same word used and sometimes translated “minister.” It is generally used of a servant. The elders were charged with the spiritual welfare of the church and the deacons with the temporal welfare of the church. The Lord is called a minister in Mathew 20:28. In Romans 13:4 government officials are called ministers, and in 2 Corinthians 11:15 ministers of Satan have the word applied to them. Deacon or minister therefore, is a general term for a servant or worker.
In Acts 6 seems to be the beginning of the office of deacon in the early church. However, the Greek word for deacon is not even used there.
A deacon, although he deals with the matters of material matters of the church, should be a spiritual man. Today some churches appoint a man on the basis of his popularity, his worldly qualifications, his material possessions, his academic qualifications or because he has a trade rather than spiritual qualifications. Too many men are appointed because they are good businessmen but not spiritual men.
The local church is a witness to the community where God has put it. They watch and will be the first to talk about the Church if something is not being done right. The deacons first of all ministers to people who have practical needs, they then serve the Church in the practical care of any buildings, heating, lighting, maintenance and lots of other material issues. The importance of taking care of what God has given the Church is a witness to the community.
However, in the Christian community we must never put the material needs and problems before the spiritual ones. We often put material things first, but the men who are in office must have the spiritual qualifications for their office. Until the spiritual aspects are emphasised, a church cannot accomplish the material and practical functions.
1. “Grave”- he should be a man of dignity and gravity, a man worthy f respect, whose character is worth imitating. He is to use the office not just fill it.
2. “Not double tongued.” He is not to say one thing and mean another, and making different representations of different people about the same thing. ” It is a temptation to speak to the same people in different tones and mannerisms, so don’t do it. Your facial expression and body language may communicate a different message than what you are saying. A deacon should not be two-faced. You can depend upon what he says. He is not to be a gossip. A man’s word should amount to something. It can be dangerous when a man tries to please everybody or doesn’t have the courage to stand on his own two feet. He is not to be walked upon nor has he to be a dictator.
3. “Not given to much wine.”- “Not to apply one’s self to, attach one’s self to be addicted to.” The Bible teaches temperance. It does not teach total abstinence because there are many medicines in those days and wine was used as medicine and also a cultural thing, which is much different to supporting the alcohol industry today. The leaders were not to sit long with the cup and drink to excess. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul encourages Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach’s sake. Even today medicines have a high percentage of alcohol.
The problem we encounter with alcohol is the way it is used or abused as a beverage.
4. “Not greedy of filthy lucre”. – This means that a deacon should not have an insatiable love of money. He should be a man of integrity and should handle the money of the church in an honest way. “Greedy of filthy lucre.” “disgraceful gain,” when a man makes an acquisition of it, rather than glory in God, his prime object. The deacons who are involved with church finance are exposed to temptations to disappropriate Church funds or adopt questionable means of livelihood. They should share the distribution of funds and signing of cheques with a pastor, with the exception of paying regular bills and giving out regular wages. There is nothing that can hurt a church more than an accusation that the deacons are juggling with the finances. Money given to a church for specific cause needs to be allotted to the intended cause.
5. “Mystery” is musterion, which is, “a truth hidden from the world until revealed at the appointed time, and which is a secret to ordinary eyes, but made known by divine revelation. (Vincent). The hidden truth, (the great doctrines of the faith,) are revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. It was not revealed in the Old Testament. They are to be sound in and understand doctrine. Decisions regarding the Church must be based upon the Word of God. It is more important to follow the Word of God than some guidebook on how to be a deacon. book
6. “The faith,” refer to the Christian system of revelation they knew the apostles doctrine.
7. “In a pure conscience,” this is conscientious purity and sincerity in contrast to those who are described as branded in their own conscience, and thus causing followers to fall away from the faith (Ch. 4:1-2). The truth and pure conscience is preserved in the vessel in which the mystery of he faith is preserved.” A man cannot manage the household of God if he has an impure conscience or if he does not rule his own house well. A mere intellectual attitude toward the mystery which, in every age, attaches to the faith, will result in doubt, questioning and wordy strife ( 1Tim.6:4; 2 Tim. 2:23, Titus 3:9), sometimes in moral laxity, sometimes in despair. Loyalty and duty to God are compatible. They were not ignorant concerning the mystery. An intellect, however powerful and active, joined with an impure conscience, cannot solve but only aggravates the mystery; whereas a pure conscience, and a frank acceptance of imposed duty along with the mystery, puts one in the best attitude for attaining whatever solution is possible.”
8. Vs 10 “These also prove,” the bishops as well as the deacons must be proved before being appointed. They must first be put to the test regarding doctrinal belief, ascent to the Church constitutation and in their character. They must be approved or be tested before taking up office. We must observe their lives and conduct before we accept them into office. They are not chosen because of their popularity. This is a formal examination of character, life and belief. It is a general judgement of the Christian community as to whether they fulfil the specifications set down in verse 8. There is to be an ongoing evaluation of deacon’s character and service by the church.
9. “Blameless,” means unaccused. It is a judicial term meaning “not able to be held” in a criminal sense. There is no valid accusation of wrongdoing that can be made against him. There is no overt flagrant sin that can mar the life of one who is an example for people in the church to see.
Those who hold the office of deacon are to meet the same personal and family requirements that were given to the elders. Deaconess can assist in the women’s work, in getting female candidates ready for baptism, in fellowship times, in fellowship meals, in visiting others particularly other ladies who may have a female problem that a man cannot relate to or may be awkward to discuss with. They may assist in distributing to the poor or needy or in finances.
10. Vs 11. The word “wives” is gune “ a woman.” When used in a marriage relationship, it means a “wife.” Here it should be translated “women.” It does not necessarily refer to the wives of deacons as this section of scripture is dealing with Church officials.
“Reverent,” is having gravity and dignity, being calm and cool, which invites the reverence and respect of others. This does not mean they do not have joy or a sense of humour. They are well balanced in their attitudes and full of joy, wisdom and the Holy Spirit.
11. “Not slanderers,” is diabolos, the word used of the devil. It means not to throw over or across, to accuse, slander, or defame.” There should not commit character assignation or speak in a derogatory manner. They should not go from person to person or from house to house gossiping.
12. “Sober,” is nephalion, the same word used for the elder in verse 2, It means “to be calm, without wrong passions, circumspect.”
13. “Faithful,” is pistos, “faithful in fidelity, of being true, to the trust of the imposed one.”
14. Vs 12-13 “Let the deacons be one wife sort of husbands,” not a womaniser. Some believe a deacon should only been married once others believe that if they were the innocent party or that they were divorced and remarried before they became Christians and the office should not be withheld from them. It is essential for the elders in each local church to set Church policy on this as they will have to give an account to God for such decisions. A person who has had a Biblical divorced should have a long pattern of stability and family life showing good balanced leadership and family history life before being considered for office.
15. “Ruling,” means “to be over, to superintend, to preside over.” The word “purchase” is “acquire or obtain.” They should have godly homes. The deacon’s home life, like his personal life, must be exemplary. He has authority and in his own home and oversees it. He oversee his family, the education and discipline of children, finances and care for the family in practical and financial areas. It involves being with the family, enjoying them and doing things together. He is to promote a happy and balanced family lifestyle. To his children he is the best dad in the world he is their hero. This makes all members feel loved, wanted, unique and special. He shows how much he cares for them and provides their needs. To his wife he is a trusted, caring, dependable partner.
17. “Degree,” means a step, order or rank or grade, a base or rung on a ladder. It is apposition of trust and influence in the church. They gain themselves a good standing, have esteem among the heir fellow Christians. God will promote them spiritually.
18. “Boldness,” means “free and bold speaking out every word.” It means confidence as opposed to fear, ambiguity or reserve. It is confidence and courage in the faith, witnessing. Their position assures they have a blameless reputation in the church, with a pure conscience.
No one may manifest all these qualities but they are something to be aimed for.
The passage in First Timothy says nothing of marriage or divorce. The issue is not the marital status of the deacon or elder, but the moral and sexual purity.
1. Can a single person hold the office of deacon? Yes. If it were Paul’s intent that they shouldn’t he would have disqualified himself (1 Cor. 7:8).
2. Can a widower or widow hold the office? Yes. When a person’s spouse dies they are free from that marriage by law and may remarry if the so wish (Rom. 7:1-4). Widows under sixty are encouraged to marry (1 Tim. 5:14).
3. Can a person whose unsaved partner leaves and divorces them hold the office? Yes. “But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15 c.f.10-14).
4. Can a divorced person hold office? I believe so if they have had a Biblical divorce on the grounds of fornication i.e. adultery, homosexuality, bestiality etc. (Matt. 5:31; 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:15).