************ Sermon on Acts 6:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 18, 2003
"The Result of Faithful Service"
In 1992 Word Perfect was the number 1 computer word processor with over 7 million registered users. In poll after poll, it was the word processor of choice among computer users. It wasn't that Word Perfect's product was superior to anything else on the market. It wasn't that the price was lower. Word Perfect was number 1 because of its superior service. One-third of the company's employees, 750 in total, were trained and equipped to handle customer questions and problems. They dealt with more than 16,000 toll-free calls each day at a cost of half-a-million dollars in long distance charges per month. Word Perfect's operators were on call 11 hours per day and could be reached at over 25 different 1-800 numbers. Corporate policy was not to have any customer on hold for more than 60 seconds.
Ten years later very few people use WordPerfect anymore. The word processing market has pretty well been sowed up by Microsoft Word. What happened?
In 1994 WordPerfect was sold to a company that decided service was not important – they eliminated most of the 1-800 numbers and operators were on call only during business hours. And, they decided not to develop updated versions of the product.
Service is as important in the church as it is in the business world. The church is committed to service – the service of each other as well as the service of the broader community.
Service is a key idea in our Scripture passage. The apostles were engaged in service. And the seven, they were chosen for service too.
This morning we have installed office bearers. In line with Scripture, we want to emphasize service. The deacons, the elders, as well as Tim and myself as pastors are all to be engaged in serving God's people. As for God's people, they are all involved in service to and for each other.
I Office and Service
A The term for service in the Greek New Testament is "diakonia." From it is derived our English word "deacon." The word "diakonia" is used three times in our passage: verse 1 - which speaks of the daily diakonia for the widows; verse 2 - which speaks of the diakonia at tables; and verse 4 - which speaks of the diakonia of the Word.
In that word "diakonia" we find the Lord's will for those who are in church office. We are told that the first 7 deacons were appointed for diakonia. The 12 apostles, we are told, devoted themselves to diakonia. God's will for those who are in church office today is diakonia. Elders, deacons, and pastors are called and appointed for diakonia. This means that elders, deacons, and pastors are called and appointed for service. Called to office means called to service.
B In living a life of diakonia, of service, we are but following the instruction of Christ. He said,
(Mk 10:43-45) ... whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (diakonos), (44) and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served (diakonethenai), but to serve (diakonesai), and to give his life as a ransom for many."Christ uses the word "diakonia" three times in this passage.
Christ Himself lived up perfectly to His own words. He is the eternal Son of God. As part of the eternal Godhead, His is power and honor and glory. Yet, He came to earth as a man, taking the nature of a servant (Phil 2:6f). Who can forget the time He put aside His tunic and, like a servant, washed the feet of His disciples? Who can forget how He went to the cross – the ultimate act of diakonia!
Jesus calls us this morning to be like Himself. He calls us all to diakonia. He calls us to be servants. And, those who are leaders in the church have a special responsibility to live up to His words.
This is well illustrated by an interesting tradition at William and Mary College. At the annual homecoming weekend, many of the returning alumni wear white jackets. This is true even of graduates who have gained high positions--college and company presidents, state governors, U.S. Congressmen and Senators, and professional leaders.
Why the white jackets? To show that they were among the many students who helped to earn their way through college by waiting on tables. The white jacket, in other words, symbolizes service, diakonia.
C Diakonia, service – that is God's calling for those in church office.
Diakonia, service – that's also your calling as congregation. I would like to remind the congregation – and that is one of the main reasons I had so many people standing this morning for a thank you – that it takes a lot of people working together, serving together, to do the ministry of the church. Now, I do have one regret: I regret I could not tell the entire congregation stand up. I should have been able to. I don't want to take away from the many who did stand up; but, there were a lot who did not stand up. It can't all be done by me, or by Pastor Tim, or by our mighty secretary or wonderful custodian, or by the elders and deacons. The ministry of the church requires all of us doing our work together.
II The Neglect of Service
A When we closely examine Acts 6 we see that the early church had a two-fold "diakonia" or service problem.
First, the Greek widows were being overlooked in the distribution or diakonia of food.
At that time there were a large number of Greek widows in Jerusalem. Many pious Greek Jews would settle in Jerusalem when elderly so as to be buried near the Holy City. As the widows of such men had no family nearby to look after their needs, they often became dependent upon public charity. And, for some reason these widows were being neglected in favor of the Hebrew Jews.
You have to understand that the early church was composed almost exclusively of Jews. This makes sense when you consider that the church started in Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem there were two kinds of Jews: those who were born and raised locally and whose mother-tongue was Hebrew or Aramaic; and those who were born and raised abroad and whose mother-tongue was Greek. Each tended to visit and worship only within their own group.
We know that on Pentecost both Aramaic and Greek-speaking Jews were converted to the Christian faith. This meant that in the early church there were two distinct Jewish groups, each with their own language and culture.
This division lay at the heart of the first "diakonia" or service problem. Scripture tells us that
(Acts 6:1) ... the Grecian Jews ... complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution (diakonia) of food.We aren't told how or why, but the Hebrew widows were in some way favored over the Greek widows. This created a measure of jealousy and envy between the two groups.
B It appears that it was the apostles who looked after the daily distribution or diakonia of food (4:35; 6:2). This created the second service or diakonia problem. The diakonia of food distribution took up so much time and effort that the apostles were neglecting the diakonia of prayer and preaching (6:2). The apostles found themselves spending so much time looking after the widows that they were neglecting their primary responsibility – the diakonia of the Word.
III The Division of Service
A To remedy this service problem, the apostles proposed a division of diakonia: seven men to do the diakonia of daily food distribution, and the apostles to do the diakonia of prayer and the ministry of the Word.
"This proposal pleased the whole group" (vs 5). So they chose seven men, seven deacons.
The task of the first deacons was the daily diakonia or distribution of food. Or, as verse 2 puts it, their task was "to wait on tables." Today we would call them "waiters." No welfare, no food stamps, no Aid for Dependent Children (ADC), no WIC (Women, Infant, Children) program. The early church had a soup line. Those who were hungry showed up at meal time and the deacons would "wait" on them.
This diakonia of food distribution is based upon Christ's command to love one's neighbor. When it comes right down to it, then, the deacons' diakonia is to show love.
Today, deacons may no longer be waiters, but the love of Christ continues to be their diakonia. This is done through giving aid to the poor, helping parents pay for the Christian education of their children, finding jobs for the unemployed, setting up Christian nursing homes, providing senior citizen housing, visiting widows and widowers.
B With the seven busy at work doing the diakonia of food distribution, the apostles were able to devote themselves to the diakonia of "prayer and the ministry of the word." In this fashion they could remain obedient to Christ's final command before He left this earth:
(Mt 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
C As the church continued to grow other divisions of service or diakonia also became necessary. The Apostle Paul, further on in Acts, insists upon the ordination of elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Their job, their diakonia, was to keep watch:
(Acts 20:28-29) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (29) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. To them is entrusted the keys of the kingdom (Mt 16:19). And, in Christ's name, they must rule and govern the church.
D As the church grew, then, she developed different kinds of diakonia so that she could better serve her members and carry on the work of the Lord. The apostle Paul can say, "There are different kinds of service (diakonia), but the same Lord" (1 Cor 12:5). There is the diakonia of the seven – to wait on tables. There is the diakonia of the apostles and pastors – to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. There is the diakonia of the elders – to keep watch over the flock. There is the diakonia of the members – to serve one another. Within the church there is and must be different kinds of diakonia so no area of ministry is neglected.
"There are different kinds of service." The task of the deacons is to do their own service and not the diakonia of the elders. The task of the elders is to do their own diakonia and not that of the minister. And the task of the minister is to do his own work and not that of the deacons. "There are different kinds of service" and each office must do the task assigned it. They must or else we will end up with the same kind of service problem as faced by the early church. They must or else some vital area of ministry will be neglected.
E Something we often neglect to see is that all of this diakonia, all of this service, is spiritual in nature. Did you notice, the seven deacons were picked because they were "full of the Spirit and wisdom" (vs 4). And they were installed by the laying on of hands. The seven deacons needed spiritual qualifications and were installed in a spiritual way. All service, all diakonia, is spiritual in nature – whether on the part of myself, Tim, the elders, the deacons, Amy, Mike, the Sunday School teachers, or whomever. All diakonia, all service, within the church is spiritual in nature.
IV Faithful Service and the Growth of the Church
A What is the result of this division of diakonia? What happened because there was now different kinds of service? What is the consequence of the apostles concentrating on prayer and preaching and the deacons waiting on tables?
I see three benefits. First, since no further mention is made of the problem, we can assume that the early church did a better job of looking after the Greek widows and of all the poor in her midst. Second, we can assume that the apostles were better able to concentrate on their prayer and preaching, on spreading the Good News of the Kingdom.
But there is also a third result, a result mentioned in our text for this morning:
(Acts 6:7) So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Notice that word "so." Because of the special diakonia of both the seven and the apostles, the church was able to grow. The church grew because of the faithful diakonia of the apostles and deacons.
B Trinity too has been growing – in grace, in numbers, in faith. Of course, the credit goes first to God. Credit can also go, I believe, to every member who labors faithfully at his or her diakonia. And, credit can go to the men who labored and who continue to labor faithfully in their own diakonia as elders and deacons.
I want to challenge those of you who have been installed this morning. I want to challenge you to be faithful at your diakonia as elders and deacons. I want to challenge you to give to God and to the members of this church your best diakonia.
Title: Unrecognized Royalty
One day while walking with some children, Queen Mary was caught in a sudden shower. Quickly taking shelter on the porch of a home, she knocked at the door and asked to borrow an umbrella. "I'll send it back tomorrow," she said. The queen had deliberately disguised her appearance by putting on a hat that partly covered her face and by wearing some very plain clothes. The householder, reluctant to give a stranger her best umbrella, offered her a castoff she found in the attic. One rib was broken and there were several holes in it. Apologizing, she turned it over to the monarch, whom she did not recognize. The next day she had another visitor--a man with gold braid on his uniform and an envelope in his hand. "The queen sent me with this letter," he said, "and also asked me to thank you personally for the loan of your umbrella." Stunned, the woman burst into tears. "Oh, what an opportunity I missed that I did not give her my very best," she cried.
Many, I fear, will have to make the same confession when they face the Lord at the end of life's road: that they failed to give Him their best in terms of service, time, money, gifts, and commitment.
Within the church are different kinds of service so that, by God's grace, no area of ministry is neglected. Let us pray that whatever diakonia is ours – pastor, elder, deacon, study group leader, church school teacher, musician, etc. – we will be faithful, we will give our best, so that the Word of God will spread and the church will grow.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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