Statistics
1712 sermons as of May 28, 2020.
Site Search powered by FreeFind

bottom corner

   
Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
 send email...
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Christ Gives Deacons to Care for his Church
Text:Acts 6:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Love
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-03-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,2                                                                                

Ps 41:1,4                                                                                                        

Reading – Deuteronomy 14:22 - 15:11

Ps 112:1,3,4

Sermon – Acts 6:1-7

Hy 49:1,2

Ps 133:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, what’s the job of a deacon? At the beginning of every worship service, we see the deacons walk in with the elders and the minister, and then sit in special benches right at the front of the church. Once every service, the deacons take those velvety bags with shiny wooden handles, and pass these around the pews—starting in the back, working their way to the front. And when the bags travel past, you hear the sweet jingle of coins or the quiet rustle of bills. We all know that this is money for the poor.

And that pretty well sums up the job of a deacon: he collects money, he counts money, and he gives money away. At least, that’s the view held by probably not a few of us. And there’s a bit of truth to this idea of what deacons do, but it’s certainly incomplete.

This is what we’ll see as we consider Christ’s gift of deacons to his church. What is their task among us? How will Christ bless us through their work? And let’s just begin with a definition: What does that word “deacon” mean? It’s based on the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant.” That’s revealing, isn’t it? A deacon is a servant, one who helps other people, assisting those who are in need.

It’s a really general word, one that gets applied to many people in the Bible, even prominent leaders. Moses was called a servant. Paul described himself as a servant. Even Jesus took on the role of a diakonos in John 13: He tucked in his robes, took a towel and a basin and He washed his disciples’ feet. Traditionally, this was the task of the lowliest servant, the job of a slave, yet Christ takes it on gladly: “I am among you as One who serves”—“I am among you as a deacon” (Luke 22:27). Christ’s example too, tells us that the task of deacon is much wider than money collection and distribution. We’ll see this truth in Acts 6:1-7 on this theme:

Christ gives deacons to care for his church:

  1. the constant need
  2. the qualified servants
  3. the sure blessing

 

1) the constant need: To understand where the task of the deacons comes from, let’s visit Acts and the early Christian community. This was a dramatic time of church history, because everything is happening at once: there are amazing miracles, powerful sermons, sharp conflicts, angry opposition, as well as the setting up of church leadership.

After Jesus completed his atoning work on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, at Pentecost He sent his Holy Spirit to fill his believers. And through the mighty work of the Spirit, the church enjoyed rapid growth. For the Holy Spirit gave power to the apostles’ preaching so that many people came to accept the gospel in faith. The Spirit also worked a true joy of fellowship among the believers, and He guided them in the good things they needed to do.

One example of the Spirit’s good guidance is how the church was most eager to look out for the needs of one another. We read this at the end of Acts 2, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (vv 44-45). The community was very aware of those brothers and sisters among them who were poor, and they made sure their needs were met, even at a high cost to themselves. Throughout these first chapters of Acts, there’s a remarkable willingness of the believers to share their material goods.

And I call it remarkable because this isn’t how people normally treat their possessions. If I’ve earned a pile of money by my hard work all week, I’ll be reluctant to give it away—this is my money, after all. Or if you’re saving up for a better house, or a newer car, or a nice holiday, you probably don’t want to dip into these savings and share with someone who’s needy. You’d rather keep it! Deep inside, we’re a lot like the rich fool in Luke 12, who wanted to build bigger barns in order to store up good things for himself—he wanted to keep what he had, because this was his security, his future.

But the Holy Spirit transforms our greedy and selfish hearts. And so the Spirit-filled church is marked by generosity and fellowship. Instead of letting some go hungry, or live in loneliness, we read about how the believers also enjoyed meals together, “breaking bread from house to house, [and eating] their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (2:46).

That practice reminds us of the meals which the Israelites used to share with the poor among them. We read in Deuteronomy 14, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied” (vv 28-29). God has always wanted his people to share their gifts, so that everyone can participate in his goodness, and so that nobody goes without. This was the spirit which filled the early church as they took care of each other.

And so the church was thriving. People long to be part of a warm and loving community, and people are drawn to those who show love in a genuine way. It makes sense then, when Luke tells us, “The number of the disciples was multiplying” (6:1), anywhere from 5000 to 8000 members or more.

But rapid growth can bring challenges. In this case, it exposed a divide in the church. Verse 1: “There arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” All was not well among the believers, for there were complaints and disagreements.

First though, what was this “daily distribution?” This had developed from the practice of selling things to provide for those who were poor. And it sounds like there were quite a few needy, because every day the church was giving out support.

Our text mentions “widows.” In that time, a widow was in a vulnerable position. A woman who’d lost her husband would be without his provision, and the rest of the family wasn’t always able to help. And certainly the government wasn’t looking out for them.

There were two groups of widows in the church, “Hebrew” and “Hellenist.” Normally, a Jewish or Hebrew woman could count on the generous support of the synagogue community. But it seems likely that once she became a Christian, a Jewish widow was kicked out the synagogue, and she was cut off from the security provided by her people. So a widow would’ve been on her own and in need of immediate help. And they were being helped.

Yet the second group was being neglected, the Hellenist widows. Who were the Hellenists? These were Greek-speaking Jews, people who had moved to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire. And why were these people being left out? Probably because they weren’t considered to be part of the community in the same way as the others. They spoke a different language, they had a different culture and background—they were outsiders in a church that was largely made of Jews from Israel.

Here we see a stubborn human trait at work. For humans are good at making walls, seeing divisions, dividing into groups of “us” and “them.” It happens in the church too. On paper, we’re united in Christ—we have the same confession, but when it comes down to it, we still have our preferences. Some people make us uncomfortable, or we disagree with their views. Some families have needs that are difficult to deal with. Maybe we’ve got bad history with someone else. And so we’re selective with our kindness. We tend to notice the people who are most like us, and we prefer to help the people who are most like us.

This threatened to become a big issue for the early church, for it was the question of unity and belonging. Were the Greek-speaking believers truly welcome? Should everyone get the same care, the same love? The strength and joy of Christ’s church hung in the balance.

In a moment we’ll see how the apostles handled this trouble. But their response is guided by a key principle that is ever true: there is one body of Christ, and all the members should have the same care for each other. Like Paul says, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor 12:26). Whatever our cultural background, whatever our material condition or character, we are united in Christ. And He calls us to live in a way that shows this unity.

We have some widows in our church, and we have some single parents. They need support. But who else needs our help? In the church there’s all kinds of suffering and need. Some are suffering because of chronic physical conditions, or because of injuries and illnesses. There’s financial difficulty when people lose their jobs or have money trouble. But people are needy in other ways too: think of marriages under stress, unfaithful children, or the deep disappointments and regrets faced by others. Some among us suffer on a daily basis because of depression or anxiety, or because their days are spent in loneliness and isolation.

All this means that ministering to “the poor” is never simply providing money and material things. It can be that, but it’s more deeply about spreading the joy of Christ to every member, sharing the gifts He gives, supporting each other in fellowship.

There is pain and hurt among Christ’s people, yet the great blessing is that it’s a pain that can be shared, a burden carried together. Most of us like to keep our troubles to ourselves, but they don’t need to be faced alone. For it’s our privilege to care for one another. Like the Holy Spirit instructs us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). The one place in the world where we should feel secure and supported is in the community of believers, surrounded by brothers and sisters.

Seeing this need, alarmed at the rift in the community, the apostles take action. They call together the whole assembly, “the multitude of the disciples” (6:2), perhaps a crowd of several thousand. It’s striking that everyone will participate in finding a solution, which is another expression of how the congregation is one in the Spirit.

And the apostles see that they’ll need to delegate responsibility. If they try take on this job themselves, they won’t be able to give proper attention to their primary tasks of preaching and prayer. The church has grown very quickly, and something needs to be organized to make sure that the poor are cared for. So they seek out some brothers who will be qualified to serve the community’s needs.

 

2) the qualified servants: If you read 1 Timothy 3 later on today, the Holy Spirit teaches there about the qualifications of deacons. Just like for the qualifications of elders in the same chapter, the focus isn’t so much on practical skills, but on the deacons’ spiritual character: these men must be reverent, self-controlled, sincere, blameless. This is also clear from the apostles’ words about who should take on this task in the church, “Seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (6:3). 

Underline the basic qualification: men full of the Spirit and wisdom! For the Holy Spirit was equipping and empowering his people in those early days, as it is still the Spirit who makes each of us willing and able to serve today. And particularly the men who will serve the church as deacons must demonstrate a rich harvest of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and more.

For in every way, the church’s leaders must be models of godliness and integrity. Whether they often think of it or not, the deacons set a standard for the rest of the congregation: Are they gentle in speech? Are they men of prayer, and men of the Word? Do they show grace and generosity?

These qualifications for being an office bearer are humbling for everyone who serves. Deacons might well ask, “Am I really a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom?” Just as Paul said about his own work in the church, “Who is equal to such a task?” Who can ever do it? But the LORD is gracious, and He gives what He commands, He provides the very thing that He asks for—and so seven men are found.

We don’t know why seven men are chosen, but it could be because it’s an Old Testament number of completeness. At any rate, this would be a good number of men who could take the lead in caring for the needy.

Now, if you’re reading carefully, you’ll notice that there is actually no mention in Acts 6 of the word “deacon.” A particular church office is not specified in this chapter, but these men are simply given a job to do. Yet notice how they’re ordained (6:6), an official ceremony of being given a task—one that later would become the office of deacon.

In some ways, the idea of a deacon was entirely new. God’s Old Testament people were familiar with the office of elder. But the task of caring for the poor was given to everyone in Israel—remember our reading from Deuteronomy 14. Compassion was built into the very fabric of Israel’s society; this is why they left harvest remnants in the fields, and they gave tithes, and they forgave debts. Everyone was expected to show compassion to the needy!

That worked well in a time when the whole land was devoted to God, when the people of Israel was equivalent the church. But in Acts that situation was changing, as the church of Christ becomes a smaller group within a diverse population. Caring for the poor needed to continue, but in a different form, under the leadership of deacons.

So they choose seven men to take on this task: “Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” (v 5). Each of these is a Greek name, so it’s likely that they were Greek-speaking Jews. This was another way of breaking down barriers: these men would be caring not just for their “own” people, but they would be caring for the needy from the entire community, Greeks and Jews alike.

The seven have been chosen from among the believers, but just like when we elect office bearers, we recognize that it is Christ who gives these men. For the apostles lay their hands on them, a symbolic act showing these men are consecrated for God’s service and empowered by his Spirit.

After prayers, these men begin their work. And you’ll notice that their work isn’t described with much detail. In coming chapters, we actually see two of the men, Stephen and Philip, both involved in preaching. But this wasn’t the main intent of their task, since the apostles said they’d take care of the ministry of the Word, while the seven served the needy.

Does this mean that the seven took over the job entirely, doing all the work of showing mercy? Surely not. For months already, the whole community had been busy with works of mercy, selling their possessions, pooling their money, distributing according to need. This was something they’d done before, and they’d keep doing it. In a massive community, there was far too much work for just seven men. And so we would expect that the seven were coordinating and leading the work. Through their oversight, they ensured that nobody was neglected. They showed the way, but it was really a job for everyone.      

And that’s how it remains today. Christ has given us deacons, men who should be busy promoting works of service in the congregation. This means the deacons should be aware of the challenges that the members are facing, and then they should activate us as congregation to respond.

For in so doing, we follow the example of God himself. The Scriptures show how the LORD often had mercy on the suffering and gave thought to those who were lonely. Jesus did the same, reaching out to the sick, the sinners, and the outcasts. “I am as a deacon among you,” Jesus said, and then He took on the sinner’s load. He considered others better than himself and He served them. As the New Testament says more than once, we should have the same mind as Christ, the same spirit of humble service.

This kind of service can be done in different ways. It’s certainly through supporting the deacons, the men who are officially called to this task among us. And how do we support them? By giving generously when they tell us there’s a need. By responding to the needs that they point us to. By finding our own opportunities to care for the suffering ones among us. For there’s still plenty of work to be done, far more than the deacons can do themselves.

Let’s remember that what happened in Acts 6 can happen here, when some in the community are neglected. They’re overlooked in the weekly bustle of congregational life, perhaps because they’re quiet, or they’re not often in church, or because they’ve been in the same situation for such a long time. For the needy and distressed we have to look—we need to have eyes open for them, so that we can show them God’s love.

Because “need” can be much more than a shortage of money, Christian generosity is not simply opening your wallet. Generosity is also opening your home in hospitality. And it’s opening your heart in kindness. Indeed, our loving response to the needy will take on different forms. Reach out, and invite over a lonely member. Pray with a brother. Encourage your sister. Be a friend to the lonely person on the schoolyard. Give a gift, make a meal, strike up a conversation and start listening. And then God will add his blessing to our works of mercy.

 

3) the sure blessing: What happens when a church lives in love? What’s the long-term effect of good fellowship and strong unity? These things are pleasing to God, and He shows his good pleasure by building up the church. This is certainly what happened in Acts. The solution was the right one, and God showed it: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (6:7).

Notice what receives the emphasis, as it always does in the book of Acts: the Word of God. Because the apostles could focus on their task of preaching and prayer, and because the community was well-cared for, there was an increase in those who believed the Word.

And this is the result we’re allowed to expect when a church takes good care of her members. God will bless us when the elders are faithful in shepherding the flock. God will bless us when the minister’s preaching and teaching are true to the Scriptures. And God will bless us when the deacons are diligent in showing Christ’s love to those in need, and when the members follow the deacons’ lead in serving each other.

We’ll experience God’s blessing in the happy fellowship which fills the congregation, from here in worship, to the parking lot outside, and into our homes. God’s sure blessing will be experienced in the lives of the individual members too, as they receive loving help with their daily burdens. God’s sure blessing will be experienced as we all get better at showing Christ-like love to each other—when we’re willing to be helped, and we’re willing to help. It is God’s love that will bind us to each other, more and more—and it will even draw others to want to know Christ and to join our church.

Beloved, today let us thank God for his gift of deacons. They are God’s gift to us, because God cares for us. Let us pray to God that the deacons will be men filled with the Holy Spirit, equipped for their work with love and compassion and wisdom. Let’s ensure that the deacons can fulfill their ministry here and elsewhere. Let us follow their lead in showing mercy to those who are struggling, and showing love to one another.

For then our church will surely enjoy God’s blessing, and we will bring much glory to his Name!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

Please direct any comments to the Webmaster


bottom corner