“Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:1-7)
What many call church growth today, Luke rightly called “increasing in number.” Numerical growth isn’t the endgame for the church. If the congregation isn’t becoming like Christ, they aren’t growing in Christ. The current trend of gathering the unregenerate in the hope of evangelizing them after they’ve become members and leaders in the church runs contrary to the Great Commission and is actually undermining the health of churches everywhere. Luke did not equate the phenomenal attendance of the church alone with spiritual health or growth. He merely observed it as the background in which a problem emerged in the church.
Nearly all the believers in the incipient church were Jews, but many were from outlying regions of the Roman empire and had adopted many Gentile customs. The cultural differences in the church fostered some degree of, perhaps unintended, discrimination in the distribution of food to the widows.
We don’t know exactly what was being done or how food was distributed: Did everyone line up cafeteria-style, or was it more of a Meals-on-Wheels approach? The point is that some folks were left out and that was a problem.
The apostles, functioning as pastors or elders, responded by establishing a clear priority for the church. The ministry of the Word came first. It was not to be compromised, even for the sake of something as important as feeding people in need. Both needs were important, but the Word took precedence.
We could learn a profound lesson from our spiritual forbears by determining to let nothing compete with the ministry of the Word. The simple exegesis and exposition of Scripture, instead of weaving the Bible around our own personal preferences, is essential to the individual believer and the church.
Instead of pulling the pastors away from their primary task, the solution was to delegate the legitimate and vital ministry of food distribution to several men (in this case, seven) who were known to be “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Why such a tall order for such a simple task? Because everything the church does counts and everyone in the Body of Christ matters. No one whom Christ has purchased with His atoning blood is useless. Everyone He redeems has a purpose. The price He paid establishes the worth of the redeemed. Therefore, He requires that those who serve His church must hold the utmost integrity, spiritual maturity, and wisdom. If the church is worth Jesus’ death, then even the least of these are worth serving with distinction.
The word “deacon” doesn’t appear in this text, but the fragrance of the deacon ministry certainly lingers. The seven men named took charge, lead, and oversaw a critical ministry to precious saints of God. They served without title or tribute, but their service brought distinction and honor to the helpless and the poor among Christ’s beloved.
Although verse 7 in the text is treated as a separate pericope, it stands as a testimony of the fruit of God’s wisdom in the church: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
When Christ’s church walks in the wisdom of His Word and the fellowship of His Spirit, wonderful things happen. Namely, the Word of God keeps on spreading.
The Lord bless His faithful stewards who serve His people through challenges and hardships for the glory of God.