A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 6:1-7. The Seven are chosen and commissioned.
c). The principle.
A vital principle is illustrated in this incident, which is of urgent importance to the church today. It is that God calls all his people to ministry, that he calls different people to different ministries, and that those called to ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ must on no account allow themselves to be distracted from their priorities.
It is surely deliberate that the work of the Twelve and the work of the Seven are alike called *diakonia* (1, 4), ‘ministry’ or ‘service’. The former is ‘the ministry of the word’ (4) or pastoral work, the latter ‘the ministry of tables’ (2) or social work. Neither ministry is superior to the other. On the contrary, both are Christian ministries, that is, ways of serving God and his people. Both require spiritual people, ‘full of the Spirit’, to exercise them. And both can be full-time Christian ministries. The only difference between them lies in the form the ministry takes, requiring different gifts and different callings.
We do a great disservice to the church whenever we refer to the pastorate as ‘the ministry’, for example when we speak of ordination in terms of ‘entering the ministry’. This use of the definite article implies that the ordained pastorate is the only ministry there is. But *diakonia* is a generic word for service; it lacks specificity until a descriptive adjective is added, whether ‘pastoral’, ‘social’, ‘political’, ‘medical’ or another. All Christians without exception, being followers of him who came ‘not to be served but to serve’, are themselves called to ministry, indeed to give their lives in ministry. But the expression ‘full-time Christian ministry’ is not to be restricted to church work and missionary service; it can also be exercised in government, the media, the professions, business, industry and the home. We need to recover this vision of the wide diversity of ministries to which God calls his people.
In particular, it is vital for the health and growth of the church that pastors and people in the local congregation learn this lesson. True, pastors are not apostles, for the apostles were given authority to formulate and to teach the gospel, while pastors are responsible to expound the message which the apostles have bequeathed to us in the New Testament. Nevertheless, it is a real ‘ministry of the word’ to which pastors are called to dedicate their life. The apostles were not too busy for ministry, but preoccupied with the wrong ministry. So are many pastors. Instead of concentrating on the ministry of the word (which will include preaching to the congregation, counselling individuals and training groups), they become overwhelmed with administration. Sometimes it is the pastors fault (he wants to keep all the reins in his own hands), and sometimes the people’s (they want him to be a general factotum). In either case the consequences are disastrous. The standards of preaching and teaching decline, since the pastor has little time to study or pray. And the lay people do not exercise their God-given roles, since the pastor does everything himself. For both reasons the congregation is inhibited from growing into maturity in Christ. What is needed is the basic, biblical recognition that God calls different men and women to different ministries. Then the people will ensure that their pastor is set free from unnecessary administration, in order to give himself to the ministry of the word, and the pastor will ensure that the people discover their gifts and develop ministries appropriate to them.
d). The result (6:7).
As a direct result of the action of the apostles in delegating the social work, in order to concentrate on their pastoral priority, *the word of God spread* (7a). But of course! The word cannot spread when the ministry of the word is neglected. Conversely, when pastors devote themselves to the word, it spreads. Then as a further result, *the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and (a remarkable development) a large number of priests became obedient to the faith* (7b). The two verbs ‘spread’ and ‘increased’ are in the imperfect tense, indicating that both the spread of the word and the growth of the church were continuous. This verse is the first of six summaries of growth, with which Luke intersperses his narrative. They come at crucial points in his unfolding story: after the apostles’ decision to give their attention to prayer and preaching (6:7); (cf.Acts 2:47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1) after the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus (9:31); after the equally wonderful conversion of the first Gentile, Cornelius, followed by the overthrow of Herod Agrippa 1 (12:24); after Paul’s first missionary journey and the Jerusalem Council (16:5); after the second and third missionary journeys (19:20); and at the end of the book after Paul’s arrival in Rome, where he preached ‘boldly and without hindrance’ (28:30-31). in each of these verses we read either that the word was spreading or that the church was growing or both. God was at work; neither humans nor demons could stand in his way.
We have now seen the three tactics which the devil employed in his overall strategy to destroy the church. First, he tried through the Jewish authorities to suppress it by force; secondly through the married couple Ananias and Sapphira to corrupt it by hypocrisy; and thirdly through some squabbling widows to distract its leadership from prayer and preaching, and so expose it to error and evil. If he had succeeded in any of these attempts, the new community of Jesus would have been annihilated in its infancy. But the apostles were sufficiently alert to detect ‘the devil’s schemes’ (Eph.6:11). We need their spiritual discernment today to recognise the activity of both the Holy Spirit and the evil spirit (cf.5:3) We also need their faith in the strong name of Jesus, by whose authority alone the powers of darkness can be overthrown (cf. Acts 3:6, 16; 4:7,10,12,18)
Tomorrow: Acts 6:8-7:60. Stephen the martyr.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|