Shelby G. Floyd
Jesus Christ is the best example of being a servant. He did not ask his disciples to do that which he refused to do himself: “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28). There is great joy and satisfaction in learning to serve others in a cause that is greater than us. The cause of Christ demands that we learn to be a servant.
The New Testament church had its beginning on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On that memorable day, 3000 people expressed their faith in the risen Savior and asked what they needed to do to be saved from their sins. [Yes, man must DO something! SGF] The answer was, “repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NKJV). From this nucleus, the church grew rapidly, increasing in numbers every day. With such rapid growth it was to be expected that some needs would be neglected among the people.
After being threatened by the Jewish Council in Jerusalem not to teach or preach in the name of Jesus any longer, the apostles and disciples continued to preach and teach daily that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 5:42). They boldly taught in the temple—the center of Jewish worship. The result was the church started to multiply.
Up to this point, the church was characterized by unity of faith and heart—they were all of one accord. However, Luke who penned the book of Acts relates a problem that had the potential to create division and destroy the growth of the church:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
In those days there was no social safety net for the orphans and widows. Life was hard and they were totally dependent upon their families and the benevolence of the people around them. The Hellenists were the Jews who lived outside of Palestine who had adopted the Greek language and culture. The Hebrews were the Jews who lived in Palestine. The neglect of the Grecian widows was unintentional, yet it was a problem that needed to be addressed. James declared in his book, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Any kind of neglect is usually not good and can cause all kinds of problems. The neglect of the Hellenist widows was in the “daily service,” translated from [διακονια-diakonia], and means,
“Service, ministering, esp. of those who execute the commands of others; 3. the ministration of those who render to others the offices of Christian affection; the care of the poor, the supplying or distributing of charities” (Thayer, page 137-138).
“Diakonia” and the related family of words are translated by the English terms, “serve, minister, and deacon.” The term deacon is anglicized from the Greek word. It would have been better to have consistently translated the term serve, servant etc.
Complaining and murmuring creates distrust and disunity. The apostle Paul taught the Philippians to avoid this besetting sin: “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). We are not aware of how the apostles found out about this complaint, but usually someone will bring such to light. “Complaint” is from [γογυζω-goguzo], and is defined as “the expression of secret and sullen discontent, and murmuring complaint.” Thayer says it is “a murmur, murmuring, muttering; applied to b. secret displeasure, not openly avowed” (Thayer, page 120). Peter admonishes us to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling [γογυζω]” (1 Peter 4:9). This illustrates that we often have trouble being honest, open and transparent with our speech and actions. It is easier to grumble in the background than to openly state our position on different matters. We need to look for solutions to our problems. God does and will provide.
The apostles once aware of the complaint decided to take care of the situation immediately. We should not run away from a problem, but we should run to the problem and find a solution. That is what they did when they made their proposal to the congregation:
Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The neglect of the Grecian widows in the daily distribution of food and care could not be solved by creating further neglect of the apostle’s responsibility. “Serve tables” is from a present infinitive [διακονεω-diakonew], and means,
“To be a servant, attendant, domestic; to serve, wait upon; 3. To minister i.e. supply food and the necessaries of life; to provide, take care of, distribute, the things necessary to sustain life” (Thayer, page 137).
The apostles could have taken care of the problem, but they would have neglected the ministry of prayer and preaching of the word. This they could not do in keeping with their responsibility vouchsafed to them by the Lord. Their proposal was to choose seven men with special qualities that would enable them to carry out this responsibility on a daily basis.
There were three qualities incumbent on those who were to be chosen: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3). (1) They were to be of a good reputation. This means they were to be well thought of by the members and by those without; (2) they were to be full of the Holy Spirit, meaning that they were to be spiritual men bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25); and (3) they were to be men of wisdom, fearing the Lord and of good common sense and judgment. Not just any one would fulfill such a demanding work. Every Christian should exhibit the character traits of deacons and serve in the kingdom. But those who actually are appointed to expedite the business of deacons must be of the highest moral and spiritual qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
It was the apostles’ prerogative to make the decision to appoint them over this particular “business” to “serve tables” in “the daily distribution.” The work that these seven servants were to carry out was a “business” or “office” in the sense of being a “duty” or “responsibility.” The apostles “appointed” these seven men to the business of serving the tables of both the Hellenist and Hebrew widows. “Appointed is from[καθιστημι-kathistami] and refers to “set down, put down, to set, place, put” one over a thing and to be in charge of it.
These seven servants were thus placed in trust over this “business,”
And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them
These “seven servants” undoubtedly carried out their responsibilities with fidelity and distinction. Stephen and Philip also later “served” in “the ministry of the word” (Acts 7-8). The solution to the problem also allowed the apostles to serve “continually in prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Thus we all who belong to the Lord are to be servants and promote the growth of the church.
When this happens, the church is bound to grow and prosper, which in fact is exactly what happened in Jerusalem and its environs. “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” (Acts 6:7 NIV). Let each Christian be dedicated to do the same in our day.
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Shelby G. Floyd
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