“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.”
The Greek word for Hellenistic is “ellenistos” referring to believing Jews who had a Greek cultural background. So we see a murmuring or a quarrel between two kinds of Jewish believers. So, one of the first problems in the early church was a division stemming from a cultural background not a doctrinal issue. There was for many years Jews who had adopted Greek culture. Then there were those Jews who stuck to the culture of the Mosaic Law.
Basically there are two solutions to the varying backgrounds of individuals within a local church. The first is learning and applying Bible doctrine. Learning and applying Bible doctrine means growing up spiritually and orienting to grace, so that you become a mature believer, and background prejudices and differences in culture (or anything else) are eliminated. The second solution is an administration function of discipline within the confines of a local church, which the responsibility of the leadership in the local church.
Many of the believers in the early church in Jerusalem were widows. They fell into two parts from the cultural standpoint and this was what caused the division in this early church. The widows who had a Greek culture background were being neglected, and the widows who practiced the culture of the Mosaic Law were getting help. Because the church took care of its own they actually practiced a system of charity and provided for their own as we have already seen in earlier chapters. But the ones distributing the help in whatever form it took (serving of food) was ignoring (overlooking) those who came from Greek cultural backgrounds.
“So the twelve (the eleven plus Matthias), summoned the congregation of the disciples,“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.” At this point the apostles are in charge of the local church. The word neglect means to forsake the study of the Word. Serve tables refers to serving food but has a broader meaning of any administrative function in the local church. This is generally accepted as the beginning of the office of deacon within the local church. Deacon is an office not a spiritual gift.
Paul gives the requirements for holding this office in I Timothy 3:8-13. The Greek word for “to serve tables” is the verb “diakoneo” from which we get the word “deacon.” Within the local church it means to render spiritual service or church administration. A deacon is a church administrator under the authority of the pastor. The pastor is the primary policy maker. This does not mean that deacons cannot make policy but they make policy in the sphere of administration. We have here a word which means many things which have to do with administration and the function of business.
“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
A deacon is a church administrator, and he is under the authority of the pastor. We have here a word which means many things which have to do with administration and the function of church business. Deacons must have advanced in spiritual growth. It is important that these men be mature spiritually. The pastor is the policy maker of the local church and as a policy maker he must make decisions and the administration of his policy doesn’t belong to the pastor — he makes the policy and the policy is based upon his study and understanding of the Word. But the deacons must be administrators to carry out the grace policy of the pastor. Therefore they must have enough divine viewpoint to recognize grace policy when they see it and to carry it out vigorously in compatibility with their spiritual gift. Therefore it is imperative that they be exposed to the teaching of the pastor so they know what his teaching is, and therefore there is no lapse between his teaching and the policy which they should understand. This means that a deacon must be under the influence of doctrine. It further implies that the deacon must never be in a state of reversionism. No one must be more positive toward doctrine than the deacon administrator of the local church. In that sense he must lead the way in exposure to the teaching of the Word and his own personal spiritual growth. His administrative function must line up with the grace concepts which are taught from the pulpit and they must be compatible with the policies of the pastor as the authority of the local church.
No one can ever be effective in administration when they say one thing and mean another. The word double-tongued means deceitful, hypocritical in speech. The deacon must have integrity of character rather than be a phony and be influenced by evil opportunists. Administration in the local church demands honesty, honor, and integrity of character. And they can’t be alcoholics. They can drink but they can’t be going around constantly under the influence of alcohol. This doesn’t forbid drinking, it forbids drunkenness. Too much wine here means excessive to the point of drunkenness.
Sordid gain means to engage in dishonest business practice or cheating in business to make an abnormal profit eliminates a man from serving effectively in deacon leadership. Under the laws of establishment dealing with the economy and free enterprise any man in business has a right to legitimate profit, but this is talking about illegitimate profit because of an abnormal love for or slavery to money. Dishonesty in business automatically disqualifies a properly gifted believer from serving as a deacon in a local church.
Holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience means to have and to hold which denotes something begun in the past and continuing into the present time. That is, in the past every deacon should be a student of the Word, should be taking in the Word consistently, and this means that he should continue to do so. This is a reference to consistent and daily application of doctrine whereby the deacon continues to maintain his spiritual life and continue his growth. The deacon must be under the influence of doctrine to avoid reversionism as well as the influence of evil policies in his function.
These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach means to pass the test for qualification. Pressure, disaster, suffering, combined with the proper use of doctrine resident in the soul, applied, produces spiritual victory and it produces a qualifying step toward serving as a deacon.
“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This is a reference to the fact that the wife of a deacon must have advance in her own spiritual growth. This means that the wife of a deacon must be under the influence of doctrine and not under the influence of evil. She must not be indifferent to the Word of God or negative toward it. It further implies that the wife of the deacon must not be in any phase of reversionism. Just as with the deacon, so also with his wife. Both must consistently learn and apply doctrine, both must persist in positive volition toward Bible doctrine. Worthiness of respect or honor comes from the intake of doctrine for all of us. Her worthiness must therefore come from the consistent application of doctrine.
“Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.” A deacon cannot exercise authority in the local church when he can’t handle and exercise authority over his own family. The deacon who cannot manage his own household is not qualified to exercise authority in the local church. This is a matter of being a good spiritual leader by setting an example for all in the household to follow. He must be consistent in his spiritual life which includes study of God’s Word, prayer, etc.
“For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” The deacons who serve well are worthy of blessings and rewards are of a special nature. A high standing means a noble rank or a profitable standing. There are always special blessings from God for those who serve faithfully. Some come in life and others are given in eternity. As you can see, the office of deacon is important for the function of a local church and is divine production. Great confidence comes from not only taking in doctrine consistently but making the proper application of what he has learned. This is something a deacon has the opportunity to do within the setting of the local church, constantly.
“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.”
The apostles chose out of the system which developed; Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit means he had a great deal of doctrine in his soul and was ready to serve under the filling of the Holy Spirit. Philip was an evangelist as well as a deacon, and he will become the subject of Acts chapter eight. Prochorus is the Greek name for the leader of a chorus, which means he was one of the Hellenistic Jews. Nicanor means victorious, Timon’s name means worthy, Parmenas suffered as a martyr, and Nicolas eventually became apostate. He was a Gentile but he was circumcised and became a Jew, and then as a Jew found Christ as Savior – which is why he is called a proselyte. He is responsible for one of the great cults which opposed Christianity—the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2: 6, 15.
“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.”
The installation of the first deacons included a prayer of dedication, and laying on of hands for identification. They were now identified with the leadership of the local church. They actually had an ordination service. The result was now there were those who concentrated on studying and teaching the Word of God and those who concentrated on administration functions. The church is coming together.
The word of God kept on spreading means that the apostles could study and teach, and therefore the teaching of the Word increased. In other words, those whose responsibility it was to teach the Word could spend their time studying not waiting on tables. And we see the result that the church became much larger.
And a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith was a major breakthrough. For the first time the Gospel finally got through to some of the members of the priesthood of the land. This, of course, was the most difficult area to crack. These priests were very religious and it was very difficult to reach through to religious people, as it is today. But so great and so effective was the teaching of the Word of God, and so effective was the system used, that the obvious thing happened - the church expanded in a marvelous, explosive way.