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Summary: Discovering the process for appointing deacons through reviewing the account of the appointment of the seven in the first congregation.

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ 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.” [1]

Understanding how the concept of deacons first arose provides the rationale for appointment to the office among the people of God. Had we not lost sight of who these servants are and the role they are to fulfil, perhaps the churches of this day would never have stumbled into the catastrophes that masquerade as communities of the Faith in this day. As it is, we have arrived at a day that is topsy-turvy, a day when figuratively slaves sit astride horses, and princes walk on the ground like slaves [see ECCLESIASTES 10:7]. Those whom God has appointed as overseers too often are compelled to approach boards composed of unqualified and unspiritual people to receive instruction for what should be preached.

The churches of our Lord are meant to be communities of the Faith operating under the leadership of the sovereign Head of the churches; they are not little fiefdoms ruled by political elites. Elders and churches are not to be in constant competition; nor are the churches to protect themselves from insinuation by ecclesiastical wolves through appointing a board that maintains control by a stranglehold on the congregation. God has given elders, charged to serve as overseers ensuring that the flock is protected and that spiritual nourishment, rest and refreshment are provided from the Word of the True and Living God. Likewise, He has given deacons to ensure that the benevolence of the churches is administered in a wise and equitable manner.

I invite you to join me in a review of the need for these gifted individuals who have been given the title “deacons.” Seeing the need, we will realise the wisdom of the apostolic response in the charge given to the congregation in Jerusalem. The account is found in ACTS 6:1-6.

THE CRISIS — “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” It is important to establish that the crisis arose at a time of blessing. Doctor Luke begins the account, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number.” What days? Pentecost had witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit of God and a mighty influx of new believers. “Those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” [ACTS 2:41]. The following verses indicate enviable harmony in that early congregation; the nascent believers were learning of the Faith and growing in grace and knowledge of Christ the Lord [see ACTS 2:42-47].

It was shortly after this that Peter and John came upon a crippled man begging at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Listen to the account. “Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” [ACTS 3:3-10].

Those witnessing this event were astonished. Peter, seizing the opportunity, testified that the Risen Son of God had given healing to the man and preached a salvation message. Even as he was declaring the mercies of the True and Living God, some of the priests, the temple captain and some Sadducees, came on the scene. These men were annoyed that Peter and John were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” [ACTS 4:2]. Seizing them, they threw them into prison where they were held overnight. The next day, they were compelled to stand before the assembled Sanhedrin, where they again testified to the grace and mercy of Jesus the Messiah.

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