Summary: Ultimately we’re called to service because we’re seeking to follow the steps of our saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many
Have you ever had one of those really annoying waiters or waitresses that are always there hovering around the table? They’re the ones who come and take your plate almost the second your last mouthful goes in & the cutlery goes down. This can be really annoying because it denies you the chance to sit back & really appreciate the great meal you’ve had, especially if there’s juices left on the plate that you’re thinking about soaking up with the last piece of bread – but before you know it the plate’s gone & you have a dessert menu in front of you. It usually happens at those very busy restaurants that almost make you feel guilty for holding up the table.
Now, I shouldn’t be too critical because I can confess to being a bit of a dodgy waiter myself. I didn’t have the speed waiter approach. I was more neglectful & on occasions incompetent. One of my first casual jobs during Uni was working at Sara’s Pizza House in Glenferrie Rd. I was a hopeless waiter. I got completely flustered by the whole thing & was very, very nervous. It was only a matter of time before I would cause some complete disaster. I remember one night I was working & it got quite busy. I was running around in my usual state of frenzy & for some reason, I’ll never know why, I returned to a table of a couple I was serving, soon after they had ordered, and I presented them with their soup spoons. I laid them down neatly, in the right place & all that – but I’ll never forget to this day the look of surprise, bewilderment & amusement on their faces – because they hadn’t ordered soup & they thought it was the funniest thing since Fawlty Towers.
The point of all this & I think the point of this passage this morning is that God calls all his people to service & he calls different people to different ministries. This means that Christians need to think seriously about their gifts, skills & abilities & whether those gifts are being used in the way God intended. [Repeat]
This passage we’re looking at is an exciting part of the story of the early church. At this point in the story the church is small & hasn’t got its own identity. It’s still seems like a sect of Judaism. The disciples congregate around the Jewish temple & still follow the practices of Judaism & their only distinctive is that they recognise Jesus as the Jewish Messiah or Christ. But this passage is exciting because it introduces the characters that are central to the Church severing its ties with official Judaism & spreading out from Jerusalem.
But before we jump ahead of ourselves & before the church can move on, we see in this passage that the church faces a problem that could threaten to distract it from its primary task – the task of proclaiming the good news about Jesus.
We’re introduced to this problem in verse 1:
…the disciples were increasing in number, & the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
If we remember back to the crowd at Pentecost we’re told at 2:5 that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. – and here we’re introduced to 2 groups within the church. There are the Hebrews – the Aramaic speaking Jews, native of Palestine - & then there were the Hellenists – or Grecian-Jews – these were Jews from the diaspora, from around the world – their first language was Greek & they had adopted the Greek culture & now these "Hellenized" Jews had come to live in Jerusalem.
So we see here the church increasing in number, but as its numbers increased new problems rose to the surface. If we think back to chapter 4 we remember that the disciples shared their possessions and - 4:35 says that these possessions or money were laid at the apostles’ feet, and was distributed to each as any had need.
Defending the welfare of widows & the poor were serious matters because God in the OT had made this obligation clear. So we don’t know whether this problem was a deliberate act of favoritism or simply an inadvertent omission caused by poor administration or supervision.
Whatever the cause of the problem, it seems that the apostles detected a deeper issue. It was not their primary task to supervise the financial arrangements of the community or take an active part in this social welfare. Their attitude to the problem & the solution they propose is set out in verses 2-4
They call the believers together and they say: "It’s not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."