Summary: God loves us by equipping and calling deacons to serve us.
A guy dies, arrives at the Pearly Gates, and (as always in stories like this), St. Peter is there and asks him to relate a good deed he had done. He thinks for a moment then says, “Well, there was the time I was driving down a road when I saw a group of hoodlums harassing a girl. I stopped my car, grabbed a tire iron, and walked up to the leader of the gang. He was huge—6 foot 4 inch, 260 pounds, with a studded leather jacket, tattoos, and a chain running from his nose to his ears. As I approached him, the others circled me and told me to get lost or I’d be next. So I grabbed the leader’s chain, ripped it out of his face, and smashed him over the head with the tire iron. Then I yelled at them, ‘Leave this girl alone! You’re acting like a bunch of animals! Go home before I teach you a lesson in pain!’”
St. Peter, impressed, says, “Wow! When did you do all that?”
“Oh [looking at his watch], about three minutes ago.”
Sometime you get killed for doing what is right, don’t you? Stephen, the first deacon, told people about Jesus, and so they killed him. But that is not really the point this morning (so you considering this office can breathe easy). Instead, we will see how critical the deacon’s ministry should be. Please listen as I read. [Read: Acts 6.1-15. Pray.]
New businesses usually begin small and through the early years a few leaders oversee and control virtually every detail. As the business grows, however, work must be delegated and structures created to manage a larger and more complex organization. The same is true in the church.
In this library which we call The Bible, the book of Acts describes the continuing work of God through the church. In chapter one, there are twelve on the leadership team and about 120 in the congregation. (Those are worldwide numbers—all the church members that exist.) But soon the ranks swell to three thousand and by chapter four, there are five thousand men—probably twenty to thirty thousand total.
Not surprisingly, the twelve cannot keep up, and soon overlook ministry that should be a priority. Therefore, in chapter six, the leadership proposes the election of “deacons,” godly men entrusted with mercy ministry and money management.
We continue to use this simple Biblical structure. (We certainly are not the only ones using this pattern, but many churches and denominations have developed other structures. Whether such is good or helpful is not my place to comment this morning.) What we do discover is why deacons are needed and how they benefits God’s people.
1. Because Problems Are Great, We Need Godly Deacons (Acts 6.1)
A long time ago, in a land far away, God grieved over the rampant wickedness of mankind, noting that every thought and imagination of his heart was polluted. Among all the people, only Noah found favor, only Noah was righteous; he alone was a “man after God’s own heart.”
So God ordered Noah to build an ark, a mammoth boat in which Noah and his family and all species of land animals would be carried for a year while a flood eradicated evil from the earth. Here would be a new beginning with everything washed clean. Now we can make a godly civilization, a land without crime, without poverty, without problems. As Noah and his family step from the ark, the world is new and fresh and a rainbow signals God’s promise never again to destroy with flood. You can feel the excitement.
The next paragraph explains that Noah planted a vineyard, got drunk, and passed out naked in his tent. His son, Ham, thought this was hilarious and ran, laughing, to tell his brothers. In retaliation for mocking his misery, Noah curses Ham’s children and grandchildren. There are only eight people on the planet, yet already we have a mess!
With so many animals boarding, the stowaway was easily missed. Like a cocklebur hooked in the fur of a farm animal, sin hitched a ride from the old world into the new. Now it escapes to despoil with its presence and power.
Specifically, complaining—the same word describes the murmuring by Israel in the desert against Moses—a sin for which some were “destroyed by the Destroyer” (1Corinthians 10.10). But it is not simply complaining; the “Grecian Jews” (Hellenists) make a charge against the “Hebraic Jews.” One group accuses the other of racism, favoritism because of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
John Stott, The Spirit, The Church, and the World, 121: “There had always, of course, been rivalry between these groups in Jewish culture; the tragedy is that it was perpetuated within the new community of Jesus who by his death had abolished such distinctions (e.g., Galatians 3.28; Ephesians 2.14; Colossians 3.11).”