December 17, 2013

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe                          


Lesson II.D.3.b: The Solution (6.2-6)

Acts 6.2-6 (KJV)

2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.




2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

Then the twelve
The twelve apostles (their number was now 
complete, since Matthias was chosen to replace Judas; Acts 1:26): were informed of the quarrel between the two categories of Christians in the Jerusalem church; Hebrew and the Hellenistic Jews.

Called the multitude of the disciples unto them
The term “multitude” can mean either the hundred and twenty, the original members of the church, and on whom the Holy Ghost descended on the day of Pentecost; or the whole body of the church, which is more probable since what the apostles had to say concerned them all; and they all had an equal right to choose their officers and deacons.

And said, it is not reason
The Arabic version renders this clause, "this does not please us"; but the NIV translates it—"It would not be right . . . for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God . . .” which may be a better interpretation.
Other Bible students prefer to render it “not suitable” and “not proper”; but I prefer “not reasonable.” The apostles needed to divest themselves of the ministry of distributing food to the widows, so they could devote themselves to the work they were called to do.

That we should leave the word of God
The Apostles were commanded by Christ to take the Gospel to the “uttermost parts of the earth”, and in view of their calling they knew their emphasis must be the study of the word, meditation upon it, and preaching it. They did not think it was reasonable to neglect or abandon the preaching of the gospel in order to personally attend to the distribution of the alms of the church. The “gospel” is called the “Word of God,” because it is His message; it is what He has spoken, or what He has commanded to be proclaimed to people.

We are not to infer from this that the apostles neglected their primary duties; but they were sometimes obliged to omit them, or limit the time they spent in the performance of those duties. Occasionally the care of the poor took up more of their time, than the work of the ministry, and therefore they thought it was not right and proper for them to continue to neglect a work of so great importance to the souls of men for the purpose of feeding their bodies.

And serve tables.

“Serve tables” is an expression which means “to take care of, or provide for the daily needs of a family.” It is an expression that is usually applied to a steward, guardian, custodian, or a servant. The word “tables” is, however, sometimes used with reference to “money,” since it is the place where money was kept for the purpose of “exchange, etc.”—“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matthew 21:12). Also: “Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury” (Matthew 25:27). Here the expression means to attend to the monetary transactions of the church, and to make the proper distribution of funds designated for the needs of the poor. This was not a simple matter, because it included taking up the collection for them, investigating each case to determine their circumstances, and then distributing alms according to the needs of each family. This required a good deal of time, care, thought, and circumspection, especially in such a church, where the numbers were so large.

We are beginning to learn what the business of deacons will be. They will be appointed to take this part of the apostles' work off of their hands, and make it their own responsibility. In addition to “serving tables,” they will serve the table of the Lord, by providing the bread and wine for it; receiving both from the minister, when blessed, and distributing them to the members; collecting and distributing alms for the poor; observing what members are missing at the worship services, whom they are to visit: and they are also to serve the minister's table, by making sure that he has a sufficient remuneration to support him and his family.

3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Wherefore brethren look ye out among you.

“Look ye out among you” may be restated as "choose from among you", which indicates that this sort of officer or deacon, must be members of the church, and of the same church to which they are ordained deacons; and that they must be chosen for that office by the whole church body. This shows the wisdom of the apostles, since they would be free from all suspicions. It could not be said that “they” were partial, nor could it ever be alleged that they wished to embezzle the church’s funds by managing them themselves, or by entrusting them to men whom they selected. It also follows from this that the right of selecting “deacons” resides “in” the church, and does not belong to the minister. It is evident from this verse that men who are to be entrusted with the alms of the church should be selected by the church itself.

There is nothing here that would justify a pope or bishop assuming the right to appoint church officers.

Seven men, of honest report.

Why was the number seven selected? We are not why, but perhaps we can hazard a guess. Seven was a sacred number among the Hebrews, but there does not appear to have been any “mystery” in choosing this number. It could have been for no other reason than that number was judged to be sufficient for the care of the poor in that church, and at that time. Certainly, it should not be a requirement for all churches to have seven deacons, though I have served as a deacon in a church that said seven is the biblical model. Reason would say that larger churches should have more than seven. From my own experience, I have found that the number of deacons is never the problem; the problem is that some of them don’t do their jobs. They sought the office of deacon for the prestige that goes along with the title, and that is wrong and it is harmful to Christ’s church.

“Of honest report” or rather of GOOD report; literally, “well-spoken of”. Hence, in Hebrews 11:5 it is said of Enoch that "he had witness borne to him that he pleased God," and in Hebrews 11:4 of Abel that "he had witness borne to him that he was righteous;" and in Acts 10:22 Cornelius is said to be a man "well reported of by all the nation of the Jews." In Acts 16:2 Timothy is said to be "well reported of by the brethren." It is extremely important that deacons and all of the church’s officers are men "of honest report"; that they have a good testimony and reputation both within and without the church; that they are honest and faithful, since they are entrusted with the church's funds, and many depend upon them for their care. Accordingly, the collectors of alms among the Jews were to be men who were known to be honest; men of morality and integrity: and, besides this they were also to be men “full of the Holy Ghost, of wisdom.”

Full of the Holy Ghost, of wisdom.

More was expected of these men than is required of deacons in our day. They were to be men, who not only had the Spirit of God in them, but who were also well-known for wisdom. By wisdom is meant their rich experiences of grace and their possession of the gifts of the Spirit, whereby they were capable both of defending the truth against objectors, and of exhorting the faithful, of giving comfort to the distressed, and of giving admonition to members, as circumstances required.  At this time the church consisted of people from all nations (See Acts 2); it would seem then, that it would be an asset, though not necessary to the discharge of their office, to have the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, especially speaking with diverse tongues, so that they could converse with persons who spoke different languages. Full of the Holy Ghost denotes people who were eminently under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  And they must be good economists of the church’s funds, which required "wisdom" to dispose of it in the most prudent manner: their conduct must be beyond reproach; and they must possess the wisdom to settle differences among members.

This, evidently, does not mean that they were endowed with miraculous gifts, or the power of speaking foreign languages, for such gifts were not necessary to the discharge of their office, but it means people who were eminently under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or who were of distinguished piety. This was all that was necessary in this case, and this is all that the words fairly imply.

Whom we may appoint over this business.

The people would elect the deacons, but the apostles would ordain and install them into the position. We’re told how they were installed into their office in verse 6; by prayer and the “laying-on” of hands.

The seven were to perform a specific duty at this time; serving tables. In the primitive Church, it is evident that the deacons gave the bread and wine in the Eucharist to the believers in the Church, and carried it to those who were absent; they also preached, and in some cases administered baptism. But with the passage of time and the evolution of the church the deacon’s duties were increased to encompass those services mentioned above.

4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer.

Continually in prayer implies prayer both in private for themselves, and in public in the church; and in the houses of the saints and their families, with the sick and distraught; and in public, in the temple, or in whatever place they met for public worship.  The apostles needed to be continually in prayer in order for the proclamation of the Gospel to succeed in effecting the souls of the hearers: a minister who does not pray much, studies in vain. The original expression used here denotes “intense and unrelenting” application to a thing—These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication . . .” (Acts 1:14). It means that the apostles wanted to make this their constant and main objective, and for this to happen they must not be distracted by the cares of life, and even by attention to the secular needs of the church.

The apostles could not live without prayer; they had no self-reliant graces; their graces all came from God, and what they had could not be retained without an increase; and for this increase they must make prayer and supplication, and depend continually on their God.

And to the ministry of the word.

The ministry of the word means the preaching of the Gospel, to which prayer is an absolute prerequisite; prayer and preaching are two sides of the same coin and must always travel together. Prayer and preaching, are the principal business of a Gospel minister, and they are to occupy his thoughts, his actions, and his time.  That was not possible in their present situation, since they must carve out hours from their days for the secular affairs of the church, such as caring for the poor.  The apostles proposed to the church, therefore, that they be allowed more time to attend to the more important and useful duties of prayer and preaching. It appears from this that those who are called to preach the Gospel must, if possible, be exempt from all worldly business and duties, since the ministry is sufficient to engross all of a man's time and thoughts.

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

And the saying pleased the whole multitude.

The speech the apostles made was well received by the congregation; everything they proposed was unanimously approved by the whole body of the church. They all thought it was reasonable, that the apostles should be relieved of the burden of taking care of the poor, and that it should be transferred to some other persons within the church.

And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost.

He was a man well-known for his faith in Christ, and his faithfulness to Him, and for his courage and boldness in the cause of Christ and for other gifts and graces of the Spirit, with which he was filled. He was, very likely, the most outstanding person of all the seven, and is therefore named first. Afterwards, he endeared himself to the church, since he was the first person to suffer martyrdom for Christ.

Why should men filled "with the Holy Ghost" be needed to man the business side of church life? For this reason that only such men can do the work, as God wants it done. The Lord should rule in every phase of church life. He is the Head of the "Building Committee" and the "Church Finance Committee" and the "Committee on the care of the poor," just as He is the Head of the man in the pulpit.

And Philip.

He was also an evangelist, and he had four daughters that prophesied. It was probably the Philip who went down to Samaria, and preached Christ there with great success, and after that baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

And Prochorus.

Prochorus and the rest are not mentioned anyplace else in the Bible. He is said by some to be a nephew of Stephen's, and the first bishop of Nicomedia; but these are things that haven’t been verified.

And Nicanor.

Nothing is known about this man. It is a Grecian name, and there is a man with this name who was a general in Demetrius's army, and who was sent by him against the Jews. And there was a gate of the temple, which was called the gate, of Nicanor.

And Timon.

It is said of this man that afterwards he was bishop of Bersea; though others say he was bishop, of Bostra; but neither assertion has been verified.

And Parmenus.

Nothing else is said of him other than the account given in the Roman martyrology, that he suffered martyrdom under Trajan, which is not to be depended upon.

And Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.

Nicholas was a Greek or Gentile, and then he became a Jew, a proselyte of righteousness, and then a Christian, and now he is made a deacon. He lived in the great city of Antioch, and he was circumcised when converted to Judaism—this is the meaning of "proselyte" in the New Testament. Some think that the sect of the Nicolaitanes (spoken of in the Revelations) sprung from this man; though others think that that wicked collection of men only disguised themselves with his name. It is certain, however, that he did turn out to be a wicked man. That would not be out of the question, since there was a devil among the twelve apostles, there could be a hypocrite and a vicious man among the first seven deacons.

It is obvious, that the names of all these deacons are Greek names; from which, it seems, fair to assume that they were of the Grecian or Hellenistic Jews [Note: Many Palestinian Jews at this time had Greek names.], and that the church saw fit to choose men out of that part of the Christian community. This shows the wisdom of the people and that God answered their prayers for guidance, since the choice of these men would restore mutual confidence and stop the complaints of the Hellenistic Jews, that their widows were experiencing prejudice in the dispersion of alms.

Nowhere in this chapter of Acts are these men called deacons, but most believe they were the first to fulfill the office of deacon as described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The word deacon simply means “servant,” and these men were certainly servants. They could claim the same promise for faithful service that Paul specifically makes to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:13: “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Whom they set before the apostles.

It appears as though everything happened within a short time frame, perhaps within a single day, and without debate, and none of the candidates needing “to pray about it.” Now the seven men, having been chosen, approved and elected, must be ordained to the office of deacon. Here is all the ordination you can find in the New Testament. It is very simple, and I was ordained in the same way as these men. The Lord’s ministers, elders, bishops, deacons and saints gather around these seven godly men, whom the Holy Ghost has called to go and work in His vineyard, and then they lay hands on them, pray for them, bless them, and send them forth. There is but one qualification specified in the New Testament for a Christian worker, preacher, officer, and that is, to be filled with the Holy Ghost.

And when they had prayed.

They did not pray without laying on of hands, nor did they lay hands on them without prayer. Therefore in the sacraments, in confirmation, and ordination, the outward sign or rite is accompanied by prayer for the thing that is signified. And God's grace is given through the sacrament or rite in answer to the prayer of faith. In Acts 8:15, 16 there is the account of Christians in Samaria receiving the Holy Spirit—“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:15-17). Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit, and their prayer of faith was rewarded by Christ sending the Holy Spirit. The Word says that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And when righteous men pray and lay hands on a child of God that simple act seems to convey a special grace and blessing (see Numbers 27:3; Deuteronomy 34:9Matthew 19:13-15Luke 4:40Acts 8:17Acts 13:31 Timothy 5:22Hebrews 6:2.)

And when they had prayed, they prayed with them, and for them, that God would give them more and more of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom—that He would qualify them for the service to which they were called, and make them a blessing to the church, and particularly to the poor of the flock. Everyone who is involved in some service ought to be the recipient of much prayer by the church, invoking the blessing of God to fall upon them in the discharge of the duties of their office.

I believe that when these seven men were set before them that the church prayed mightily that they might appear to be richly qualified for this office, and might honorably and faithfully discharge it, for their personal joy, the advantage of the church, and the glory of God:

They laid their hands on them.

Among the Jews it was customary to lay hands on the head of a person who was set apart to fill any particular office—“And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight” (Numbers 27:18, 19; Compare Acts 8:19). The laying on of hands did NOT impart any power or ability, but the purpose was to “designate” that they received their authority or commission from those who laid their hands on them. The Savior laid hands on the sick to signify that the power of healing came from Him—“While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. (Matthew 9:18). One of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended back to His father mentioned laying hands on the sick—“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:18). In such cases as these, the laying on of the hands in itself conveyed no healing power, but was a sign or token that the power came from the Lord Jesus.

The Seven were already "full of the Holy Spirit (vv. 3, 5)" in the ordinary sense; and therefore something more is intended here. Luke himself connected the laying on of the apostles' hands with the extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit—“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given , he offered them money” (Acts 8:18); and coupled with Luke's statement that one of the Seven did "great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8), the teaching appears to be that the apostles here endowed the Seven with miraculous powers. To view the laying on of hands as a mere ceremony of ordination is incorrect.

Ordination has been consistently performed in this way. Though the seven deacons had been chosen by the church to this work, yet they derived their immediate commission and authority from the apostles.

The early church had problems but, according to Acts, it also had leaders who moved swiftly to ward off corruption and find solutions to internal conflicts, supported by people who listened to each other with open minds and responded with good will.