Today’s Reading: Acts 4-6
Today’s Reflection: Acts 6:2-3
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.”
What is this text saying?
During the formation of the early church there were a number of duties the followers of Christ set out to perform in order to demonstrate the love of God. One was the care of widows who had no other means of support. Though the church was still almost entirely Jewish at this point, there was still a significant distinction within the body. There were native Palestinian Jews raised speaking Hebrew and Aramaic and taught the ancient Hebrew cultural traditions, and there were Hellenistic Jews born throughout the Roman empire, raised speaking Greek and learning from the more modern Greek culture. The leaders of the church were Palestinian Jews and their widows were well looked after, but the Hellenistic Jewish widows were being overlooked. When other Hellenistic Jews raised this issue it was addressed as described in these texts (read Acts 6:1-7 for the whole story).
Why is it important?
Two key reasons:
First this example highlights the importance of unity in the body of Christ. The cultural difference that existed in the early church led to a division, whether due to deliberate discrimination or unintentional neglect. The swift and definitive action of the Apostles to rectify this situation shows that such division would not be allowed to exist and that equal accommodation was to be made to all members irrespective of their background.
Secondly this example demonstrates that all roles within the church were considered of equal importance. In verse 2, the statement, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables,” could suggest that the duty of taking care of widows was somehow beneath the Apostles. That is until you see the action that was taken. Under the direct leadership of the Apostles, men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom were chosen to carry out this role. Verse 6 goes on to describe the men who were chosen being ordained with prayer and the laying on of hands. These were men of standard, and they were well equipped to take on a role of significance within the church. Clearly the distinction between those chosen to preach and those chosen to serve widows was purely one of function, not of importance or of value.
The message this sent to the early church was that the duty of caring for these widows was not at all considered less important than the preaching ministry. In fact at that time no duty within the church was considered by the leadership to be marginal or less than any other. Paul wrote of each branch of ministry being of equal importance (Romans 12:3-8). Every effort was made to put this principle into practice in the early church.
How can I apply this?
1) Understand that the body of Christ is one.
We often identify ourselves based on the bases of nationality, ethnicity or cultural heritage, and often have preferences based on these backgrounds. While this is natural, at times these preferences have led to rifts within the church, and even to serious divisions like racial or gender discrimination. In order for the church to function as the body of Christ, to demonstrate the love of Christ, and to effectively spread the Gospel to the world, any and all national allegiances, ethnic divisions or cultural preferences must come second to oneness among all believers.
2) Understand that all roles within the body of Christ are of equal importance.
In the organizational structure of today’s Christian church there is a clear distinction between the Clergy (people with theological education and paid to lead out in ministry) and the laity (regular members who may also be active in ministry in unpaid positions). There’s only one problem with this. It isn’t biblical. The bible teaches that we are all called to be disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) following the same rabbi (Matthew 23:8-10); that all in the body of Christ are priests (1 Peter 2:5) all under the leadership of one high priest (Hebrews 3:1). That one rabbi and high priest is Jesus Christ.
There are many different spiritual gifts, each serving different offices within the church but each of these gifts comes from the same spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11). There is a distinction of functions, but no distinction of importance. The body without any of these roles would be incomplete.
3) Understand that all people within the body of Christ are of equal importance.
Leaders sometimes fall into the trap of thinking God’s instruction can only come to the church through them, but this too is not biblical. While we do see biblical examples of kings receiving instruction from other leaders like priests and prophets, we also see Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, being chastened by God through a pagan king (Genesis 12:10-20). God speaks through whom He chooses. Particularly within the body of Christ we must be submitted to hearing and heeding God’s voice, no matter who or where it comes from.