(Series: “The Early Church of Jerusalem” post #11)
What do you do when one section of members from your church claims that another section is showing favoritism towards their own when it comes to church benevolence? If you are the 12 apostles — with Matthias taking the place of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26) — and if your church is the church at Jerusalem, you hold the first church vote to appoint a group of men to fix the problem.
Please allow me, though, to draw your attention to the motivation the apostles gave for holding that vote. Faced with the option of taking over the church’s benevolence ministry themselves, they deemed that option unproductive. Rather than take the attitude, “If you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself,” they chose to delegate. And what was their reason for doing so? We find it in Acts 6:2:
Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” (N.K.J.V.)
I wish that churches knew this verse as well as they know John 3:16. You see, those apostles were, for all intents and purposes, the pastoral team of the church at Jerusalem, and as such they understood that a pastor’s primary job is to study God’s word, preach God’s word, and teach God’s word. (For the record, in Acts 6:4 they also equate prayer with the task.)
So, are pastors too good or too aloof to serve tables, mow the church yard, mop the floor of the fellowship hall, change the light bulbs in the sanctuary, order the church literature, and visit every sick person within a 100-mile range? Hardly. After all, Jesus calls every Christian (and that includes every pastor) to exhibit the same humility that He exhibited when He washed the feet of the apostles (John 13:1-17).
No, the issue is not spiritual superiority. It is much more practical than that. It’s all about the church making the best use of its resources. Basically, while other church members can perform most tasks just as effectively, if not more so, than the pastor, what those other members can’t do as effectively as him is teach the word of God.
Sadly, so many pastors today spend so much time attending committee meetings or running up and down the roads doing this, that, and the other thing for their churches that they don’t have adequate time to study the word of God so they can properly feed it to their flocks. This is especially true in smallish churches where the pastor is “chief cook and bottle washer.” For example, I once had a man tell me that he believed that I, as the pastor of the community’s local church, was responsible for the spiritual well being of that entire community. That included all my church members who lived in the community, but it also included not only all the lost people of the community but also all the people in the community who attended other churches. I thought to myself, “Man, that’s a high standard you’ve got there. I guess it’s handy for you that you are not a pastor.”
The fact of the matter is that it takes time — serious time — and effort — serious effort — to really learn the word of God so that you can rightly divide it and dole it out to others (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s no wonder that 1 Timothy 5:17 says that the “elders” (a title the New Testament uses interchangeably for “pastors”) who labor in the word and doctrine should be counted worthy of double honor. That’s another verse that I wish churches knew as well as they know John 3:16.
In the end, the apostles handled the Jerusalem church’s benevolence dispute by presiding over the election of a worthy group of men who would be granted oversight over the matter. In my next post, I’ll address the question of whether or not this was the first election of deacons. For now, though, let me stick with the primary subject of this post. Those apostles said:
“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4, N.K.J.V.)
Notice that just as the apostles began their decision with a word about their main job (“It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables”), they ended it with a similar word (“but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word”). It’s obvious that the apostles, the pastoral team of the Jerusalem church, wanted to drive home the point to their church members. They wanted those members to understand that the call to the ministry is the call to the study of the word and the call to prayer. Really, we might say that whatever else a pastor is doing, if he is neglecting these things, he is failing in his calling. Even though many Christians — and dare I say, some pastors — don’t see it this way, this is exactly what the Bible teaches.