The Priority of the Word
Text: Acts 6:1-7
Main Idea: The mission of the church requires that it prioritize the preaching of the Word while actively ministering to the physical needs of its members.
I. The Problem
II. The Main Point
III. The Power
Good morning church. Before we dive to our passage on deacons today, I’d like to give you a little update about our ongoing efforts to realign our church structure and offices with God’s Word. Specifically, our transition from the Committee of Ministers (COM) to deacons.
As of today, we have not written or rewritten a single line of our church’s new constitution or bylaws. Rather the elders, COM, and I have been discussing this transition at length to make sure we are on the same page before we move forward. To accomplish this, we have done three things: examined the role of deacon as described in the Bible. Taken time to read and discuss Matt Smethurst’s excellent book on deacons. And currently, the elders and the COM are actively working together to clarify future diaconal roles and responsibilities in light of God’s Word.
To be honest, our overall progress is a little slower than I anticipated. But I do not see this as a problem because your elders and council of ministers are getting excited about the various ways that these adjustments will help us do a better job of fulfilling our disciple-making mandate while actively ministering to the needs of our church. Please hear this: by God’s grace, we are not only moving forward; we are moving forward together. Praise the Lord!
So, as we turn to our passage this morning, I know that many of you are probably wondering, “What in the world is Mark going to do with this rather short passage that he preached only five-months ago in his series on the local church?” Well, I had to wrestle with the very same question this week. And as I did, I thought it would be good to shift our focus from the specific role of deacons that we explored in the previous sermon, to the overarching priority that led to their appointment.
The Problem (Acts 6:1–7)
The Dispute (6:1)
Let me highlight three important aspects of this conflict:
One: Jews from every walk of life are coming to faith in Jesus and the church is growing leaps and bounds because the apostles are faithfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ despite their recent beating at the order of chief priest and the Sanhedrin at the end of chapter 5.
Acts 5:40–42 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus… (6:1) and the disciples were increasing in number.
Two: This gospel-success seems to be at the very root of the conflict. What I mean by this is that the growing number of widows in the church were overwhelming its organizational care-structures. The early church is trying to uphold its biblical responsibility; it’s just not doing a very good job at the moment. And as a result, it’s thrown into a conflict that could utterly destroy its unity AND diminish its witness to the world.
Three: The present conflict is not just about food, it’s ultimately about the preexisting fault lines that existed between these two groups of Jewish Christians. The Hebrews, for the most part, were Jews who grew up in Israel, spoke Aramaic, strictly observed Jewish culture, and attended Jewish speaking synagogues. While, the Hellenists were Jews that had grown up outside of Israel. And on account of this, they spoke Greek, followed aspects of Greeks culture, and usually attended Greek speaking synagogues. But, the sad the truth of the matter is that they didn’t attend different synagogues merely because they wanted to worship in their preferred language. They attended different synagogues because (in many cases) the Hebrews treated the Hellenists like they were traitors or naturally born Gentiles because the Hellenists didn’t forsake every aspect of Greek culture. In fact, this is why the Hellenists most likely believed that they could attribute sinful motives to the obvious disparity in food and financial support that their widows were receiving.
Notice, why did this issue blow up into an all-out conflict? It blew up because, even though these people were real Christians who were filled with the Spirit, loved Jesus Christ, and were learning to love one another; they were still struggling overcome their preexisting prejudices and trust issues.
The Solution (6:2–6)
You know, one of the most surprising aspects of these verses is that the apostles didn’t issue ultimatum or openly chastise the Hellenists for their accusations against the Hebrews. No. They do three important things. They emphasize the priority of their gospel-calling. They acknowledge the seriousness of the problem by laying out a job description. They ask the church to identify the right people to oversee the day-to-day administration of this vital ministry.
Notice, it’s an issue of gospel priority not shirking their responsibility to these widows. In fact, this truth becomes even more clear when we recognize the Greek word play between verse 2 and verse 4. What I mean by this is that the Greek root word “deacon” is behind the phrase “serve tables” in verse 2 and “ministry” of the Word in verse 4. This helps us see that the apostles are NOT saying, “apostles don’t ‘serve’ people.” No. They are saying that they have a God-given responsibility to “deacon” (to serve) the Word of God.
Luke 24:46–48 And said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
In this we can see that the apostles are not saying they are too busy for personal ministry or that they are too important to spend their energy serving people. No! They are saying that they have been called to preach God’s Word. And as such, they were not dodging their rightful duties to the widows; they were rightfully protecting themselves from becoming preoccupied with the wrong ministry… Is it an important ministry? Yes. But is it a ministry that they should be leading? Their answer is clearly “no.”
Listen to this observation I came across this last week from the late John Stott: This is a lesson that countless pastors and elders need to learn today. Instead of concentrating on the ministry of the word (which includes preaching to the congregation, counseling individuals and training groups), many have become overwhelmed with administration. Sometimes it is the pastor’s fault (he wants to keep all the reins in his own hands), and sometimes the congregation’s fault (they want the pastor and elders to do everything). Yet, in either case the consequences are disastrous. On the one hand, the standards of preaching and teaching inevitably decline, because the pastor and elders have little time to study or pray. And on the other hand, the congregation never gets to exercise their God-given roles. And because of this the congregation is forever inhibited from growing into maturity in Christ.
What we need is to reclaim the basic, biblical recognition that God calls different men and women to different ministries in the church. For only then will the people ensure that their pastor and elders are set free from unnecessary administration, in order to give themselves to the ministry of the word. And when this happens it frees the pastor to help his people discover their giftedness and develop ministries appropriate to them.
And what is the ultimate result of this very same recognition in our passage?
The Result (6:7)
Notice, what does Luke want us to know about the apostles’ solution? He wants us to know that it completely defused the church’s internal conflict AND it expanded their gospel impact throughout Jerusalem. Even more disciples! But even more, a great number of priests came to faith in Jesus Christ as well. But why? Why do priests start coming to faith at this point of the story? Well, I think the text offers us at least two reasons.
- One: they came to faith because the church’s unified response to this conflict proved both the credibility and desirability of the gospel.
- Two: they came to faith because the faithful service of the “the seven” enabled the apostles to give even more time and energy to their God-given preaching ministry in the temple courts.
Church this is what can happen when we rightly prioritize preaching of God’s Word and empower qualified deacons to oversee the ministry needs in the local church. (which brings us to the main point)
The Main Point
The mission of the church requires that it prioritize the preaching of the Word while actively ministering to the physical needs of its members.
The opening phrase “the mission of the church” serves to remind us that the mission of the church is not open for discussion; it’s singular not plural and certainly not multiple choice! And that is because the mission of the church is a matter of divine commission from Jesus himself! (We have already looked at Jesus’ words in Luke and Acts, so let’s turn to Matthew)
Matthew 28:18–20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Who has all authority? Jesus.
How much authority does he have? All authority.
What has he commanded his people to do? Make disciples.
But this raises an important question, “How do we go about making disciples?” Well Matthew 28:18–20 highlight two important tasks: proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers and teaching believers to observe everything that Jesus commands us to do. And in this what do we see? We see that the primary means by which we accomplish our mission is the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Because it is in this teaching and preaching that we are initially confronted with our need for Jesus and exposed to our call to obedience and our biblical responsibilities to the local church. In fact, it’s impossible to talk about our duties to one another as Christians apart from God’s express revelation in his Word. The Word of God defines everything we believe and describes everything we are called to do.
Now we could stop at this point, but I want to press us past the principle itself to the fundamental reason that we are called to prioritize the teaching and preaching of God’s Word… why is it so essential… why is it so necessary? Because it contains the power of God to accomplish the purposes of God.
The Power (Isaiah 55:10–13)
Isaiah 55:10–11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
What does God want us to understand about his Word in these verses? He wants us to understand that just as rain and snow don’t bounce off the earth and return to the heavens; his Word does not just bounce off the hearts of mankind and return to heaven. Rather, in the same way that melting snow and falling rains water the crops to produce a harvest, so also his Word will produce its own harvest. Simply put the Word of God always accomplishes the purpose of God.
In addition to this, the mention of both snow and rain in this simile points us to the reality that while God’s Word always accomplishes his purpose it does not always have an immediate result. While rain instantly waters the crops, snow must melt before it can water the crops.
But what is the purpose of God in his Word? Just think about it for a minute. What is God up too? Well, verses 12–13 point us to the answer.
Isaiah 55:12–13 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
What is the ultimate purpose of God in his Word? Simply put, it’s worship!
- We were created to worship God, but our first father Adam consigned every one of his offspring to a life of sin and rebellion against God through his sin in the garden of Eden.
- Yet, God in his mercy and grace did not abandon his image bearers. No, in love he promised that a future offspring of Eve would crush the serpent and restore mankind to a right relationship with him.
- To put it more directly, God’s purpose in the gospel is more than the means by which he saves sinful humans from their sins; it is the means by which he restores self-absorbed sinners to himself and enables them to find their highest joy in their worship of him!
Don’t miss this, when I say that the mission of the church requires that it prioritize the preaching of the Word, I am not saying that we are called to become disconnected, erudite, theologians who argue about arcane points of doctrine. No. I am saying that the Word of God paves the way for men and women to find their highest joy and deepest satisfaction in their heartfelt worship of God.
Isn’t this what we see in the psalms of David?
Psalm 19:7–8 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Even more, isn’t this what we have seen in the actions of the early church? Christians selling their excess property to support needy Christians. The apostles’ considering it joy to suffer for the sake of Christ…
But how? How is this heartfelt worship produced? Well, if we turn back to the imagery in Isaiah we are presented with a rather unexpected picture. The passage says that when the rain of God’s Word falls down, “the thornbush will become a cypress and the brier will become a myrtle.” Now, I realize that this sounds kind of odd. But, just think about it, if you have a thornbush in your back yard and it’s watered by the rain, what do you normally get? You get an even bigger thornbush! If you have briers (or blackberry vines) in your back yard and it rains, what do you normally get? Even more briers!
But, not so with God’s Word. When the rain of God’s Word falls on a thornbush heart, it is radically and completely transformed into something new!
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Friends, this is why we prioritize the preaching and teaching of God’s Word at Olympic. And this is why we are realigning our leadership structures. We believe that when the Word of God is faithfully taught in obedience to Christ and rightfully proclaimed by the power of the Spirit that, at least, three things happen:
One: Hell-bound sinners are transformed into whole-hearted worshipers as God’s Word and Spirit awaken them to their hopeless estate and compel them to repent of their sin and come to faith in Christ.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Two: True Christians are increasingly conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ as God transforms their hearts and minds through the teaching of the Word.
Romans 12:2–3 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Lusting people become pure, fearful people become courageous, selfish penny-pinchers become givers, demanding people become servants, angry people become peacemakers, and complainers become thankful.
Don’t miss this, the ultimate goal of teaching and preaching is not merely the faithful dissemination of theological information, but the faithful cultivation of church members hearts that is directed to real-life transformation.
Three: as Christians grow in their understanding of God’s Word and are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, something glorious happens. They begin to die to their inherent, natural selfishness and begin see the needs of their brothers and sisters in Christ in a new and compelling way. And as this happens, they begin to discover the kind of supernatural joy and satisfaction that can only be found in a Christian’s service to the local church.
Notice, the priority of the Word does not allow us to ignore our love for one another or our rightful service to the local church. No, the priority of the Word confronts us with our Christian duty and actively compels us to serve one another as Jesus Christ served us. One necessarily leads to the other. And if not there is a disconnect somewhere in our hearts.
 Adapted from, John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 123.