March 1, 2020

The Deacon Board

Preacher:

This short chapter of Acts contains two types of church conflicts: intra-faith and inter-faith.

An intra-faith conflict is one which arises within a single community of faith, within a congregation or within a denomination.

An inter-faith conflict occurs when two communities, of differing faith traditions, bump into one another and begin to fight over the same territory.

The intra-faith conflict in our reading is laid out for us in verse one.

The beef was between the Greek and the Jewish members of the early Jerusalem church.

But at its base it was a Christian on Christian conflict.

The Greek-Christian members of the community complained against the Jewish-Christian community members because the Jewish folks were ignoring the needs of the community’s Greek widows.

This intra-faith conflict was quickly and wisely resolved by a face-to-face meeting of the whole community.

At this meeting the very first deacon board was appointed.

Their specific task was to see to it that all needy widows, both Greek and Jew, were looked after.

The creation of the first deacon board as a solution to the conflict was pretty straight forward; mundane even.

Notice though the qualifications that the apostles said were needed by these deacons in order to perform this seemingly uncomplicated task.

The deacons had to be full of the Spirit.

And they also had to be full of wisdom.

Although these men, (they were men in those days) had basically been appointed as waiters, the apostles knew that to do the job well, to do the job in the grace of God, these men had to have the mind of the Spirit, they had to have the wisdom of the Spirit.

So, some men were appointed and we don’t here about this conflict in the rest of the book of Acts.

Intra-faith problem solved.

Through the wise and inspired use of organizational practices the early church leaders were able to resolve the first intra-faith conflict in the Christian church.

By tapping into the resource of those within the congregation who were gifted by the Holy Spirit for works of charity and service, the unity of the church was restored.

As a result of this unity the word of God continued to flourish and spread within the wider community of Jerusalem, unhindered by intra-faith conflict.

The message for us today is this.

The apostles recognized that they could not do it all.

They discerned their limitations.

They chose their priorities and stuck with preaching and teaching.

But they recognized the need for an organized approach to the ministry of caring for the physical needs of the people.

And they reacted to this understanding by sharing the work of managing their newly founded faith community by commissioning those who God had gifted for the task.

Notice too that the apostles commissioned these men to their duties with prayer and the laying on of hands.

In so doing they demonstrated to one and all that there is no task in the church so simple or so menial that the hand and the grace of God is not required to do it well.

We in the church today ought to recognize that our “volunteers” are God’s people, gifted by God for the flourishing of the church and our language ought to reflect this truth.

We are not volunteers.

We are a people called and chosen by God, gifted by God for the work of the church, from top to bottom, from first to last.

That is who we are.

That is who you are.

It is important that we recognize this fact as illustrated in the first half of this short chapter of the book of Acts.

God so gifted the church that even those assigned to look after the physical needs of its members, even those who focused their service on the kitchen; even these folks were empowered by God through the Holy Spirit to perform their work with signs and wonders following.

Acts 6:1-7 shows us that every member of every congregation is needed by the congregation as well as by the wider community.

We are each uniquely gifted by God in some way for the service that is necessary for the flourishing of the congregation and for the spreading of the Good News, in word and in deed, into the wider community.

We are also all needed to do our part in caring for one another for the sake of unity in the body of Christ.

Each of our gifts is needed by the Body of Christ for the flourishing of the word of God in the community.

So much for the intra-faith conflict and the way the Holy Spirit empowered a solution to be found.

What about the last seven verses of Acts chapter six?

The conflict portrayed here is not within the newly founded Jerusalem church.

Here the conflict is between the Christ believing members of the Jewish community and those who refused to accept Jesus of Nazareth as Saviour, Messiah.

The apostles had already had run-ins with these folks who were the temple leaders out to protect their positions of power in the religious community of the day.

The temple powers had already flogged the apostles for their refusal to stop talking about Jesus in the public square.

And now in this chapter of Acts it was Stephen’s turn to experience the results of an inter-faith conflict.

Stephen, the table server, Stephen the newly appointed deacon, filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom was out and about in the community performing signs and wonders in Jesus’ name.

And in so doing he provoked the fear and jealousy of those who watched in fear and anger as even their own priests jumped ship and joined this new Jesus sect.

Trouble was brewing for Stephen.

This however was not the kind of trouble that the apostles could resolve by coming to a consensus at a community meeting.

The apostles had already had words with the leaders of the temple.

The apostles had already tried to convince these men of power that God was behind the signs and wonders they were doing in Jesus’ name.

Words of wisdom, even signs and wonders, did not work to resolve the inter-faith conflict that broke out between the community that was forming around the name of Jesus and the hard-core temple elites.

Unlike the intra-faith conflict that arose between people of good faith because some were being more-or-less innocently ignored during the daily church sponsored meals.

The inter-faith conflict was not between people of good faith sincerely motivated to resolve the root cause of their community’s conflict.

Rather the Inter-faith conflict was driven by envy, by fear of loss of place and by the temple leader’s fundamental distrust of what was happening in the temple territory and in all of Jerusalem under the ministry of the apostles.

The intra-faith conflict was easily solved by words of wisdom, by a bit of organizational planning and by a few men stepping up and employing their God given gifts.

The inter-faith conflict was a whole other matter.

We will hear next week the end of the matter, at least as it applied to Stephen.

Spoiler alert, Stephen was martyred because of the inter-faith conflict that erupted in Jerusalem in the first days after Christ’s resurrection.

Many places in the rest of the book of Acts describe the on-going inter-faith conflict between the established Jewish order of the day and the newly forming Jewish-Christian community of faith.

Time and again over the subsequent 2,000+ years this inter-faith conflict has erupted resulting in the persecution of the minority side of the fight.

Is there a solution to this inter-faith conflict?

Is there a solution to inter-faith conflicts in general?

What might it be?

Might it be people of good faith, on both sides, letting go of their fear of the other?

Might the solution to inter-faith conflict be, people of good faith, whatever that faith might be, working with others to find common ground upon which to begin building trusting relationships?

Might the solution to inter-faith conflict be, working together to build the common ground of an inter-faith community by striving together as one in the care and feeding every widow in this world, regardless of their nationality, faith tradition or race?

Might the solution to inter-faith conflict be, good faith creation of common ground through working together for the flourishing of all peoples on this earth that God created and called good.

May it be so Lord Jesus

Amen.