So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
Acts 6:2 is usually regarded as the verse that explains where the need for deacons arose – to wait on tables (an act of service), in order to free the 12 disciples to go out and focus on preaching and spreading the gospel. If you look around the whole world today, the strictest requirements for waiting on tables must come from the Bible. It was not long after Jesus left them, and not long after the Pentecost. What we are looking at, is the First Church, and how it set the framework for many different churches in the future. Sure, not all churches have deacons, and not all churches function in a similar way, but what is sure is that there are different roles in a Church, and God uses different people to come together and serve in various capacities. In today’s study, we will break down this verse in order to understand the context and the need that led to the delegation of one of the Twelve’s responsibilities to the Seven.
So – this verse, and the actions and decisions taken in this verse, were a direct result of the preceding verse, where the Grecian Jews (Jews who spoke Greek) complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food [Acts 6:1]. This is an important context – not to be misunderstood, as verse 6:2 is not about widows nor about the Hellenistic Greeks, but really about the Twelve and the nature of their ministries.
the Twelve – It is now twelve again, for Matthias had replaced Judas [Acts 1:26]. These Twelve were the twelve apostles, the core leaders of the Church, the ones everybody went to if anything is wrong, even issues like what was mentioned in verse 1. The number is significant, though, as immediately in the succeeding verses a new number will formed – the Seven (deacons).
gathered all the disciples together – this was likely the 120 [Acts 1:15] who were present at the Pentecost + the new disciples (that were mentioned via the increase in verse 1). This highlights the important fact that the deacons were selected not by the Twelve themselves, nor by lots (as Matthias was), but by the lay believers [Acts 6:5-6].
it would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God – what is the ministry of the word of God? If you ask me, I think it’s just a fancy long term for ‘preaching’, just like how medical and scientific things always have this super long and fancy sounding ‘official’ title that no lay person calls it by or understands. It is not hard, though, in our case, to break the term down. Word of God is the word of God, the Bible to us modern Christians, the scriptures to the disciples then, for the revelation of the Bible was not yet complete back then. Ministry of it? Preaching it, spreading it, explaining it, correcting people’s misconceptions about it, praying with it, meditating on it, acting it out, living it out, singing it out… The list goes on. Whatever else can you use the Bible for, and it glorifies God or edifies people, then I’m sure it will count as a ministry of the word of God. The predominant one, however, is obviously to preach it and to spread it – and we see the spreading of the gospel [Acts 6:7] as a direct result of the election of deacons.
in order to wait on tables – does this mean that preaching the word and spreading the gospel is more important than service? Is there one ministry more anointed than others? Does it mean that it is more important to evangelise than all the normal mundane tasks that sustains the Church? I don’t think it is fair to compare the two. Is waiting on tables important? Certainly! In fact, not everybody could do it – the Seven selected had to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. Even Jesus himself had fed the people, even though the nature of his ministry for his 3 and a half years had not been too diverse. However, would it have been alright if the Twelve spent all their time with the normal mundane tasks to sustain the Church, and do not have time to preach or evangelise at all? I think the gospel wouldn’t have spread very far and I probably wouldn’t have heard of it if that had been the case. The last 2 verses of the Gospel of Matthew reflects the Great Commission that Jesus left – his last instructions, his last directives – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age [Acts 28:19-20].
Christians today view the Great Commission as one that applies to all believers – a view that I subscribe to, which I personally see as a central theme and mission to the Christian life in the Kingdom of God. Not saying that it is the chief end of the Christian Life, but it is of utmost importance and significance. What more would the apostles think about it, with the Eleven being the ones who directly and personally heard and received it from Jesus himself? They will not – they cannot – not follow it. They will not – they cannot – not do it. Waiting on tables is good and all, but if it hinders them from focusing on the Great Commission, then it is something that they need to delegate.
Basically, let’s go back to the verse. Is it wrong to wait on tables? No, the apostles did not say that. But is it wrong to wait on tables and neglect the ministry of the word of God? Yes – for the apostles, who were chiefly meant to preach the word of God. Does that mean it is wrong to wait on tables? No – but it does mean that it is wrong for them to neglect the ministry of the word of God. If your pastor today spends all his time serving the Church, sweeping the floor, caring for the poor – till the point where he has no time to preach on Sundays (this is such an exaggeration) – then it probably not only suggests something is wrong with the pastor’s ministries, but even more so reflects badly about the state of the Church.
That was when various roles in the Church first formed. Today we have many more different roles, many more different ministries, many more different ways we can serve. While the lay believers can all preach and teach the word of God in various extent – and we should – there are a select group of people who were meant to focus their efforts on doing that. That’s what the apostles were apostles for, that’s what pastors go through seminaries for. Is there one role that is more important than others? In our men’s eyes, perhaps yes – but let’s not forget that these deacons were expected to be full of the Spirit and wisdom too. Spiritually, there is not much difference, is there? Let us do our best in whatever capacity we are blessed with to serve, and serve with the Spirit and with wisdom, for the edification of people, and the glorification of God.