The First Deacons

Friday: True Greatness

Acts 6:1-15 In this week’s study we learn that to be a leader is to be a servant.
True Greatness

When we think about success we have to remember that the Bible’s evaluation of success is 180 degrees different from the world’s evaluation. If you ask the people of the world, “Who are the really important people? Where are those who are really great?” the world answers that it is those at the top of the administrative pyramid. It is those who have a lot of people under them. If we are talking about a person’s private circumstances, it is those who do not need to work. People work for them. They have servants. And of course, the more servants they have, the more important they are. 

If we are talking about those who do work, which is most of us, the principle is the same. Most people are near the bottom of the pyramid, so many of those do not think they are very important at all. Supervisors are more important. Next is middle management. Then at the very top you have the Chief Executive Officer, the President or the Chairman of the Board. The person at the top of the administrative pyramid is the most important person of all. 

That is not the way Jesus spoke of greatness. Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27). Jesus also said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

If you want to be great in God’s sight, try serving people. Be a true deacon. If you want to be even greater in God’s sight, serve even more people. And that includes doing things for them that the world would call “menial.” 

Remember Jesus. When He was about to be crucified and wanted to give His disciples a graphic demonstration of what true greatness was, He removed His clothes, wrapped Himself with a towel, knelt before them and washed each of the disciples’ feet. The Lord of the universe—the Lord of glory, the King of kings—knelt before Galilean fishermen and performed a servant’s task. Peter understood how incongruous this was, at least from his point of view. He told his Master, “You shall never wash my feet.” But notice that he did not say, “No, Lord, let me wash their feet.” He just didn’t want the Lord to wash him. The Lord taught him how to be a servant. 

When we are talking about these deacons, we are talking about what is absolutely essential. Because we do not have real Christianity without this vital function. 

That is why these men now become the leaders of the church. They did not replace the apostles, of course. The apostles had their own, special role. Theirs was a unique function. But apart from these specially chosen and commissioned apostles, the deacons (who were servants) became the first true leaders in the church. 

Have you thought about how that works out in Acts? Up to this point the apostles have been doing their thing: Peter at Pentecost, Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, the others also. They testified and were put in jail; sometimes they were beaten. In everything they counted it an honor to suffer for Christ. But from this point on—think how striking this is—we do not find those apostles appearing very much. Peter comes up again. Now the deacons become the prominent and most effective witnesses. 

It begins even in this passage, as Luke starts the story of Stephen, the first deacon, that runs on into chapter 7 and which we will look at fully in the next study. “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). We have his sermon and the story of his martyrdom in chapter 7. In chapter 8 we have the story of the second deacon: Philip. The Gospel spread to Ethiopia through him. In each case, the Gospel spread beyond Judaism, not through the apostles but through the deacons. It was these men who really carried the ball. So here is the challenge from this great story: Be a deacon, a servant, as these men were. How? Well, if you want to be a deacon, you will have to be like Jesus Christ. He is our model. He counted His equality with God not something to be grasped after or clung to. Rather He emptied Himself and became a man, humbling Himself even unto death that He might serve us (Phil 2:5-8). You say, “I don’t like that; I don’t want to serve anybody.” Well, no, of course you don’t. We never want to serve others naturally. We want people to serve us. It is only in Christ that we become different. 

The world will hate you if you take this path, just as it hated Jesus, Stephen, and the others. It will say, “Let’s get rid of that person.” And it may! But if it does, you will be able to say, even as Stephen said, echoing the words of his Master, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He was thinking of others and serving them even as he died. 

Do you want to be like that? It is what Jesus wants for you, and if you are willing, He will teach you how.

Study Questions
  1. What is a biblical view of greatness?
  2. How did Jesus demonstrate greatness?

Reflection: What criteria do you use to evaluate success: the world’s or the Bible’s?

Key Point: So here is the challenge from this great story: Be a deacon, a servant, as these men were.

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Prophets, Deacons, Teachers.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: James Boice’s expositions from the book of Acts are available in paperback, and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals would like to offer it to you for 25% off.

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