Here we see that the Church had basically outgrown itself. The number of believers was multiplying and the priests were having trouble keeping up with the demands of physically and spiritually maintaining them. Here, we see the chaos and lack of order; while the neglect of the Hellenists was unintentional, it served to illustrate that the problems faced by the Church came not only from the outside world, but internally as well. It was necessary to create a more diverse infrastructure. The ministering of the word and the care for the widows were each important, however, this event revealed that both ministries could not be performed by the same people and still receive the proper attention that each required.
Thus it was that the Church began to diversify each of it’s ministries. And it’s important to note the qualifications set forth for each of these ministries. It was necessary on the one hand that each of them be of good reputation and filled with the Holy Spirit, that they could assist in the spiritual needs of the ministry. On the other hand, it was necessary that they had the wisdom to fulfill the ministries assigned to them. See, so often in the West, we think of “mercy ministry” (or as I like to to call it, loving your neighbor) as being either one or the other. We look at everything as a business model, where either it is a non-profit business with no pathway to spiritual growth; something as asinine as throwing a gospel tract into a care package; or to the exact opposite, we think of it as a form of spiritual blackmail, where we invite the hungry into our church building and offer them food after a 45+ minute sermon.
What we see here, however, is neither of these things. It is true compassion. It is taking the time to personally provide for the physical needs while being available, if asked, to assist in spiritual needs as well. It’s a balance between having the ability to care for their physical needs, while still being present and taking the time to answer any spiritual questions that they may have; while not shoving the answers down the throats of those who don’t ask, neither judging them. It’s understanding that whether someone is interested in our theology or not, they are still icons of Christ, still made in His image and likeness, and thus, still deserving of the love and care that we are called to provide. We don’t display the love of the Church by helping only those who have a vested interested in her teachings, neither do we display the love of Christ by lecturing them for an hour on what they should believe before we are willing to care for their physical needs. Caring for only those whom we share beliefs with is the way of the world. The love of Christ, the love of the Church, is loving the unlovable; loving friends and enemies, free from judgment or condemnation. It is for this very reason that those who were anointed into this ministry were to be filled with the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In this passage, we also see the structure of the Church developing. The people chose seven deacons to fill these ministries, but it was the apostles who accepted them and anointed them, through prayers and the laying on of hands. It was no “congregational democracy,” where the people voted and that became the rule. Rather, it was a synergy between clergy and laity, where the congregation elected and the Church leaders determined whether to accept or not, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And we see what happens when the undivided Church works properly. Scripture says that “the number of disciples was multiplied greatly” (v.7) and that can only happen through the unity of the Church, which allows for proper worship (V.4), evangelism (V.4), and charity (V.3). Displaying the love of Christ, and for Christ, to the multitudes.
See, too often, the Church itself becomes it’s own worst enemy. We constantly are at odds with one another. We fight, argue, and debate over issues which are irrelevant. We argue about 168 hour creations and global flooding. We argue about flat versus round earth (believe it or not). We argue, in our own pride, about if works are a requirement of salvation. We argue about these things which would be considered the “bare minimum requirements” of salvation. Often, we give because we feel it is our “Christian duty” to give, rather than out of love and compassion. The world loves songs like “Stairway to Heaven,” because that’s all they see when they look at the Church. They don’t see someone with a tear streaked face grieving for the suffering of their fellow man, they see someone with a guilt lined face saying “here, take it, I guess.” They see parishioners of the Church waving their “good-guy badge” trying to “out-good” one another, rather than showing the sincere compassion of being the light of life to a world in need. Rather than a Church speaking the truth in love, they hear a church screaming the truth in judgment. The world accuses the Church of hypocrisy while most of us proclaim our holiness. And the sad fact is that, more often, it is the world that’s correct. When we look at the image we try to present to the world, and then look at the life we truly live, there’s usually a large disparity between the two.
We so often say, “Christ is in our midst,” yet, do we live like we truly believe that? James tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan. Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the least of all men, we do to Him. Paul tells us that we were created in Christ Jesus for good works. Jesus tells us that our love for one another is how the world will recognize that we are His followers. If we truly believe these things, do our lives reflect that? Do we truly love our neighbors as ourselves? Are we giving and helping out of sincere compassion, or just to check another thing off of our holiness checklist? Is our almsgiving a tax write off, or is it reverence to the One who created each one of us, who knitted us together in the womb? Jesus proclaimed, “these people worship Me from their mouths, but their hearts are far from Me.” Was He talking about us?
If that is us, I pray that we repent, break up the fallow grounds of our hearts, and, like the prodigal son, return to Him.
Christ is in our midst.