Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Elders, Authority, and Love

Last night, at our midweek Bible study (can it really be called "midweek" if it meets on Monday night?), we studied the first half of Acts 6. Of course, this section of Scripture deals with the need, selection, and ordination of the first seven deacons. There is a lot of treasure to be gleaned from these few verses, but one thing which struck me was the manner in which the Apostles, the disciples, and the deacons interacted.

Here is the passage we covered:

1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Matthew Henry correctly points out that the Apostles, by the nature of their office and the authority given to them by Christ Himself, could have simply ruled as to who would now handle the daily distributions. Henry cites Paul in Philemon 8: "Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting..." Paul, as an Apostle, had the right to command Philemon to do what was right regarding Onesimus, his run away slave. So too, in the situation in Acts 6, the Apostles could have simply commanded that certain men fulfill the office of deacon, but that is not what we see happening here. Instead, the Apostles instruct the disciples to "seek out...seven men...whom we may appoint over this business." Just as Paul tells Philemon that "for love’s sake I rather appeal to you," instead of commanding him, so also the Apostles in Acts 6, for love's sake, appeal to all the Christians to choose the seven men.

How, then, are we as elders in Christ's church to rule over the flock? We are not to act as "the rulers of the Gentiles" who lord it over their subjects (Matt. 20:25), but rather, we are to "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." (1 Peter 5:2-4)

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