"In Charge of This Task"
The Jerusalem church grew rapidly in its early days, but a problem soon arose: among the widows for whom the church was providing, some were being overlooked. The apostles, who were leading the church at this time, “summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task’” (Acts 6:3-4).
Serve is the root of the word sometimes translated deacon. That is what these seven men were: designated servants with specific qualifications and responsibilities. Consider a few observations about their role, described as “in charge of this task.”
Notice first that the task or need preceded the appointment. Being a deacon is not an honorary role. We do not appoint them, then try to find things for them to do. They are appointed to be in charge of a task.
What task? That might vary, according to a church’s circumstances. In this case it was administering benevolence. The principle is to relieve the spiritual leaders so they will have sufficient time for their work. Shepherds have their hands full in their work of watching, teaching, encouraging, warning, and retrieving the sheep, along with its required study and prayer. They must not get sidetracked with details that should be left to others.
The number of deacons chosen is in keeping with the need. The Jerusalem church at this time had about 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). Surely more than seven were qualified to serve, but seven were needed.
One is not necessarily doing “deacon’s work” simply because he helps out taking care of some details. Deacons are in charge of tasks. They must take responsibility for their area for God’s plan to work. That means assessing the need, formulating a plan to take care of it, carrying out the plan (and doing so on a timely basis without constant reminders), and ongoing watchfulness and work.
Of course, this requires that the elders allow the deacons to take charge of their tasks. If elders persist in involving themselves in the deacons’ activities, or if deacons have to stop and ask permission to do something every step of the way, the relief idea fails.
A deacon need not do everything personally. It is good for him to involve others in the work (see Titus 3:14). It is not good, however, for him to assume a totally executive role.
Let’s be grateful for our deacons and the work they do, and cooperate with them in serving one another.