The Solution Part 2 of 3
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Full of the Holy Ghost, of wisdom.
More was expected of these men than is required of deacons in our day. They were to be men, who not only had the Spirit of God in them, but who were also well-known for wisdom. By wisdom is meant their rich experiences of grace and their possession of the gifts of the Spirit, whereby they were capable both of defending the truth against objectors, and of exhorting the faithful, of giving comfort to the distressed, and of giving admonition to members, as circumstances required. At this time the church consisted of people from all nations (See Acts 2); it would seem then, that it would be an asset, though not necessary to the discharge of their office, to have the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, especially speaking with diverse tongues, so that they could converse with persons who spoke different languages. Full of the Holy Ghost denotes people who were eminently under the influence of the Holy Spirit. And they must be good economists of the church’s funds, which required "wisdom" to dispose of it in the most prudent manner: their conduct must be beyond reproach; and they must possess the wisdom to settle differences among members.
This, evidently, does not mean that they were endowed with miraculous gifts, or the power of speaking foreign languages, for such gifts were not necessary to the discharge of their office, but it means people who were eminently under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or who were of distinguished piety. This was all that was necessary in this case, and this is all that the words fairly imply.
Whom we may appoint over this business.
The people would elect the deacons, but the apostles would ordain and install them into the position. We’re told how they were installed into their office in verse 6; by prayer and the “laying-on” of hands.
The seven were to perform a specific duty at this time; serving tables. In the primitive Church, it is evident that the deacons gave the bread and wine in the Eucharist to the believers in the Church, and carried it to those who were absent; they also preached, and in some cases administered baptism. But with the passage of time and the evolution of the church the deacon’s duties were increased to encompass those services mentioned above.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer.
Continually in prayer implies prayer both in private for themselves, and in public in the church; and in the houses of the saints and their families, with the sick and distraught; and in public, in the temple, or in whatever place they met for public worship. The apostles needed to be continually in prayer in order for the proclamation of the Gospel to succeed in effecting the souls of the hearers: a minister who does not pray much, studies in vain. The original expression used here denotes “intense and unrelenting” application to a thing—“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication . . .” (Acts 1:14). It means that the apostles wanted to make this their constant and main objective, and for this to happen they must not be distracted by the cares of life, and even by attention to the secular needs of the church.
The apostles could not live without prayer; they had no self-reliant graces; their graces all came from God, and what they had could not be retained without an increase; and for this increase, they must make prayer and supplication, and depend continually on their God.
And to the ministry of the word.
The ministry of the word means the preaching of the Gospel, to which prayer is an absolute prerequisite; prayer and preaching are two sides of the same coin and must always travel together. Prayer and preaching, are the principal business of a Gospel minister, and they are to occupy his thoughts, his actions, and his time. That was not possible in their present situation, since they must carve out hours from their days for the secular affairs of the church, such as caring for the poor. The apostles proposed to the church, therefore, that they be allowed more time to attend to the more important and useful duties of prayer and preaching. It appears from this that those who are called to preach the Gospel must, if possible, be exempt from all worldly business and duties, since the ministry is sufficient to engross all of a man's time and thoughts.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
And the saying pleased the whole multitude.
The speech the apostles made was well received by the congregation; everything they proposed was unanimously approved by the whole body of the church. They all thought it was reasonable, that the apostles should be relieved of the burden of taking care of the poor, and that it should be transferred to some other persons within the church.
And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost.
He was a man well-known for his faith in Christ, and his faithfulness to Him, and for his courage and boldness in the cause of Christ and for other gifts and graces of the Spirit, with which he was filled. He was, very likely, the most outstanding person of all the seven, and is therefore named first. Afterwards, he endeared himself to the church, since he was the first person to suffer martyrdom for Christ.
Why should men filled "with the Holy Ghost" be needed to man the business side of church life? For this reason that only such men can do the work, as God wants it done. The Lord should rule in every phase of church life. He is the Head of the "Building Committee" and the "Church Finance Committee" and the "Committee on the care of the poor," just as He is the Head of the man in the pulpit.
He was also an evangelist, and he had four daughters that prophesied. It was probably the Philip who went down to Samaria, and preached Christ there with great success, and after that baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.
Prochorus and the rest are not mentioned anyplace else in the Bible. He is said by some to be a nephew of Stephen's, and the first bishop of Nicomedia; but these are things that haven’t been verified.
Nothing is known about this man. It is a Grecian name, and there is a man with this name who was a general in Demetrius's army, and who was sent by him against the Jews. And there was a gate of the temple, which was called the gate, of Nicanor.
It is said of this man that afterwards he was bishop of Bersea; though others say he was bishop, of Bostra; but neither assertion has been verified.
Nothing else is said of him other than the account given in the Roman martyrology, that he suffered martyrdom under Trajan, which is not to be depended upon.
And Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.
Nicholas was a Greek or Gentile, and then he became a Jew, a proselyte of righteousness, and then a Christian, and now he is made a deacon. He lived in the great city of Antioch, and he was circumcised when converted to Judaism—this is the meaning of "proselyte" in the New Testament. Some think that the sect of the Nicolaitanes (spoken of in the Revelations) sprung from this man; though others think that that wicked collection of men only disguised themselves with his name. It is certain, however, that he did turn out to be a wicked man. That would not be out of the question, since there was a devil among the twelve apostles, there could be a hypocrite and a vicious man among the first seven deacons.
It is obvious, that the names of all these deacons are Greek names; from which, it seems, fair to assume that they were of the Grecian or Hellenistic Jews Note: Many Palestinian Jews at this time had Greek names., and that the church saw fit to choose men out of that part of the Christian community. This shows the wisdom of the people and that God answered their prayers for guidance, since the choice of these men would restore mutual confidence and stop the complaints of the Hellenistic Jews, that their widows were experiencing prejudice in the dispersion of alms.
Nowhere in this chapter of Acts are these men called deacons, but most believe they were the first to fulfill the office of deacon as described in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The word deacon simply means “servant,” and these men were certainly servants. They could claim the same promise for faithful service that Paul specifically makes to deacons in 1 Timothy 3:13: “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”