Online Bible Commentary
The Importance of Deacons
Acts 6:1 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. (NKJV)
The New Testament Church is now an up and coming reality, in the A.D. early thirties. There were now at least five thousand believers that made up the worldwide church, and the numbers were growing daily.
With this growth the physical needs of the believers became even greater. The apostles’ interests were being divided between ministry and caring for the physical needs of their disciples. Finally, there was a breakdown and a segment of the disciples, the Greek speaking Hellenists, felt that the physical needs of their widows were being ignored in favor of service to the Hebrew speaking widows (v. 1).
In response, the twelve apostles brought together the “multitude of the disciples” and explained that they could not leave their ministry duties to serve the practical needs of the disciples (v. 2a). More workers were needed, workers to “serve tables”, meaning a ministry of service (v. 2b). The Greek word used here to denote service is “diakoneo”, from which we get the word “deacon”.
So there was a need to create a new level of service in the church to address the physical needs of the disciples. The apostles asked the disciples to choose seven men to become “deacons”. The early qualifications for a deacon were to be of good reputation, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to possess wisdom (v. 3). Later Paul would add additional qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
The establishment of deacons would allow the apostles to continue to focus on prayer and ministry (v. 4). This action pleased the “whole multitude” of disciples (v. 5a). The seven deacons were chosen by the disciples, and included Stephen, who became the first martyr of the church, and Philip, who later evangelized in Samaria, converted the Ethiopian eunuch, and supported Paul in Caesarea (v. 5b). The seven deacons had Greek names, indicating that they were Hellenistic and would be acceptable to the Hellenistic believers who had complained.
The seven deacons were brought before the twelve apostles, who prayed over them and laid hands on them affirming their calling to this new ministry in the church (v. 6). The establishment of this new ministry was a success. “The word of God spread” and the number of disciples “multiplied greatly in Jerusalem”, which included many of the Jewish priests that were converted to Christianity (v. 7).
This passage illustrates the importance of deacons in God’s service. Deacons free up the pastor and other ministers to do what they do best and what they are called to do. They are able to focus on prayer and preaching the word. They are able to focus on winning souls and discipleship, while the deacons take on the practical duties of serving the other needs of the congregation.
The establishment of deacons was instrumental in the growth of the early church. The New Testament Church realized this early on and our churches today continue to recognize the importance of the service of deacons. May God bless them for their service.