IMMANUEL LUTHERAN COLLEGE CHAPEL MEDITATION (Third in a Series)
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. 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. 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; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 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, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 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. (Acts 6:1-7)
I come to you in Jesus’ name, and I bring to you God’s Word:
In order to help prepare our hearts and minds for meeting five of God’s obscure saints, I ask you to picture a Christian congregation with thousands of communicant members, dozens of adult instruction classes going on, served by twelve senior associate pastors. Adult conversions and baptisms are so numerous that it is hard to keep track of each new member, many of whom are foreign-born and don’t speak your language. Some recent converts live in the ghetto or a slum; they have no income, decent housing, or grocery money.
Back at the mission compound, people arrive in droves for Bible study and worship, while the kitchen turns out hundreds of meals every day, with more meals-on-wheels going out on routes around the city for those who could well starve if not for the love of their generous brethren.
That’s the picture in Jerusalem in 37 A.D., and even at this distance we are thrilled to hear of it—except for one scene that strikes a sour note: And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
What happened was this: Greek-speaking members, particularly widows, were being overlooked on the food-mobile routes. Nobody had intended to bypass these widows, it’s just that in such a large congregation even twelve pastors could not keep on top of every potential problem. This particular problem needed to get solved, for how Christians treat one another inside a congregation is crucial; how we conduct ourselves toward our fellow-Christians is fully as important as how we conduct ourselves in the world at large.
The Jerusalem pastors and elders came to realize that a loving adjustment had to be made—so “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. 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; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’”
Evidently it happened that when the pastors came to the communal dining hall to visit with their brothers and sisters in Christ, they were sidetracked into waiting on tables—which is OK if nothing else suffers. In this case, however, the pastors were falling behind on their house-calls to new members in the suburbs.
Now, waiting on tables and doing secretarial duties and office functions are important, as are handling business and financial matters and technical support. But loading all that on the pastor can be detrimental to the well-being of the congregation. He should be using his special training in areas that the average church member can hardly be expert at—the ministry of the Word in serving as spiritual shepherd.
The Jerusalem congregation realized what their options were and what the Lord wanted them to do: “And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Simon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” They picked men who spoke Greek (note their names) and would have no language barrier in reaching and helping those Gentile widows; that was a smart move, and we have every reason to believe it proved effective.
They nominated seven, but take away Stephen and Philip and that still leaves five of God’s saints; they were capable men, dedicated, fully qualified both at to their spiritual and mental abilities, but from here on they fade into the obscurity of congregational life.
Does God have obscure saints nowadays, and are they found today in our own congregations? We bear in mind that a Christian congregation is a family of men, women, and children who pool their talents so as to do the best job they can in carrying out their heartfelt desire to serve Christ. That means lending a helping hand to free the pastor from the physical jobs that go along with maintaining the congregation.
Prochorus, Nicanor, Simon, Parmenas, and Nicolas are still with us, though now they have English names. They serve on congregational boards and committees; they are our delegates to conventions; they step up and volunteer for the menial and often unthanked jobs of scrubbing, shoveling, washing, mowing, painting and decorating; they stop by to visit the widow or widower, the aged and infirm; they take time to listen and counsel one-on-one; they are our friends.
Today their names may be Jerry and Tim and Greg, for they are you! With you saints on the job, your pastors won’t be overburdened and be nudged into neglecting their primary calling. With you members in the pews and behind the scenes, the blessed and holy work that your hands can handle will get accomplished.
God bless you one and all as you prepare for and perform the labors of love (in our congregations and synod) that are lovingly and thoughtfully delegated to God’s obscure saints. Amen!