Friday, October 31, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 17)

Despite what could be viewed as the short-sightedness of the disciples with their statements about the ministry of the word of God and praying, and their setting that against their own taking up of the role of slaves at the church’s meal tables, the church prospered.  Luke writes that “The proposal pleased the entire group” (Acts 6:5a).  Seven men were chosen as deacons (diakonous in the Greek, which means “servants”).  “They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands upon them” (6:6).

Not surprisingly then, with service at the root of the church’s witness, and men chosen specifically to serve food to widows (and all who came to the table, with no distinctions or divisions), “The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7).  With this success in mind, and this success much owing to the counter-cultural witness of servanthood by the ambassadors of the kingdom of the Creator God, it is possible to step back and wonder if it is possible to imagine Jesus creating this division of labor.  While believers stand in the stream of that Spirit-led success, can they dream about the church that may have developed had the very men that were looked to as the pillars and foundation of the church, been the ones that had served all, in full equality, at the church’s meal table?  What divisions may have been avoided had the church of the Christ had this example from which to draw?

Luke moves directly from the ordination of the group that came to be referred to as deacons, to the particular story of one of those men---a man by the name of Stephen.  Stephen, who is said to be “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5b), which was one of the requirements as suggested by the disciples, served admirably.  One goes on to read that “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (6:8).

As this performance of wonders and signs was undoubtedly linked to the fact of his service at the church’s meal table, and as it was owing to the covenant God’s special attention to widows as revealed by the Hebrew Scriptures, his service to widows must figure prominently in the Spirit’s growing presence in his ministry.  Might it also be presumed that the people wondered at what they were seeing from Stephen, which was his willful service to the least, eschewing both honor and shame?

While many are transfixed on signs and wonders, looking to such things as the evidence of the Spirit’s working, the working of the Spirit is just as present and just as powerful when a widow is served.  When that widow is served in a way that stands in sharp distinction from the way that she would normally be treated by her culture, with somebody sacrificing their own honor and prestige in order to see to it that she is served, then that is just as great a wonder and sign of the in-breaking kingdom of the Creator God as would be someone being raised from the dead.

However, rather than receiving honor and praise, Stephen would come to be accused of blasphemy, of speaking against the Temple and Moses, and was ultimately sentenced to death, experiencing the pain and shame of stoning.  This was the honor that one could come to expect from being a deacon---a servant of the church’s table.  This is the example that Paul, if indeed he is the author of this letter, would have in mind when writing to Timothy concerning deacons.

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