Able to Accomplish the Task - 1 Peter 5:1–4; Acts 6:1-7

There’s an old story about a company that manufactured drill bits. They were facing big financial losses, and so their executives gathered to discuss what seemed to be the obvious problem: a declining demand for drill bits. The CEO asked the leadership team this question: “How can we revive the drill bit market?” There was a long, awkward silence, but then one member of the team spoke up. He said, “Sir, I think the market isn't for bits—it’s for holes!”

 
Able to Accomplish the Task - 1 Peter 5:1–4; Acts 6:1-7
 

What did he mean? Well, business guru Peter Drucker once famously stated, “The customer never buys a product. By definition, the customer buys the satisfaction of a want.” In other words, people respond not to a product, but to their own sense of need, and they purchase what they believe will meet the need. Whether you are an adult or a child, you are aware of many of your needs. But a major theme of the Scriptures is that we are not always aware of what we need. In fact, sin can cloud our vision such that we often are not aware of our greatest needs.

I want to read you an excerpt from Ephesians 4 in which the apostle Paul describes how God meets the needs of his people through – and only through – the church. Paul says that God established these various offices: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers – for a particular reason: [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

In short, God established the church and its leadership as the vehicle through which we grow in the faith. The local church is not an add-on to the Christian life. A believer needs the local church like the parts of the human body need each other. Paul even goes on to say that God established the church in this way [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Some professing Christians don’t think they need the church. Some have even given up on the local church. But this passage of Scripture, and many others like it, are clear that God’s people need the church. And because we need the church, we also need leadership in the church that can sufficiently minister to God’s people.

God commands that the local church be led by – and his people be cared for and served by – men who are able to accomplish the task. So, we must choose officers who possess the God-given calling and ability to minister to His church. But in what ways do the officers minister to the church? What are their responsibilities?

That is our focus in this third and final sermon on the qualifications of elders and deacons. We looked at the beliefs, then the character, and now the responsibilities of qualified officers. Notice the outline on page 6 in your worship guide. Elders minister to the church by shepherding, governing, and teaching on Jesus' behalf, Deacons minister to the church by addressing mercy, money, and material needs on Jesus' behalf. Let’s look each of these.

1 Peter 5 addresses the office of elder. It is a letter written by the apostle Peter. He refers to himself as an apostle in chapter 1. The apostles were the initial group chosen by Jesus for the shepherding, governing, and teaching of the church. Jesus eventually ascended to heaven, leaving the apostles in charge.

They were, however, under his authority. At the end of Matthew, chapter 28, Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus granted authority to the apostles to lead the church on his behalf. Through them, the kingdom expanded, New Testament Scripture was produced, and also, the next generation of leaders was established.

However, that next generation were not called “apostles,” which is a word referring only to those who were called directly by Jesus Christ himself. We no longer have apostles. Yet some aspects of their office still exist in the church. Notice here in chapter 5 what Peter says to the next generation of leaders. Verse [1] So I exhort (or urge) the elders among you, as a fellow elder. While an elder is not an apostle, the apostles were elders. Elders do not add the Holy Scripture and do not need miracles to authenticate our authority, but we do perform a role handed down by Christ through his apostles. Peter says, verse 1, that on the authority given to him, as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed,” that these fellow elders should, verse [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.”

What kinds of things does a shepherd do? He feeds the sheep; he watches over the sheep and protects them from potential danger and harm; he guides them to safety and good health. The shepherd makes wise decisions for the general welfare of the sheep on behalf of the owner of the sheep. And so, you can see that this is an outstanding, perfect metaphor for what an elder must do. Elders feed God’s people from His holy Word. Elders watch over the doctrine and morals of God’s people. Elders set an example of godly character and faith in the local church. And elders make wise decisions as representatives of the people who belong to the living God.

In 1 Cor. 6, the apostle Paul tells the church, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” Jesus paid the price. The church belongs to the triune God. The church belongs to Jesus. Elders shepherd, govern, and teach on Christ’s behalf. Elders are called by and therefore accountable to God for the care for His people, relying on His Word and His Spirit. Listen to the shepherding language of Hebrews 13 in these instructions to the church: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Elders are accountable to God for all they say and do.

And so, they should shepherd as Jesus, and later the apostles, did; verse 2 says, “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. Elders must not abuse their power. They must behave like Jesus did. And notice verse [4] “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Elders are “undershepherds.” The title of Jesus in verse 4 makes it clear that only Christ is the Good Shepherd. And yet, the undershepherds are essential for the life of the believer while on the earth. Jesus himself established this system. He organized in church on earth in this way to meet the needs of his people. All of God’s people need what the undershepherds of Christ do just as sheep need their shepherd.

Do you recognize your need, just as I must recognize my need, for Christ’s undershepherds? The guidelines for our church government in the PCA, drafted in light of what God’s Word teaches, is a document we call the Book of Church Order. It summarizes the Bible’s teaching on the office of elder this way: “It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally (individually) and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called (to do so). They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon (elders) by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.” When we choose elders in the congregation, we must choose wisely, because they are appointed to a great responsibility. They meet real needs in the church.

Also, deacons in the local church meet real needs. They minister to the church by addressing mercy, money, and material needs on Jesus' behalf. The labors in which deacons lead the church are many, but let’s look specifically at the establishment of the office in order to better under and appreciate it. Look with me now at Acts 6.

As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It was necessity that precipitated the formal ordaining of the first NT deacons. I do want to note that there is OT precedent for both elder and deacon. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro encourages him to appoint numerous men to serve as heads over the people and assist with oversight. These were called “elders.” There is no plain reference to “deacon,” but certain groups of the Levitical priests performed duties similar to NT deacons. We see the same kind of dividing of the ministry duties in the OT that we see here in Acts 6.

Notice verse [1] Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” These Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews who had become Christians. “Hebrews” were also Jews, but were those who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. There was a natural cultural divide between these folks. In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul wrote that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek; they were all one in Christ Jesus. But, in this Acts 6 circumstance, the needy Hellenist widows were not receiving donated food as the Hebrew widows were. And so, some Hellenists complained to the apostles.

Now look the apostles’ response, verse [2] And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. “Serve tables” is literally ministering to the hunger of people. To feed those in need. In fact, the word “deacon” is nothing more our English-version of their Greek word which meant “servant.”

But not just anyone would do for the office. Notice verse 3. Jointly, the apostles announced to the disciples, [3] Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” These must be men of good reputation, and we looked closer at the qualifications last Sunday. These seven men were chosen by the congregation, approved by the elders, then appointed – as to a formal office – to what we call “deed ministry.” Their ordination gave the apostles the ability to fulfill their formal office of “word ministry.”

Now look at verse [5] And what they said pleased the whole gathering (notice the role of the entire church), and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. [6] These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. [7] And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. These elders and deacons were partners in gospel ministry. Both were vital. The needy widows could not be overlooked. James 1 says, [27] Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Simply put, Jesus cares about the needy. He cares about physical needs. And he has established an office for the men of the church who will lead the way, activating and empowering all those in the church who join together in this work.

During WWII, England needed to increase its production of coal. Winston Churchill spoke to the labor leaders and asked for their help. He asked them to imagine a great parade at the end of the war. First would come the soldiers who had fought on land. Then the sailors who had fought on the sea. Then the pilots who had fought in the air. And then would come this group of sweaty coal miners covered in black soot. On that day, someone might shout to the miners, “Where were you during the critical days of our struggle?” And they all would reply, “We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.” Some jobs were not so prominent or dazzling during the battle, but they were just as important. People often fail to grasp the value of those serving in the not-so-glamourous roles.

Our deacons will continue to lead the way in caring for needs and doing the things necessary for us to keep worshipping at Briggs on Sundays and doing all the things we do as a church. The elders and deacons will work together. For instance, the deacons will work on the church budget; the elders will approve and manage the budget. The elders will oversee the teaching content for each group in the church; the deacons will make sure the teachers and groups have all they need when they gather. I know you all recognize the need for godly men appointed to these roles. But do you see that you need these deacons? They will serve you and lead you in serving others, both within and outside of Good Shepherd.

Again, the PCA Book of Church Order summarizes the office of deacon like this: “It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality (in other words, generosity) in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. And notice how this relates to what we just saw in Acts 6: “In the discharge of their duties the deacons are under the supervision and authority of the Session.”

These officers will serve us, and also, teach us something about our Lord and Savior. In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul assures the church in Phillipi that, [19] my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. The offices of elder and deacon are a constant reminder that our God cares for us, that Jesus still serves us. He shepherds and ministers to us by His Spirit and through His Word, and also, by those whom he gifts and calls to minister to us. Our Good Shepherd is not absent. On the contrary, he is ever-present.

I wonder, do you daily embrace the Lord Jesus in this way? Do you take time to look around and see how he has served you and still serves you? Do you pause to consider deeply how he was and is able to accomplish the task of your care? Do you know Jesus as the one who can supply every need, who supplies righteousness for sinners, life for the spiritually dead, peace for rebels, a warm welcome for prodigals, a gentle word for the self-righteous? Would you turn today from sin and cry out him? His is ever-available, and ever-listening, and ever-ready to receive you.

Let’s pray together.