Sometimes it is wrong to do right. When speaking of living the gospel, this statement may seem quite odd. Nevertheless, in the organic function of the body of Christ, it is sometimes wrong for those who are gifted with special ministries to work in an area where they may not be gifted, or in reference to a need that should be passed on to another. This was the case in reference to the disciples in Jerusalem finding a solution for the dysfunction concerning the neglected widows in Acts 6.
Since the apostles were still in Jerusalem at the time a functional problem developed in Acts 6, they, as the accepted leaders, were faced with a functional problem among the disciples. There is a great lesson to be learned from how the apostles handled the problem concerning the care that the whole church in Jerusalem should render to the widows.
We are not told by Luke who brought the problem of the neglected widows before the apostles. We assume that the apostles were busy with their work of prayer and ministry of the word of God (At 6:4). Since prayer should be a ministry of all the disciples, in this case the apostles did not want their prayers to be overshadowed by the administration of what others could do. But specifically, it was their Christ-ordained ministry to deliver the inspired word of God to the early church (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). This was especially important because of those who continued to come and stay in Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost feast. The apostles continued to teach those who journeyed to Jerusalem (At 2:42).
The last Passover/Pentecost feast that Luke mentioned was in Acts 2. However, since the event of Acts 6 probably took place from three to four years after the Passover/Pentecost of Acts 2, we must assume that the apostles were diligently teaching those who obeyed the gospel during each Passover/Pentecost feast (See At 2:42). It was their mission to go into all the world and preach the gospel through those who were baptized during the Passover/Pentecost feasts. Therefore, when the dysfunctional organic problem of the feeding of the widows in Jerusalem was made known to them, they replied, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables” (At 6:2). This one statement opens a great door for understanding the ministry of the apostles in reference to the organic function of the early church.
In view of the necessity that the apostles not be diverted from their ministry of the inspired instruction of the church and world evangelism, it would not have been right for them to forsake these Christ-appointed ministries in order to serve tables. In this case, it would have been wrong for them to do a good thing. The apostles simply stated, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (At 6:4). In reference to the ministry of prayer, we would assume that these were special prayer sessions for those who were returning home to other lands after being taught by the apostles.
We are sure that the apostles were confident that they fulfill their destiny. They felt no guilt about saying “no” to a good thing of serving tables. Neither did they allow others to make them feel guilty about not caring for the widows (See Js 1:27). When one is focused on doing what he or she believes is his or her God-given ministry, others should not make them feel guilty if they do not participate in their own God-given ministry. After all, in another context and situation, Paul wrote,
“Now there are many kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are many kinds of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are many kinds of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Co 12:4-6).
Paul concluded 1 Corinthians 12 with the admonition that the organic function of the body of Christ is based on the fact that gifted individuals work together as one body, regardless of the diversity of their gifts (1 Co 12:28).
In the list of different ministries that God has designated in the body, “administrations” was one of those gifts. On the occasion of Acts 6, the apostles helped the early disciples to understand that “administration” was a special gift that was necessary to be recognized in order that the organic body function properly. So for this reason the apostles said, “Look out from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may designate over this business” (At 6:3). In other words, it was not the business of the apostles to leave their gifted ministry of special prayers and teaching in order to administer the distribution of food to the widows. It was not according to the God-defined function of the body that they leave their ministry in order to do the ministry of someone who was specifically gifted in administration.
Those who are zealous in their particular ministry must not make others feel guilty if they are not likewise involved in their own ministry. The light of the gospel shines differently through different members of the body. A healthy body is the result of all the organs of the body functioning according to their purpose in order to maintain the function of the whole body. When any one part of the body says that he has no need of any other part of the body, then that part of the body that wants to stand alone becomes dysfunctional. Therefore, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Co 12:21).
Neither should one’s ministry be exalted above the ministry of another member. “On the contrary, more indeed, those members of the body who seem to be more feeble are necessary” (1 Co 12:22). Exaltation of one ministry over another is detrimental to the organic function of the whole body. Minimizing the “less honorable” members in their function is senseless.
“And those members of the body whom we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable parts have more abundant presentation” (1 Co 12:23).
Paul’s point to the Corinthians was in the fact that “if one member suffers [in his or her ministry], all the members suffer with it. Or, if one member is honored [in his or her ministry], all the members rejoice with it” (1 Co 12:26). Members in their ministries must function in cohesion with one another.
This is exactly what the apostles taught on the occasion of the bodily dysfunction of Acts 6. There was a dysfunction in the distribution of food to the Grecian widows, for only the Hebraic widows were benefitting from the existing distribution. The solution was not that the apostles leave their ministry in order to assume the task of others who had the gift of administration. The solution was in the fact that the whole church should look out among themselves in order to identity those who were gifted with administration in order to correct the organic dysfunction of the church at the time.
[Next in series, September 28]