As we see in the opening chapters of Acts, the Apostles could care for the spiritual and physical welfare of their community.
The true ministry of the church is not gnostic, but grounded in the real-life circumstances of believers. The fallout of sin has real consequences. Dealing with poverty, addiction – all the practical and real-world circumstances of a fallen person, is as equally as important as renewing the mind and walking by the Spirit.
But neither is the ministry of the church what many have falsely deemed the “social gospel.” The problem with mankind is not merely circumstances. Poverty, a lack of education and economic inequality are not what ails mankind – they are the fruit of what ails mankind.
Jesus said in the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20 “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Teach them to observe, he says. Discipling the nations is about what is to be believed and what is to be done. Jesus says teach them my commands so that they can do my commands.
James makes the point well in James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The word of God teaches us what is to be done. The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of words and deeds. The Son of God came into the world to teach us love and to show us love. He calls disciples to observehis commandments– to obey his teaching.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus traveling incognito asks his two disciples what this Jesus had done – Luke 24:19 And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.
Luke 4:16. Jesus opens the word of God and then expounds its meaning, teaching about Himself and His ministry from the word of God. Jesus preaches. Then what does He do? The things Isaiah says the messiah will do. Luke 4:31-41 goes on describing Jesus’s fulfillment of that teaching in real action.
Jesus preaches, and Jesus works out that message amongst the people. He says come to me all who are burdened and heavy-laden and then He relieves their burdens. Their spiritual burdens and physical burdens. He forgives sins and feeds five thousand. He declares sinners clean and raises the dead. He gives sight to the blind and instructs the masses on the mount. His ministry is a ministry of word and deed.
And in Acts we find the Apostles doing the same thing. Acts 4:32-35.
The Apostles are imitating Jesus by continuing His ministry in word and deed. They preach the gospel unburdening the spiritual cares of the church and they gather and distribute goods unburdening the physical cares of the church.
And by doing both the church grows bigger and healthier. And the growth brings its own glorious problems.
The Hellenistic Jews felt their widows were being slighted in the distribution of goods, in favor for local widows.
The Apostles don’t want anyone neglected but the conflict amongst the brothers spreads to the Apostles. Their struggle is found in Acts 6:2 and 4. They can’t stop the ministry of the word for the sake of the ministry of deeds, and they can’t devote themselves solely to the ministry of words, neglecting the deeds. Then they will be teachers of the word and not doers.
The Ministry of the church is concerned with alleviating spiritual and physical burdens.
Strauch in his book Minister of Mercywrote, “In Scripture these two broad classifications of ministry are described as “word” and “deed” (romans 15:18; Colossians 3:17). In Acts 6 Luke defines these classifications as the “ministry of word” (v.4) and the “serving of food” (v.2). Peter defines them as speaking and serving, which is the same as word and deed. He writes, “whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 4:11). In both cases, speaking or serving, God is the source of power, the one who receives glory from what is done”
Now some people are strong in both word and deed. Jesus is referred to as “mighty in Word and deed,” in Luke 24:19 and Moses is as well in Acts 7:22. Both Luke and Acts were written by Luke. Luke’s understanding of the ministry of Jesus and Moses later inherited by the Apostles is to be understood in these two very broad categories – word and deed.
Those who are strong in word tend to be teachers, preachers, writers, counselors, shepherds or scholars. People who are strong in deeds, on the other hand, tend to be administrators, organizers, doers, helpers, supporters, builders, ministers of mercy and philanthropists.
Now don’t think these are watertight compartments. Should deacons not preach because preaching is a ministry of words? Or should Pastors not go on mission trips to build houses in the third world, because that’s deeds and not words?
No. But a division of labor is crucial so that the church is a place where the gifts of everyone can be expressed. Where any given person, pastor, teacher, evangelist, servant can focus their energies on the task to which they are best suited.
Broadly speaking, the work of Deacons focuses on deeds. Serving the physical needs of the body and overseeing the physical outreach ministries.
As Stephen and Phillip demonstrate further on in Acts, deacons can preach and teach in certain circumstances, it’s important to note that one of the biggest differences in the qualifications of Elders and Deacons is the ability to teach. In 1stTimothy 3:2 it states that Overseers, or Elders, must be able to teach. No such requirement exists for Deacons. This echoes the division of labor found in Acts 6. IT does not mean that deacons can’t involve themselves in the ministry of the word, it means they do not have to.
Generally speaking Elders are ministers of the Word and Deacons are ministers of Works.
But so much of the confusion about the office of deacon is confusion about the overall ministry of the church in culture. Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of word and deed.
The ministry of deeds is so crucial that a distinct office was created requiring election, vetting and ordination. There are only two offices in which that is required. Elder and Deacon.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Because the work they are doing is Jesus’s work.
Ronald Pearce emphasized this in an Article on the role of Deacons. He said, “diaconal ministry gives credibility to the preached Word when people see practical expressions of love.”
Deeds validate words. The initial progress of Christianity was that we didn’t just speak about virtues, we appointed officers to oversee the real-life application of love to real life needs. Love is incarnate in the church through the Deacons. Show me your faith and I’ll show my works, is what James, the brother of the Lord wrote in James 2:18. As a church we say, “show me your faith, and we show you our deacons.”
So, the church has to ask itself, do we have works equal to our faith? Is it because we have neglected the office created by the Apostles to make sure the ministry of deeds wasn’t neglected?
See, churches can be hearers of the word and not doers of the Word just like individual people can – the deacons support the ministry of the Word by expressing the preached Gospel in actions.