1:1 Now in these days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 1:2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 1:3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 1:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4, emphasis mine)
As pointed out previously, one of the distinctive characteristics of Christian maturity and leadership is its enablement. Vital to everything else as roots are to the fruit of a tree, the spiritual maturity needed in a Christian leader can be manifested only by Spirit-filled and Word-filled believers. The other qualities to be highlighted in this study are important and desirable, but to be filled with the Spirit and the Word (full of biblical wisdom and understanding) is absolutely indispensable for it is the ultimate source of spiritual maturity and godly leadership. In God’s plan for the Christian, all the qualities that will be discussed are to find their source in the power of the Spirit and the teaching of the Word—the tap root of spiritual growth, maturity, and leadership.
The book of Acts is a book marked by true spirituality and biblical leadership. In it we are constantly treated to men of great maturity and Christ-like character, but, as it has often been pointed out, rather than being a book of the Acts of men or the apostles, it is really the Acts of the Holy Spirit and Word-filled lives. It is the story of men who established the church and led its missionary enterprise, but without exception, these were men endowed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Everywhere you turn, you see the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit; you see men who are said to be full of the Spirit and acting by His directions and under His power. The Holy Spirit is referred to some 46 times in the book of Acts. In nearly every chapter there are references to the ministry of the Spirit.
In this book, we see God’s call to all kinds of ministries and, whether it is a call to witness or to serve tables or to solve a problem or the need of guidance, the work of the Spirit is essential. The indispensable requirement is for men and women who first are filled with the Spirit.
Unfortunately, we miss this. We think the first requirement is changed character or service or ministry. Men are called to witness (2:8), to serve others (6:1f), to preach the gospel (3:12f), etc., but Scripture first calls us to be filled with and to walk by the Holy Spirit because this constitutes God’s enablement so we can be the Christians we have become.
This principle is evident in Mark 3:13-15 and Luke 6:12. Following a whole night in prayer, the Lord (an evidence of His own dependence on the Father) called and appointed disciples. In this He commissioned them to two major responsibilities: (a) that they might be with Him and (b) that He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. The nature of this commission and the order is significant. Being with Him, fellowship with the Savior, was foundational and the source of enablement for their task of preaching and power over demonic forces (cf. Acts 1:8). Another passage that points to this important quality of a word-filled, spirit-filled life is Acts 6:1-7.
Now in these days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Wherever there are people, there will naturally be problems. This is a fact of life. There is no board of elders or deacons that is perfect. There are no perfect churches and no perfect families. Why? Because they are all made up of imperfect people, sinners saved by grace.
A lady complained to a well-known Bible teacher that she couldn’t find a church to her liking. She found fault with every church she visited. He said, “it sounds like you are looking for a perfect church, with perfect people. If you find such a church, let me know, but please don’t join it.” “Why,” she asked? “Because you would ruin it, and so would I!”
Dealing with problems is a necessary part of life, especially for leaders. It goes with the territory, but the most indispensable need is men who are filled with God’s Spirit manifesting God’s wisdom, patience, and loving character.
So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables.
Problem solving includes: (a) identifying the problem, (b) evaluating it, and (c) solving it through investigation, study, prayer, and the wise application of information to the specifics of the problem. But for that we need the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we simply do not experience His leading, not because of any reluctance on the part of the Holy Spirit, but because there are spiritual rocks in the gas line—we haven’t met the requirements for the filling of the Spirit. But this was not the problem here in Acts (cf. Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31).
“So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together” (vs. 2). The twelve, being the leaders at that time, took the leadership in seeking ways to solve the problem. But they summoned the people only after they had studied the problem, and as spiritual men acting on the principles of the Word, they came up with a solution that would not only solve the problem, but that was in accord with the principles of the Word. They refused to act out of expediency or as mere pragmatists, i.e., the end justifies the means, or by looking for whatever might work and that would get the people off of their backs. Rather, they demonstrated spiritual discernment. After studying the situation, they then declared to the people what they could not do and why. Ministry and leadership is a matter of identifying God’s priorities, knowing what God has called us to do, and then spending our time in those pursuits rather than in secondary issues no matter how important those things are. Secondary matters can render leaders ineffective in their primary responsibilities and will spread them so thin they become ineffective in everything. This means spiritually mature leaders must learn to train and recruit others to share in the work of the Lord. Thus, to solve their problem, they engaged in the process of selecting others who were qualified to serve. Note the following principles we learn from their action:
(1) The principle of biblical selectivity (vs. 3) “But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task.” The actions of the apostles highlight the importance of biblical selectivity in the recruitment process. The essential principle in recruitment no matter what the ministry need is to select people for ministry based on the principles of the Bible rather than expediency.
In order to find people to help or do the work of ministry, church leaders often become desperate and will take just about anyone if they are alive and moving. There is a great temptation here when they see needs and hear the complaints and criticism of others because needs aren’t being met. Naturally, problems are blamed on the leaders, so the tendency is to panic, jump the gun, and recruit people regardless of their qualifications. But the needs would be better left undone in many situations than for the leaders to select the wrong people or try to do everything themselves.
God knows the needs and our responsibility is to rest in His sovereignty and stick to the principles of the Word (cf. our Lord in Mark 1:29-39; 3:12f; Luke 6:12). To select those whom God has not selected, those who are not willing to count the costs, who are carnal and full of the wisdom of the world, is to forfeit God’s blessing and power on our ministries.
The essential issue, regardless of the need, is not in the nature of the task whether it’s teaching the Word, ministering to the sick, or sweeping the church, or greeting people at the door. The great need is for spiritual people regardless of the task. Giftedness for a task or ministry is another matter and issue.
(2) The requirements of selection (vs. 3). “But carefully select from among you.” Normally, God wants us to go into our own ranks for people. This means the church needs to be training, building, and thus developing servants for ministry from among our own people. Here is a priority for leadership that is far sighted and provides for the future. “Select” is the Greek. episkeptomai from a root which “denotes the activity of looking at or paying attention to a person or thing.”21 The verb can mean, depending on the context, “to observe, review, superintend, watch over, inspect, examine, care for, and select” (i.e., after examination). This is clearly the opposite of “grabbing” someone who is not spiritually qualified. simply to fill a need.
For instance, apart from Acts 6:3, episkeptomai is used for the loving and seeking care of God.22 An important passage is Numbers 27:16, 17. Here it is used in the LXX in the sense of appoint, but it is used in connection with God’s loving care for the cares and needs of His people. In Acts 6:3, episkeptomai means “to select,” but obviously only after examination according to the standards given in the passage. Here it is used of an appointment that occurs after searching and finding those who had a heart for the care of others, of those who had come to realize that, as Christians, they did not exist for themselves alone, but for others.
It becomes evident that this word and its active form, episkopeo, “to oversee,” became important in the selection of these first servants and in the selection of the title, episkopos, “overseers,” for the leaders of the church. This word and its use in the rest of the New Testament suggests we are to look for men and women who possess an attitude of godly concern for the Christian community, an obvious work of the Holy Spirit.
“Seven men.” The number seven was not the issue though in Scripture seven is the number of completion. If the number seven means anything it simply means we are to survey the need and seek to select as many as are needed to fill the need. It could be five or twelve, but the number is never to exceed the number qualified.
“Men of good report.” The idea here is men who possess a good testimony among the congregation. It refers to men whose lives witnessed to the next two qualities as the proof of their authenticity.
“Full of the Spirit” is the most indispensable requirement. Men who are full of the Holy Spirit are men whom the Holy Spirit can control, lead, and work through. This means men who have God’s heart and concern for others, men who display the fruit of the Spirit.
A man may have a good reputation, but is it such that it is clearly the manifestation and work of the Spirit of God? We often see men who have good reputations, they are religious, moral, likable, talented, and genuinely nice guys, but this can be the product of their own activity produced from their own neurotic needs like the desire for recognition, position, power, applause, or even to soothe a guilty conscience.
God wants only those in places of leadership and responsibility who are controlled by His Spirit, because only these are in hearing distance of His voice; only these will have the capacity to care for others with the heart of God. Such are His selection and such must be the criterion for our selection. Those we select for leadership and places of responsibility should give unmistakable evidence of the power of the Spirit in their lives, i.e., His fruit in attitude, expression, and action.
“Full of wisdom.” Wisdom is sophia, which often includes two things: (1) content, the wisdom of the Word, Bible truth, but it also includes (2) the wise use or application of truth to the details of one’s life. This means the practical application of the Word so that it results in biblical and Christ-like change. Scripture is never an end in itself but it is God’s means to Spirit-produced results (cf. Eph. 4:20f; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
(3) The goal of the selection (vs. 3): The goal is seen in the words “whom we may put in charge of this task” (lit. need). But this appointment was dependent upon following the requirements. As is evident in the preceding chapters, behind the activity of the apostles was the executive ministry of the Holy Spirit. In the church, it is to be the Holy Spirit who puts men into ministries or places of responsibility. He is the heart and power of the church and its missionary activity and loving concern for the body as in the need here in Acts 6.
As Oswald Sanders so pointedly reminds us:
Behind the actions of the apostles, the executive activity of the Spirit is seen everywhere. As supreme Administrator of the church and chief Strategist of the missionary enterprise, He is everywhere prominent. It is abundantly evident in the record that the Holy Spirit is jealous of His prerogatives and will not delegate His poser or authority to secular or carnal hands. Even men whose duties would be largely in the temporal affairs of the church must be men mastered and controlled by Him. Their selection must not be influenced by considerations of worldly wisdom, financial acumen, or social acceptability; they should be chosen primarily because of their genuine spirituality. When a church or other Christian organization departs from that pattern, it amounts to a virtual ousting of the Spirit from His place of leadership. As a consequence He is grieved and quenched, with resulting spiritual dearth and death.”23
As the Holy Spirit controls a man, so He controls a body of men. If the leaders are not walking by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit can’t lead the body. If those appointed to various tasks are not controlled by the Spirit, then the tasks will be done in the energy of the flesh rather than by the Spirit’s enablement. Oswald continues:
The Holy Spirit does not take control of any man or body of men against their will. When He sees elected to positions of leadership men who lack spiritual fitness to cooperate with Him, He quietly withdraws and leaves them to implement their own policy according to their own standards, but without His aid. The inevitable issue is an unspiritual administration.
The church at Jerusalem was sensitive to the exhortation of the apostles and selected seven men possessing the requisite qualities. As a result of their Spirit-filled activity, the disaffection was quickly healed, the church was blessed, and the men selected to dispense earthly benefits were soon seen as the Spirit’s agents in dispensing heavenly blessings. Stephen became the first martyr for Christ, and his death played no small part in the conversion of Saul. Philip became the first lay evangelist and was used by the Spirit to lead the great revival in Samaria…24
The inevitable result of unspiritual leaders is spiritual failure. Why isn’t the body of Christ more effective today in truly following the principles and mandates of the New Testament? Why aren’t we seeing more ministries devoted to both evangelism and the equipping of the saints for service and ministry, the kind that reproduces itself in mature and serving believers. This is the mandate of the New Testament (Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:1-2), but something is missing.
Could the answer be that a large percentage of the church is not walking by the Spirit and biblical wisdom? Could it be that by-in-large the church today is just religious, going through the motions, going to church, and even working in the church but often for selfish reasons? Does the church today exist for itself only? Let’s make this more personal. Do we worship God only for what we get out of it? Are we trying to use God rather than be used by God? The irony of this kind of worship is that such isn’t really the worship of God nor does it lead to genuine love for God. It is the worship and love of self, not God. When people truly love and worship God it results in the love of neighbors, in reaching out to the world around us, first in the body of Christ and then to the world (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; 1 John 3:17-18; 4:7-8).
But why does this situation exist today? With so much in the Bible on the ministry of the Spirit as the believer’s enablement or power and the power and necessity of the Word in the life of the Christian, why do we see churches that are so weak, at least biblically speaking? Of course, there are mega-churches with mega-programs and mega-bucks, but are they producing mature believers and leaders who are multiplying themselves in the lives of others? Certainly this is one of the true evidences of the work of the Spirit!
May I suggest that part of the reason for anemic churches is because a large part of the church today has lost the evangelical essential. The evangelical essential is a renewed emphasis and commitment to the study of the Word and particularly the teachings of the epistles with their strong emphasis on sound doctrine. The key note of this sound doctrine is salvation (delivered from sin’s penalty) and sanctification (delivered from sin’s reign) by faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in Scripture. Too often today, the emphasis is more on deeds, especially social reform and political correctness, rather than on Bible doctrine. Such an emphasis is simply man’s continuing attempt to change the world by human effort as though we can have biblical, Spirit-produced works without sound doctrine. Granted that sound doctrine must never be considered an end in itself, it is nevertheless a vital means to Christ-like transformation. Even a casual study of Paul’s epistles, and especially his instructions to Timothy and Titus, should put such an idea to rest. Sound doctrine is the foundation for deeds of mature Christian growth that are the result of the ministry of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who takes the truth of the Word and uses it to transform lives (cf. John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Thus, if churches want to produce godly and mature leaders who have the marks of maturity they must return to teaching what could be called the ABCs of Christian Growth (see 1 Cor. 3:1f; Heb. 5:11f). For instance, how many Christians today really know, understand, and live by the basic biblical truths of the Spirit-controlled life? I am afraid the answer to that question is overwhelmingly sad. Unfortunately today, many are being prodded and manipulated into doing good works and changing their lives, etc., but without understanding how to live the Christian life in the power of the Spirit in the light of the Word.
For studies on this aspect of New Testament doctrine, may I suggest the following:
ABCs for Christian Growth: Laying the Foundation especially Part 2: “The Transformed Life.” on our web site at /docs/splife/abc/toc.htm.
He That is Spiritual, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Zondervan, Grand Rapids.
True Spirituality, Francis A. Schaeffer, Tyndale House, Wheaton.
Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Charles R. Swindoll, Multomah Press, Portland.
Keep In Step With the Spirit, J. I. Packer, Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan.
The Wonderful Spirit Filled Life, Charles Stanley, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. What is indispensable, and the ultimate source, of spiritual maturity and godly leadership?
2. In calling His disciples, to what two major responsibilities did Christ commission them?
3. What do men manifest when they are filled with God’s Spirit?
4. In Acts 6, the apostles selected seven men of good report and full of the Spirit and wisdom to serve the needs of the widows and needy. What was the critical importance of the following?
5. If a church has unmet needs, and no men who are full of God’s Spirit and wisdom, what must they do?
6. What is the consequence of selecting men who are not full of God’s Spirit and wisdom to serve these unmet needs?
7. Describe the criteria that Oswald Sanders identifies as necessary for choosing church leaders.
8. What happens when this criteria is ignored?
9. Using the definitions on page 17 of the article on Mark #2, how would you evaluate yourself in the following? Be specific.
10. Describe the obstacles in your life that prevent you from becoming full of the Spirit.
11. What must you do to change your willingness?
12. Describe the obstacles in your life that prevent you from being full of spiritual wisdom?
13. When men serve without having spiritual fitness, what does God do?
14. What is the inevitable result?
15. Describe, in your own words, the “evangelical essential”.
16. Explain the difference between spiritual wisdom and biblical knowledge.
17. What must you do, beginning today, to be filled with God’s Spirit and His spiritual wisdom?
Who are the men that you rely on for biblical wisdom in your daily living?