What’s your role in your church or in your community? What gift(s) has the Holy Spirit given you to serve the Kingdom? When you think about “doing something for the Lord”, what’s your go-to? What excites you, what gets you passionate?
For me it’s leading sung worship, strumming my guitar and belting out songs of praise at the top of my lungs. I love inviting others to join me, pointing them to Jesus, encouraging them in deeper adoration of the Lord. It’s more joy than chore, and it’s such a privilege to serve God and my brothers and sisters in this way. But if you asked me to, say, stack chairs on a Sunday… I mean, I’ll do it, sure… but I’d need to muster more energy and choose to do it joyfully.
Or maybe you’re an evangelist! You feel the buzz of adrenaline (and Holy Spirit) when you share with your family or friends or even strangers on the street about Jesus and how He’s changed your life, and how He can change theirs too. But then you don’t necessarily feel that same excitement when asked to do a grocery shop for some vulnerable neighbours.
In our passage today, we find the early Church dealing with a dilemma: the Greek Jews find that ‘their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food’ (v.1) especially compared to the Hebrew Jews. Now up to this point the twelve apostles have not ceased ‘to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah’ (5.42). Because their time was taken up with prayer and ‘serving the word’ (v.4), they insist the need to continue dedicating their time to do that. They say in verse 2: ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.’
I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I can’t help but hear it in a condescending tone. Maybe that’s because I’ve witnessed this very unfortunate attitude from Christians who think certain things are beneath them. Now, I don’t think the apostles meant it in that way at all. As their immediate (re)action shows, the distribution of food was not a minor, trivial or less important matter. In fact, it was so important they needed to select seven new leaders to ensure this injustice would be righted! It was not an either/or matter, but a both/and, i.e. we need to serve the word and take care of widows.
I’m struck by the three characteristics of the appointed seven: good standing, full of the Spirit, full of wisdom. They didn’t just choose some random person to settle some “throwaway” job. They needed to be respected by their community, they needed Holy Spirit just as much as the apostles, and they needed divine wisdom to do right by God and their brothers and sisters. Another way to describe ‘to wait on tables’ (v.2) is ‘to keep accounts’ – that just proves the wonderful, important gift of administration! No task is too lowly; every task is just as important when in service of God.
Isaiah 1.16-17 says: ‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’ God throughout the Bible has always been a God of justice. Many of His appointed prophets condemned Israel for their neglect of the marginalised, vulnerable and defenceless – particularly orphans and widows. The early Church recognised they weren’t reflecting God’s heart and living it out, and sought to correct that.
How has God called you to serve? What are some things that are part of God’s heart that perhaps you’ve neglected, whether intentionally or unintentionally?
Lord, thank You that You have given each one of us gifts of Your Spirit to serve Your Church and Kingdom in our world. Help us to play our part wherever we’ve been placed and whatever we’ve been tasked to do. Forgive us when we neglect tasks or people because of our unawareness, ignorance or even indifference. Thank You for making us one body of Christ with many members, all of us important. Teach us to be more selfless and less selfish. Help us reflect Your heart for the marginalised and oppressed more and more in our lives. In Jesus’ name,