Note, “the service”, not the services. There is this trend today of creating a false dichotomy between the public – i.e., preaching – and the private – i.e., biblical counseling – ministry of the Word. Pulpit proclamation and Private discipleship are seen as two tasks or “types” of ministries the pastor must be involved in. These are two spheres of application of the same divine truth which are often pitched one against the other, with advocates of each camp being wary of too much of the other and not enough of their own specialty in the church.
There are two faulty perceptions of the service of the Word that need to be addressed here:
1- A Faulty Segregation of Servants
The good old separation of clergy and laymen. In our passage in Acts 6, it is interesting to notice that the men appointed to serve tables (Acts 6:2, 5) are also later involved in the service of the Word, as we see Stephen involved in both private arguments about the Word (Acts 6:8-10) and public proclamation of the same Word (Acts 7:1-53).
These 7 men were not pastors nor elders; they were laymen in the church. Isn’t it sad that names like Prochorus, Parmenas and Nicanor are customarily ignored in Christian circles for baby names? Or that Timon’s name is more attached to a meerkat in a cartoon than to a biblical champion of service? But I digress…
God’s servants are all those who display undeniable characteristics of a Spirit-filled life, whether they have a title, a position in the church, or not. These servants are marked by:
- Set-apart living: Acts 6:3 tells us that they were of “good reputation”, and verse 5 describes Stephen as “full of faith”. These men stood out because their lives
- Servant-heartedness: When they were chosen, the whole congregation wholeheartedly vouched for them (v.5), because they were already marked and recognized as having what it takes for the task. Their brothers and sisters in the church knew them and knew they can serve in this capacity. Faithfulness in service is always noticed.
- Scripture Saturation: They were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3). Being filled with the Spirit is equated in Scripture with letting the Word of Christ dwell richly (See Eph 3:19-19 and Col 3:16). Stephen’s discourse in Acts 7 attests to that.
Whether he is a pastor or not, the servant of the Word mut be marked by holiness, humility, and diligence. A servant serves, with or without a badge.
2- A Faulty Segregation of Services
As already mentioned with these men, they were involved in both. We see Philip preaching in Acts 8:5 and then ministering privately to the Ethiopian eunuch later in that chapter (Acts 8:25-38). We see the apostles involved in both in their ministry. They are both “the service of the Word”.
God’s Word transforms and shapes lives either through the public proclamation of the Word (preaching, teaching, apologetic forums, etc.) or through the private ministry of the Word (evangelism, soul care, counseling, personal discipleship, etc.). And this is because:
- There is only one Author to Scripture: God the Holy Spirit, the One who inspired the writers, is also the One who illuminates the minds of those who hear it preach or shared one-on-one. He is the Spirit that confers power to the sermon and wisdom to the friend’s advice. The preacher and the counselor are under the same authority and guidance.
- There is only one Approach to Scripture: Study to interpret and apply the timeless truths contained in God’s Word is always required, whether one is boldly proclaiming the Word from the pulpit, or unnoticeably trying to win his brother over. “Thus says the Lord…” is the only message that matters vehiculated by the servant of the Word.
- There is only one Aim to the use of Scripture: Paul defines that aim in 1 Thes 1:1-12 when he says “…just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and bearing witness to each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Holiness, Christlikeness, is the single goal, always.
Both “types” are based upon the conviction that God’s Word is inspired, authoritative, sufficient, and relevant. For both tasks, the servant of the Word must endeavor to become “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15).