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Monday, April 23, 2012

Devoted to Prayer and Preaching

Devoted to Prayer and Preaching

"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6:4 (ESV)

DEVOTE: proskartereo (to be earnest towards, to persevere, be constantly diligent, to attend, to adhere closely to); from pros (forward to, toward) and kartereo (to be strong, steadfast or patient); from kratos (vigor)

The English word "devote" comes from a Latin word meaning "from a vow", to be dedicated by a solemn act. The English word tends to be used to describe emotions of compassion and selfless love for others. It has a quality of softness, with tones of tenderness. "The woman devoted herself to the unending care of her ailing husband."

The Greek word used by Paul is as similar to that our our English word, devote, as an M1 Abrams battle tank is similar to an XTS Cadillac luxury vehicle. The apostles declared that they would make prayer and preaching their M1 battle tank: unstoppably strong and steadfast.

The fundamental attitude in the word translated here as "devote" is dependable strength. Jesus used the same word to describe a boat. An enthusiastic crowd had surrounded Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, threatening to crush Him in their excitement as He healed and spoke:

"When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him." Mark 3:8-10 (ESV)

The Greek word translated as "ready for" is the same word Paul used, proskartereo, translated in Acts as "devote". A boat cannot express emotions such as compassion or tenderness, but it can be dependable and strong.

Most commmonly this word is translated as "continue" or "constantly". The apostles devoted themselves to prayer and preaching constantly, steadfastly, as a matter of high priority.

It is obvious that devotion to prayer and preaching as matters of extreme importance did not mean that the apostles did nothing but pray and preach. As important as prayer and preaching was for them, they still reserved time and attention to other matters: eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, discussing, problem-solving, arranging for transportation, paying bills, laundry, and more...all the daily requirements of all humans, since Adam and Eve to now.

The element that distinguishes "high priority" from "low priority" seems to be how often something is done and what things are postponed so it can be done instead.

Food, water and sleep were important to the disciples, but were important only because they allowed them to pray and preach. They refused to eat, drink and sleep instead of praying and preaching. Rather, they ate, drank and slept in order to pray and preach as often as they could.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How would you answer the question, "Why do you eat, drink and sleep?" Is praying and preaching a part of your answer? Should it be? What things in your life are you resolved to do every day, even if it means postponing things like eating, drinking or sleeping?

The church in Jerusalem selected from among themselves seven men, appointed supervisors of the Table Serving Ministry.

  • Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit
  • Philip
  • Prochorus
  • Nicanor
  • Timon
  • Parmenas
  • Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch

Stephen will figure prominently in the next section as a bold witness for Jesus. Philip also is described later as the Evangelist, preaching and baptizing.

Prochorus must have grown up surrounded by music...his name means "before the dance". Nicanor, "victorious", Timon, "valuable", Parmenas, "constant", and Nicolaus, "victorious over the people", all are mentioned only this one time in the New Testament, so we know little about them. Nicanor, perhaps, was named after a Jewish general who led troops in revolt against Rome a century earlier. Tradition holds that Parmenas suffered martyrdom under a later Roman Emperor, Trajan.

Nicolaus is described as a proselyte of Antioch.

PROSELYTE: proselytos (an arriver from a foreign region, a convert to Judaism); from proserchomai (to approach, come near, visit, worship, assent to); from pros (forward to) and erchomai (to come or go)

The Jewish religious leaders were persistent missionaries. Jesus declared that they would "travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte," (Matthew 23:15). Jesus rebuked their efforts because they made the convert "twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."

It was a huge influx of proselytes which swarmed around the house of the apostles on the day of Pentecost, amazed to hear simple Galilean Christians proclaiming the mighty works of God in dozens of languages: Parthian, Median, Elamite, Mosopotamian, Judean, Cappadocian, Pontian, Asian, Phrygian, Pamphylian, Egyptian, Libyan, Cyrene, Roman and Arabian (Acts 2:8-11).

It seems likely that Nicolaus was one of the three thousand foreignors in Jerusalem that day who repented of their sin and were baptized in the name of Jesus, gaining forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus...these were the men considered by the Christians in Jerusalem to be "men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom," (Acts 6:3). The apostles confirmed the church's selection, praying for the men and publicly appointing them to the ministry by laying their hands on them.

Luke's summary of this tale of conflict-resolution within the church is simple:

"The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." Acts 6:7 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Identify from within this passage at least three principles of leadership that could apply to any organization or business.

  • Communication: leaders listened to, and acted upon, serious complaints
  • Vision: leaders identified, and remained committed to, their mission
  • Integrity: leaders held themselves and others to godly standards of thought and behavior

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What is the one principle described in this passage that can apply only to the church?

Faith: leaders "hear under", or listen attentively to, the truth revealed by God in His Holy Word, relying utterly upon Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, delighting constantly in His grace and mercy, honoring and thanking God in every thought and act.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What do you think the church in Jerusalem saw that convinced them of the spiritual health of these seven men chosen to lead the Table Serving Ministry? Do you believe that the leaders of our church...pastor, elders, teachers and ministry leaders...are "devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the word"? What do you see, or fail to see, that indicates the spiritual health of the leaders of our church?

Image provided by Leland Francisco, www.flickriver.com/photos/lel4nd, Creative Commons License