In Acts 6, we see the creation of the positions of Elder and Deacon within a local church. It would be very easy to read this as though the apostles were saying, “We’re too good to serve tables. After all, we’re apostles. Let’s pick out seven flunkies who can do that, while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching the word.” If you read it that way you completely misread this passage because that is not what they did at all.
Remember that these apostles had been in the upper room with the Lord Jesus. They had seen him divest himself of his garments, gird himself with a towel, take a basin of water, and wash their filthy, dirty feet. They had heard his words, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves….” (Luke 22:26). They were not, in any sense, downgrading the ministry of serving tables. They made this decision on the basis of a difference in spiritual gifts. Here we have a very clear example of the way the early church assigned duties upon the basis of the distribution of gifts by the Holy Spirit.
The glory of this church was that they were conscious of the superintendency of the Holy Spirit — so aware that the Lord Jesus himself, by means of the Spirit, was the head of the church. He was apportioning gifts, giving certain ministries to various individuals and sending them out, giving the orders. All through this book of Acts you can see tremendous manifestation of the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Here, then, they recognize that he had given various gifts. The apostles understood that their gift was that of an apostle. They were to lay the foundation of the church, for it was given to the apostles to lay foundations. That foundation is the Scriptures. It is on the Scriptures that the church rests. The minute the church departs from these Scriptures it loses its strength, its light and understanding, and its ability to operate. That has always been true. Whenever the church has rested upon the foundation laid by the apostles, the truth as it is in Jesus, the church has always had strength, power, and grace.
Therefore it was necessary that the apostles give themselves to the ministry of apostleship, which involved, “prayer and the ministry of the word.” As they met together in prayer they learned and understood the mind of God. The Spirit of God reminded them of things which the Lord Jesus had taught them, and they in turn imparted this to the church. At that time, none of the New Testament was in writing. Yet all of the truths which we have reflected in these New Testament pages were being uttered by the apostles as they taught the people from place to place. They taught them what we now have written down for us. And all we have, of course, is the word of the apostles. This whole New Testament is nothing but the word of the apostles given to us. So it was essential, as they understood it, to devote themselves to this.