Formations 05.07.2017: Unsung Heroes

St. Philip the Deacon, Russian icon

Acts 6:1-7

The Jenco Awards are cash awards for people in Appalachian Ohio “who have performed visionary leadership in the service of others in the region.”

The award was founded in 2001 by Terry Anderson, a journalist and former Athens County, Ohio resident. They honor Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, a Catholic priest kidnapped while serving as director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut, Lebanon. According to a recent call for nominations, “Jenco was an inspiration to many…, including fellow captive Anderson, because of his compassion and service to others.”

Through an endowed fund, the awards seek to “celebrate Father Jenco’s legacy by recognizing unsung heroes throughout Appalachian Ohio whose spirit lives on through their work.”

The foundation overseeing this work intentionally recognizes individuals rather than organizations. According to foundation member Sharon Hatfield, “The Jenco Awards are our way of saying ‘thank you’ to volunteers who are driven by a passion to make a difference in their community…. We hope the recognition surrounding the Jenco Awards will draw attention to the important work these individuals are doing.”

Compassion and service were also hallmarks of Philip’s ministry in the book of Acts. In today’s lesson, Philip begins his career as part of the church’s food distribution to needy widows. As one of those chosen to oversee this important ministry, he is described as “well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with exceptional wisdom” (v. 3). Once he and the others are installed in their new positions, the church once more begins to thrive as God’s word continues to grow.

“Open Call for Nominations to Honor Those Who Serve Others,” The Athens News, 23 Apr 2017 .

Discussion

• Who are some of the unsung heroes in your congregation? In your community?
• What is the relationship between “service to others” and “visionary leadership”?
• How might Philip and his six colleagues serve as role models today?
• Why is wisdom and important trait for servant-leaders?

Reference Shelf

Philip the Evangelist

Our knowledge of Philip the evangelist comes from the Book of Acts which indicates that Philip was one of the seven Hellenist leaders (Acts 6). After the martyrdom of Stephen, he left Jerusalem and fled to Samaria where he started a successful mission later sanctioned by the apostles in Jerusalem (8:14). Simon Magus is said to have been one of his converts (8:13). In the role he played in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch Philip revealed his unique gift as a prominent evangelist of the early church (8:26-40)….

According to some traditions, his last Christian duties were as bishop of Tralles [in Asia Minor] before suffering martyrdom at Hierapolis.

Paul Ciholas, “Philip,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 682.

Seven Men of Good Repute

The narrative begins with a general time reference (“in those days,” v. 1), allowing readers to date these events to the early 30s. The number of disciples was increasing. The neglect of the widows in the daily distribution may have been caused by this numerical influx. The story introduces two groups within the early Jerusalem community, the Hellenists and the Hebrews. The narrative leaves the impression that the two groups were primarily divided along linguistic lines and that the “neglect” was inadvertent. Still, the Old Testament made clear that “widows” are a special group that God’s people are not to neglect (see Deut 24:19-21; 26:12-13); intentional or not, this oversight requires correction.

The apostles quickly move to address the over- sight (vv. 2-3). As leaders, the apostles take the initiative and present a plan of action, lay forth the criteria of those who will help in the distribution, and make the final appointment of the chosen men to carry out this service. Yet, as servant leaders (cf. Luke 22:24-27), they do not leave the “multitude of the disciples” (v. 2) out of the process. It is the body that will “pick out” (episkepsasthe, a verb that implies careful examination and inspection [v. 3]) and “elect” (exelaxanto, v. 5) the seven men.

The apostles present three criteria (v. 3). The ones selected are to be men of “good repute” (martyroumenous). The stem martyr in this descriptive participle is the same as the word for “witness.” The good reputation is grounded in what others have witnessed. Those selected are to be “full of the Spirit.” While all believers have the Spirit, Luke also speaks of being endowed with the Spirit for a specific task (e.g., offering witness [Luke 12:11-12]). The community is to be sure that those whom they select are spiritually equipped for leadership roles they are to play. Finally, they are to be “full of wisdom,” which could be understood in ancient times, as well as now, as having the kind of practical knowledge and skills required for a task.

The specific task is described as “serving tables” (v. 2, diakonein). This verb is appropriate, given that “food distribution” will be the responsibility of these men. However, the verb could have broader connotations, namely “to cover the general financial administration of the community.” This is also appropriate in the flow of the Lukan narrative; recall that authority over possessions represents in Acts spiritual authority. The seven who are chosen, therefore, are chosen to serve as leaders in a broader sense, not simply to distribute food, which none ever actually does in Luke’s narrative!

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 103–105.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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