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Fifth Sunday of Easter

Our devotional reading for today focuses on the reading in Acts and comes from Deacons and Deaconesses Through the Centuries.

Scripture Readings

Acts 6:1–9; 7:2a, 51–60
Psalm 146
1 Peter 2:2–10
John 14:1–14

Introduction

In today’s Acts reading, seven men are chosen by the apostles to provide assistance to their ministry. Today, these seven men are considered the Church’s first deacons. Today’s devotional reading provides a brief history of the role of deacons in the Church and what their service entails.

Devotional Reading

The history of deacons goes back to the beginnings of the church, and the Scriptures provide early information. An analysis of the diaconate in the New Testament begins with the Greek words for deacons and their work: the verb diakoneo and its cognate nouns diakonos and diakonia. Herodotus (ca. 485–425 B.C.) is the first prose writer to use words of this group, and he used them in the sense of attending on a royal person or a royal household. Diakonein meant “to serve,” but not, in Herodotus, in the limited sense of waiting on tables, as has sometimes been alleged. When ancient Greeks used the word, they were not trying to convey “loving and caring service.” An historian of the diaconate, John Collins, suggests that neither did the New Testament nor other early Christian documents; instead, these notions were added later to the original meaning of the Greek word. . . .

In the New Testament, diakonein is used to describe Jesus’ own way of service in Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; and Luke 22:27: “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve”; “I am among you as one who serves.” Diakonein is also translated as to minister, to provide for, or to help someone. . . . In the New Testament, the verb diakoneo generally has been translated into English using words of the ministry group, though in recent Bibles one may often find words of the service group. . . .

Just as diakonos refers to ministers or servants, the noun diakonia means ministry or service. The author of the Book of Acts uses diakonia in Acts 1 for Peter’s reference to the work of the Twelve as they prepare to replace Judas. Paul speaks of “varieties of service” in 1 Corinthians 12:5. There is the “ministry of the word” in Acts 6:4 and “of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:18. . . .

In summary, diakonos, diakoneo, and diakonia appear to have been used in a general way to refer to ministers, servants, ministry, and service in the church before diakonos was used to designate the office of deacon. In light of the initial broad use of diakonos, diakoneo, and diakonia to refer to Jesus, his followers, and their work, one might conceive of a diaconate of all believers similar to Martin Luther’s priesthood of all believers because all church members are called to serve and to minister apart from a particular office of deacon or pastor. Nevertheless, an office of deacon came into being just as did offices of presbyter (elder, later priest) and bishop.

Devotional reading is from Deacons and Deaconesses Through the Centuries, pages 21–22. Revised edition copyright © 2005 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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