The apostles in Acts 6:1-7 teach us an important principle: if we are to say ‘yes’ to the things God calls us to do, we have to learn to say ‘no’ to other things.
This sounds beautifully simple (and the principle is indeed simple), but it can be exceedingly difficult to put this into practice, especially if, like me, you have a personality that likes to say ‘yes’ to everyone for a whole slew of reasons, many of which look virtuous but actually aren’t.
So often, I say ‘yes’, not because I believe this is what God wants me to do, but because saying ‘yes’ feeds my ego or pleases somebody else, thereby keeping me in their favour. Saying ‘yes’ makes me feel needed, important, special, valued and wanted. Flattery will get us everywhere, the saying goes, and there is a hugely selfish part of me that is simply flattered when I am asked to do something and responds accordingly, almost by rote.
I often fear saying ‘no’ in case this makes me unpopular, disliked and causes me to lose respect and friendship as a result, but the truth remains that we cannot say ‘yes’ to everything and remain balanced, sane and emotionally stable people.
The apostles did not dismiss the work of feeding the widows as unimportant or unnecessary, but they recognised both their finite capacities (there are only so many hours in a day!) and their primary calling in God. They were happy to help organise a solution to the problem, but they were not willing to take on additional responsibilities, no matter how pressured they may have felt to do so.
The comment ‘it would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables’ (Acts 6:2) showed that they knew their priorities and were determined to say ‘yes’ to their God-given calling. They were not dismissing other roles as inferior, but they knew what they had to do.
Saying ‘no’ often seems negative and we cannot always avoid disappointing other people and letting them down. Nonetheless, there will be times when saying ‘no’ is the right thing to do. It not only kept the apostles on track, but freed up other people to serve God in new ways.
What things do we need to say ‘no’ to? What things do we need to say ‘yes’ to? The grace of God ‘teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.’ (Titus 2:12) Let’s learn to say ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to God.