For the last several weeks, we’ve been going through the book of Acts – following the growth and development of the early church.
As the Apostles boldly share their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and call people to put their faith in Him for Salvation, the Holy Spirit has been at work, and crowds of people have been responding to the Gospel. The church has been growing tremendously!
But of course, with rapid growth comes growing pains – and we’ve seen a few examples of that already.
- We’ve seen Ananias and Sapphira being put to death by the Lord after lying to the Holy Spirit.
- We’ve seen the Apostles being thrown into prison – and then rescued by an angel who simply opened the doors and led them out.
- We’ve seen the religious leaders command that Apostles stop preaching in the name of Jesus – even flogging them as a warning – but the Apostles insisted that they would continue obeying God rather than man!
And thus far, all of these growing pains have not stopped the tremendous growth of the church. But today in our passage, the church is going to face perhaps their greatest threat yet. This particular ‘growing pain’ not only has the potential to destroy or at least seriously damage the unity of the church, which is the hallmark of the followers of Christ – but it also has the potential to prevent the Apostles from faithfully preaching the Good News.
And by the way, the threats to the church that we’re going to read about here in Acts chapter 6 are equally present us for today, and so I think this will be a very relevant passage for us!
Our passage today is in Acts chapter 6 – and we’re just going to start by just reading the very first verse. It reads like this:
But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
Now right off the bat there are a couple of things that we should clarify. You’ll notice that there are two groups of believers here. There are the Greek-speaking believers – and the Hebrew-speaking believers. And you might think that one group is the Gentiles and the other group is the Jews, but that’s actually not the case. Up until this point in church history, almost all believers were Jews (of course, with a few exceptions). It’s not until a little bit later (after Peter’s meeting with Cornelius) that the church really begins to reach out and preach to the Gentile world.
So these two groups mentioned in this verse are both primarily Jewish people. The difference is that some were born and raised within Israel, and some where born and raised in other countries. After Israel had been conquered by Babylon several hundred years earlier, the people of Israel had been greatly dispersed throughout the world. Now of course, these were still loyal and devout Jews – they just simply lived in other lands!
However, many of these Jews had returned to Jerusalem in recent days. In fact it’s these folks who were present on the day of Pentecost who heard the Apostles speaking in their own native languages…. Acts 2:5 says…
5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. Acts 2:5-6
So these are the two groups we’re talking about in Acts chapter 6 now. We have the Jews who had been born and raised in Israel – and we have the Jews who had been born and raised in other countries but had now come to live in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
The second point to clarify here has to do with figuring out what the real issue is. Our verse tells us that the Greek-speaking Jews were grumbling that their widows were being “discriminated against” in the daily distribution of food.
Now you’ll recall from the last several weeks that one of the hallmarks of the church at this time was how they loved and cared for each other – we are specifically told that there were no needy among them. And widows of course, were often among those who might normally be needy. As I’ve mentioned before, there were no social assistance programs back then – no pension plans or welfare – so if a widow lost her husband and was too old to work, she’d be completely dependant on others to provide for her needs.
And so from this passage we see that the church had organized a system of providing daily food for widows or others in need. This would have been paid for by the generous donations of those in the church – including large gifts like when Barnabas sold his land and donated the money to the church for the very purpose of helping the needy.
However, it seems that the Greek-speaking widows were somehow not getting cared for like the Jewish-speaking widows. And I don’t get the sense that this was done intentionally. The NLT says the widows were being “discriminated against” but the NET & the NIV both say “were being overlooked”. And I think that wording seems a bit more fitting.
I think the great love and care that we’ve seen in the early church so far would indicate more of a logistical issue rather than a heart issue here. I don’t get the sense that there was any malice or ill-intentions or any kind of racial discrimination, but rather, as the church had rapidly grown, a certain group of people had just kinda fallen through the cracks and were being overlooked.
Now of course, we’re not told exactly how this came to happen – we’re just told the end result and that is that the Greek-speaking widows were somehow getting neglected in the daily distribution of food.
So obviously, this was an issue that needed to be resolved! So how will the early church deal with this looming problem? Well, let’s read on – verse 2:
2 “So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers.” Acts 6:2a
Now let me pause right here for a moment. This verse actually gives us a good example of church governance. Now, I know for many of you, you might be thinking that church governance is just about the last thing that you care about this morning! But before you check out and start flipping through instagram or whatever people flip through these days, let me just make a quick couple of points that I think will be helpful for you to understand why our church operates the way it does.
First of all, notice that “the Twelve called for a meeting of all the believers.” It wasn’t just Peter who called for a meeting or James who called for a meeting, but the 12 apostles called for a meeting. The 12 apostles led the church together as a group. This is what we call a plurality of leadership. It means that there isn’t just one charismatic and gifted leader who runs the church – but rather there is a team of Spirit-filled, mature believers working together to discern God’s will and give guidance to the church.
This is the model that we have adopted in our church. We have a team of elders which currently include myself, Mike, Michael, John, and Randall. These are the men that our congregation have recognized as being spiritually mature believers and who, of course, meet the requirements laid out for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
And so together, this plurality of leaders that we have all work together to discern God’s will and provide guidance for our church.
But you’ll also notice that the apostles called a meeting of ALL the believers! They didn’t just huddle together and make make all the decisions by themselves – but rather, they called together all the believers so that everyone could be part of the process. Now of course, it would be a logistical nightmare to try to do that with every single little decision that needed to be made – but for something as significant as this, the apostles wanted everyone to be involved.
This too is the model we follow in our church. While the elders and the board do make the majority of the day-to-day decisions on behalf of the church, for the most significant decisions, we always involve the entire church membership. Things like hiring a new pastor or adding new people into membership or setting the church budget or making other significant decisions – all come back to be talked about and voted on by the church membership. This is one of the reasons why we encourage anyone who is a regular attender of our church to become a member. We want to involve you in the process! We want you to be part of our team!
And of course, if you’d like more information about membership or how the church leadership works, or any of that kind of stuff – I or any of the other elders would be happy to chat with you further about that!
But let’s get back to our passage to see how this decision making process worked for the early church.
2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.” Acts 6:2
And again, I’ll stop right here. This seems like the apostles are simply stating the obvious, but this statement is actually quite insightful! There’s a lot of wisdom right here.
You see, caring for widows was (and is) and incredibly important task of the church. In fact, James tells us that…
27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27a
All of us have that shared responsibility to care for others in need. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to spend their time running a food program!
We recently talked about how God has given each of us a special gift with which we are to use to contribute to the kingdom of God. God has a unique calling for each one of us. For some of us, it’s to run a food program. For some of us, it’s to teach the Word of God. For some of us, its to serve as a camp counsellor, for some of us, it’s to sing in the worship team. For some of us, it’s to mop the floors and stack the chairs. For some of us, it’s to be a listening ear and offer helpful advice. And of course the list could go on and on. But all of us have a unique calling from God to do the things that we are created to do for His glory and the growth of His kingdom.
And there are so many good things we can do – but as limited human beings, sometimes the most challenging part is to know what things we can’t do! Sometimes we have to say “no” to some of those good things so that we can use our limited time and energy to do the particular things that God has called us to do.
For the Apostles, God had clearly called them to preach the Word of God. That was their main and primary responsibility. For them to neglect that job in order to run a food program would be wrong! They understood what God had called them to do! And they didn’t want to get distracted from doing that job! And so they said:
“We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.” Acts 6:2
Now again, that doesn’t mean that no one should run a food program! As we’re going to see in just a moment, running a food program was still a high priority for the church. But it was important that that responsibility didn’t fall to the Apostles, lest they neglect the teaching of the Word! Therefore, the Apostles made this suggestion:
3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. 4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” Acts 6:3-4
There is some great wisdom here. Instead of the Apostles trying to do everything, let spread out the work. In fact, let’s find some men who can devote their time and energy into running this food program really well! Then we can do we God called us to do – and they can do what God has called them to do! That kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?
And you’ll notice that the apostles suggest that they select seven men – not just one… There’s that plurality principle again. It seems that God’s design is for us not to work alone – but together in a team. We see that pattern all throughout Scripture:
- We see David with his mighty men and his best friend Jonathon.
- We see Moses with his brother Aaron and his sidekick Joshua.
- We see Paul doing his missionary journeys with guys like Timothy and Baranabas and Mark and Luke.
- Even Jesus had his 12 disciples travel with him every where he went.
In fact, this is even the pattern God has given us for raising children – God said in Genesis 2:18, “It’s not good for man to be alone!” And so he designed marriage to a life-long team of a man and a woman so they could work together to raise a family.
And so I think that this just makes sense here that the apostles suggest a team to take on this responsible of making sure that ALL of the needy in the church were well taken care of.
The other thing you’ll notice is that there were a few qualification for these men. For them to take this responsibilities of leadership in the church, they needed to be well-respected, full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. (Which are probably good base-line requirements for any position of leadership in the church.)
It’s interesting that there’s no mention of any particular skills or abilities that they needed to have – no administrative or accounting skills, they didn’t need any degrees or certificates or anything like that – but their primary requirements (to put it in my words) was to be spiritually-maturing, and walking closely with the Lord. All those other things they could learn over time or get help with – but if they weren’t personally walking closely with the Lord – then they were not qualified to be in a position of leadership within the church.
And I think that’s the bottom line for any Christian ministry. Whether you’re a pastor or a youth leader, a camp counsellor or a board member – if you’re not walking closely with the Lord, you have no business being a leader in the church. Degrees and certificates are great – skills and talents are really helpful – but in Christian ministry, your walk with the Lord is paramount!
And I guess really, that’s true even if you’re not in leadership in the church! There is nothing in life more important that your walk with God! Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what degree you’ve earned or what great things you’ve accomplished in this life – what matters as you stand before God at the end of your life on earth – is whether or not you have a personal relationship with Him.
And so just as a bit of a rabbit trail today – how is your relationship with God these days? Are you walking closely with him? Are you enjoying sweet fellowship with your Creator and Saviour – or have you let things kinda drift in recent days? I know that’s easy to do. But can I just remind you and encourage you to make your walk with the Lord your greatest priority today! Do whatever you need to do to reconnect with Him!
But to get back to our passage in Acts… with the Apostles’s suggestion of a 7-man team to take the responsibility of caring for all the needy in the church, and the requirement for those men clearly laid out, the process was then turned over to the rest of the church for their decision and ultimate follow through. It says in verse 5:
5 Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). 6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.
Now there are probably a couple names in there that you recognize. And if not, you will by the time we finish going through the book of Acts because both Stephen and Philip will be key figures in the chapters to come. And it is interesting, that although these men were chosen to administer the food program in the church, both of them are later seen also preaching the Gospel and having a great impact for the kingdom of God!
And I think that’s just another great reminder that everyone has the ability and the responsibility to share the Gospel where ever they go! Sharing the Gospel is not just for those who’s full-time job is to be a preacher or teacher. It’s for everyone – and God can use anyone to make an impact in His kingdom.
Sometimes you might think that God doesn’t work through the house-wife as much as he does through the missionary – or that God doesn’t work through the plumber as much as he does through the youth pastor. But that’s just not true!
If you are walking closely with the Lord, being filled with the Holy Spirit (that is, you continually surrender your life to His leading), God can work through your life as much or even more than people who are in “full-time ministry”. Because the reality is, we’re all in full-time ministry! Whether our job is to teach the Word each Sunday or whether we work at the food bank or whether we work on a road-paving crew – we are all ministers of Jesus Christ! We are all called to share the goodness and the Good News of Jesus with the lost world around us.
And that’s exactly what these seven men did. As they carried out their tasks of caring for the needy – which of course freed up the apostles to spend their time in prayer and in teaching the Word – both groups were able to make a great impact on the world around them. Acts 6:7 says..
7 So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.
By delegating the work – allowing people to do the things that God had called them to do – everyone was able to spread the message of God effectively. All the widows were being cared for, the Gospel was being preached, and the church continued to grow. Even many of the Jewish priests – who so far had been quite resistant to following Jesus – were converted too.
It’s amazing to see what God can do through a church where everyone faithful carries out the tasks that God has given them!
And I think that’s the thought that I’ll leave you with for today.
What task – what ministry – has God called you to do in His church? Caring for widows? Preaching the Gospel? Financing different ministries? Mentoring others? Providing leadership in the church? Moping floors and stacking chairs?
There are so many ways to serve – and God has called all of us to serve in some way! Of course, when we don’t serve, that means someone else has got to do that job in our place – keeping them from doing the things that God has called them to do.
But when everyone gets on board, and everyone faithfully carries out the tasks that God has given them, all the work gets done effectively and efficiently – and the kingdom of God grows and spreads!
Like the Scriptures teach, we are all a part of the body of Christ and we have all have a special role to play in that body. And I know I’ve brought up this passage a few times in recent days, but still true! Romans 12:4 says…
4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
All of us must carry out the tasks that God has given us – whatever that task may be.
So for some of us, that might mean we have to learn to say “no” to some of the many tasks that might fall on our plate. They say that 20% of the people in any organization do 80% of the work. That’s not how it should be, but that’s often how it is.
There are always those who just naturally take on more and more. And it’s wonderful that they are willing to do all that, but there comes a point where all those extra tasks take away their ability to do the things that God has called them to do. Just like how the Apostles had to say “No, our job is not to administer a food program – we’ve been called to preach!”… Sometimes we might have to learn to say no to the things that God has not called us to do so that we CAN do well the things that God HAS called us to do.
And I know that’s hard for some of us. That might mean giving up control or learning to delegate. Both of those can be hard, but God never design us to work alone – He designed us to share the load and work together as a team.
And that means for others of us, we need to step up and take on those task that we know we can do – the things that God has gifted us to do – the things that God has given us experience with or the natural talent to do.
And I know our particular church often heavily favours things related to kids ministry – and maybe you don’t really feel gifted or called to do that sort of stuff and that’s fine! There are millions of other ways to serve in the church! Maybe God’s gifted you to do things that no one else in our church has even thought of doing! But if God’s put that on your heart to do, then come talk with me and I’d love to see how we can make it happen. One of my primary jobs as the pastor is to help equip you to do the work God’s given you to do!
And as you discover the things that God has called you to do – and as you faithfully carry out those tasks – God will use you to grow His church – whatever those task make be. Not only will it be live-giving to you to fulfill your God-given purposes, but it will be life-giving to the entire church as everyone gets to participate in the ministry of the Gospel.
Now normally, after a message like this, you might expect me to pass around a volunteer sign-up sheet. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’d just encourage you to seriously and prayerfully consider, “Am I carrying out the task that God has called me to do in His church?” Do I even know what that task is? And if not, what can I do to discover it?
And as you prayerfully consider those things, I trust that God will give you those answers. And as He does, then it’s up to you to act on what God has shown you. So let’s faithfully carry out the tasks that God has given us each to do.