2016-10-16 The Gospel is Primary

ACTS 6:1-7                                                                                         OCTOBER 16, 2016


Many people have an idealistic view of the early church. It is easy to understand where this idea comes from. Acts 4:32-33 (NIV) 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” We have read that there was one couple who sought to deceive God and the church. Yet the church continued to thrive, even as persecution began against the church. However, people are still people- with all of our faults, prejudices, and character flaws.

In this passage we see the beginning of problems arising in the church. The first sign of problems was with people grumbling. Acts 6:1 (NIV) 1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” The Greek word for grumbling is “colorful and strong”. This was not simply a few mild complaints.

The Grecian Jews is a term that means Greeks-speaking Jews. The Jewish people had spread throughout the Roman Empire, which had succeeded the Greek empire of Alexander. Greek was the trade language of the Roman Empire. Many older Jewish couples retired to Jerusalem, as they wished to be buried in the Promised Land. The Locals spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. Most people would have known a little Greek but would not be fluent in the language. The Grecian Jews in turn would not be as fluent in Aramaic and Hebrew. It is easy to see how problems could arise. Men in that time period also tended to die earlier than women. (Little has changed!) Thus, leaving many women as widows without having any family to look after them. It is also easier to become friendly with others who can easily speak with one another. The problem may not have been intentional.

Notice that the apostles did not begin preaching against grumbling, neither did they ignore it. They immediately sought to alleviate the problem. The early church continued the practice of the Jewish people in taking care of widows without families. James 1:27 (NIV) 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” We don’t know the reasons behind the problem. Whatever the reason, the apostles sought to take care of the problem.

Acts 6:2 (NIV) 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” The word “disciples” refers to everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Do you realize this is the first mention of a congregational meeting? The apostles started the practice. The apostles reasoned that they could have settled the problem themselves by taking over that responsibility. However, they realized that they should not neglect their primary responsibility of teaching and preaching the Gospel, the good news of Jesus.

There is nothing demeaning on waiting on tables. Mark 10:43-45 (NIV) 43 Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  For the apostles, it was a matter of priorities. Acts 6:3-4 (NIV) 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

It was the congregation of believers who chose the men to be the first deacons. The Greek word for waiting on tables is “diakonia”, from which we get the word deacon. Deacons are those who serve others. The apostles seemed to have followed the Jewish tradition of seven members as the given number selected to take care of a specific task. In Acts 6:3 (ESV) “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”  This translation sets out for us three qualifications for doing this duty: 1. being of good repute, 2. Full of the Spirit, and 3. Full of wisdom. These men had not only natural ability but they were recognized as being filled with the Spirit. In other words, they were known for living their faith.

Acts 6:5-6 (NIV) 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” Notice that all of the names given are Greek names. These men all came from the group that had experienced the discrimination. This is also the beginning of church leaders laying hands on believers and commissioning them for service. We still follow this tradition. We also should not overlook the importance of prayer.

The apostles asked for God to bless them. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Godly leaders are those who pray with and for those they are responsible. Whenever the church chooses leaders using a professional business standard instead of using the scriptural qualifications we will have troubles in our churches.

The laying on of hands is seen as setting apart these individuals to be used of God. Numbers 27:18-23 (NIV) 18 So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him. 19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the LORD. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” 22 Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.” God does bless the church when his guidelines are followed.

What was the result? Acts 6:7 (NIV) 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” There will always be problems in churches this side of heaven. It is how we handle our problems that matters most. We must not ignore our problems but address them with love, respect, and much prayer.

Let us pray.