Keep the Word First, Acts 6:1-7

 

It is not evil things that Satan has the most success in degrading a pastor’s ministry over time.  

***Kids Listen For:  1) The Old English D, 2) How can problems be doorways?

 

How important is the word of God to you?  If you go for a length of time without reading the Bible, or, hearing a sermon, do you dry up?  Do you “feel” the emptiness and distance from God without it? Do you feel the “pull” and the “ache” to “get back into it”?  Or, is it the same for you with or without it? Does protracted abstinence from the word of God cause little to no pain in your spirit?  In other words, is it no big deal if you are with believers and hearing the word of God or not?

 

How about in your search for a church?  I’ve heard lots of visitors to our church – some stayed, some haven’t – that despite the number of churches in our area it is frustrating to no end trying to find a church that will preach the Bible substantially.  Everywhere they go they say they get “how-to” sermons and canned/pre-packaged sermons with lots of powerpoint but not much power in the points.

 

Now, I will let you hearers be the judge if we at EFC are guilty of the same, or, if we are a brook of cool living water for those dry and thirsty souls.  But what I’m getting at here is people expressing such frustration are people who place a premium on the word of God. Frankly, we want those people. They’re our kind of people.

 

Now, how important is the word of God to you?  Here at the church you attend and have made your home, how critical is it that you get God’s word when you come?  Do you want that from me?

 

Our passage today is about Keeping the Word of God First.  Acts 6:1-7 is our text. I do not believe that the focus of this passage is about establishing the office of Deacon in the local church.  Nor is the focus ministry to widows, or, good stewardship, nor do I think church unity is the issue in this passage. All these are relevant, but, I believe secondary.  This passage is about the local church’s responsibility to advance the word of God in the world. A local church is measured by its advancement of God’s Word. Everything a local church does is filtered through the question:  does this advance God’s Word? Spreading the Gospel to bring people who don’t know God and don’t worship Him, into a relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ where they do know Him and do worship Him. To do that there must be unity in the Body of Christ.  Satan attacks the unity, but, division is not Satan’s end-game. Obstructing the spread of the Gospel is

 

Unity Attacked (v1)

Adapt to Problems

 

“In those days”  – The early days of the Church.  After the Holy Spirit descend the Apostles began preaching the resurrection of Jesus and doing miracles.  Many Jews were putting their faith in Jesus and the Church was growing at a tremendous rate.

 

Now it is precisely this point, “the number of disciples was increasing” that is the crux of this whole passage.  The early Church was exploding and no one could stop it. Satan had tried external pressure and that only seemed to speed up the growth of the Church and add more numbers to its ranks.  

 

So, now, he moves inside the church.  If unbelievers are unsuccessful at hindering the spread of the Gospel, Satan will just as quickly use believers to do it.  He can do it by leading a believer into unrepentant sin that is ignored by the leadership, by fracturing relationships, or turning one believer against another, disrupt the peace and harmony of the community, divide them against each other….Play on their weaknesses, use their petty tendencies, their tempers, their selfishness, their indignation, their sensitivities against them.  Gideon didn’t defeat the Midianites with a great army (Judges 6-7). Gideon and 300 soldiers watched on as the enormous army of their enemy was confused by God and turned on each other.

 

What a sad thing that unbelievers could watch on as the Church slaughters itself and spares the world the effort to do it for them.  Satan loves to divide. He loves to scatter the flock that Jesus unites. So, when the outward persecution is counter-productive for Satan, he tries to infiltrate the Church to mess things up.

 

How?  Well, that rapid growth in the Church it included both Grecian and Hebraic Jews coming to faith in Christ.  Grecian Jews were Greek-speaking Jews who converted to Christ. They lived in Jewish settlements in other Gentile nations outside of Israel.  They were typically looked down on by Hebraic Jews. Hebraic Jews were Hebrew-speaking Jews who converted to Christ. The historical tension between these two types of Jews is that Hebraic Jews considered Grecian Jews less “Jewish” because they had integrated Greek language and customs into their lives.

 

So these two groups come together in Christ.  Application: Their earthly distinctions did not divide them any longer.  That which formerly divided them was now in Christ irrelevant because now their bond in Christ became the ruling ethic in the way they related to one another.  

 

But here in Acts 6 we have some in-house trouble brewing.  The generosity of the church at that point was pouring out – believers helping believers (Acts 2:45 & 4:34-35).  But that generosity was being mismanaged. We don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional. Verse 1 says, “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.”  

 

Here is our problem in the text:  one group of widows were regularly getting left out of the daily food distribution. So maybe it was in fact intentional.  Here’s why this is a problem: these Christians were not relating to each other as Christians, but, rather, in this instance as Jews with distinctions.  Like Peter later would divide from Gentiles, an act inconsistent with the Gospel, so now the Hebraic Jews were discriminating against the Grecian Jews – also inconsistent with the Gospel.  The old prejudices were picked up again and allowed to influence their behavior when instead it should have been Jesus Christ was what they all had in common.

 

Illustration:  The other day I was driving along at the speed limit when someone cut me off. My initial reaction was something like, “Who does this guy think he is? Man, if I still had the super-Kia I would show him a thing or two!” But then I noticed something in his back window that changed my whole attitude – it was an Old English “D”. All of a sudden his sinful driving wasn’t as important and my harsh feelings changed. He was a Tigers fan. I am a Tigers fan. He and I, together, love the Detroit Tigers. All of a sudden I was not relating to this guy based on what he did to offend me, but, I was relating to him based on something he had in common with me: Detroit baseball. And because of what we had in common, I was willing to overlook his vehicular offense.

 

Application:  Conflicts are part of life.  They are going to come up. The early church dealt with this conflict appropriately precisely because it valued the word of God and Christian fellowship.  This problem was not the result of poor teaching, lazy leadership in dealing with issues, or an apostate direction. It was a problem that manifest in a good church environment and precisely because of what made it a good church environment – solid biblical teaching, love for Christ and Christians, selfless sacrifice and service, exalted worship, prayer-saturated lives, and a premium on the word of God – the church was in a spiritual condition to handle this problem in a godly, wise, and effective way.  The result, as we will see, is that unity is strengthened where it could have been weakened, and the reach of the Gospel expanded where it could have been shortened.

 

Key Point:  problems can be doorways into growth – both individually and corporately in the Church.  Problems are not the problem. How we deal with problems is often where the real problem lies.  Before problems arise we must be centered in Christ and centered on His word and keep His word first, keep Him first, and keep unity in Him first.  If we are not ruled in our minds and hearts by His word before problems arise, the problems will expose our spiritual weakness and backwardness.

 

Illustration:  The rain doesn’t cause the leak, it exposes it.  Sometimes the problem isn’t the problem. It’s only a problem because the real problem underneath isn’t being addressed.

 

Now, why, as it seems, were there so many widows?  What is the difference between a Grecian Jew and a Hebraic Jew?  Why might the Grecian Jews and their widows be “snubbed” by the Hebraic Jews?

 

Widows were quite common because studies show men die sooner than women historically.  Also, life expectancy was much shorter in those days. If a person in those days during the Roman Empire made it to 10 years old they could expect to live, on average, another 38 years to life, living a total of 48 years.  

 

Correctly Avoiding the Incorrect Solution (v2)

Now, you must pay attention to this point:  Correctly Avoiding the Incorrect Solution. Verse 2, “….”  

 

The Apostles showed perfect wisdom here.  They delegate this task. Any good leadership learns to delegate.  Ineffective leaders with inflated opinions of themselves and fragile egos see themselves as the answer to everything.  I vowed 9 years ago that I would not be the answer to everything, nor try to be. Logistically, the Apostles make a good leadership decision here.  Not because the task was somehow “beneath them”, or, that the task lacked enough glory and public recognition. That wasn’t it at all. It was that they knew that as the Apostles what their responsibilities were.  And while managing the donations fairly and equitably was very important and very noble that very noble and good task became WRONG as soon as it required time from the Apostles that they would otherwise devote to prayer and the word.  

 

Application:  It is not evil things that Satan has the most success in degrading a pastor’s ministry over time.  Often it is good things used to distract the pastor from his first and most important duties of study and prayer.  And if a pastor and a church don’t understand that, then the ministry of the word will be obstructed and eventually stall while attention is given to every other “program” and “ministry”.  And they may all be good, but, they all become evil if they have succeeded in stealing the preacher from the word and prayer.

 

Application:  Do you expect your pastor to be devoted to study and to prayer before anything else?  Do you see why his devotion to the word and prayer are so important? What do you do to help protect his time in study and prayer?  If we as a Church put the word first then the word advances powerfully.

 

This issue was a test from God, in my opinion.  And they succeeded. And in their successful handling of this issue, Satan was thwarted.  What do I mean by that? Satan’s goal here is not the division of the Body of Christ. It is not that some widows get left in the lurch.  No, these are strategic maneuvers by the enemy to distract the Apostolic leadership from their job of preaching the word. The whole issue here is the word of God and its advancement through the preaching done by the Apostles.  Do you see that? Acts 1, Judas was replaced, and his replacement Apostle was joining the other 11 Apostles in the ministry of preaching the resurrection of Christ. That preaching was meant to lead to the salvation of souls in Jerusalem and spread around the world and so far it was wildly successful.  THAT IS WHAT SATAN WAS TRYING TO STOP, OR, AT LEAST MITIGATE, OR, OBSTRUCT.

 

The Apostles knew their job and nothing was going to get in their way.  As important and as noble as the job of managing the food distribution was among widows, it was not to be allowed to distract the Apostles and prevent their ministry of the word and prayer.  

 

A church without the Gospel is nothing more than a charitable organization like the Red Cross, World Vision, etc.  The Church is not the Church without preaching its God-given distinctive: the Gospel. It steps away from its divine honor when it turns aside exclusively to social charity.  It is honoroble when the world organizes in various ways to mitigate social ills. But, when the Church lays the Gospel down to organize for the same goals, it becomes uniquely disgusting in the sight of God.  The church exists because of the Gospel and for the Gospel. If a church ceases to exist for the Gospel perhaps it does not exist because of the Gospel, and, thus, it is not in reality a church then.

 

This is why Christ made a “body”, made up of different members, specially gifted by the Holy Spirit, to serve in various capacities.  Not everyone is a hand, a foot an eye, etc. Just like not everyone on a baseball team is a shortstop or a catcher. Just like not everyone in a company is a bookkeeper, or a salesman, or a hi-lo driver.  Each part plays a different part and when all the parts are playing their parts it is all very effective. WHen the preachers are devoted to preaching and the rest of the body supports that the whole Body is blessed.

 

V5:  The Agreement “This proposal pleased the whole group…”  

Both Hebraic and Grecian Jews were pleased with this proposal.  They all saw the wisdom in the proposal by the Apostles. They instantly knew it was the right thing do to – and that the wrong thing would be for the Apostles to abandon study and prayer and preaching and teaching time to personally manage the food truck.  They were pleased because they agreed the ministry of the word and prayer could not be neglected by the Apostles. They agreed about properly organizing the Church so that the word continues to be preached without obstruction and the rest of the needs within the Body are cared for.

 

Then we see the list of 7 men chosen.  Each one is a Greek name, which seems significant.  These were Grecian Jews, they were men who would best represent those Grecian widows being leftout.  This pleased the Hebraic Jews, which indicates in my mind that the Hebraic Jews were sincerely concerned for their Grecian sisters and wanted to do whatever was needed to make it right with them.  Most importantly, these were men of exalted Christian character. It says nothing about their personal achievement in business or education. “Filled with the Spirit, wisdom, great faith – these were the traits necessary for this task.  Very important point here: the Church runs on spiritual character. Always, always, always the Bible makes the character of a man the most important aspect of that man when he’s considered for leadership.

 

Beyond that I’ll let you study verse 5 and 6 more yourself for further insights about the men chosen.  

 

Final Point:  Verse 7, The Momentum of the Gospel Continues

The beginning of this passage began with the increase of disciples.  The passage ends with God continuing to increase the number of disciples.  The growth continues because of what happened in between verses 1 and 7. That is the point of this passage.  The word was kept first in the life of the Church, even when a problem came up, and, so the problem was managed with wisdom and focus.

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