The Challenges for a Growing Church
Acts 6:1-7 (click here for audio)
This is the Word of God. May we hear what our Lord is saying through his Word.
The beginning of the church saw explosive growth spiritually and numerically. We read in our text, “Now in these days” As to how many days since Pentecost is not clear. It could have been months, or a few years from the start of the church at Pentecost. Here’s is what we know. The disciples were increasing in number. On the day of Pentecost 3000 came to Christ in faith. When we come to Acts 4:4, a total of 5000 men are in the faith; and Acts 5:14 “and more than ever believers were added to the Lord”.
Why was there so much growth during “these days” of the church? The power of the Holy Spirit is one reason. Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. The growth of the church was the results of the power of the Holy Spirit; not the power of human persuasion. The Holy Spirit brought about true conversions and the results was lasting fruit. You don’t read of great numbers returning back into the world. You do read of how they devoted themselves continually to the Apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.
That’s another reason for the growth of the early church – the undying devotion of the Apostles and Believers to preaching and teaching God’s Word. Notice in Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. They were fervent in witnessing; they were zealous in spreading the gospel to other people.
A disruption came into the fellowship. The devil already tried persecution to stop the early church. The devil tried pretense with Ananias and Sapphira. They pretended to give 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their property. They were killed in the church service. This caused people to be more respectful of the things of God. You don’t play around with the holy things of God. Great fear came upon the people. More were added to the church. The devil tried persecution, and pretense, Now the devil will use problems to hinder the work of the church.
1. The Problem Explained v.1
Let’s look carefully at the problem. A problem, if left alone, would cripple the mission of the church.
A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
A complaint… a murmuring was heard by the Hellenists (Grecians) These are GREEK SPEAKING JEWS. You have two groups.
One group are the HEBREWS…. Hebraic Jews……These are Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem. They were the Jews of Palestine. They spoke Aramaic.
The other group of Jews - Hellenists Jews - spoke Greek- they came from other parts of the Mediterrean outside of Palestine…. WHY were they there? They were Jews who lived in other countries….Northern Africa, Asia Minor…they came to Pentecost….became Believers…. Stayed. Because there’s nothing to go back to. No church back home… they stayed in Jerusalem…became a part of the growing church…. There were needs to be met in the church.
The Jews had ways to meet needs……even before the birth of the church, Jews were doing this…Jews were known for their charity…alms giving…. According to one historian… money would be collected on Friday, food, and resources collected and on Friday evening the poor and widows could pick up enough food to support them for the next week. This was a common practice, and the early church no doubt picked up on that practice. We’ve already seen that…
4 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
CERTAIN WIDOWS - being neglected, they had no government that supported the widows and orphans….support came from family and the outpouring of support from Believers..
The Greek Speaking Jews were complaining against the Hebrew Jews…..their widows were not getting fair treatment in the daily distribution of food ….they were being overlooked…The Jews who lived in Jerusalem, knew how the system worked better, they had home advantage over the other Jews who were from out of town. They didn’t have the INSIDE connections and were left out.
This resulted in a GROWING COMPLAINT… a sound of murmuring could be heard throughout the growing church.
2. The Proposal Endorsed v.2
And the twelve ( the 12 means the Apostles, even Matthias, who was selected in chapter 1 replacing Judas Iscariot.)
Summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables”
With the growing of the church, there was a need for more structure, a need for better organization to tackle the demands of ministry. It could be that the apostles were over this matter and it was getting to be overwhelming. We saw in Acts 5:37 how people brought money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. In some way they were seeing to it that people in need were getting the help they needed. But the PRIMARY JOB of the Apostles was the teaching ministry, preaching the gospel, and spending time in prayer.
They said, it is not right that we should….. Seems as if that was a proposed solution to the problem…
“You apostles….do a lot of teaching…. (see 5:42) every day in the temple…house to house…did not cease teaching….
· Maybe you guys need to let up on the tEACHING…..and set up tables and help make sure the neglected widows are getting what they need…
· I notice you spend quite a bit of time in PRAYING… maybe if you could Multitask… and pray as you pass out food…. … stay here guarding all the food…. In between times people come to your table… pray and study the scriptures…. Multi task…. Like pray as your drive….pray as you work…pray as you walk…. Prayer walk…. Prayer drive… not belittling that…but you can’t give full attention to prayer and full attention to the road…
It is not right for us to GIVE UP PREACHING THE WORD OF GOD…
HERE you see the centrality of God’s Word in the early church…to give God’s Word it proper place….it must be studied….it must be carefully presented…. It requires careful study…..
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2Tim 2:15
Why is WORD of GOD so important? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
SEE v.7 word of God increased---------number of the disciples multiplied greatly…
Here’s the proposal--- v.3
Therefore, brothers (brothes and sisters) pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty…
v.4 But we will devote oursleves to prayer and to the ministry of the word
Here’s what you MUST do… and
Here’s what we MUST do…
Pick out seven - why seven? It could be because according to Jewish oral laws, called the Mishna, seven men were necessary to conduct and transact business…it was like a town council…NOTICE..
Qualifications -- good repute….good character…good reputation…. Men of integrity…..
Full of the Spirit -- they must be controlled by the Holy Spirit….not by the pressures from other people….. wisdom - they must be known for wisdom, not known for acting foolishly, and making unwise decisions…
YOU PICK THEM OUT-- the congregation was involved in this process…..
And we will appoint them—to this duty -- YOU pick them out, we will appoint them…
I think this was a temporary position in the early church…. Later…. The apostles will be replaced by elders and pastors; and this group of men…replaced by deacons…
See v.5 and what they said pleased the whole gathering….. they endorsed the Apostles’ proposal… they saw it as the RIGHT THING TO DO….. they saw that it was NOT right for the Apostles to GIVE UP preaching the Word…
3. The Priority Established v.4
Devote - continually 2 things
(1) To prayer
(2) To the ministry o the word
Drawing down the power of God in prayer; and
Proclaiming the truth of God in preaching
This is the priority - established in the early church…. Same priority today….
Acts 20:18-21 Paul spoke to Ephesian elders…
18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions
The apostles were firm to stay with priority #1 preach the word; pray first (drawing down the power of God in prayer) then proclaiming the truth of God in preaching
They realized IF THEY DIDN’T PREACH THE GOSPEL…SOON BE NO CHURCH.. Giving food is important, having a food pantry is very important, but what keeps the church on mission is the preaching of the gospel.
1Timothy 4:13, 16
3 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
Read the Word; Explain the Word; Apply the Word
YOU CAN”T do that….if you doing every thing else….
That’s why pastors should be supported by the church to spend time in the ministry of Prayer and in the Word;
7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? (then go to v.14)
14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
The church suffers when its pastor is not free from other occupations so attention may be given to prayer…so that the pastor can give more energy to praying for the people, and studying so that the Word of God can be carefully proclaimed to others.
4. The People Elected
the chose Stephen…..
all GREEKS -- It was the Greek speaking Jews who suffered the neglect….. it was wisdom by the people to select men who were of that same group….they would be the best choice in seeing to it that needs are met…they know their people….. they know the problems first hand…. They know the solution to fixing the problem….
I see WISDOM HERE…
ALSO … a choice motivated by LOVE for one another…
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
These were all men -- and sets the pattern for men leadership in the church; I believe God has given the office of elder, pastor and deacon to gifted men… Men leadership in the church should compliment men leadership in the home.
We do see women playing an important part in the ministry of the church.
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
Aquila and Priscilla - husband / wife - teaching ministry - started a church in their home…
v.6 these they set before the apostles………
they were endorsed by the apostles…. They prayed and laid their hands on them….
· Affirmed their selection; laying hands show approval, showed their unity, solidarity, working together for the common mission to spread the gospel…. no power in laying of hands by men, but there is power in God laying His hand upon men to do God’s Work
James the half brother of the Lord Jesus was in this congregation…he will later write his espistle that bears his name…..
James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Praying and Preaching the gospel is central….it is priority #1…..
Because from that will come change lives…. Results in loving ministry to those in need.
James - faith without works is dead; don’t be just hearers of the Word.. be doers of the Word
Prayer and the Ministry of the Word - must be on the FRONT BURNER….it must be first priority; but there must be ministry of helping others; showing compassion and concern for those in need.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
5. The Progress Experienced v.7
Word of God continued to increase - This would not have been the case, if the apostles were pulled away from prayer and preaching;
If the Apostles were all tied up with organizing, managing, supervising, overseeing the food distribution, the Word of God would suffer…and there would be a DECREASE in gospel proclamation.
But since they continued to proclaim God’s Word = the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem
And even A GREAT MANY OF THE PRIESTS BECAME OBEDIENT TO THE FAITH.
- Hard cases - Acts 4 priest persecuting the Apostles…. Lot of priests….some have suggested maybe as many as 6000 priests throughout all Jerusalem and the surrounding towns…..everywhere they had Jewish synagogues…. A priest would be over that synagogue…
- Persecutors of the church….became promoters of the church, supporters of the church…obedient to the faith - it wasn’t just words, they showed in their actions, behavior, that they were followers of Christ
- THIS IS GOOD --- because the gospel ministry that started in Jerusalem…was about to go outside of Jerusalem….and begin the journey to other places…. And soon we’ll see how the gospel transformed the life of the church’s most fierce opponent – SAUL of TARSUS…
Over 500 years ago the church of the Lord Jesus Christ was rescued from the darkness of Roman Catholicism…. The gospel preaching of John Calvin and Martin Luther set the fires of revival and renewal. They were FORMERLY PRIESTS BUT GLORIOUSLY SAVED BY THE GRACE OF GOD.
It is said when John Calvin opened the BOOK and took a text, you might be sure that he was about to preach “Through grace are you saved, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” The same could be said of Martin Luther. His preaching was like the ringing of a bell, the sound was clearly this -- “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live” It is not of works, lest any man should boast, but by faith are ye saved, and by faith alone.”
How desperately we must proclaim the Doctrines of GRACE - You are saved by Christ alone! In faith alone, …Today, the gospel is in jeapordy by those who proclaim the Prosperity Gospel…
Do this and do this and you will be successful and you will be healthy and wealthy.
Today, the unscriptural doctrine of baptismal regeneration is strongly proclaimed in many so-called churches. They claim to be the only church…and they preach baptism as the way to be saved.
Martin Luther would raise his voice and say to those people “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live”
There is much confusion over the gospel….what’s required to be saved…. some say this…some say another….
The gospel writers say “ He that believeth in the Son has everlasting life.”
It’s believing that affects your walk; you walk in obedience to the faith…. You obey not to BE SAVED; but because you ARE saved…
If you don’t know Christ as Lord and Savior, trust him today..
As believers, pray the Lord will help us to always keep the ministry of Prayer and Preaching front and center…central….and pray the Lord will use us to be fellow workers to support the mission of the church.