In the history of the church, there have been some massive controversies that have split the church.
The divinity of Jesus. How is a person saved, by faith or by works. Baptism to the Lord’s supper. From Scripture to the Holy Spirit, there have been some serious church splits over these issues. And some were needed!
But there have also been some big fights over things that aren’t anywhere near as important... Some of these things still cause some of the biggest divisions in church today!
Here’s a few:
Well we see here in this passage one of the first church quarrels, up until now the heat’s been coming from the outside but now it’s getting heated on the inside and rather than being about trivial things, it’s a serious issue, let’s check it out. Presenting Issue:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. ~Acts 6:1 (NIV)
So, we have a problem! It’s important to note that it’s a good problem! The number of disciples was increasing, Praise God! after being heavily persecuted. But with more people comes more complexity and these widows are missing out on support.
Now, remember, back in chapter 4 people were sharing their stuff, selling fields, and bringing money to the Apostles to distribute to whoever was in need.
Up to this point, the Apostles have been overseeing everything, the teaching and the organising of the church and also the social needs of people in their community, that’s 12 guys for thousands of people! Seems like, they’ve got their hands full, they’ve got a load of work to do and something’s falling off the table. We’ve all been there before, too much to do and something’s got to fall, what or who will it be? How do we make the decision?
Something important to note here is that this ministry to the widows was a service to those inside the church. These widows are Christian and possibly relatives of other Christians who were a part of the new community of believers. This daily distribution is a ministry to those in need within the Christian community. It’s not an example of the early Church’s endeavour to relieve Jerusalem of poverty and hunger. These weren’t just hungry widows needing food. This isn’t your downtown food shelter where anyone can roll up and grab a warm meal. This ministry is not a wider social justice endeavour.
Now that’s not to say that that kind of thing isn’t important, needed, good and right. It has its place in the Christian life and the witness of the Church, it’s just not what was going on here. What’s going on here is a demonstration of the body of Christians, the community of Jesus believers serving and caring for one another in the church. It’s a continuation of the beautiful picture at the end of chapter 4. That is, doing the Christian life together well. But at this point, they weren’t doing it so well. So, what do they do?
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. ~Acts 6:2 (NIV)
What could they not let fall off the table? The ministry of the word! Why? Because the Church’s mission is accomplished through the ministry of the word. The Gospel is a message and if it stops going out, the Church ceases to exist. The Church is not merely a social club, it is a spirit-filled community, brought into existence by people putting their faith in the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church exists, grows and continues, by the ministry of the Word of God! And these Apostles have been specifically entrusted with that ministry by Jesus himself! If they let that slip then they’ve failed.
But, there’s a whole lot more that needs to happen within the community, and a commitment to the word doesn’t make everything else unimportant! The word must go out, but the church also needs to function. People need to be loved.
I think we can often create this unhelpful priority to the two things, and make them opposed to one another so that serving one another’s needs and organising church can be seen as an enemy of the word ministry. But that’s not the way the bible speaks about them. The bible holds them together much more tightly. This passage is saying, and this is the point here... Both things are extremely important but both accomplish different things.
The poor and struggling won’t be fed or cared for if no one helps feed and care for them. It doesn’t happen if we don’t do it. Likewise, the lost will not be saved, if no one preaches the gospel to them. Food won’t save someone from sin to eternal life. In the same way, the gospel doesn’t magically make clothes and food appear on a kitchen table. Both need to happen but both aren’t the same thing.
Let’s have a think about each of them. Jesus said the Church will be known by the way we love and care for one another. In the Old Testament law, God was always concerned for his people to be looking out for those in need. I’ve been reading Jeremiah and it’s striking how when God judges his people, it’s often because of their lack of care for widows, for orphans, for the poor and needy among them. They overlooked them.
The New Testament’s also flooded with calls to care for the weak, support the poor and practice hospitality, to share with one another. Use the things we have to ensure others are getting on ok to live sacrificial lives of love for one another in the church, that’s what Jesus calls us to do.
We are a body, and we function well together as we all care equally for one another, it's like trying to walk when you’ve got a sore toe. But God also says the Church is built on the foundation of the Scriptures; the prophets and Apostles. And the way it grows and functions well is by being fed with God’s word. So, we’re called to teach the word, guard the word, obey the word and be transformed by the word.
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. ~Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
A well-functioning Church makes sure both things are happening. So, what was their solution to keep both going?
Brothers and sisters, 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 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” ~Acts 6:3 (NIV)
Now notice here what kind of people were raised up, not just people with the right skills but the right convictions and character. These men are well known among the community, tested and approved and they’re full of 2 things, The Spirit & Wisdom.
Now being full of the Holy Spirit means firstly that they’re believers! United but also they’re following the Spirit’s lead in all areas of life. To have the Spirit and not be filled by Him is to be at war with him as he seeks to work in you. These men are working to align their whole life with his will. They’re also full of wisdom and wisdom according to the bible is usually in regards to having a right view of God and being able to make good decisions about things in life because of that. These men are mature Christians, they listen to the word and do what it says.
There’s a challenge there for each of us, would you have been chosen as one of these people to take up this ministry? If not then why? What things in your Christian life are lacking or getting in the way of you giving yourself to God’s work in this way? This particular role of theirs is later described as being a Deacon a word you might have heard before, especially as we’ve been talking about pledging at this time of year.
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul describes the differing roles of Elders or pastors (overseers), and deacons. The word Deacon literally means a servant, it’s the Greek word that we get the word ministry from. It’s the act of doing a service of taking one thing and passing it on. This passage contrasts 2 ministries, serving/distributing food for the widows and serving/distributing the word. So, the Apostles call on the church here to gather a group of people to take up and oversee this ministry of serving the widows, so the word ministry doesn’t have to stop.
Our deacons here at MBM essentially do the same service for us pastors. They work at a higher level, overseeing things like the finances, building and property things, a lot of the behind the scenes managing. They do those things so that the pastors don’t get completely bogged down with those important things and then can’t continue to commit ourselves to teaching and praying, pastoring. And we thank God for them! and so should you.
I just want to publicly honour them now actually. If you didn’t know, our deacons are: Steve Pieri, Jono Anderson, Ed Johnson, Aron Calfas, you have to know that most of these guys have been growth group leaders or done other various word ministries in the past, some are still heavily involved in word stuff. I asked one of them this week what he loves about being a deacon at MBM: He said “The deacons meeting is honestly the one meeting I’ve never dreaded going to, it’s such a joy to work with some amazingly skilled guys to take care of a range of things so our pastors can focus on the main game - people and Jesus” and he said “it’s also good being able to be behind the scenes and not have to be upfront.”
I also need to mention Bruce Winters and Leanne Shepherd who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make so much ministry happen and function! There’s plenty more along with them!
It was beautiful to see on Monday, while we were having our staff meeting and had just spent time praying, to look outside and see our brother Warren Kuschert spraying weeds and fixing up the gardens and Frank Spiteri and his team working on the maintenance around the place.
It’s not only the official Deacons who are involved in organising and overseeing things to ensure the word isn’t neglected. Everyone who helps out in any way around the place to free-others up, who have been equipped for word ministries, (kids ministry and youth, and Growth Group leaders), you are ensuring that the ministry of the word continues! You’re ensuring Christian growth can happen, ensuring lives are saved, ensuring the mission of Lord Jesus doesn’t come to a screeching halt in our generation, in our Church. So thank you!
Keep praying for those who teach, that we’d stay faithful in our devotion to it.
OK, So how does the church respond?
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. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. ~Acts 6:5-6 (NIV)
If you know anything about the origin of names, you’ll notice the men they chose have Greek names. They choose Greek men to care for their own Greek widows, those who had the issue have become solutions to the issue. As you know those who know their culture serve their culture best.
And if you know anything about the next few chapters in Acts... 2 of these guys end up out there preaching the word in massive ways. Next week we’ll meet Stephen, who gives a powerful speech to the Sanhedrin and ends up stoned for testifying about Jesus, he’s the first Christian Martyr. Then Philip goes out evangelising a bunch of villages along with the Ethiopian Eunuch! It’s not about doing one or the other.
in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord, always be ready to give a reason for the hope you have. ~1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Whether you make coffee or set up seats, serve morning tea or help people into the car park, if you’re a Christian, we all play our part in the ministry of the word and the growth of the Church! Amen?
Honestly, those Christians who say talking about Jesus just isn’t my thing, I just stick to helping people, I know it feels safer but as someone once said: “How much do you have to hate someone to have the life-saving message of Jesus and not try to share it with them, knowing they’re on their way to hell” Love does both right, it helps them in their need and holds out the gospel.
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. ~Acts 6:7 (NIV)
A transformed community transforms communities! Remember in the chapter before this, the priests were the ones persecuting the Apostles and now with the Apostles freed up to focus on prayer and the word, they’re turning to Jesus.
Let me say a few things in reflection on MBM and this passage. At MBM we’re committed to the word and prayer that’s why we open the bible and preach every week. It's why we run kids church and youth group and why we have prayer meetings. Its why we pray together in our staff meetings all through the week. It’s why we’re also committed to seeing all our members gathering around the word in smaller communities in our growth groups, which is also where a lot of prayer happens.
We’re also committed to training leaders to handle the word better, so we can all grow. If you’re keen to grow in the word come and chat with us, we need Leaders. It’s also why we don’t load our church calendar with a bunch of really fun social events, but we do make sure we guard our church gatherings, our small groups meetings and our explaining Christianity courses. We’re committed to people hearing the word and we’re also committed to caring for one another. We see that happening mainly in those small groups through the week, where you can be known and know others so you can know better how to care for them.
But that’s not the only place care happens. I was so encouraged when COVID first hit to see people so willing to offer assistance to anyone in need. So, we set up our [email protected] email address for anyone needing assistance. If that is you at the moment, please don’t do what these Greek Jews did and just grumble, get in touch so we can help you. We’re also committed to seeing every member doing their part so we can all function better together. You have gifts that God has given to only you and what a blessing we can be to each other and the gospel as we put those gifts into practice.
If you haven’t found your place in a serving team or role yet, please come and speak to us. But mainly we want to keep asking the honest question about what we might be doing that’s getting in the way of the word continuing to go out. And I ask you all to keep helping us clear those blockages so we can see a western Sydney who know and love the Lord Jesus, who have a secure place in heaven, and who’s lives now are being transformed by His Spirit.