Good morning! Grace and I have been on an adventure. First, we went to Big Sky to see our daughter Sarah and her family. Our granddaughter Eva was in a children’s musical and did a wonderful job. Last Sunday we went to the far end of the north fork to a little community church led by Don and Sue Sullivan. It was great, but we’re glad to be home.
Today we continue our study of the growth of the early church in the book of Acts. We’re calling it “Basic Christianity”. We’re about to move into a new worship center and I can’t think of a better way to prepare than to review the most important things. So let’s open our Bibles to Acts 6, beginning at verse 1.
“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
This is not a sin problem, it’s an organizational problem. Here’s the context. Some time has passed between chapter 5 and chapter 6, we aren’t sure how long. Some months for sure. The infant church in Jerusalem is growing. We know 3,000 were converted on Pentecost Sunday, many of these lived in Jerusalem. Many more have been added.
The Jewish religion was very good about teaching the Word and caring for the poor, especially the widows. God commanded them to do this throughout the OT so it’s not surprising that the infant Christian church would do the same.
But they ran into a problem. There were two groups of Jews living in Jerusalem. Some were native, born and raised there. They spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. They dressed in a very orthodox Jewish manner.
In the other group were Jews from elsewhere in the Roman Empire. They were called Hellenistic. They spoke Greek. They dressed differently. They weren’t “locals” and because of that, they were easily overlooked, forgotten, maybe not intentionally, but it happened.
It still happens today right here in our own coffee fellowship. People tend to gravitate to people they know. Not everyone is courageous enough to cross the room and reach out to the strangers, newcomers among us, these visitors from elsewhere.
There was no Social Security or Medicare in those days and the elderly widows were dependent upon their families to support them. For many, the church was their only family. This was a problem for these families who had moved into Jerusalem from far away.
Some of these families complained to the apostles that their widows were being overlooked by the meals on wheels the church sponsored. I don’t blame them. They didn’t accuse anyone, they just named the problem. That’s good. Somebody should do something!
So they did. Let’s see how they solved the problem. “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. 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 6:2-4
What do we learn here about the nature and function of the church? We learn ministry belongs to the people of God, not just the leaders. The primary responsibility of the 12 apostles was to teach the Word of God and shepherd the flock. They couldn’t do that and take supper to 300 widows scattered all over Jerusalem. Nor could they teach and preach and adequately administer the meals on wheels. But God never intended for them to do that.
So they gathered the church and told them “choose for yourselves 7 leaders to oversee the program of caring for those with special needs.” Once again, it wasn’t the job of these 7 leaders to feed all these widows, but to administer and organize and make sure no one was overlooked.
It was a cooperative effort that made for better sermons and better service. Not only that, but do you suppose the people who stepped up to the plate and began to invest themselves in the hands on work of the kingdom began to grow in their faith? I think so.
Remember the four commitments of our mission statement. “Living Worship, Growing Faith, Serving Fellowship, Sending Saints” Which of these is being accomplished here? All of them! Are you with me so far?
What’s even more interesting is the people they chose to administer the program! All seven of the men they chose had Greek names. This means they were probably Hellenistic Jews. Instead of being defensive and trying to protect their own turf, the “local” Jews recognized the problem and trusted these men whose widows were being neglected to solve the problem. That sounds like the work of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it!
“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. 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 6:5-7
What we see here is the church growing up in love. When we are infants, we expect to be coddled and taken care of. When we don’t get our needs met, we howl and express our displeasure. But part of growing up requires that we move beyond our infant selfishness and learn to take responsibility and do our part in the labor of love. Are you with me, here?
“Jesus called the apostles together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:25-28
Growing up in faith means growing down into servanthood! The idea that suggests that becoming more spiritual means we should expect more privilege and less servanthood is of the devil, not Jesus.
In Eph 4 Paul tells us “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph 4:1-6
We see this principle at work in how the early church solved its problem. Our calling as the church is to serve one another as well as the world. We don’t come here just to get something as if the church was the local Walmart; we come to worship. We come to be encouraged and equipped to serve. We gather to care, give, rejoice, suffer, share together.
Paul goes on. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:11-13
Growing up spiritually always means growing down into love and servanthood. Our fellowship, our unity, isn’t rooted in our expectations of what we think somebody else is supposed to do for us. It’s childish to expect somebody else to give all the money and do all the work to make possible the blessings we experience on a Sunday morning. God has called you to be part of the team that makes these things possible.
Let me finish what Paul writes in Eph 4 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph 4:14-16
I once thought I didn’t have enough time to serve the Lord or spend time with him. I learned that time all belongs to him. And if I took time to serve him, to pray, read the Bible, he would multiply my time. Luther said, “I have so much to do today, I need to spend an extra hour in prayer.”
I once thought I didn’t have enough money to share with the Lord. I learned the more I shared with the Lord, the more the Lord was able to bless me and the more I had.
I thought I didn’t have enough love to go around, I learned the more willing I was to share the love I had, the more he gave me. I don’t know exactly how that works, but I know it does. That’s how growing up in love works. Our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.
Lesson #6 in Basic Christianity. Here it is – are you ready? It’s about Jesus, always about Jesus - not us. It’s his church, not ours. We and everything we have belongs to him. He has called us, gifted us, and sent us to serve each other and the world. We work for him.
The ministry of our church and our leaders is not something God owes us. It is instead a gift given by God to equip us all for the work God has given us to do. Instead of whining about what’s not happening at church, the Lord is calling us to get involved in making it happen. The unity, the fulfillment, the joy we seek don’t come from being served, but from serving. That’s what it means to be the church, to follow Jesus and to grow up in love.