Two Lessons We Must Learn Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Two Lessons We Must Learn
Acts 6:1-15, 7:54-60
Our study of the book of Acts makes it clear that the Church has displayed its ability to handle the opposition of an unfriendly world.
For example, last week we read that the disciples were taken before the Sanhedrin, where they were in danger of being sentenced to a long prison term or to death.
But God was there with them and even though several suggested severe punishments they were only beaten and told never to say the name of Jesus again, and then they were released.
We know that they were not discouraged by the experience, because we read, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
These Spirit-filled people had an internal nature that enabled them not only to survive the opposition from the world but also to find a new sense of satisfaction about who they are in Christ.
The persecution they had experienced, instead of discouraging them, made them more dedicated than ever.
We can see then, that instead of removing difficulties, God is more interested in taking us through them and in that way our faith is strengthened.
This was the time when Church membership grew rapidly.
It grew because the world saw that even in the face of difficulties that believer’s lives were filled with joy.
Outsiders watched them and listened to what they said, and the Holy Spirit used their witness to bring them to faith in Christ.
But sometimes the Church is its own worst enemy.
It is never hurt by criticism from outside, but very often it is damaged from inside the fellowship.
Internal problems can come as a result of the growth and influx of new people.
Probably, a good case in point today is the impact that child abuse by priests is having.
I personally know several who have left the Catholic Church because of how the Church has handled this problem.
There have been many other scandals in recent years which were in the news, and they have involved other denominations.
I hate to hear about these problems because all the negative publicity hurts the Church of Jesus Christ and the work of His ministers.
At this time, let’s read our scripture for today’s Bible lesson.
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;
4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,
6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.
13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law;
14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
But if you know the story of Steven, you know that he preached a great sermon on this occasion, but the religious leaders had their minds made up to kill him, so we read:
54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;
58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The title of the message for today is TWO LESSONS WE MUST LEARN.
Those lessons are:
Lesson No. 1: EVEN SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCHES CAN HAVE PROBLEMS.
Lesson No. 2: GOD GIVES HIS PEOPLE SPECIAL STRENGTH TO FACE DIFFICULT SITUATIONS.
Here is lesson No. 1
Some in the Church were complaining.
The text makes it appear that their complaining was like the “buzzing of bees.”
The topic was the welfare of the widows in the congregation.
In that day the only help that widows received came from the Church.
There must have been quite a few widows among the worshippers, and that was the problem.
The apostles couldn’t devote enough time to their care, without neglecting their other duties.
Let me give you some background, which might give some more light to the situation.
The Hellenists were Greek-speaking Christian Jews.
They were often viewed with suspicion by the Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews because they couldn’t speak or understand Aramaic.
Hellenistic widows, who were often penniless, were coming to Jerusalem in large numbers.
These women needed help.
It looks as if they were being neglected when food was distributed because charitable giving was controlled by the Palestinian Jews.
This was the first major conflict within the Early Church, and it was this problem that faced the apostles.
The problem had to be solved in a way that would not hinder the growth of the Church.
Therefore, the apostles called the disciples together and asked them to find seven men of good reputation; wise men who were filled with the Spirit, and they would be responsible for dispensing charity to those in need.
The term used to describe their service is “serving tables,” and that sounds like a very minor service.
But no ministry is unimportant for a Christ-like servant, for Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Appointing some to care for the widows would allow the twelve to devote themselves to the ministry to which they had been called: prayer and preaching the word.
The church today would do well to take this advice from the Twelve.
Many times when hiring a preacher the search committee is looking for an administrator to oversee all the Church’s programs, instead of a preacher of the word.
Pastors must be free to devote themselves to the two prime aspects of their ministry; prayer and the ministry of the word.
Members of the local assembly must be willing to assume positions of responsibility in order to free pastors to do the jobs which they have been called to do.
The people in Jerusalem were willing to make adjustments in their lives if that would help to ease the conflict.
They complied with the apostle’s request by choosing seven men who would perform the duties of a deacon, and that solved the problem.
There was an alternative to having this type of problem, but that would mean that the Church would not grow.
Most Christians would prefer that their Church grows and just deal with the problems that arise.
The Jerusalem Church responded in a way that demonstrated that Jesus had made a difference in their lives, “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” (V.7)