2016 01-03 ‘Those Who Serve’ Acts 6 1-7

“Those Who Serve”
Acts 6:1-7

I. Introduction
“I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” So said Jesus in Matthew 16:18. The church has “…been built upon the foundation of the apostles and pro-phets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” So said Paul in Ephesians 2:20.
Then Paul said this about Jesus…
*Colossians 1:15-19
15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him.
17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
18 He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in every-thing.
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. (“fullness” = the total of the divine perfection, powers, and attributes. – Amplified Bible)

So the church belongs to Jesus. It is His! It has been (and is being) built by Him. He Him-self is the corner stone, and He Himself is its head. Therefore, neither death, nor the grave, nor all the powers of hell can destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. You will want to keep that in mind this morning as we study Acts 6:1-7.

Yet, having said all of that, doesn’t it sometimes seem like the church can destroy itself? In Acts 5:1-11 we saw blatant sin within the body. Had it been ignored or swept under the rug, the damage most certainly would have been great. But God protected His church and dealt with the sin. Ananias and Sapphira, both believers, were removed from the church. The body was healed and the church prospered.

In today’s passage another incident arises that, while not blatant sin, also has the potential to damage the church, the body of Christ. This time it is controversy. Again, those involved are all believers, Christians who hold to the same truths and doctrines. The controversy isn’t about what they believe; it’s about what they do. It’s about dissension in the ranks. Some of you come from churches where such dissension has caused untold pain and sorrow among God’s people, and has even caused church splits that won’t be mended in this life.

But just as Christ can protect His church from sin, so too can He protect it from controversy and dissension among His people. Not only that, but He can use it for His own purposes and bring good from it. Today we will see that a sovereign God will not be thwarted. Here is an example of God’s dealing with a specific controversy and glorifying Himself in the process.
An example of dissension – and what God can do with it – can be seen in a dispute that arose between Charles Wesley and Augustus Toplady in the eighteenth century. Wesley held to the Arminian view of free will and the possibility of entire sanctification. Entire sanctification, a.k.a. perfectionism, says that believers can be made completely holy in this life. One of Wesley’s hymns, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” reflects that idea when it implores God to, “Take away our bent to sinning…”

Toplady was a Calvinist who argued that man’s will isn’t free at all. Our so-called “bent to sinning” will not be taken away in this life. We are enslaved to sin, and the only remedy for it is God’s offer of free grace and our predestination. So Toplady responded to Wesley’s hymn by writing a poem that refuted the whole idea of any Christian attaining to such holi-ness this side of heaven. One line of that poem makes it clear that only God can save. Top-lady’s poem was later set to music. We know it as “Rock of Ages.” In the second verse it says, “Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

In today’s text we’ll see that the apostles were faced with a problem that could divide the church. And we’ll also see how God solved the problem and, in the process of doing so, laid out the basic organizational structure of the church.

II. Review
The church was attacked by unbelief and those who would destroy it from the day it was born on Pentecost. From then on the apostles were mocked, tried, jailed, warned, and then tried, jailed, and warned again. Then they were beaten – whipped actually – and finally set free. But then the sin of Ananias and Sapphira came into the church. And God brought the church through it. In fact, the church grew in numbers and the apostles grew in faith and in their conviction to obey God. (go to Acts 5:28)

When the Jewish religious leaders said…
*Acts 5:28-29, 41-42
28 “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in (Jesus’) name, and behold you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (This is the answer that led to their being whipped.)
41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council (the Sanhedrin), rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.
42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

So in the first five chapters of Acts we have seen the church attacked by the hatred of unbe-lievers and by the sin of believers. It has survived both and prospered. But what will hap-pen when Satan sows discord among the brethren?
Even then God can reap a harvest of unity. Or if I may use a musical metaphor – God can turn earthly discord into heavenly harmony. That is exactly what He will do in today’s text.
But God is God. And He will do even more. He will solve a problem that the apostles were probably only now beginning to realize they had. The church was growing and needed help.

III. Text
Church polity – the organization of the church – has been one of the causes of controversy and dissension from the beginning. The extremes are easy to see. One extreme is to reject any kind of formal organization whatsoever. Those who do often sound very spiritual when they say things like, “We all love God and each other. We don’t need any formal documen-tation or a constitution or bylaws or guidelines. We have the Bible, so we’ll be led by the Holy Spirit.” But they forget that the flesh often gets in the way of such high ideals. And when it does, they have no agreed upon governing structure to direct them.

The other extreme is trying to build and maintain the church like the military with a strict chain of command and absolute accountability. “We will operate by the book and there will be no variations or exceptions!” Some would run the church like a modern corporation with organizational charts, flow charts, job descriptions, boards, committees, and subcommittees, all of which are expected to follow rigid rules and regulations for who can and cannot do what, where, when, why, and how. “You report to him and he reports to me. Everybody reports to somebody!” But they forget that the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Sooner or later both extremes will fail. That’s because the Church of Jesus Christ isn’t a commune, or the military, or a corporation. It’s a living organism. And every living organ-ism requires some degree of organization in order to function and survive. When the church was few in number organization wasn’t critical. But as it grew in numbers and complexity organization became critical. The reality of that is seen in today’s text.
*Acts 6:1-7 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3 “But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their
hands on them.
7 And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples con-tinued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

The church had been growing so fast that some kind of organization called for. You can readily see that such growth would present administrative problems. The other problem that comes with growth in numbers is a threat to unity. As people from different traditions and backgrounds come into the church they all bring their past and certain expectations with them. Even in a church as small as Lighthouse we have believers who have come from Catholicism, and many of the old mainline Protestant denominations.

In this room there are those who were taught the Arminian view of salvation and those who were taught the Calvinist view. You were Baptists or Presbyterians; you were Methodists or Lutherans; you were Brethren or Covenant. Some of you may have had your roots in the Episcopal or Congregational churches. You come from a wide variety of traditions. The point is that as a church grows the potential for disagreement and division grows with it. But even where there’s no dissension, increasing numbers bring with them increasing needs. So the need for the organization and care of the congregation becomes critical. Case in point…
*Acts 6:1-2, 4
1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables…
4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

It is not inconceivable that by Acts 6 the church had grown to well over 20,000 people. The twelve apostles couldn’t begin to minister to such crowds. Worse still, disputes such as the one described in v. 1 could develop and fester and the apostles wouldn’t even hear about them. But they heard about this one. I can imagine how frustrating it must have been for them knowing that they couldn’t meet the church’s physical needs. They could barely even meet the spiritual needs of the church, given that they had no mass communication.

So it should be no surprise that someone’s needs or concerns would be missed. It’s easy to see how Satan could use this to tear at unity of the church, is it? He had tried to destroy the church from without using persecution from the Jewish religious leaders. But all that did was make the church stronger. Then Satan had tried to destroy the testimony of the church from within by using the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. But God removed them, and the church grew still stronger.

Maybe dissension in the ranks would work. After all, if the apostles were tied up with inter-nal affairs, they wouldn’t have time to obey Jesus’ words to them in Acts 1:8.
Just before His ascension to heaven He told them, “…and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” They had done a good job in Jerusalem, but their job of taking the gospel to the world had not even begun. They really needed help. Look again at Acts 6:1.

Who were the Hellenistic Jews? They were Jews who, for many generations, had lived in Greece, spoke Greek, and had long since adopted the Greek culture. Rather than reading the Hebrew Bible they used the Septuagint, the primary Greek translation of the OT. The ortho-dox Hebrew Jews looked down on the Hellenistic Jews as second-class citizens. It seems that some of that prejudice may have worked its way into the church. (Is there any culture or society on earth that doesn’t look down its collective nose on some other culture or society?)

Since the Hellenistic Jews were a minority in Jerusalem, they were also a minority in the church. And their physical needs were not being met. Care for widows was an important part of the Jewish culture in the first century. The OT demanded it (Moses speaks of it four times in Deuteronomy) and in 1 Timothy 5:3 Paul reminds the church that it is one of our duties as well.

In Acts 6:2 the news reaches the apostles. They know the complaint is legitimate and they know it’s a problem that must be resolved. But they also know they don’t have the time to deal with it. Here is the key question: Why don’t they just make the time and personally see to it that these widows are cared for? Why don’t they do it themselves? Here is the answer: It is found in the second part of v. 2 and in v. 4.

The word translated “tables” here is interesting. It is “trapʹĕza.” It describes two kinds of table. The first is a table used for food. The second is a table used for issues involving money, for banking, or for making loans. What Luke is telling us is that the apostles did not want to be involved in the handling or distribution of food or money. Doing so would only distract them from their primary calling. In v. 4 we’re told that the apostles were called to focus their ministry on prayer and the preaching and teaching of the Word.

This is one of the reasons the pastor and elders here at LBC are not involved in the day-to-day finances of the church. That task has been turned over to the deacons and the church treasurer. Of course, we know where the church stands financially. It would be irresponsi-ble for us not to know because all major financial decisions must be approved by the elders. But it’s important for you all to know that neither I nor the elders have any knowledge of how much any of you give to the church. One reason for that is stated right here in the text. Another reason is that we’ve seen too many instances where pastors and elders have allowed themselves to be influenced by the big givers.

There are churches today where the pastor or an elder has total administrative control over the entire ministry.
They become more like the CEO of a corporation and less like a shepherd of the sheep. But the Apostle Paul reminds the church at Ephesus that pastors have been called to care for the sheep, not run them.
*Ephesians 4:11-15
11 And He (Christ) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, (for what purpose?)
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (to what end?)
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the full-ness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by crafti-ness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.

What Paul speaks of here in Ephesians cannot be accomplished by a CEO; it can only be accomplished by a pastor, a shepherd (“poi-mēnʹ”).

The apostles knew what they were called to do. They were called to pray for the church and preach the word. No one knew that better than the Apostle Paul. Here is just a sampling of how he prayed for the churches.
to the church at Rome –
Romans 1:9-10a
9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,
10 always in my prayers…
to the church at Ephesus –
Ephesians 1:16
16 (I) do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.
to the church at Philippi –
Philippians 1:3-4
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all…
to the church at Colossae –
Colossians 1:9b
9b …we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (back to Acts 6:4)
So the apostles could not neglect their primary calling. The question was not whether there were physical needs to be met. There were. The question was who would meet them. The twelve apostles here in Acts 6, and later Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would give them-selves totally and completely to the ministry of prayer and the Word of God. But there was more to be done. The church required more than spiritual food.
*Acts 6:3
3 “But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.

Someone had to care for the physical needs of the church. Someone had to distribute the food. Someone had to care for the finances and see to it that the monies entrusted to the church were neither wasted nor hoarded. Who were the trusted men in the church? Who were the respected men in the church? Who were the wise men in the church? Seven such men were to be presented to the apostles for their approval. Note their requirements in v. 3.

First, those who were to be put in charge were men. God’s design for the church is that men are called to lead. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the value or worth of a woman. It has everything to do with God’s divine order. Women have always been called on to fulfill critical and vital roles in the church. Consider how God used women like Martha, Dorcas, Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, and countless others.
Galatians 3:27-28
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Second, those who were to be put in charge were not to be from outside the ranks of the church. On the contrary, they were to come from within. How many churches have gone out and hired pastors while ignoring the gifted men right there among them? This is one of the reasons why we should be doing all we can to train up our young men for service here at LBC. You may want to think about that the next time you see one of them ministering to someone, praying, or reading Scripture.

Third, those who were to be put in charge were men of integrity and good reputation. They had to be if they were to be entrusted with the care of God’s people and substantial amounts of money. Years later Paul would define the spiritual requirements for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. They would include character traits like prudence, respectability, hospitality, and self-control. Such were the men chosen to care for the church.

Fourth, those who were to be put in charge were faithful men who were filled with the Holy Spirit. That is to say that they were to submit themselves to God’s Word and His leading in their lives.

Fifth, those who were to be put in charge of the church were required to possess wisdom.
They were to not only have knowledge of the Scriptures but understand how to apply them to life. More than four hundred years earlier Ezra had described such men. In 1 Chronicles 12:32 he said they were “…men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.” This was the kind of man the early church needed to fulfill its ministry. And let’s be clear. That is the kind of man the church needs today as well. So in Acts 6:3 it was decided to charge seven men of good reputation with the task at hand.
*Acts 6:5-6
5 And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

Whether or not these seven were the first official deacons is open to question. The qualifica-tions for the office of deacon had not yet been defined, and although they were called to do much of what future deacons would do, these seven men were never called deacons. But that in no way minimizes the quality or value of their work.

Who were they? All seven names are Greek, at least implying that they were all Hellenists. Remember that the dissension arose because the Hellenists thought that their widows were being ignored. Giving their men charge over the food and the money demonstrated both wisdom and grace, did it not? Doing so put an end to the dispute and instantly halted a satanic attack on the church that could have wreaked havoc among God’s people.

There’s a good reason that Stephen is named first. In v. 5 we’re told that he is full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen will be the first martyr, the first to lay down his life for the truth. We’ll get to know him in the last part of Acts 6 and, in Acts 7 we’ll hear him preach and witness his murder. Stephen’s martyrdom will be a major turning point in the early his-tory of the church. His murder becomes the catalyst for the gospel to spread beyond Jeru-salem. And isn’t that precisely what God had intended? Do you remember Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8? “…you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

The second man named is Philip. He took the gospel north to Samaria. Later he took it south to Gaza where he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. By Acts 21 Philip had become an evangelist in Caesarea.

Tradition links the third man, Prochorus, with the Apostle John. If he is the same man, he became the bishop of Nicomedia and was martyred in Antioch. Nothing is known of the other four men, but we do know they did their jobs. After all, were they not “…brothers of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”? In Acts 6:6 the twelve laid their hands on the seven men, thereby commissioning them for the work at hand.
You can be sure that God used them and their gifts to accomplish His purposes. They must have done well because the church remained unified.
*Acts 6:7
7 And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples con-tinued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

We’re left to conclude that a united church, a church where the leaders pray, a church where the Word is diligently preached and taught, and a church where the needs of God’s people are met, is a church that will be unified and a church from where the good news of the gos-pel will go forth. Amazing things will happen in such a church. They have here at Light-house, haven’t they?

Just before we leave the text, I want to point out one more thing. Look again at the last part of v. 7. Even some of the Jewish religious leaders were being saved. I can’t help but won-der if that doesn’t include some of those men who only a short time before were calling for Jesus’ blood? May we never underestimate the power of the gospel!

IV. Conclusion
In Acts we’ve seen Satan attack the church with the unbelief of the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin. We’ve seen him attack the church with the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. And we’ve seen him attack the church with dissension among God’s people. Each attack has failed. Three attacks – three strikes! But the devil isn’t “out” yet. His onslaught against the church continues. It will until Jesus comes for us.

But we are not defenseless. We have the Word of God. It is the one weapon that Satan can-not overpower. It will never be defeated. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away (Mark 13:31).” So let me conclude this morning with a quick review of what God’s Word had accomplished in Jerusalem since the church was born on the Day of Pentecost.
The apostles were mocked, but they preached the Word. And in Acts 2:41 three thou-sand souls were saved.
Then the apostles were jailed. When they were freed they preached the Word. And in Acts 4:4 five thousand more souls came to saving faith.
Then the apostles were warned to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, but they said, “…we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard (v. 20),” so they kept right on preaching the Word. And in Acts 4:32 the church was unified and strengthened.
Then sin entered the church, but God stepped in and removed it. And in Acts 5:14 more multitudes of men and women were saved.
Then the apostles were jailed and warned again, and whipped before they were freed. And in Acts 5:42 their teaching and preaching in Christ’s name only increased.
Then, in Acts 6:1, the church grew and dissension entered in, but to those who taught the church God added those who served the church. And in Acts 6:7 “…the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase…”

What about us? The deacons and so many of the rest of you are serving Lighthouse in so many different ways. Your work of service to God’s people is critical. The elders cannot do all that you do. So I’m also speaking for Tim, Bob, and now Ken, when I say, “Thank you!”

Listen, God has given us this church. Oh, it is Jesus’ church, to be sure. But there is a very real sense in which He has given it to us. What does He expect us to do with it? He expects us to preach and teach His Word, and He expects us to care for each other. But there’s more. He expects us to get the gospel out to a lost and dying world.

We can preach and we can teach and we can care for each other, but dissension in the ranks will keep us from getting the gospel out. That’s the lesson from Acts 6:1-7. Over the next few chapters we will see the results of eliminating that dissension in the Jerusalem church. It will be unified and strengthened yet again, and the gospel will go out to the world.

Whether we are called to preach, teach, evangelize, or care for God’s people through the ministry of service, may we all fulfill our calling. To God be the glory!

~ Pray ~