Sermon: A Case Study in Church Unity Acts 6:1-7

A Case Study in Church Unity

Acts 6:1-7

Introduction

What happens when we are confronted with people different from us?  How do we react when God brings other folks into our lives?

The early church was not a perfect church.  It had to continually look inwardly to examine itself in light of the Word of God to see whether it was becoming what God desired.  Already we’ve seen rank hypocrisy rising up through the lies and deception of Ananias and Saphira.  We saw how very quickly the Lord Himself dealt with each.

Anytime we are around others who are different than ourselves there is the possibility of disagreements and misunderstandings, many of which may in fact be unintentional.  It’s not only color or race that can create friction but it can also be when people come from different cultures.

I remember one of my professors in seminary shared an account of the struggles they had when they first went to a foreign country to serve as missionaries…

His wife was pregnant and gave birth while they were in Africa.  She greatly offended those in the newly founded church when she didn’t pass the new-born around to let everyone in the tribe hold the child…that was their cultureal tradition.

On another occasion, a few months later, after the first misunderstanding was worked out, they encountered an even greater challenge.

Things seem to have been going well in the new church when all of the sudden, almost everyone stopped coming.  Sunday after Sunday the once filled seats were surprisingly empty.  My professor enquired with the chief if there was something wrong.  The chief’s response was that they would have no contact with anyone who eats babies.

All the missionaries where greatly troubled and confused.  Then finally, one day they were enlightened as to why the tribe thought they were eating babies…

Their cans of vegetables came with pictures of green beans or peas on the label and that’s what was inside, green beans or peas.  Baby food came with a picture of a baby on the label and they also figured that was what was inside those jars as well.  The report was that once this was straightened out a great revival broke out among the people.

I tell both of these stories because these were real issues that came about through unintentional misunderstandings between those of different cultures.  Really, race and ethnicity had nothing to do with it.  Being black or white was not the issue it was misunderstanding between cultures.

In these days, as Luke begins this section, the early church was made up of Grecian Jews and Hebraic Jews.  The Greeks spoke Greek and Latin the Hebrew Jews spoke Aramaic.  They came from very different cultures and even spoke different languages.  So, it was natural for an “Us and Them” mentality to rise up.

Could the Gospel that has the power to save different types of people, also have the power to knit these differing cultures together into one unified church?

There is much at stake in this text.  Unity in the church is a great force for Gospel advance…

Primary Claim of the Text

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Human Condition Met By the Text

Our natural inclination is to dismiss, ignore, and even be opposed to people who are different than we are.  This passage shows us that within the church, there must be maintained unity among those folks who may be ethnically, socially, culturally different than we are.

Acts 6:1-7 (ESV)
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
2 And the twelve 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.
3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

1. An Internal Matter

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
Luke very clearly and in one verse brings to our attention what the internal matter was…

The first part of the matter was that the disciples were growing in number.  The group which started out with just 12 now is up into the thousands.  This is always a good problem to have but nevertheless it is a matter that brings with it certain challenges.  No longer could the church do things the way it always had.  This young growing body of believers in Jerusalem needed not only the Word of God but also some level of organization.  The Church had to minister the Word and minister to it people if it was to move out into the rest of the world.

Secondly, Luke gives us the details of the specific matter at hand…the Greek Jewish Widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of the things they needed.

The issue was that the non-Hebrew Jewish widows were being overlooked.  This was the specific issue but what this meant for the church was of the utmost importance.

When we began the study of the Book of Acts, I mentioned that one way of outlining the Book of Acts is by using the Great Commission…Go into all the world preaching the Gospel…Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world.  Now the church is just getting off the ground.  The focus is still in Jerusalem with Jews.  If the Church cannot include different kinds of Jews, namely Aramaic speaking and Greek speaking, how in the world will it ever complete the Great Commission.  In other words, if it is not unified while still in Jerusalem how will it ever cross ethnic and cultural borders into entirely different people groups?

The surface issue is Hellenistic Widows being overlooked in the daily distribution of food but it really is much more than that, it is an issue of diversity… Is the Gospel powerful enough to save all people and knit them together in one body?

2.  An Internal Solution

2 And the twelve 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.
3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The 12…that is the Apostles gather the full number of disciples and make a statement in front of everyone.  This is a good practice.  Once they had determined through seeking God’s mind in all this matter, they make an announcement to those whose widows were being overlooked.

They first acknowledged that God did not want them to execute the solution to this matter.  He desired them to continue to focus on preaching and prayer.  However, the issue did need to be dealt with quickly and biblically.

There is an important dialogue hear in the Greek…literally, it is not God’s will that we should serve tables, He wants us to serve the Word.

Serve tables- diakonein

Serve the Word- diakonea

Guided by the Holy Spirit they lay out the solution.  This task of caring for the Greek widows was of utmost importance, the Gospel was literally at stake.  It was the task of the Apostles to preach and teach God’s Word while in continual prayer.  The Gospel would go forth by them and then the Gospel would form a Kingdom of devoted followers who would love and care for each other regardless of their cultural and/or language barriers.

The Apostles to them to select seven men who have been tried and true (Good Repute) and full of the Holy Spirit and full of the wisdom of God.  These would be very special men.  These men would be the ones who initially would care for the widows and make sure all the church was cared for.

3.  A Unified Church

5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
God’s wisdom had again triumphed.  The heavenly solution was just exactly what everyone needed to hear and everyone was in complete agreement with the solution.  As we look at the names of those that were selected, we immediately notice that these are all Greek names.  I really believe this is the way God would have the church to operate.  To make sure this problem is taken care of and prevented in the future, the Holy Spirit selected 7 Hellenists to take care of all the widows, including the Hebrew widows.

Verse 6 shows that the Apostles gave full authority to these seven men to carry out their God given task of caring for those in the community who were helpless and needed the Church to not only feed them the Word…Apostle’s job but to actually care for them physically…Deacon’s job.

With the massive numbers coming into the church, problems occurred.  The solution was given by God and carried out by the Apostles.

4. The Result of Unity
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Because of the issue being solved so wonderfully, Luke reports something that we must not overlook… the word of God continued to increase.

What does Luke mean by this phrase, the Word of God increased?  Literally, the Word of God increased in influence.  In other words, no one had ever seen a problem of that magnitude handled so graciously buy anyone.  The Gospel had such power that it could not only save Jews speaking different languages but it could also knit them together into a Christ-focused Community.  No one had ever seen widows being cared for with such love and precision.  No one had ever seen such a massive movement of the Kingdom of God as the Apostles served the Word and the appointed servants leading the way in care and compassion ministries to the widows.

Church unity was the initial result… pleased the whole gathering

Jesus’ desire for His people was fulfilled that day…

John 17:20-23 (ESV)
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Notice with me what happens when Jesus’ people are in unity with Christ and with each other…, so that the world may know that you sent me

When we are unified with Christ and each other it will have a huge impact on evangelism and the Gospel.

So we see this morning that while caring for the Hellenistic Widows was the initial problem, it went much deeper.  The stakes were very high and the Gospel message at risk.  Would the Gospel move forward or get stuck in Jerusalem when Christ desired it to go to the ends of the earth…

This is why, James (who was also there) would write…

James 1:27 (ESV)
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James saw the impact that these first deacons had for the advance of the Gospel as they served those in need.  He calls it true religion…in other words, this is what we should be about.  Serving those in need within our church and striving for personal righteousness.

 

 

 

 

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