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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Acts part 11: Here comes trouble.

Building the right foundation part 11

Acts 6:1-7 Here comes trouble.

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. 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. 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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 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. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
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.
English Standard Version Anglicised
I recently commented that the devil has no new tricks up his sleeve helps us to understand the reasons why the infant church went through waves of persecution and internal struggles. With this in mind and the fact that the devil's purpose is to oppose the redeeming work of God. He irredeemably fell from grace due to his pride and is under God's judgement. He is banished from heaven eternally and wants to take as many people as he can to judgement and hell with him. His track record or pattern can be observed clearly from the early chapters of Act: he generally has a three pronged attack on the church. Firstly he will persecute believers and when that fails then he will cause some within the church to become proud and arrogant as with Ananias & Sapphira. This pattern can be seen from both scripture and church history alike. If pride and arrogance fails then he pulls out what usually proves to be his trump card. He causes the leaders to be derailed or side-tracked from their calling. The passage that we have to consider today is a classic example as to how this happens.
A lesson from the past:
If you recall after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and were travelling through the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. It is recorded in Exodus18 that Jethro came to Moses one day and spoke to him about his workload. Moses had spent all day judging over the people of Israel. Some came to him with issues concerning the faith but others concerning squabbles and contentions. Jethro's advice to Moses was to seek out Godly and trustworthy men to judge over the issues in order that they relieve Moses from the lesser issues allowing him to concentrate on more important things. (This is an amazing parallel to the passage that we have before us.) The episode happened at a time when the Amalekites had been defeated and the people were enjoying the favour of God. News had reached Jethro in Midian that God was doing amazing things and so he brought the family of Moses back to him. Jethro wisely saw that Moses was being distracted from his work by over work. Moses was called by God to be His spokesman and the leader of the nation and he was being distracted by taking too much upon himself. The devil loves to use this tactic because it feeds the ego of the leader which in turn will dilute the effect of his ministry. The devil did not have his way on that occasion and as we see from reading our text he didn't succeed on this occasion either. Our concern here today is that he must not succeed here in the Mustard Seed either. The parallel for us is similar; we have been under severe attack and now that it has eased off it would be easy for the leaders to fall for the same temptation and to diversify so much that our God given ministry becomes ineffective.
Back to the passage:
The problem:
The problem was that the church was successful and increasing in number. The first wave of persecution had failed and the error of Ananias and Sapphira had been dealt with but now a far more insidious attack was taking place. It was the mumblings and grumblings of Christians. The word that is translated as complaint in the ESV is “goggysmos” in the original Greek gives the idea of complaining with murmurings. When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek for the Septuagint the same Greek word was used for an incident in the desert recorded in Exodus 16:7. the occasion was when the Israelites were guilty of grumbling to Moses and Aaron concerning their hunger. Their complaint was brought against the leaders; they were claiming that they were better off in Egypt where they sat next to the plentiful stew pots etc. What a terrible lie that was! They had been released from slavery and were now a free people on their way to a land promised to them by God. In verse 8 Moses told the people that even though the focus of their disgruntlement was against him the reality was that they were really grumbling against God. The parallel of the two passages is obvious. The progress of the free nation was about to be derailed by the mumblings, grumblings and murmurings of the people against the leaders. Their complaints were completely unfounded and unfair after all God Himself had promised to care for them and lead them into the promised land.
Now the infant church was similarly in danger of being derailed through the grumblings of the people. There is no reason to disbelieve that there was some unfairness going on but the emphasis of the word “goggysmos” is clear, they were moaning with a purpose. The Greek widows were being missed out and the Hebrew widows were being favoured but we cannot lay the blame for this on the Apostles. As with Moses there was simply too much work for them to do. Remember that there were now many thousand of new Christians learning to be the church under the leadership of 12 newly saved and appointed apostles. The issue was a real problem that could so easily have derailed the church. Grumbling is always a destructive force in the church.
The church today is plagued with our own equivalents. I am sure that we do not need to dig too far in our own church to discover groaning, mumblings and grumblings that have real foundations but which are equally destructive because they come from negativity.
We need to guard against embittered and sinful grumbling! There is nothing wrong with pointing out problems but it must come from a heart that is concerned for the glory of God and the good of the church. That was clearly not the case with the infant church on that occasion so what is going on in the background?
The devil's influence: The devil is always the instigator of disunity and so therefore he was behind what was going on here. His main aim was to derail the church and to him the best way of doing that was to make the leaders over busy. That is why the apostles acted as they did. If they had reacted and become angry or embittered by criticism as many do then the devil would have won and if they had capitulated and ran around like headless chickens trying to deal with the problem that also would have been a victory for the evil one!
They made a wise decision at:
The church meeting:
They gathered the whole church together and addressed the issue head on. For those of us who do not appreciate church membership as we have it today this passage is helpful for us to understand that even in infancy there must have been some structure and authority in the church. The structure for us has developed into a formal membership of committed believers. The members meeting is then where we can call the church together to deal with our own issues of the day.
At the church meeting the Apostles plainly laid out the truth. They had been appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ to make disciples and to teach and build the church under His guidance. As Apostles theirs was a unique calling which could have been derailed if they had not dealt with this problem wisely and correctly. Peter referred to the distraction waiting on tables which is really serving in an area which was outside of their specific mandate. But this was an important issue and a necessary work but it was not for the Apostles to do. Somebody must do it therefore the Apostles made a wise decision! The church was to choose seven men with outstanding Christian credentials and to appoint them to deal with the problem. If only we would be so wise in our daily church responsibilities!
The Apostles set in place for us an example of common sense leadership. There was a problem to which a simple solution was found and then those appointed were allowed to do their duty. Some suggest that the seven chosen are a prototype diaconate but that is difficult to prove. The diaconate as it is developed later on in the New Testament is much more than a committee chosen deal with disputes over unfairness! What this passage does display is the need that from time to time we may need to appoint specialist members of the church for the issues of the day. There is no evidence that the appointed men on that day continued in the role after the problem had been dealt with. In actual fact Stephen was soon to be martyred.
From time to time we will need committees like this to deal with our own specific issues, maybe the building currently, or other disagreements that are rattling around fall into this category now. We ought to be bold enough to do as the infant church did and appoint respected Christians to deal with issues and allow the elders to pray, teach and preach as they are appointed to do. They must devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word as did the apostles.

The wise decision of the apostles met with the approval of the church and so the went and made their decision.

The committee:
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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 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. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

Look at the men chosen, Stephen was a wonderful example; he was a man who was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. The other six men were also fully acceptable to the church and to the apostles. They were then set apart by the apostles on behalf of the church they were released for the task of reconciliation. Interestingly they were all men with Greek names which in turn displays the grace and wisdom of the whole church in their choice. They were then trusted to sort out an unfair situation.
Their Christian credentials were of more importance than their national background. This must always be the case, we do not want anyone appointed by the church because of who they are! Church history is littered with disasters caused by dynasties in the church. We recently considered the dynasty of Annas as High Priest in New Testament days and the terrible consequences caused by his family over many years. The church does not need to follow suit, when we appoint leaders of any sort they must be appointed for their Christian character and suitability as were the seven!
The result of this for us will then be as is recorded in verse 7: the church will be blessed. For the church then it was an increase in numbers with even some priests being saved. For us it is at present unknown, it would be lovely to think that it might be conversions and growth but that is all in the Lord's hands. He just expects us to be wise and faithful. When we are then the devil has not been successful in his quest to cause problems from within.
Are you grumbling? Speak to the right person and not to everybody. Problems cannot be dealt with swiftly if the last people to hear of them are the leaders. Do not let the devil get a foothold in our fellowship through grumblings, let us be open and honest in all things.
Do you support the church in the decisions that we make? The elders and deacons need your prayers that we might be wise in all of our decisions. Do you pray for us?

The devil did not succeed on this occasion and so next week we will discover that he goes back to square one with his persecution of the church. We will be considering the ministry of Stephen and how a man of faith stands for gospel truth.

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