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. (Act 6:1-7)
Have you got your priorities right? The real problem with the people of this age is that they have got their priorities wrong. What is the church here for? People now no longer want religion. So there is clamor to have your services on TV and on the on-line church is there, isn’t it?
Others think that the business of the church is to engage on philanthropic work - helping the needy and running orphanages and children’s homes. The task of the church as they say is to end war and injustice and wrongdoing. This view as we will find from this passage is not modern. It right here in the 1st century minds in this passage. But we see the wisdom of the apostles as given by the Spirit of God. And this was the turning point. Let us learn these lessons.
1. THE CHURCH GROWS
The primary task of the church is not to give physical help as important as it is. The primary task of the church is to preach THE GOSPEL. Why is the gospel proclamation the primary task of the church? why not impact the lives of sinners with the good of philanthropy and music and that which they want? Because the greatest need of the world today is to hear the preaching of the gospel. Remember that the Lord commissioned us not to philanthropy but to preaching (Matt. 28:19). When the Lord promised the Holy Spirit, He said that we receive power not to be powerful musicians but to be witnesses of the good news. (Acts 1:8). During His ministry on earth, the Lord did not sing out His heart, He preached and when He sent them out and told them to preach.
It is message of the gospel alone that deals with the fundamental need of sin. The fundamental need is not sickness, poverty, or any such thing – it is sin. The Grecians thought their primary need is of food and of clothing and other such like things. Putting physical needs before the spiritual needs is putting man before God and the result will be that man is left a sinner without some few temporary needs, which come back in another form, and God is not glorified. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and loose his soul?
The Apostles says that the need is sin and it needs a Saviour only the gospel will tell you that. The church will grow were the priorities are put right. The gospel is proclaimed telling people to repent of their sins and to believe in the Saviour and I assure you that the church will grow by leaps and bounds. The gospel is the means that God uses to save because it is His Word. He created the world by the Word of His mouth and so he creates the new creation by the Word of His mouth. Where the preaching is just the product of human invention, nothing is accomplished. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation all who believe because it has God’s way of saving sinners. Where the gospel is preached Christ is the center, “for we preach Christ…” (1Cor.1:23). Christ alone is the Saviour of sinners and wherever this message is sounded, sinners are saved. Whenever sinners are saved the church grows. And the church of Christ is growing throughout the world. Not just growing slowly but Christ’s followers are multiplied. The multiplication of believers is the business of the church.
What does it mean that believers are multiplied? When one person is converted and added to the Lord and to the church, he is expected to be a witness. He ought to go round telling others of what the Lord has done in his life. The personal witness of each Christian is saying that, you lived such a terrible life of sin but the Saviour found you. It is telling others that Jesus saves and is willing to save any person any time any place. It is not saying that you have been healed or any such a thing it is pointing people to see and know the Saviour who has graciously saved you. In the process, through your witness, another person is added to the Lord and to His church. But you do not keep quiet, and the person converted keeps the fire burning by telling others and others telling others and where there were ten people, they all must be witnessing to others. But why is it that we are not being multiplied in this church as we ought? It is because the work of witnessing has been left to pastors and only on Sundays! If we are not being multiplied it because you are being faithful with the message of God committed to you. It is because you are unwilling to proclaim it others. May tell you that there is nothing to be desired more than that God increases His church and add as many as possible from every quarter to His church
Would you commit yourself to reaching your colleagues in work in school with the gospel? This will definitely make the church to grow and believers to multiply. Note that the work of the ministry of the gospel AND PRAYER is incompatible with waiting on tables. Let the pastors be involved in public and private ministry of the gospel. We have too much to do already in preparing for preaching in counseling to do. In getting time for prayer and this makes us unable to fully discharge the work to do with physical needs (which we are not denying are there and important).
2. THE CHURCH HAS PROBLEMS
Subsequent to the multiplication of the disciples, is the dissatisfaction among the members of the church. They cited the sin of partiality, which is was taking place because of either ignorance or negligence on some one’s part. The church has problems because many have their priorities wrong about the church. They think that that it is a place to get food and clothing. This is why we have people coming here every day with one need or another, genuine and most of the times illegitimate needs and hoping that we are able to meet all of them
They take that it is the work of the pastors to preach as well as provide for them. They believe that it is their right to be provided for by the church. When their felt needs are not met they murmur and bring dissatisfaction the body of Christ. As result many churches have followed in their cue and so preach only about felt needs. they promise people health and wealth untold. They tell them that they can predict their future. They promise some husbands others wives. They say that they hold the key to their destiny! In addition, thousands flock to hear them. They do all that they are told to do. They ask them to ‘plant a seed of faith’ in order to get satisfy their felt needs and as you can well predict, the result is that the so called preachers get richer and richer and these needy are left to languish in their needs. beware that your need is to have the Saviour – Jesus Christ the Saviour divine.
Many want their way and not the way of the Lord – because they are still sinners. Sinners cannot live with each other any other way. They have to be made holy gradually but as long as on this earth, they will have all sorts of characteristics that shows that they are still sinners who are being sanctified. There is always the difficulty that a few hypocrites stealthily creep into the crowd, and their wickedness is not discovered at once, but only when they have corrupted part of the flock with their infection. There are also many ungodly people who worm their way into the church on a false pretext of repentance. Besides, it is never so easy to get people to agree among themselves – opinions vary greatly.
All local churches have one local problem or another. There is not perfect church and if you find one please do not join it lest you, a sinner you are, spoil it! My advice to you is this – never leave church because of a problem of sin. Sinner should be dealt with by the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit and by prayer. Eventually, the church will come to its senses by the Holy Spirit and by the Scripture and will discipline the person – in order that he will either change or repent or will leave the church. Because you will leave that church only to go to another which is worse. However, if the church is in a doctrinal error that you are not in a position to change, leave and look for a more Biblical church.
For what causes quarrels and fights among you (in the church)? It is love for earthly things like money, food clothing and such that does not come from the Spirit of God (James 4). It is because of worldly ambition that lead to conceit and vainglory. But this is the advice for us: (James 4:8-11)
1. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
2. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts.
3. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
4. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.
Problems in the church bring good whether people remain together after the problem or part. We always wish that a problem would only leave the church united. We long for people to leave in peace with another. However, God sometimes allows division. I am not saying that God loves division but we can see that sometimes it happens and the result is that those who are left heal and the church is healthier. On the other hand those who go, are at peace with one another and also preach the gospel where they could not have done so were they to remain together. But having said that let us know for sure that God will punish those who divide His church – Because He hates division. But lets us remember that even with problems, the church belongs to the living God and will still use it as the instrument of conversions. People will be saved by Christ through the church and will be preserved by the Holy Spirit in the church.
3. THE CHURCH DEALS WITH PROBLEMS BIBLICALLY
Widows orphans and aliens are always in Scripture, both the New Testament and Old Testament, specified as objects of compassion – both divine and human. We should seek to help them as a church. However, we should only do it in the right manner, according to the Word of God. For example, no widow who is not yet sixty who should ask the church to take care of her needs because such a one can remarry. Let even those who are sixty and above be taken care of by their children and only come to be helped by the church when their children are not willing to help (1Tim 5:3-16). Clearly the needy cases are always there (because the Lord said that we will always have the needy with us), therefore the church needs to prepared for it. The
Organization is essential and the Lord through Luke tells us how the church is to be organized biblically. As a result of the problems that had arisen, it appears that the there was only one ace to play – delegate the word. The apostles to do the most primary work and to give the rest to be done by others. The office of deacons was necessary in order to serve the church.
What is the purpose of the deacons? What are their qualifications? How are they to be appointed?
The purpose of the deacons is to serve the church. They are the stewards of the church and are therefore to serve in administering the affairs of the poor and in taking care of the poor themselves, as Calvin rightly asserts in his Institutes 4:3:9. This accords to the true teaching of the New Testament in Phil1:1; 1Tim:3-8-13. These men ought to meet three requirements: they must be from among the people (members of the local church),they must have a good reputation, or above reproach and full of the Holy Spirit (with wisdom of the Holy Spirit). Clearly there is no separating the sacred from the secular so that we see that Stephen distribute the food and finances and also preach the gospel and even perform miracles. The appointment of the deacons is the work of the church not of one individual person, for none has such authority except the church itself. They are to be appointed by the common votes by the church (Cf. Calvin’s Commentary on Acts Vol.1 pp 161).
Orderliness in the church, just as in our lives, is achieved by drawing lessons from the Bible. This is because the twelve apostles were not lazy people wishing to get done with the difficult part of their work, they were following in the footsteps of Moses as advised by Jethro, his father-in-law in Exodus 18:13-27, advise the worked so well for Moses and for the whole Israel assembly. The Lord has people to work for Him because He has given them such talents. You need to use your talents to bring profit to the Kingdom of God. You should be willing to be used of God in the manner in which God calls you. This why Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, are chosen and they do not grumble. If anything they are humbled that the church though so highly of them. When the church chooses you for a task to do, do not have this or the other excuse (like Moses or Barak). These men took up the challenge with the situation as bad as it was. They were willing to serve in the capacity God’s people had given them – it was neither too big a responsibility not too low, it was what the Lord wanted them to do for the course of the gospel.
The church should be willing to deal with issues only in a Biblical manner, so that where someone is in sin discipline is administered. Where the church has a weak administrative organ it is strengthened so that after all it God who is honored. You see Christ has ordained that His church, the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of truth (1Tim3:15). This puts the church in very high position and so we should be those who have our lives centered around the church.
4. THE CHURCH ATTRACTS ALL TYPES OF PEOPLE
In verse 7 we read that, “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.” This is not the first time or the last time in this book we are read that the word of God increasing, by the beginning of the Day of Pentecost, there were 120. By the end of the day, after Peter’s inspired sermon, three thousand was added. (Acts 2:42). then they devoted themselves to the life of the church and the Lord added to their number more people (2:47). Later we read that in my last sermon that the number increased to 5,000 (4:4). Then c.f 12:24; 13:49; 19:20. The Word of God is progressing, winning more and more people to the Lord from all walks of life, lifestyles, occupations, class. They are being persecuted from without, they internal problems, they administrative hiccups, yet the Lord is adding more and more to their number. In this case, the addition s described in terms of increase in the Word of God. It is also described in terms of what was happening to them – they were being multiplied. those who were added were even those who had opposed them – the priests those who belonged to the council of Sanhedrin.
Imagine that priests of all the people, were being added? Even the Word used of what was happening to them is very interesting – they “became obedient to the faith.” Becoming obedient to the faith is not a term used accidentally. Previously these people were not obedient (though they thought they were) they were disobedient to God and to His Word. They thought they were keeping the Torah. But keeping nine laws of God and breaking only one is equal to breaking them all as James will very eagerly tell you (James 2;10). Obedience is total not half or in terms of percentage. Obedience is required by God in entirety. Nothing less.
Is it possible to obtain salvation by obedience? Yes – if you obey the Word of God at every point and you were not born by your parents but by angels! You were born a sinner and have lived a sinner and so you are by nature a disobedient person. You must be converted first before you are able to obey God. God’s standard is too high that there is no one who is able to meet it except Himself. For this reason He sent His Son to be the Saviour – for He alone is able to bear the penalty and dispense His perfect righteousness to those that God gave Him to save.
These priests were not obedient to the faith and so they were made obedient to the faith. They were not obedient although they fasted twice a week, gave a tithe of all they owned including their perfumes! These are things that you can’t do. Yet they had to be ,made obedient by the Saviour divine.
Have you become obedient to the Saviour? Are you willing to be? He is willing to make you and add you to His people. People who are called by His Name, belonging to Him – they are His and He is theirs, for He has made a eternal covenant with them. People who are special and who Christ has prepared heavenly mansions for each one of them.
Come , come to Him and obtain mercy and grace.