Wouldn’t Be Right To Neglect The Ministry Of The Word
By Pastor Teddy
Acts 6:1-7 [5:17-42]
Key Verse 6:4
“And will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
However you look at it, what these disciples did on that day seemed foolish and dangerous. They were thrown in prison for preaching the gospel and warned yet again to never speak in Jesus’ name. But look at what happened! (5:19-20) An angel released them from prison then told them: “Go, stand in the temple courts” “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Here’s the thing: You’d think that because the angel had a message for them from God, they wouldn’t be afraid to do it, even though their lives were threatened. But I beg to differ. It’s hard for most of us not to live in the fear of other people’s threats even when we know the Lord’s will. One doesn’t need the Lord to say something through an angel to do what the Lord wants them to do without fear. The Lord’s will for you and me is obvious in every page of the Bible. Just go do it! So when you and I aren’t obeying the Lord’s will, whatever it is that we’re not obeying, it’s either because we’re living in the fear of the devil, or the fear of other people, and sometimes even because we fear disappointing ourselves. This fear issue is like a contagion to the soul, especially to the Christian soul which slowly eats at it and subdues it and renders it unproductive.
Jesus didn’t die to liberate us only from the power of sin. His death and resurrection liberates us from the power of fear as well. And fear is something that as Christians, we need to learn to overcome, otherwise, we continue living in fear all our lives and won’t get to taste what those disciples tasted— the glory of Christ’s full deliverance from fear! We shouldn’t have to live in fear, ever! Not if we’ve been born again of the Spirit of God! Not if we have been touched by the grace of our Lord. Especially not the fear of speaking out the faith and testimony we confess about Christ our Savior— the public profession before others, whether at school or at work or in the market place, or wherever we are. We can profess it publically without fear if we are living in the fear of God rather than in the fear or view of others. It’s what Christ died to liberate us from! The author of Hebrews knew this well when he said: “To free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear.” (Hebrews 2:15) Zechariah looked to the coming of Christ with hope and said: “To enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days.” (Luke 1:74-75) The apostle Paul assured us of it when he said: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” (Romans 8:15) Fear has absolutely no place in our lives, or in the hearts of those who love the Lord and know his gospel truth. These disciples didn’t go back to the temple to preach just because the angel told them so. They weren’t embarrassed or ashamed of the message they preached. And they really had no fear of the authorities any more. They had been liberated from fear. If this challenges you, that’s good; it should. It challenges me too! We all need to meditate on this truth, and ask the Lord to liberate us from our fears.
As they had been told, the apostles were now in the temple courts preaching the new full message of the new life they had received through the Lord Jesus. And when the guards went to bring them before the religious authorities for questioning, they were surprised to find them not in jail where they’d left them but in the courtyard preaching again. So they were brought yet again before the authorities and severely rebuked for their disobedience. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name” they said. (5:28) Now listen to how the apostles respond to the highest civil and religious authorities in the land. “We must obey God rather than men!” (5:29) It never ceases to amaze me every time I read those words. “We must obey God rather than men!” Why did the apostles say these words to the most powerful civil and religious men of the nation? He wasn’t being rude to them, nor did he say this in pride of heart. Peter by now was a man of humble heart who knew his place in the sight of God. He knew he was a redeemed sinner washed in the blood of Jesus. And so were all the other apostles. Every one of them knew that he was only a forgiven sinner— thing more. To know your place before the Lord of heaven is really crucial in life, otherwise you go on in life being offended and offending all the time by mere words and gestures of other men and women. Why did the apostles say these words to the powerful Sanhedrin? Because in their place of power and authority, they had forgotten that they were still only sinful human beings and no more, and that they were still answerable to God. It is very easy for anyone who’s in a place of authority to forget that he or she is only a human being. The apostles’ words remind all of us that regardless of who we are and what position we’re in or rise to in life, we must remember that we’re only human beings and that we must all ever answer to God.
And yet again, the apostles were rescued from serious consequences through the intervention of a brilliant Bible teacher called Gamaliel. They were dismissed after being flogged a few times and ordered not to speak in Jesus’ name again. What’s remarkable about this particular event is how the apostles reacted at the way they were treated— their flogging, that is. Luke tells us that they “Left rejoicing”, and he tells us why they acted in such an unusual way. He says it was because “They had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (5:41) There’s going to be many opportunities in the Book of Acts to talk in detail about the subject of suffering and what is truly worth suffering for, versus for example all that isn’t worth suffering for and which people still go through. We will talk in detail about the right Christian attitude of suffering, versus for example all the wrong attitudes that some Christians seems to put up in their ignorance of Scripture and of the truth of God. But briefly here, we have to mention that when the apostles were flogged for doing the right thing, it was unjust, painful and humiliating. So the question is, how could they possibly rejoice in such terrible suffering? It wasn’t the suffering itself that anyone could possible rejoice over, as much as it is who they were suffering for! Just like a mother would gladly suffer for her child, so also the apostles’ suffering seemed to pale when compared to whom they were suffering for. I think those who know the true worth of Christ and their own unworthiness of him— these are the ones who would be glad to suffer, if they knew that they’re suffering for his glory and honor. It really makes a big difference for those who understand this truth.
Usually after a humiliating public beating like this, regardless of who you are, it’s time to move on to a different place and start over again. But we see a whole new and different world coming out here at the dawn of the Christian era. It was a world of fearless faith, a Christian world community so different from anything we see around us today— a world community that doesn’t give up but goes on and ready to live the life Christ lived and to walk in the footsteps Christ walked, even if it meant walking right up to the cross. I believe they were ready to do so because they believed that just beyond the cross, there is the empty tomb, and then beyond that there is the resurrected life and world where every one of us who are in Christ will cross over to in time to be there forever. So that community was going no where, growing and staying right there where the Lord was working among them.
Look at 6:1 “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” It’s amazing that the number of disciples was increasing. Doesn’t that amaze you? With all the persecutions, the threats, sometimes even the floggings, wouldn’t that discourage people from coming to the faith? How about those who were selling property and sharing it with those who had nothing? Didn’t that sound odd and suspicious? Shouldn’t that turn people away? But they were coming in droves to join up with the apostles and to learn the way of the new life. And they weren’t fools either. They understood that there were dangers in following Christ. They might be harassed and persecuted, ever worse, imprisoned. But they weren’t discouraged. They still came. They studied. They understood, still confessed their sins, they repented and asked forgiveness, and asked the Lord into their hearts. And they committed their lives to the Lord. I wonder why? Why did they do so? Because the simple truth is that every human being is searching for truth, and they can only find it in Christ and in his gospel. So they came, and when they find him, they are ready to give up the world in exchange for him. And that is why we can never stop preaching the gospel nor inviting people to study the word of God. So that those who are searching for the truth may find it in Christ!
Look at verse 1 again. “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” So what happened here? What happened is that as soon as God began to work to bless, of course, the devil begins to sow trouble. And the kind of trouble he was trying to sow here was to break up the unity of the church. At first the church was united in heart and mind as the Holy Spirit had brought them together. But something happened here to break up the unity. It’s not that complicated to see, even if we don’t understand the wording here. What he used to break them up was pride and prejudice. He planted the idea in some that many were being treated unfairly, and complaining began among them. He used the idea that some members weren’t being given what they deserve. He used the old sense of social justice, that no justice was being done here. But of course, it wasn’t like that in the church. The Greek Jews who had become Christians were really as precious to all the apostles as the Hebrew Jews who had turned to Christ. No one was treated any different from the other. And certainly no one gave more food to one grandmother than another grandmother either.
When you think of it, it was a small and silly thing to argue over like a lot of silly church arguments. No one was really being mistreated in that sense, or being treated unfairly. But people are like this sometimes, even in church, Christians fall into these traps set up by the devil to disunite them all the time. And instead of stopping for a moment to think with their heart and with the faith God has given them, they think with a mind that gives them ideas about how unfair this is and how unfair that is; how unfair this apostle has been treating that member over the other member! Or, that it’s not right that this member should get more recognition than that member, when he or she had done so much for the church. And so, what happens? Trouble happens! And trouble has a way of escalating. It begins with a complaint in the heart. It then turns to bitterness in the heart. After that it becomes an open complaint! And finally it spreads among a few people until it divides people; one half against the other. There’s the group who thought this; And there’s the other group who thought that!
But it did not matter who thought what! It did not matter even if there was some unfairness in the distribution of food. Let me tell you something. These things will happen. And they will happen every time you have people! Wherever there are people, especially lots and lots of people, at least more than 3 people, there will always be some differences. But let me tell you something else. In Christ who died to unite us, we should be able to sit down and work out anything and everything together. Even if one of us has to give in to the other, it is better to give in than to end up divided! But this church didn’t do that. They let a silly food complaint grow until it literally threatened to divide them. And what if I was being treated unfairly? So what? So what if my mother was being given less food than another’s mother? So what? When did I become so privileged that I deserve so much? I think that sometimes we forget as Christians that we are really living in God’s grace. And in God’s grace, whatever we have is privilege and nothing more. When I know that everything I have is a privilege, I can remain humble. And if I am humble, it won’t bother me if you are getting more of anything. It won’t bother me if you are elevated and I remain in my low position. It won’t bother me if I am given less and you are given more. I don’t deserve anything in the first place. But when I complain, I must ask myself “When did I begin to think that I deserve this or that anyway?” That doesn’t come from God. It comes from the devil. And it comes for one purpose only— to bring trouble upon my church and upon my relationships and upon the unity which God blesses in these relationships in Christ.
Actually the church is not called to serve social issues to the point where it loses its real calling. Satan tried to mire the church in some food distribution issues to the point where trouble and complaining took the church away from what it is supposed to do, and focused it on utterly mundane issues of solving problems among feuding members. Let us be clear about something here! The church is called to serve the Lord Jesus and his gospel of life. That’s the function of the church. The church’s mission isn’t food distribution, although food distribution by the church falls into the category of an act of love. The church is a place where God meets sinner, and where sinner humbly confesses sins, asks God’s forgiveness, and then is washed in the blood of Jesus to receive a new life. We must never forget this. The church isn’t a place of business. It isn’t a place for social gathering. It’s the place where the Holy God reconciles the world with himself in and through Jesus his Son. If we reduce the church to a place to solve our social concerns, we also reduce his blood to a sacrifice that serves nothing more than our own benefits. It was a terrible thing for a young church to go through— to fight over how many loaves one group received, and how unfair some disciples are treating migrant foreigners with prejudice and racism. May God deliver us from this kind of trouble!
How did the disciples solve this? Read verses 2-4. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” A brilliant solution! Shouldn’t they hire lawyers or at least begin to investigate who was unfair and who was not? Who ate too many loaves and who didn’t? Who is right and who is wrong? No they did not, thankfully. They immediately knew what was happening. They saw the problem. They saw that the church primary mission had been abandoned, and that some sort of social justice issue had moved in to take its place. So they quickly came to a conclusion among themselves, what they should do. They would no longer be involved in this food issue. Important as it was to serve the widows, what was more important is to serve the word of God and prayer. It was a decision they had to come to, to return to the word of God and to prayer. They would study Bible and teach Bible. They would pray together. They would restore the unity they had when they first started. It was what God wanted them to do. It was one of the greatest decisions made in the early church— the decision to give themselves to the study of God’s word and to prayer. It’s a decision that every church needs to come to. Ultimately no church can survive unless the elders have that decision at the heart of their commitment to serve Christ and his church.
They also chose some mature men of God to take care of all other things. They were wise to choose men of spiritual wisdom, men who are led and guided by the Holy Spirit (not by their emotions) and who have a deep sense of responsibility. God gave the apostles wisdom in choosing such worthy men to take care of the other functions of the church. Even in the social office of the church, things needed to be done not by a worldly standard but by a godly standard. That is why the seven were chosen with these qualifications.
Look at verses 5-7. “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” The problem was eventually solved. They all realized the importance of unity and the danger of division. And the whole church committed to what the apostles had restored among them all— the ever so important Bible study and prayer. They gave themselves to the ministry of the word of God and to the ministry of prayer. I really pray that this whole congregation may have the conviction to commit to the ministry of God’s word and prayer, to spreading the gospel and the message of the new life we have from the Lord. May the Lord liberate every one of us from the power of fear and give us the faith and the courage to stand as his witnesses to our generation wherever we are.