One Living Hope

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A Healthy Church is Humble (Acts 6:1-7)

By Alvin Varughese

: Roller Coaster video clip [PLAY YouTube clip from 1:00 to 1:40]

–          The early Church has been on a roller coaster!

  • First, there’s Pentecost and the crowd thinks the people are drunk!
    • But Peter’s Sermon reminds them of God’s Sovereign plan and as Acts 2:41 says, “there were added that day about three thousand souls”
    • Then, the lame beggar is healed but Peter and John are seized and told not to speak the name of Jesus!
      • However, we see that (Acts 4:31) “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness”
      • Next, we see the pride and selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira resulting in their deaths and fear coming upon the whole church!
        • However, God uses signs and wonders to encourage the church and Acts 5:14 says that, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women”
        • Every time Satan threatens to break the Church, the Church responds in faith and trust in God, and she perseveres!
          • Every difficulty is an opportunity to overcome and can be used as a stepping stone to greater growth

–          Last week, PR shared with us that the Church is Unstoppable

  • Why, because the Gospel is true and right and powerful!
    • However, as we heard last week, hearing the Gospel is either a chance to be softened or hardened to God
    • In Acts 6, we come to another challenge – but this time, it is from within the Church itself

Passage: [READ} Acts 6:1-7

  • Right after a moment where the Gospel has helped the Church overcome opposition, the Church “faces its first full-fledged church split”, says Craig Blomberg
    • One group in the church had a complaint against another group
      • This may sound familiar to some you!
      • Let me clarify:
        • This is not the usual silliness about preferences that come from acting childish
          • This was actually a legitimate issue that needed to be addressed
          • Many of have had experiences where the threat to the church has come from within – pride, jealousy, scheming, egos, quarreling, slander, gossip, cultural superiority, etc.
            • Many of us have been hurt and have even left churches where this occurred!
            • H.A. Ironside says that since the church was very busy building the Kingdom of God, “Satan saw that he must be busy himself if he was to hinder this work. He found access to the hearts even of God’s own children and started a spirit of murmuring and complaining among them, for he knows that if he can set believer against believer, he will easily accomplish his fell purpose.”

–          It is no surprise that the early Church faced so many difficulties right away!

  • Remember what Jesus told his disciples:
    • Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, and Luke 21:17 say: “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake”
    • John 15:18 says: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”
    • The threat from the outside was imminent, but we shouldn’t be surprised by the threat from the inside
      • Remember Genesis, all year plus of it?
        • God’s people have been plagued by sin issues since Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden
  • The pride, jealously, scheming and fighting have plagued God’s people since the beginning
    • Sin is constantly tempting God’s people to turn their eyes to the world and themselves and off of God
    • Remember what Jesus also told his disciples:
      • John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”
      • And Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23:
        • “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Context: Hellenists and Hebrews

–          The Jerusalem church was made up of both Hebrews and Hellenists

  • The main distinction between the two groups was probably linguistic
    • The Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who were dispersed in Greek influenced places within the Roman world and even had Greek-speaking synagogues
    • The Hebrews spoke Aramaic and Hebrew and attended synagogues where services were conducted in Hebrew and were Palestinian Jews

–          Remember that Jews looked down on many people: Samaritans, Gentiles, women

  • There was no doubt that many of the cultural and social differences were brought into the church
    • This issue was a practical issue, and not over a matter of theology, as the church would face later
    • You may be wondering how there could be issues within the church when these disciples were just saved and witnessed God working in many way
      • Hear what H.A. Ironside has to say:
        • “When people are saved, the new nature hey receive does not entirely change their old nature. We still have our natural tendencies which we must judge continually in the presence of God. A brother lost his temper during a meeting and at the close apologized: “You must excuse me, it’s the Irish in me.” A dear brother quietly said, “God can make the Irishman behave like a Christian.” We are not to excuse ourselves if we go wrong because of national characteristics.”
  • I have heard too many times in my life, “Well that’s just how so and so is. They have always been like that and they always be.”
    • I myself have pulled that card so many times! – It’s the Jersey in me; it’s my family temper in me; it’s the thing I struggled with so long!
    • If we make excuses for our behavior, then we are essentially saying that the Gospel is sufficient enough to forgive my sins and send me to heaven, but its not good enough to change the blank in me – you can fill it in
      • Dear friends, the Gospel is all sufficient, so if we say we can’t change some of these things that plague us, even cultural and social issues, then its not that Gospel is not working but that we are not living by the Gospel!
      • It is easy to get caught up in preserving right theology and sound doctrine, which we should, but in doing so some glaring issues can be overlooked
        • This is why it was so important for the Church to respond the right way to this issue, because if the Gospel is not transforming us to the very core of who we are and what we know – our cultural and social norms, our own sense of right and wrong, our biases and preference – then the Gospel has no power for our lives or our church
        • Even though preaching was more priority to the 12 apostles, they didn’t write off the complaint or sweep it under the rug
          • Instead, they respond with the Gospel and their response is saturated with humility
            • Have you ever been accused of being too humble? Would it be so bad to be known as a humble follower of Jesus?
            • When we think of good churches, we often think good biblical preaching, quality leaders, thriving ministries…but where does humility rank on the list?

–          In order for a church to be a Healthy Church, is has to be a Humble Church

  • In this passage, we see how humility is saturated in the life of the Church in two ways: Number One…

I.       Humility is shown in how we deal with problems

–          The passage begins with Luke mentioning how so many people were coming to faith in Jesus and the Church was growing – v.1

  • This is the first time in Acts that “disciple” is mentioned
    • I believe is trying to communicate that followers of Jesus were all kinds of people, so it was a way of changing the primary identity from ethnicity to Christian

–          A complaint comes from the Hellenists against the Hebrews because their widows are being neglected in the daily distribution – v.1 [see Acts 4:35]

  • This included food and necessary clothing, and possibly money as well
    • Widows were regarded as needing community care when no family member could care for them
      • We know from a couple of key texts in the NT the importance of taking care of the poor, widow, and orphan
        • James 1:27 & 1 Timothy 5:9-16
        • My late professor Paul Hiebert used to say, “A country health should not be measured by its wealth but by how it takes care of their poor”
        • Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you” [Matt. 26:11]
        • The daily allocations were made to the poorer members of the community from the common fund to which the wealthier members had contributed
          • The complaint was that one group was being favored at the expense of the other
            • Widows naturally formed a considerable proportion of the poorer members of the church, and the Hellenistic widows were said to be at a disadvantage in comparison with the Hebrew widows, perhaps because the distribution of charity was in the hands on the “Hebrews”
  • Ex: My experience at JMBC

–          I love how the Twelve apostles respond here – they don’t compromise – v.2

  • First, they gather all of the disciples – this was going to be a decision in front of the whole church and for the example of the whole church
    • Transparency and Accountability
    • There is no hesitation whatsoever – they don’t neglect their first and primary calling, which is the preaching, but don’t ignore the complaint as illegitimate or not of their concern
      • Their prioritize their role and delegate the responsibility, and in doing so involve more people in the community’s work
      • There are some things here I want to highlight:
        • 1) Calling is important – the 12 knew they were commissioned by Jesus to preach and they had to stay focused and committed to that
        • 2) Practice what you preach – they also realized that they needed to live out the Gospel they were so eager to preach!
        • 3) Not taking on too much – the 12 knew they couldn’t do everything in the church, so they delegate responsibility
        • 4) Servant leadership – no minister is above “lesser” tasks, so the 12 took this concern seriously and handled it with biblical leadership

* We are reminded that for a church to be a healthy church, they must be saturated in humility in how they deal with their problems *

–          Also in this passage, we see how humility is saturated in the life of the Church in: Number Two…

II.    Humility is shown in how we exercise our leadership

–          So, what do they do? Using godly wisdom, the 12 instruct the church to appoint leaders – v.3

  • The 12 tell them to pick 7 leaders from among them
    • It would be easy for the 12 to pick those they trusted and knew the best, or even their favorites, but they knew that the church, just like the Gospel, wasn’t their own
      • For the church to grow, the people have to take ownership of the church and the ministries
      • When the apostles say they should not “give up”, they are saying they should not cease from doing one thing in order to another thing
        • Someone else would be able to do this important ministry so that the apostles were free to keep preaching
        • In the apostles’ view, this ability to prioritize activities and not be responsible to do everything reflects good leadership and stewardship

–          While the 12 are ready to delegate responsibilities to others in the church, they are firm on the qualifications for those appointed – v .3 (we will see this highlighted later by the Apostle Paul in his letters to Timothy and Titus)

  • The men picked should have qualifications that have 2 major components: they must be spiritual men and their character be well accepted by others
    • 1) Of good repute:  an honorable reputation that can be testified to
    • 2) Full of the Spirit and of wisdom: their lives are directed by God’s Spirit, so that they are spiritually sensitive and able to make good judgments
    • It is important to note hear that the way the apostles are exercising their leadership
      • By having these qualifications, they are not leaving any room for pride and selfishness
      • Also, with men like this, they are ensuring that this complaint would be addressed and hopefully this wouldn’t happen again

–          After laying out the qualifications for these new leaders, the apostles model the kind of leadership it takes to serve the church – v.4

  • They devote themselves to prayers and to the ministry of the word
    • For these men that are about to be selected, the apostles give them a living testimony to serving God and His Church:
      • 1) Prayer, then 2) ministry
  • Prayer needs to be emphasized, now more than ever in an era where churches are making decisions in every other way besides the absolutely necessary spiritual discipline of prayer
  • The apostles are stating how they will lead the church, by seeking God’s will
  • Again, I like H.G. Ironside’s comments here:
    • “Notice the order – prayer first, and then the ministry. Often the ministry of the Word seems so powerless and weak because there is so little prayer behind it. A man of God must be a man of prayer; he must know the importance of waiting on God in private if he is to have the power of God in public. The twelve said as it were, “Our business is to spend our time in the presence of God in order that we may receive a message from Him and present that message in the energy of the Holy Ghost, that it may be used in the building up of the saints.” God grant that we too may ever have this ideal before us!

–          What the apostles said pleased the whole gathering – v.5

  • They chose 7 men, including Stephen who was a man of faith and full of the Holy Spirit
    • It is interesting to note that all of the men chosen had Greek names, so we can conclude that the Church selected these new leaders from among the Hellenists
    • The whole congregation too ownership of the proposal and unity was restored
      • This was an incredible step in the life of this young church
        • As God made it more clear that the Gospel was for all people, the church began to model and look like its head!
        • The missions world up until the last 50-75 years did not model this
          • Missionaries took Western Christianity with them, and so non-Western churches were full on English Hymns and Sunday best clothes!
          • In the 1950’s forward, the mission world realized that God is the creator of all culture and every culture has good aspects and aspects that need to be redeemed
            • However, local converts should be able to worship in their own language and musical styles and wear their own native clothes
  • They also realized that indigenous leadership was the only way to grow the church by making disciples who could make more disciples
    • Praise God that the Gospel is for all people and we are accepted just as we are!

–          Next, theses new leaders are set before the apostles, and they pray for them and lay their hands upon them – v.6

  • They approved and commissioned them in a way that would become common practice in the life of the church
    • This was also what was seen in the OT with the laying of hands as a bestowal of blessing
    • The apostles perform this rite on behalf of the community to underscore God’s choice of these men for this task
    • In sum, this passage shows the community using its own people to solve its own problems. The community hears the complaint, owns up the problem, allows those closest to solve it, delegates the authority to get it done, and then goes to work
      • Hear what Darrell Bocks says:
        • “The issue is not denied or papered over but confronted directly as a community concern. As the church was growing, it was encountering natural growing pains. It was adapting to the needs the new situation produced. The needs of the community were being met, as God was already raising up others who were qualified to meet the new challenges. So unity was maintained and the church did not lose sight of its mission to witness.”
  • And Ajith Fernando adds:
    • “The church continued to affirm and show its multiethnic, multicultural character, one the potentially powerful elements of its testimony to community.”

–          And what is the result of all this? The Word of God continued to increase the number of disciples multiplied greatly – v.7

  • As following the pattern we see in Acts, when the Church overcomes, growth follows
    • Luke personifies the Word of growing, because the Word itself has the power of life
      • The independent force of the Word of God makes it the preeminent instrument in salvation
  • The Word of God is giving life to the dead, and it shows with the increase in the number of disciples
  • Even priests, the core of the church’s opposition, a large number of them became obedient to the faith
    • Is there any question of whether the Gospel is sufficient?
      • When the church preaches and lives out the Gospel, humility is saturated in the life of the Church – and what happens? Even enemies become brothers!
        • The church’s mission is affirmed once again!
        • Friends, do not give up hope on those who seem farthest from God, even enemies of the Cross! The Gospel is all-sufficient!

* We are reminded that for a church to be a healthy church, they must be saturated in humility in how they exercise their leadership *

–          God loves humility – why? When we are humble, we are saying, “God, you be God, the Creator, the One in charge and the One who knows best…and I’ll be your child, your servant, your creature, and I will do what you say because you know what’s best for me”

Conclusion: PR shared with us last week a quote from Tertullian:

–          “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”

  • If this is what happens when outside forces threaten the Church, then let me share with you what happens if when those inside the Church threaten its mission:
    • 1 Corinthians 3:17: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
    • Remember, God does need you to build His Church
      • Just as Queen Esther was challenged by Mordecai, hey Queenie, if you keep silent, God will raise up someone else, but you will miss out seizing your divine moment!
  • We will miss out on being used by God and having eternal impact!

–          Let’s pray for humility!

  • You can never have enough humility!
    • Because Satan with continue to tempt us to sin, we will always need the humility that comes from the Gospel
    • As PR has shared with us before and we are reminded of again today:
      • We can’t be prideful and selfish and arrogant followers of a humble savior
      • Let us be a body that more and more reflects our head, Jesus Christ

–          Lord Jesus, grant me the grave to love your church and serve your church in the humility that comes  your Gospel!

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