Sunday, February 24, 2019
Unstoppable: The Revolutionary Gospel
Part 7: “As the Church Grows”
Together we have been looking at the history of the early church and the power of the Gospel. We have seen how the church was going, growing, and glowing. At no other time in Christian history has the church of Jesus Christ been characterized by the phenomenal growth, the marvelous miracles, the pulsating power, or the unstoppable boldness which it experienced in the first few weeks of its existence.
The story of the book of Acts reveals how rapidly the church was growing; on the day of Pentecost we are told that of "those that gladly believed... 3,000 were added" (2:41), and that believers were continually being "added daily" (2:47). Even persecution could not stop the church, Chapter 4:4 reveals that "5,000 men" are added, this would mean a congregation of at least 20,000. Later we are told the "Multitudes of men and women" were continuing to be added according to (5:14), until finally we are told that "disciples are multiplied." (6:1)
So here in the most exciting moment in the history of the church, when God's power is being felt, and when the church was being multiplied in size, a dissension arose among the people. Having failed to stop the church in its mission by either persecution or corruption, Satan now tried distraction, he tried to get the church to fight.
Some inequity arose and became the cause of the first dissension in the church. It is an attempt on the part of the enemy to divide the church by envy and misunderstanding. It is interesting to consider that this problem in the church could easily have produced what the previous threats of the Jew religious leadership had not, the cessation of preaching of the gospel.
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. (2) Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. (3) Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; (4) but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (6) whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. (7) Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:1-7 (NKJV)
At other times we have looked to this passage for insight on the selection of deacons but this morning I want us to see the four things that it tells us about solving problems within the church.
As the church grows:
I. Greater Demand for Discernment 6:1
" Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a compliant against the Hebrews by the Hellenist because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution."
In Jewish society widows were particularly needy and dependent, and both the Old Testament and the New Testament single them out along with orphans as the most in need of charitable help. This dissension when the Christian community came as the result of several factors (1) The dissension occurred because Satan was at work behind the scenes trying to stir up division. (2)
This dissension was the result of natural divisions within the church. At Pentecost thousands of Aramaic speaking Jews (those born in Palestine) plus hundreds of Greek speaking Jews born outside of Palestine (known as Hellenist) became one in Christ. However, conversion as wonderful as it is does not erase all their prejudices.
The Greek-speaking widows soon felt as if they were been shorted in the daily division of food. (3) The dissension happened because it is easy for things to fall through the cracks of a growing church, even when that church is spirit-filled and really love one another.
The success of the church was actually the source of concern in the church. The Church was experiencing "growing pains" and this was making it difficult for the apostles to minister to everybody. As any church gets larger, things cannot be handled spontaneously or informally any longer. When a church is small, many of the jobs can be handled with little or no structure. Church growth consequently requires constant evaluation and change in the way things are done.
The complaint concerned the welfare of the widows. In this case there seems to be a real problem but this is not always so when complaining begins. The word translated “complaint” (gongysmos) is an unpleasant word, used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the murmuring that the Jews did against Moses in the wilderness (Ex. 16:7, Num. 14:27).
Regardless of the cause murmuring is always wrong. These Greek-speaking Christians began to complain, but they did not complain to those in authority, those responsible, they simply complained among themselves. When you complain to other people who are perhaps involved but who are not in a position to do anything about it; that is murmuring.
I wonder how many churches have been destroyed by a spirit of murmuring? God may be working in marvelous ways, souls are being saved, and then someone gets it into their heads that they are not be appreciated. A spirit of complaining develops as someone goes around the church complaining to anyone who will listen. Little unkind things are said, reflection on others. Suddenly the people begin to wonder why the work of God does not make more progress, why there seems to be so little evidence of power and why more people are not being saved. It is all because a root of bitterness has sprung up.
When believers are unhappy and begin to murmur the first place to look for the problem is in their own hearts.
As the church grows:
II. Increased Concerns Require Decisiveness 6:2-3
“Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. (3) Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;”
What procedure would the apostles use to deal with the problem? There are several possible ways they could have dealt with problem:
(1) They could have Ignored the Problem.
ILL: A group of college boys decided to kidnap the team mascot, a goat and keep in their dorm room. They had very intricate plans to smuggle the animal into their room. Until someone said, "But what about the smell." One of the others replied, "The goat will just have to get use to it."
(2) They could have taken the criticism personally and reacted with resentment.
ILL: The famous painter Whistler. had just finished a portrait when the subject protested, "You can't call that a great work of art." Whistler responded by saying. "Perhaps not, but then you can't call yourself a great work of nature."
(3) They could have over-reacted to the problem.
Sometimes the temptation is to overreact by yielding to criticism, even before we check out its merits, and perhaps do more harm than good.
ILL: A farmer was plowing his corn one hot day when he heard a scratching sound. He saw a mouse gnawing at a stalk of corn. He thought of all the long hours he had spent clearing the land. planting it, cultivating it, and now this mouse was trying to destroy it. In the heat of anger, the farmer picked up a stick and went after the mouse. He beat, slashed, chased, and sweated until he finally deliver a lethal blow to the mouse. He felt a deep sense of satisfaction until he looked around and realized he had destroyed nearly an acre of corn to kill one little mouse. If not well thought out sometimes the solution can be more deadly than the problem. (4) What they did was faced the Problem.
Every problem that arises in the church gives us the opportunity to do three things. (1) Examine the effectiveness of our ministry. (2) Exercise faith (in the Lord and in each other). (3) Express Love in the way that we work out the problem.
As the church grows:
III. Handling Those Concerns Requires Delegation 6:4-5
“but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.”
The apostles had already declared, (v. 2) "it is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables" and now they say, “ but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word” (v.4). It would be easy to read this as though the apostles were saying, “We’re too good to serve tables. After all, we’re apostles. Lets pick out seven flunkies who can do that, while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching of the word.” But if you read it that way you completely miss the meaning of the passage. The apostles are convinced that their primary calling was to proclaim the Word of God, with its related requirement of prayer.
Instead of trying to attach blame to anyone, they delegate responsibility. (v. 3) “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;” There is no hint that the apostles regarded this work as inferior, or beneath their dignity. It is entirely a question of calling.
When we think of their recommendation, we are reminded of an Old Testament incident. When Moses was snowed under with work and trying to do it all, his father in law said to him, "This strain will kill you - I advise you to select some able men to help you." (Exodus 18:12)
For this important job the apostles laid out specific qualifications. No job is too small not to require good men. Verse three tells they were to be, “from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;” (v.12). These men were chosen from with the church, "men of good reputation." They were to be men of character. Let me assure you that regardless of what you hear in the political arena character does matter. They were to be men of spiritual standing - "filled with the Holy Spirit" and men of intelligence - "full of wisdom." In spite of what seems to be the case in some churches they were elected to settle a quarrel not start one!!!
As the church grows:
IV. Handling Those Concerns in God’s Power Produces Great Results 6:7
“Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
The first result of handling this problem was that unity was restored among the people. According to verse five, the proposal made by the apostles “pleased the whole multitude.”
Because the people were once more united in purpose the outflowing of this was that the gifts of each individual are utilized. As the church grows it is not a time to get lost in the crowd but to get involved in the ministry. People who study church growth tell us that in order to have a maximally healthy church 60% of the people must be involved in some sort of ministry. If the widows are being neglected it is time to wait tables. If the School needs more teachers, it is time to step up. We are not only to be careful not to complain, but we must also be willing to serve.
ILL: From a sermon entitled “Willing Waiters” comes this quote: “To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself out for others…to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom – I’ll do it. I’m ready Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table. ‘Here’s my life, Lord, I’m giving it all.’ But in reality, for most of us it is he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ Go to the committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory, it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”
The text says “then,” that is when there was a restored sense of unity and involvement by everyone in the ministry "Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” The two words “spread” and “multiplied” are both imperfect tense indicating that both the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church were continuous.
When dissension is checked within, the work of God goes on in great power and blessing. There is something here that ought to speak to every one of our hearts! Are you praying for revival to occur in our church? Have you ever gone to the Lord in prayer and asked, “Lord, please revive our church and let it begin in me; if there is anything in me that hinders a revival please reveal to me?”