16th October 2011
A problem solving exercise.
As we have seen over recent weeks the church was growing at a phenomenal rate. The Lord was blessing her greatly and that caused many problems for her. She was experiencing persecution from the authorities but also as we have read there was an undercurrent within the membership.
The church has been commended for the way that they cared for each other; property had been sold in order to help any in need. We have no real way of discerning the timespan between those events recorded in chapter 4 and chapter 6 but the impression we get is that it is only a short space of time. In this period there has developed unrest amongst the members. It was a dangerous situation and it needed to be deal with swiftly but carefully. The way that the church dealt with it is a great example for us as a church today. This morning we will consider:
1) The problem.
2) The proposal.
3) The result.
1: The problem:
The problem began with the church growing. We could say that they were experiencing growing pains but that would be far too simplistic. The reality was that amongst believers a racial tension was in evidence. From our studies of the New Testament we know that racial issues are a constant battle. The Jews were a very proud people; proud of their heritage as the nation singled out through whom God would bless the whole world. When a person is converted the scripture tells us that he is a new creation, the old sinful nature is dealt with and a new Godly nature replaces it. That might suggest that sinless perfection results and so consequently that person will from then on never transgress again. Some believe that it is not only possible for Christians to attain such perfection but that it is an expectation. But the evidence of the bible is that this is never the case. In fact we will one day be made perfect but that is when we receive our glorified bodies in the presence of God in heaven. Until that day we battle against the old sinful nature and so in the words of scripture we need to crucify the old nature and work hard at living a holy life. As we know that is easier said than done. In our passage Luke records the church displaying this very problem, they are guilty of letting the old nature raise its ugly head.
Racism is becoming a problem. The Grecian Jews are in their opinion not being treated as well as the Hebraic Jews. The very thing that we commended the church for just a few weeks ago is now a failure. Inequality has become a part of the church. From being all equal now some are feeling marginalised and unfairly treated. As with all such problems it is not absolutely certain where the truth lies. It might well be true that the Hebraic Jews were receiving preferential treatment but equally it could be true that it was a perceived favouritism on behalf of the Grecian Jews. That does not really matter; there was a problem that if not dealt with would soon split the church. Church history is littered with splits due to lesser issues than this one that we are considering today!
The problem was important, the widows of the Greek section of the church felt that they were being overlooked by the food bank. Their perception was that the Hebrew widows were being cared for properly and their widows were not! Therefore a real tension was building up the result being that they were complaining amongst themselves!
If this situation were to continue then real problems are just around the corner. Jealousy soon would destroy the fellowship! I am glad that this issue is recorded by Luke. It is a great encouragement to me that the early church was just like us, they did get things wrong. Human nature causes all sorts of problems especially when a number of people are together for any period of time. It would be so easy at this point to get all stewed up and to let emotion and hurt take over and to react in a way that is detrimental to the church and its witness.
We will undoubtedly experience our own unique problems; in fact there are probably issues within our fellowship now where some might feel marginalized for all sorts of reasons. The important thing for us is: what we do when we feel like that!
We have a great example before us as to how we should deal with such issues.
2: The proposal:
We are not told how the Apostles came to know about the problem but it had clearly come to their attention and they immediately took it seriously! It is too easy for us as leaders to bury our heads in the sand when we see problems, but as we all know when we do then the problem amplifies very quickly. The Apostles acted quickly and efficiently.
First they addressed the problem publicly. This was a church issue and the whole church was consulted as to the remedy. Information is always encouraging to those going through difficulties. Often in news reports we hear of some incident that prevents public transport having to delay their journey. One of the great criticisms the public has is that they do not know what is going on. The church on this occasion could not criticise its leaders for a lack of communication. We would do well to take note of this point; there should be no secrets from the membership as to what is going on in the church. There will obviously be matters of confidentiality when working with people but for the smooth running of the church and for matters of organisation then information is vitally important for all!
Not only did the Apostles take the issue seriously and address the church but they also assessed it rightly. The Apostles had a mandate as to what their role was. It would have been easy at this point for them to muddle along and attempt to deal with the problem. They were of course the leaders and might have felt that they should roll their sleeves up and sort it out. But that was the role of another group of believers. You see the Apostles main role was to pray and to minister the word! That was enough for any man at that time. To get involved with other issues would have resulted in their ministry being compromised. It is so easy for leaders to want to meddle in all of the issues of the church! There are various ministries in the same way as there are various parts of our bodies and just like an eye is specially made to see things and a hand to feel things then within the church there are various members who are especially equipped to perform the many necessary tasks of the church. The last thing that the church needs is a one man ministry or even few member ministries! What we do need is a full body ministry where all members are mobilized and about their own special ministry in the fellowship. There should be no back-benchers or retired members, we are all vital to the cause of the gospel here!
So what did the Apostles do? They made an important proposal!
Choose 7 equipped men and appoint them to the task of serving the church. The equipping required was that they be full of the Holy Spirit and wise. The church knew exactly which men to choose and presented them to the Apostles who then set them apart by praying for them and anointing them (or laying hands on them) and then letting them get on with the job.
We need leaders who take their role seriously and who deal with all of the issues of the church swiftly and fairly. We need the leaders to do the job that they are appointed for and to appoint equipped people to perform the tasks with which they are especially equipped and then to leave them to do the job for which they have been appointed!
So often the leaders are everything in the church leaving the rest of the members feeling impotent. Equally just as Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas were both available and willing to be involved so we need all members of the church (Christian attenders!) to be willing and available for service! The church is an all member activity and not a work for the elite few!
3: The Result:
As we have seen before church growth resulted from good church practise! Look at verse 7; the result of serious leadership is the spread of the Word of God. But not just the spread of the Word but God was also pleased to bless the Word being preached. The Apostles prioritized rightly making themselves available to preach the gospel and God gave the increase. The number of disciples grew rapidly and also at the same time the enemy is being decreased! A large number of priests were converted; simply because the church would not bow to the authorities when they demanded that the gospel should not be preached and also due to the faithfulness and obedience of the church and its leaders in the internal issues of the church.
Notice that it is God who convicts and converts; that is His work! BUT the spread of the gospel is our responsibility. Just as the early church did we must take that duty seriously and the church must all work together in order that the gospel might be preached widely. Where there are problems they must be dealt with speedily with great efficiency but also with great care and wisdom. Problems should not hinder our gospel work but should be dealt with swiftly thus making the church more gospel efficient. Then we MUST pray that the Lord gives the increase. We do not need plans and church growth schemes we simply need to be biblical and obedient!