|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
We will turn our attention today to the sixth chapter of the book of Acts. This chapter may be divided into two parts. The first half, verses 1-7, is dealing with a problem that arose within the church and how the church solved the problem. The second half, verses 8-15, deals with the arrest of Stephen, who became the first Christian martyr.
In the early church in Jerusalem there were two kinds of Jews who had become Christians by faith in Christ. There were the Jews who were born and raised in Jerusalem and the Jews born and raised in the provinces away from Palestine, who only spoke Greek. So the early church in Jerusalem was divided by the language barrier between Greek and Hebrew.
During those days, distribution of food and money was made to the widows who were in need, something like our community service except this was for members. A common fund was provided, out of which money was taken every day to meet the needs of these women. Keep in mind there was no welfare or food stamps in those days and employment for women was almost nonexistent. Therefore, women who had lost their husbands had no other means of support.
It so happened that there was some discrepancy in distribution between the Greek-speaking widows and the Hebrew. Whether this was done deliberately or was an oversight we do not know. What we do know is that the Greek widows expressed their dissatisfaction by murmuring (or complained, as the New International Version of the Bible puts it). Murmuring can be deadly, especially when complaints are not made to the ones in authority, as these widows were obviously doing by the Greek word Luke used in describing this incident. As a result, discontent began to spread throughout the whole church.
This was the first sign of growing pains in the early church and which has been recorded for our benefit. When members complain about a problem to people who are not in a position to do much about it, that the Bible calls murmuring. According to the Old Testament, murmuring brought the judgment of God upon the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Murmuring, in contrast to legitimate complains to the right person, is always the mark of a discontented and a unhappy person. It is evidence that one is still walking in the flesh, because the flesh is selfish and is never satisfied with what it has but is always complaining to others. In contrast, note the signs of a mature spiritual Christian. Philippians 4:10-13:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this becaue I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Paul was languishing in a Roman dungeon when he wrote this prison epistle and made this statement. He had every reason to complain, but he was walking in the Spirit and the Holy Spirit had set from the selfish desires of the flesh. When a church reaches such maturity, it will witness to the world the agape love of God that seeks not its own and demonstrate the power of the gospel. Everyone will be content and be living for others.
Now, when the murmuring of the Greek widows reached the ears of the apostles, since rumors travel fast, they realized something had to be done quickly or the Church would be destroyed by Satan. So they acted, and please note how they solved the problem. Acts 6:2-4:
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 several 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.
The first thing I want you to take note of is that, when a church grows in numbers and this creates growing pains, the solution is shared responsibilities. One of the major problems we are facing in the Adventist churches in this country is that the members expect the pastors to do everything. Consequently, he has not enough time to dig into the Word and feed the flock adequately. The result is a spiritually dying church.
I believe there needs to be more shared responsibility in the church. I hope when nomination time comes, each will be willing to take some responsibility in the activities of the church. If everyone held only one office or was responsible for only one area of church life, we would be like a beehive, all living for the Lord. What a witness this would be to our community.
The second thing I want you to notice, regarding the solution the disciple suggested to the church, is the quality of the men to be chosen. They had to be men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Verse 3:
Brothers, choose several men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.
When a person is appointed to take a certain responsibility who is not of honest report and spiritually mature or has not much wisdom about that responsibility, the result is often failure or disastrous.
Finally, note the three things that happened when the early church followed this advice and acted accordingly. Verse 7:
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.
This is the New Testament blue print for a successful church. When this happens, the Pastor will do his job in ministering the Word, each officer and member will do his or her part and the church will flourish. May all churches follow this blueprint.
Turning to the second half of Acts 6, we read about one of the seven men the church chose to be a deacon. His name was Stephen. Being a man of God, he did much more than just take care of the widows. He also became a powerful witness for Christ and preached the gospel to his fellow men. Note what verse 8 has to say about him:
Now Stephen, a man full of Gods grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
But, typically, his witnessing of the gospel produced opposition. It is important for us to note what the opposition was over, because times have not changed and anyone who proclaims what Stephen preached will face the same opposition. Acts 6:9-15:
Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God. So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us. All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
The central issue in this controversy is, of course, Jesus. Those who preach Jesus preach salvation by grace alone made effective by faith alone. Such preaching is a slap in the face to those who insist we are saved by the works of the law. So, naturally, one of the false accusations these Jews made against Stephen was that he was against the law. Verse 13:
They produced false witnesses, who testified, This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
Some of these Jews that argued and opposed Stephen were from the province of Cilicia, the capital of which was Tarsus, the home of Saul, who later became Paul. He was among those who disputed with Stephen and, having failed to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by whom Stephen spoke, was responsible for Stephens martyrdom. But when this same Paul was converted and began to preach the truth as it is in Christ, he himself was accused of the very same thing he accused Stephen of. Acts 21:27-28:
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.
All this tells us that when Christ is preached as our only source of righteousness, the flesh is insulted and the result is opposition. This is how it was in New Testament times and this is how it will be when Christ our Righteousness is preached today. And here is why. Romans 9:30-33:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.
We are told that this same message will produce the shaking in Adventism. Revelation 3:18:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.