Thursday, October 1, 2015

Problems At Church

Devotions on Acts

Act 6:1-15 NASB - "1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.

2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

7 The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

11 Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God." 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel."

Two stories are in this chapter.  One deals with a problem for the ministry among the disciples of Jesus and the other deals with a problem caused because of rejection of the gospel from those outside the church.  This makes clear that we should not be surprised when ministry is messy and hard.  It has been since the days of the Apostles. 

People have a strong commitment to fairness.  Especially when it involves them or those they love.  This impression of fairness can easily be felt when two cultures or races are together.  It is easy for the minority to be oppressed by the majority.  Now sometimes things like this are intentional and other times they just happen that way.   No unfairness was planned but it may be happening. 

The response of the Apostles is not to get defensive, angry, and threatening.   They see the need to delegate this ministry to people who can focus on it since it is not their highest priority.   They know they have to be focused on the ministry of the Word of God and prayer.  So they set up an election of godly men to oversee and manage this caring for the poorest among the community of disciples. 

It is noteworthy that all those elected seem to come from the Greek minority that felt oppressed.  The Hebrew disciples seem to have voted for putting people into authority over this ministry of compassion to the very people that felt that things were not being handled fairly.  This shows compassion, grace, and the heart desire to avoid all appearance of evil.  This is practical love.

It should be noted that this church gives out food daily to those in need.  This is a significant commitment to helping the poor.

One of the leaders chosen to help the poor is Stephen.  He is also involved in evangelism.  His witness is so powerful that some among the Jews plan to put up false charges against him.  They have either misunderstood his words or are purposely twisting them to make up a charge against him.

Stephen seems to have responded to this persecution with calm faith.  His body language is speaking of godly presence and peace as he goes to the court. 

There are two ministries focused on in this chapter.  One is caring for the poor fairly and effectively and the other is evangelism.  It would seem clear that it is the will of the Lord to have these two expressions of our faith as a church. 

Most commentators, see these men  as the first “deacons”.   The idea of the deacon was to serve the poor and share the gospel.  In time as the church began to have property then the care of the physical facilities and finances of the church also came under the oversight of the deacons. 

How should we then live?

What is your reaction when someone accuses you of being unfair?  Are you defensive or open to correction?  Does the pain of the other person matter to you?  Do you get angry?

Do you look for solutions to problems or just try to justify what you are currently doing?  

How can controversy hurt the ministry?  Why is it important we find win/win solutions to problems?

Do you care about the poor?  Do you think we as a church do enough to help the poor?

Are we ready to suffer persecution for our faith?  Could we be calm and courageous if we faced a court trial like Stephen?  How could we prepare for such a day?


Lord, help me this day to seek unity and peace with my fellow believers.  Help me to be a peacemaker when controversy occurs and not become angry.  Keep me from becoming defensive and self-serving.  Help me see how I can work towards the good for everyone and what would be in the interest of the common good.  Forgive us our pride and teach us true humility.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit that we might present your gospel to a watching world with loving boldness and deep conviction.  Increase our faith and overcome our fears of sharing our faith.  Lord, have mercy.   Amen

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