FOCUS ON PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD
(How the Apostles dealt with the first problem in the church)
Acts 6:1-15 Key Verse: 6:3, 4
“Brothers, choose seven 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.”
From the last week’s message, we learned why the angel’s released Peter and John from the prison. God did not want them to run away but stand firm and tell the people the full message of this new life. May God help us not only preach the message of God’s love but also God’s judgment. May God help us not only teach the message of God’s blessing to others but also encourage people to be a blessing to others. May God help us not only teach the truth but also help others to obey and bear much fruit - fruit that will last, for the glory of God. Lastly of all, may God help us not only teach God’s word but also obey God’s word in his love.
Today’s passage teaches us how the apostles dealt with the first congregational problem in the church. This problem could break the church, but God gave the apostles his wisdom so that the church could preserve the unity, and they could focus on the ministry of God’s word. As a result, the work of God grew and became influential even to the religious leaders of the time. May God bless us to follow the wisdom God has given to the first apostles so that the work of God in DuPage can grow to be influential even in the most religious town, Wheaton, IL. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Part I: How to Deal with a Problem in a Church (1-7).
Look at verse 1. “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” In the midst of persecutions, God was working mightily among the apostles and the number of disciples was increasing in unity. How happy the first Christians should be, loving each other and growing together! However, a problem arose among them. Usually, the more people from all different backgrounds gather, the more problems arise. When the apostles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, people from all different regions; Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Cretans and Arabs were in Jerusalem and listened to the wonders of God in their own native language. I believe Luke could have written all these regions, specifically because the people from these regions became disciples. So it is inevitable to have a problem even among the first Christians as well. Interestingly, the problem was not on a theological issue, rather on an unfair distribution of food among different ethnic groups. The food was not being distributed equally; and probably a more favorable distribution to the Hebraic Jews over other ethnic groups, especially Hellenistic Jews. As we know well, all the apostles were from the Hebraic Jews. Hebraic Jews are among the original 12 tribes of Israel, but the Grecian Jews were intellectuals of the time with a Hellenistic background. At that time, an unfair treatment among people was rampant. Romans mistreated the Jews, and Herod killed innocent babies who were two years and under mercilessness. People who have lived in that kind of culture were immune to it. But that was not the case to the Grecian Jews. Greeks already were familiar with the ideology of democracy and, in fact, Romans adopted and practiced this idea in politics; so it could be easier for them to bring the issue of unfairness up to the apostles.
Here we notice that problems arise among Christians, but we should not be discouraged; rather, we need to resolve them with God’s wisdom. We do not need to pretend that there is no problem at all; if so the problem will grow and break the relationship among believers through which we will not serve Christ and give the devil a foothold.
How did the apostles handle the congregational problem in the first church? Look at verse 2, “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.” First of all, The Twelve apostles gathered all the disciples together. At that time, we can assume that they had more than 5,000 members and a few hundred disciples who could be considered leaders next to the apostles. In dealing with the problem, the apostles included all disciples. Some disciples might not have had any knowledge about this issue, but the apostles still asked them to participate in resolving the issue together. This seems very small but this inclusiveness could bring the disciples to pray for the work of God. In addition, they shared their agony in resolving the problem. There is an agony the apostles were facing; they realized that they were neglecting the ministry of the word of God while serving the table. The 12 apostles were busy administering more than 5,000 people with food and other necessary supplies. They acknowledged their limitation taking care of the business of distributing food and serving the word of God at the same time. The food distribution was very important for the congregation and should have been done right so that all believers could feel fairly treated. The apostles, however, could not neglect the ministry of the word of God, which was more important for the work of God.
What did the apostles suggest the disciples to do? Look at verses 3-4, “Brothers and sisters, choose seven 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.” Here we learn a few things. First, the apostles wanted the disciples to choose seven men so that they could take the responsibility of distributing food to others. They also included not only brothers but also sisters at a time when women did not have voting rights. The apostle shared their agony with the disciples and also gave them responsibility in choosing seven leaders. Please, note that the apostles did NOT choose seven men but asked the disciples to choose. It is interesting to think about how the disciples may have gone about choosing seven men among themselves. Possibly, some men were recommended by other disciples based on the criteria, and all the disciples voted among the recommended candidates. At that time, a ruler was not chosen by commoners through voting; rather vice-verse. But why did the apostle asked the disciples to do so. It was because their participation could raise the disciples to be stewards of God’s work and brings unity in Christ. Thank God for raising many stewards of God’s work among our growing disciples. I thank God for Matthew Monroe, Matt Cizek, and Isaac Bahn taking responsibility preparing Sunday Worship Service as a vocal team. Matthew Monroe is not only presiding on Sunday but also brings a keyboard and amplifier, and playing an instrument. Matt Cizek shares the word of God with his family and friends, especially with Mike one on one in Elmhurst College, brings hymnals for us to use. Philip Chang is serving our worship by playing piano. Thank God for our three woman missionaries who prepare delicious food for all our members. May God raise 12 disciples who take responsibility of God’s ministry in DuPage UBF. Amen.
Secondly, we learn that the apostles gave the disciples criteria in choosing seven men - men full of the Spirit and wisdom. It is not easy to find a man full of faith and of the Spirit. How do we know that a man is full of faith and of the Holy Spirit? We cannot see clearly whether a person has faith or not because we cannot see the person’s inside, however, often we may be able to see one’s faith through action. Action speaks louder than one’s words. If we have faith in the promise of God, Matthew 6:33 says that we must seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first. Then, we will experience God’s provision in our lives. There was one student who sought God first by keeping Sunday worship service faithfully even though he was busy due to his doctorate study, driving 4 hours each way. God blessed his life of faith, providing everything he needed, a job and a woman of God as his wife. When a person is full of faith, he or she is growing in Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-9 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” May God help us not only have the knowledge of God but put what we learn into practice so that we can grow and bear much fruit in life for the glory of God.
How can we see the Holy Spirit in one’s heart? We cannot see the Holy Spirit itself, but we can see the effect of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” The person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will have the fruit of the Spirit working in his heart and life. Galatians 5:22 and 23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ will overflow from one’s heart and reach out to the people around him. Thus he or she can be a source of blessing to others. For example, there was a cook in a monastery. He was not a famous priest of the time or called to be a saint. He was just one of the members whom no one paid attention to. But after his death, people found his diary, where he strived to live in the presence of God. People who read his diary could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and their hearts were moved and published it, which turned out to be one of Christian classics. Even if no one notice your life in Christ, God notices and will reveal the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, we learn is that the apostles were focused first on prayer and the ministry of God’s word. Of course, it is important to take care of the business of distributing food fairly, but that cannot be the focal point of God’s work. In John 6, Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, and people wanted to make him a burger king run. But when Jesus told them that he is the bread of life and that they should eat his flesh and drink his blood, many of his disciples were grumbling. Then, Jesus told them, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” From that time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Then Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” These examples teach us what our ministry should concentrate on; the ministry of God’s word. It is because food or clothes cannot save them from their sins and bring them back to the kingdom of God. It is because those who love God’s word will grow to be disciples of Jesus. The disciples saw the miracles and ate the fish sandwiches, but they loved the word of God more than anything else. So they could remain to the end because they had the word of eternal life in their hearts. May God bless each one of us to love the words of eternal life more than anything else. May God help our DuPage ministry not to lose our focus from the word of God.
What was the response to the apostles’ proposal? Look at verse 5a, “This proposal pleased the whole group.” Though the other members of the church did not participate in the discussion nor the selection procedure, they were pleased with the apostles’ proposal. Many proud people think they can do everything without anyone’s help. A proud person would think that everything will be fine, even if everyone else would not agree with him or her. If the apostles ignored the Grecian Jews complaining, this could break the unity among them. But they responded with God’s wisdom and their proposal bound them back together in Christ.
Who did the disciples choose among them? Look at verses 5b-6, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. They chose seven people who could serve the ministry of distributing necessary things, including food. The names of these seven leaders are from Greek origin, which means that the disciples chose seven leaders among the Grecian Christians. Once an elder of a big church told me that he was not going to vote for another person to be a deacon because that person complained about him. If the apostles chose seven men, I wonder how many Grecian Jews would be chosen. The fact that the Grecians Jews were chosen shows the apostles likely did not give any influence to the disciples. The apostles let the disciples be fully in charge of this selecting process. Probably, some of the Grecian Jews were full of faith and of the Spirit with ability to manage the food distribution. All the members were pleased for what happened.
When the apostles focused on the ministry of God’s word after handing the responsibility to other leaders, what happened? Look at 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.” The apostles kept the unity by including all the disciples in the selection process of seven responsible stewards, so that they can concentrate on the ministry of the word of God. Then, the number of the disciples increased rapidly. In addition, the power of God’s word even changed the hearts of the priests to become obedient to Jesus’ teaching. This is teaches us the secret of increasing the number in Christ; the unity and the ministry of God’s word. May God increase our ministry as we deeply meditate on the word of God. Amen.
Part II. Stephen’s Face was Like the Face of an Angel (8-15).
Look at verse 8, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” He was a man full of God’s grace, which reflected in his life with power. God was with him to perform great wonders and signs among the people. He healed the sick and preached the gospel with the power of God.
But the opposition arose against Stephen. Look at verse 9-10, “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—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” Where there is God’s work, there was the work of the devil. Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria came to argue against him based on the word of God. But they could not stand up against the wisdom of Stephen. It was because he interpreted the word of God with the help of the Holy Spirit.
When they could not stand up against the wisdom of Stephen, they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words 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.” Again, they plotted against Stephen with lies. The religious leaders seized him and brought him to trials, giving false accusations. Ungodly people always lie. They became children of the devil, the father of lies.
What was the response of Stephen toward the lies and false accusations of evil people? Look at verse 15, “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 Sanhedrin members were ready to murder Stephen. How terrible to sit in front of such murderous people. How distressed he could have been when he was falsely accused. But these false accusations with murderous threats did not make Stephen sorrowful or distressed. His face was like the face of an angel. How so? It was because he did not focus on them but on God. When he did not focus of the evil people but on the kingdom of God, he was able to overcome a dreadful situation and have a heavenly smile on his face. It is interesting to think how his innocence must have shined through to his accusers who noticed his angelic face. It is almost as if they knew that they had sinned against this man and were staring at the face of God. How aweful they must have felt. Therefore, nothing outside could change his heart and love in Christ. This reminds me of 1 Peter 1:3, 4 and 6, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you… In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trails.” May God help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross. Let us rejoice always for this is God’s will for each one of us in Christ. Amen.
I learned the wisdom of the apostles who dealt with the problems. They listened and resolved the problem, by including the disciples in decision making so that their unity remained and they can concentrate on the ministry of God’s word. I had grown up as a strong willed child. When I was in the army, senior soldiers told me not to go to a church because they had to do the work when I was at a church. Even though they beat me for a few months, I went to a church not because I believe in Jesus or God but that was the place I could take rest for about 2 hours, sleeping during the sermon and eat some goodies. After I met Jesus as my savior, my father opposed me spending too much time being involving in God’s work, but I did not listen to him at all. Sometimes, my decisive character helped me to grow in Christ, but often I become proud thinking that I do not need to listen to anybody else if I think that is right. So my wife has suffered for awhile. God has trained me to listen to others better than before, but I still have a habit of brushing off of others insisting my opinion. I pray that I may follow the wisdom of God the apostles had, including others in making decisions. Amen.
Through today’s passage, we learn how to deal with a problem in a church. In order to build a unity in Christ, we must include as many disciples as possible so that they can grow to be stewards of God’s work. Most of all, we must concentrate on the ministry of God’s word, not neglecting fairness in a congregation. When we deeply meditate on the word of God, the word of God will gain the power, even changing the enemies of God. May God bless our DuPage UBF to be influential to the religious leaders even in Wheaton IL, the most religious town in America. Amen!