Spirit Filled Servants (Acts 6-7)

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If you have raised or observed children and teenagers, then you know what it is like to experience rapid growth and persistent pain. Some of the growing pains for parents:

  • Keeping enough food in the house. Grocery bill is tithe to kids.
  • Clothing that is too tight or too short on their children. Bonus of multiple kids is bang for the buck on clothing – #handmedowns.
  • Accumulation of toys and entertainment requires expanding storage and higher costs.
  • Overall cost of raising a child is ~$13K annual.[1]
  • Then: concern and anxiety over educating and developing a child physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
    • Parents need partners. OTHERS: We are family.

Growing pains occur not just in biological family but among spiritual family and organization life. The early church grew without organized purpose statements, bylaws, or leadership structure, social or political power, or even physical or military force.

EXAMINE       Acts 6-7                  Spirit Filled Deacons

Review

  • Church was united.
  • Christians were sharing their testimony & seeing people saved.
  • Christians were generous with their stuff & seeing people loved.
    • Rock, Sponge, or Honeycomb
  • Church was unafraid to confront conflict.

Because we live in a Gen3 fallen world, whenever there is blessing, we can also expect conflict and grief. Luke, the author of Gospel/Acts, is not covering up issues or writing conspiracy but writing history. He’s telling an accurate narrative of the events of the early church.

So, last week we saw the conflict of pride and greed. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear generous but lied about their amount of their gift. Scripture says they lied to the Holy Spirit, and not just the apostles or church. Luke’s point in that reference is that the work of the church is not to be short-cut. God wants our giving to be cheerful not compulsory. If we fail to give, then we will miss out on the blessing God has for those who give.

Amid a growing church there was conflict inside and opposition on the outside. In some sense, Acts is an account of challenges the church has faced reminding believers God is still on the throne, Jesus is still Lord, the Great Commission is still unfinished, and there’s still time for people to be saved.

  • Acts 1: Apostles are spectating Jesus’ ascension but challenged to get going.
  • Acts 2-4: Church experiences opposition of threatening govt.
  • Acts 5: Church encounters internal conflict of pride, hypocrisy, and greed from one of its leaders Ananias.
  • Acts 6: Church must overcome circumstances of complaining and potential discord.  

This week at church building the smoke alarm went off for no reason. We get the call from Tyco – “everything ok.” Fire department shows up and does their evaluation. There was no reason for the alarm to sound, but it was as if to say, SPBC is getting on fire for God and someone wants it to stop! Like the OG says, you do you but as for me and my house, we will follow Jesus.  

Today’s passage will identify some growing pains of a growing organization and church, and how to overcome them.  


Acts 6:1-7 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

A church must avoid overlooking needs.  

Some time had passed, and the church was growing in number; perhaps 10. Eventually, complaints and charges started to take place among the early church. The Hellenists (Greek speaking Jews) accused the Hebrew Christians of neglecting their widows. Notice, the complaints arose, implying it had been slowly and surely boiling. Like watching a brewing coffee pot, at first it doesn’t seem like much is happening but after a while the transformation of clear water into dark magic occurs and there’s no turning back!

The people were whispering rumors during worship and secret displeasure after worship; gossiping and backbiting during bible groups; and eventually the reports catch the attention of the apostles that they realize they must confront the conflict.

A widow would have been particularly vulnerable economically and socially.[2] God gave many instructions in the OT about the faith community caring for widows.[3] Likewise, Luke’s Gospel provides similar insight and instruction on caring for widows.[4] Previously, Luke has claimed there was no needy person among the Christian community (Ac 2:45; 4:34), therefore, neglect of any group would have been a problem. Here it’s potentially very divisive because of two reasons: discrimination and administration.

  1. Discrimination: There were assumed motives from the Hellenists that the Hebrews were intentionally neglecting to care for their widow’s needs. The Jews had a practice of weekly distribution of finances to the needy residents of the community, and a daily distribution of food to mostly non-residents and significantly needy.[5] The Christians continued this practice. In this case, the Hellenists were feeling excluded.
    Undoubtedly, the cultural and language barriers created an expected level of isolation. Yet, this was not the aim of the apostles, much more the command of Jesus who commissioned them to be witnesses in geographical expansion from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.

  2. Ethnic diversity and the sin of partiality have been challenges since the beginning of Christianity. There is no quick fix to ethnic reconciliation beyond taking time to listen, learn, and love through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is how the apostles handled the complaint and challenge.
  • Questions > Accusations. The Hellenists assumed their neglect was due to Hebrew partiality. It’s possible there was discrimination. Yet, we also observe the private third-party complaints were harmful and leading to disunity, rather than asking questions and confronting the issue straight forward with their brothers/sisters and the apostles. Jesus instructed a method of peacemaking with truth in love that did not include complaint carnivals, gossip pageants, or pettiness parades.
  • Consider reaching out to someone of different ethnicity to ask how you can better love them and help them connect as a friend and part of church family. SPBC wants to grow in this area reflecting the beautiful diversity in God’s kingdom and reflecting the various ethnicities represented in our surrounding community.

There is no quick fix to ethnic reconciliation beyond taking time to listen, learn, and love through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Further, Jesus’ method of peacemaking with truth in love did not include complaint carnivals, gossip pageants, or pettiness parades.

  • Administrative limitations. The other reason this complain was divisive was because it revealed a weakness of the apostles and potentially could have hindered the entire Christian movement. It appears the apostles were largely responsible and actively meeting the needs of the church members. Finances were being laid at the apostles’ feet, and they were caring for the needs through healing ministry, comforting prayer, and generous tangible support. The tasks were not beneath the apostles – they followed a Lord who washed feet and suffered a martyr’s death! Yet, the growth of the church meant the apostles could not keep up with all the needs.

People were getting overlooked, requests were being unanswered, and needs were going unmet. The apostles encountered the same limitation of the incarnated Christ – neither were omnipresent, and required the development of other disciples with the Holy Spirit.

  • Sometimes problems are not personal or intentional. The apostles did not intend to neglect the widows, it was largely an administrative weakness and limitation.

  • When you present a problem, also present a solution. Be careful of people who only present problems. The apostles also provide a helpful response that we identify in the next principle…

A church must avoid overburdening leaders.

To start, I must acknowledge that this sounds self-serving. Is the pastor using the pulpit to get more people to do more work, so he does not have to? YES, but not for the reason you think! As your pastor, I do not want something from you but for you. I want you to understand the joy and fulfillment that comes with serving the Lord. I want you to understand you were made with unique talents, temperament, and experiences to serve and strengthen the church family and community. God has you at this local church for a reason, and nothing is by accident.

That being said, the apostles had not graduated or escaped from serving. Their labor was to be leading servants and preaching the word. They did what others could not so that others could develop and deploy their unique giftedness.

So, the distinguishing qualifications of elders and deacons in the NT are three-fold:

  1.  Accountable for oversight. Elders are given kingdom stewardship for the souls of men and women, and shepherding responsibility for God’s flock (1 Tim 3:5; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:2-4).   
  2.  Ability to teach the Scriptures (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:15).
  3.  Elders are exclusively male, while deacons appear available to men and women (1 Tim 3:11; cf also Phoebe in Romans 16:1. Other women are listed prominently in service roles but perhaps not specifically as a deaconess: Mary in Romans 16:6, Tryphena & Tryphosa in Romans 16:12, and Euodia & Syntyche in Philippians 4:2-3).  

In this passage, the 12 apostles called a membership meeting and said, “We cannot give up responsibilities of preaching and leading. We need help – more servants.” Then, they instructed the church to select servant leaders (διακονεῖν/deacons) with the qualifications of being of 1. Christians among the membership,
2. having good reputation, 3. full of the Spirit and 4. having wisdom, 5. Having supported appointment of the apostles. These qualifications appear to be a starting summary for what would proceed in the next decades of the church resulting in 1 Tim 3.  

Miraculously, the entire church agreed (v.5), [it’s not often the church is unanimous] and they selected individuals – all who had Greek names, indicating they provided the diversity and balance where the apostles were previously limited.

The apostles prayed and laid hands on them –prayerfully– and the profound and powerful result was a more effective church. “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly” (Act 6:7; cf also 5:42; 12:24; 19:20; 28:31).

  • Coming soon will be a handout assessment for spiritual gifts and a list of ways to serve.  

à Noted previously, if you don’t know your gift or place of service, you can be
1. “Greeting Compass” greeting everyone N-S-E-W.
2. Prayer warrior.

  • If you want to help unburden your pastor…
    1. Pray for me & elders: Psalm 78:72 – integrity & wisdom.
    2. Help me know your family. Talk w/ me…invite me…remind me…
    3. Give cheerfully, and perhaps uncomfortably. Everyone invests somewhere… why not in God’s church with eternal dividends?
    4. Help my family love the church.
       a) The church is not the pastor’s spouse but Christ’s bride. While I, as a husband, am personally responsible to love my wife, the church can encourage my love through its kindness and support of marital harmony. SPBC – you do well in this through your relational support and financial provision. Thank you.  
       b) PK’s are not automatic disciples or guaranteed godliness. Apart from our own family discipleship, the pastor’s children need an environment with models of maturity and mentors who invest in their maturity. Much more could be said personally and pastorally… but I’ll trust the Spirit to direct in this area. In all, as church families need a pastor, so the pastor’s family needs a church family to walk with them in grace and truth.

A church must avoid underestimating the power of one.

The church had 12 apostles and 7 servant/deacons. Together, they influenced a generation with courageous faith, confident hope, and considerable love.

One of the servants was Stephen. Like the other “deacons,” his ministry was not merely focused inward but outward. His ministry was not solely serving tables but spreading the gospel – “Stephen was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Ac 6:8).

Stephen was 1 person

  • Following Jesus
  • Full of the Holy Spirit
  • Faithfully obedient to Scripture
  • Preaches a long sermon!
  • Who plants 1 seed & reaches 1 person – Saul becoming Paul.

While we will not review Stephen’s sermon in detail, it is worth noting 2 concepts.

  1. The OT law and temple are insufficient to save. Stephen quotes the OT and explains Israel’s history as frequently rejecting God’s messengers.  
    1. Ac 7:9 “the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt, but God was with him”
    1. Ac 7:38-39 “the angel [of the LORD] spoke to Moses at Mount Sainai. He received living oracles to give to us [but] our fathers refused to obey him and thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt”
    1. Ac 7:44-50 Israel built the tabernacle and later the temple… but “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands”
  2. The people are insufficient to save themselves.
  3. Ac 7:51-53 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
  4. Ac 7:54-58 “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him… they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.”

The Christian claim that humanity cannot save itself at first appears disparaging. The world tells us we are worthy on our own apart from God, and everyone is going to heaven. But the Bible tells us our value is not in human performance but divine grace.

When we look at the crowd, they act like intolerant children and mob rule wins to crush an individual with a contrasting view. But, while Stephen is executed, a man named Saul watches and something – Someone – sticks in the back of his mind and heart that eventually his life will 180˚change his life and set the course advancing Christianity across the globe for the next 2,000 years!

Few people know Stephen but heard of Paul. Never underestimate the power of 1!

  • What is 1 conversation you have been putting off that need to have?
  • Who is 1 person you want to share Jesus but haven’t done so yet?
  • Where is 1 area of service you’ve been wanting to explore but it’s out of your comfort zone so you’ve waited?
  • What is the 1 issue keeping you back from Jesus / baptism / church membership? Let’s talk!

Acts 6-7 shows us the church must avoid overlooking needs, overburdening leaders, and underestimating the power of one.

APPLY/THINK

Stephen did not live for the world’s applause but heaven’s cause. His most effective act was to die to self. What about you?

“unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24


[1] https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child

[2] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 230.

[3] Cf. Exodus . 22:22–4; Deuteronomy 14:28–29; 24:17–22; 26:12; Isa 1:17, 23; 10:2; Jer 7:6; 22:3; 22:7; Mal 3:5).

[4] Cf. Luke. 2:36–8; 4:24–26; 7:12; 18:1–8; 21:2–3; cf also Acts 9:39, 41.

[5] John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 180.

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