A most unusual thing happened.
A church found itself with an internal problem and no one blamed the preachers.
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.
And 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. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:1-4)
The congregation was being torn apart by dissension and no one blamed the preachers.
When the preachers brought the congregation together with a solution, no one protested that the apostles were being autocratic.
No one argued when the disciples insisted that others should deal with this issue in order for them to keep to their priorities (“the word of God”).
No one enlarged the spiritual qualifications to include their pet peeves about deacons.
The congregation followed the lead of the pastors, the pastors held to their priorities, the congregation chose seven godly men, and the matter was dealt with beautifully.
Amazing, ain’t it?
And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:5-6)
No one seemed to mind that all seven of the men were men.
No one seemed to mind that all seven of the names are Greek, indicating that the congregation chose these men from the minority group that had caused the ruckus in the first place. An incredibly mature act.
No one protested that after selecting them, the congregation then brought them to the disciples (the apostles) for their approval. The disciples prayed for guidance from the Lord, apparently received it, then “laid hands on them,” the equivalent of ordaining them.
No one seemed to protest.
What a strange church. A problem arises and they meet it head on. There is no protesting, no rebelling against spiritual leadership, no insistence on “my rights,” no need to alter the recommendation, and no delay. There is unity, love, and submission.
No wonder outsiders wanted in on this.
And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
Question: How long has it been since your church solved an internal problem with such swiftness and sweetness that outsiders were impressed and wanted to join?
It grieves me to think how the typical modern church would have gone about meeting this same crisis. (Note: I am a Southern Baptist, and my frame of reference is limited to the SBC. I love our Baptist churches but am burdened by the crass carnality with which many of our churches conduct the Lord’s work these days.)
How the typical modern Baptist church would have dealt with the same issue as the Jerusalem church of Acts 6–
1) As soon as the news got out that one group of widows was being neglected in the food distribution and a large segment of the church was unhappy, the congregation would have panicked.
“Oh no. We have conflict. That’s a sure sign someone has dropped the ball. What’s wrong with our church?”
2) The deacons would have investigated. They would have called it a study committee.
3) The blame would have been laid at the feet of the disciples.
After asking the disciples why they had allowed this to happen, the committee would have investigated the schedule and priorities of each disciple, studied the lines of authority, and come to a conclusion.
To the disciples, the committee would have said, “You should have paid more attention to the food distribution. Instead, you spend all your time in that upper room praying and talking about the Lord. You need to get in the real world out here. We laymen don’t have the luxury to sit around talking all day like you.”
4) The disciples would have been reassigned.
“Things are going to have to change,” the deacons would have reported.
The reorganization plan would call for Simon Peter to remain as the titular head of the church, but with a strong group of deacons passing on all his decisions. James and John, the thunderous brothers, would be put in charge of the food closet (maybe it will keep them quiet). Andrew would maintain accurate accounts of food incoming and outgoing. And so forth.
5) Had the disciples brought a plan of action to the congregation (“Select from among you seven men of good reputation….”), it would have been resented by many of the deacons and other leaders and their spouses.
“Who do they think they are, telling the congregation what to do? You’d think they just came down from Sinai with stone tablets!”
“They’re not God. We’re holy, too.”
6) If the church had received the qualifications proposed by the disciples, the leadership would have enlarged them and defined them more sharply.
“Look how general these requirements are–good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom! That’s hardly sufficient. There’s not a word about marital status, or their lives before they came to Christ, or how many years they’ve been part of the church.”
Clearly the disciples would need lots of help in getting the church organized.
7) At the end, they would have split into two churches: the Greek Community Church and the Original Hebrews Church No. 1.
8) As a result, no outsider would have been impressed, no unsaved would have been drawn by their example of love, and no priest would have wanted any part of what this group was exporting.
We’re grateful for the outstanding example of the Jerusalem church which showed us the correct way to deal with an internal problem, thus setting a high standard for the Lord’s people for all time.
“Dear God, help us. We have strayed so far from the order You established for the church, the example of the early believers in submission and courage, and the priorities of the leadership in prayer and the Word.
We have inserted our own methods and goals out of a stubborn insistence on having our way and from our carnal desire for pre-eminence.
In doing so, we have done serious injury to the reputation of Christ in the world, detracted from Thy glory in the world, and weakened Thy church to the point that she rarely attracts anyone by her love and harmony anymore.
Forgive us. We truly acted in ignorance and from selfishness.
We ask with all humility and a certain desperation that you would raise up in these days….
…men and women in the pews who will support godly pastors and honor them as they would Christ;
…humble pastors of faithful prayer, devoted Bible study, and spiritual insight who are the very definitions of courage;
…humble deacons with a heart to serve and the will to bless.
We pray for ourselves to resist the urge to control, to dominate, and to dictate.
May our constant prayer always be, ‘Lord, what would you have us to do with your church? Then, give us the courage to obey.’
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”