Last week we saw that though the gospel is always opposed, it’s never ultimately defeated; the power of God in the gospel is unstoppable by any and every power that would seek to stand against it.
The Gospel is Unstoppable in it’s spread to accomplish the mission of God in this world. And, this unstoppable Gospel creates a community, that has an unbreakable bond, that is – or at least ought to be – stronger and more persistent and more resilient than any other bond such that nothing ought to tear it apart.
And though our spiritual bond in Christ is truly unbreakable, nevertheless if the Church is not vigilant, the outward expression of that bond can be torn apart by conflict, misunderstanding, differences, disunity, division, & strife.
And we see that in this passage that the unity of the Church – the bond of peace – is threatened due to factions in the church – factions of different groups of different people that ought to be bound together in an unbreakable bond but instead are divided.
The community of the Church is a unity not because all Christians are the same; but because they have the Spirit of God binding them together despite their differences.
The Church is – and ought to be – a unity in diversity.
You can have Diversity in disunity; or you can have uniformity in unity; but both of those lack true diversity and true unity.
Or you can have unity in diversity – which is what the church is called to be.
And we saw on the day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit of God overcame the obstacle of language; resulting in the uniting of people from different places & cultures all with different native tongues.
And, the result of that is that a community of Jesus is formed – and we saw in the descriptions of this community that it is characterized by unity – such unity that everything is shared, needs are met – as if they really believe they are the family of God and brothers and sisters of one another.
And the Spirit formed that community, in order to empower that community to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth – all kinds of people, not just one kind or “our kind” of people.
Diversity in the Church is the necessary result of Christ’s commission to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. And, “A church that only touches ‘our kind of people’ is a shrunken distortion of what Christ’s church is supposed to look like” – because the Christ wants to reach ‘all kinds of people’.
But, those things didn’t happen easily or immediately; and here, we see that unity being threatened by factions of division within the church between people who were different from one another.
When differences enter into the picture, strife & division can result. Just look at our history, at our current cultural situation and it’s not hard to see the misunderstanding, polarizing division, hatred and resentment that can arise out of differences.
Even when there’s quite a bit that people have in common, we have a way of letting even small differences become magnified in such that they eclipse the similarities that we do have. Every human has two eyes two ears a mouth and a nose; has a heart and a brain and a soul and the ability to communicate and think and feel and is made in the image of God.
That’s quite a lot in common. But some humans have light skin, and some have dark skin. Compared to the similarities we have, that is a relatively minor difference yet in the hearts of sinful men has become so magnified to eclipse that common humanity and result dehumanizing and demonizing one to the other.
Some humans are rich, and some are poor, with every part of the spectrum in between. Compared to the similarities we have, that is a relatively minor difference yet has been so magnified as to eclipse that common humanity and resulted in oppression and hatred and resentment one to the other.
Some humans vote democrat, some vote republican, and some vote libertarian; and they despise one another and can’t see past their political differences to even have a decent conversation.
But Christians aren’t content to let strife & division rule & grow. They aren’t content to sacrifice their unity to hold onto their preferences or traditions; they listen to understand and address the misunderstandings and mistreatments; they seek to maintain the unbreakable bond that results in the richness of the body of Christ – rather than allowing the body to deteriorate into the superficiality of uniformity.
But especially in the church – we have even more in common than our common humanity; we have our common Redemption and redeemer – our common faith, our common hope, our common love – the love of God that is rich and free and ought to create in our hearts love for one another that is more powerful than the things that would seek to divide us.
And here in the early church there were many similarities between these two groups – the Hellenistic Jews, and the Hebraic Jews
-Both were Jewish. They worship the same God – the God of Israel.
-Both were Christian. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and had put their faith in him, were redeemed by his blood, and so were brothers and sisters in Christ.
-Both shared in the Holy Spirit – which had been poured out not on Israel, but on them who believe in Jesus.
Those are incredible similarities that ought to bind them together in with an unbreakable bond.
But also some differences:
-language; culture (exposure vs immersion); Synagogue/Bible
Hellenists were the “immigrants” of Jerusalem, and the Hebraics were the native citizens.
One carried their hip and cool ESV while the other clung to their tried-and-true trusty 1984 NIV.
One wore a suit and tie to church and the other wore jeans.
Or, one homeschooled their children and the other sent their children to public school.
Or, one liked hymns and piano, the other like drums and contemporary songs.
Or, one black one white; one spoke spanish, one spoke english.
And, these differences overshadowed those similarities and the church was fractured & fragmented into different factions.
And you can just imagine that if this complaint was not addressed in a fair and wise way, that – Churches have split over much less than this – and you can just imagine that it could cause a split in the church that once occurring is much more difficult to mend than to prevent.
Recently we remembered the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. And, I’m thankful for the reformation and the recovery of the gospel and the scriptures and am convinced that it was necessary; and so we should celebrate it; but we should also mourn the resulting fracturing of the church of Jesus Christ – which now in it’s current state seems impossible to mend.
Spiritual Unity vs Organizational Unity; Denominations or certain types of divisions aren’t always or necessarily bad; but need to remember:
in heaven there’s not going to be Hellenistic/Hebraic, or Catholics/Protestants/baptists/Presbyterians but only Christians. Redeemed by the same blood of Christ. Gathered around the same table of grace. Bowing before the same one and only God.
Here in Acts 6: We don’t know the motive or reason for this neglect; but because the neglect was evenly distributed along the lines of the different groups, the oversight has to be related to and resulting from their differences.
It could have simply been a communication barrier, although probably most of them spoke greek – the difference in language was more their preferred & primary spoken language.
Possible it’s merely administrative – the hebraic jews were in the majority and they had more widows and they were so busy taking care of their own that they didn’t realize they had been neglecting some.
Possible: Possible, resulting from misunderstanding or being afraid of the one who is different;
possible, Hebraic a tight-nit group that has become insular; comfortably focused on itself but blind – oblivious – completely unaware of any need or concern or person outside of their group. A “clique” – that feels harmless but is disastrous to building this type of diverse & welcoming community.
Possibly, more sinful motivations, although it’s not mentioned that there was any kind of sinful reason, but it could be that one group was looking down on the other or despising the other because of their differences.
Hebraic saw themselves as more pure whereas saw Hellenistic as compromised and accomodated to Greek culture; whereas they were motivated by necessity or just trying to contextualize and be relevant to their neighbors.
But, whatever the cause: the way that this threat to unity is overcome is not by minimizing differences, but by capitalizing upon the different gifts of the body through hearts of service.
We don’t know every detail of what went on, but: there’s a complaint. And, this complaint is I don’t believe sinful grumbling – even thought he greek word recalls the sinful grumbling of Israel in the wilderness wanderings of the OT – I don’t think that means this is sinful grumbling here.
This was not just some petty, minor thing that they’re making a big deal of with no good reason; for which the solution should be for them to get over themselves and repent of a grumbling spirit.
Because it’s a legitimate complaint. There really was an inequity here.
And they bring their complaint to the apostles. As far as we know, they don’t gossip about it; they don’t remain quiet about it only to let the resentment fester and the rift increase; they don’t just up and leave in anger; and they don’t assume the worst about the motives of the church leaders or the other side.
They simply make known their complaint to the church leadership.
Now, I need to say at this point, that I’m so so thankful we don’t have a “complaining culture” here at Redeemer Church. I don’t wake up to a new complaining email every Monday morning – which unfortunately is the case for some pastors and church leaders.
But, I also hope that we have an approachable leadership. Because leaders aren’t perfect and churches aren’t perfect, and there are times when it is right to make a respectful, humble compliant to church leadership.
And, there is no blame placed upon the apostles here – because in any church there are things that are not quite right whether that is the fault of the leaders or not.
It very well may be. But here, the only blame that the Apostles seem to share in this inequity was that they didn’t have the time to oversee this daily distribution to widows to ensure it’s fairness.
And so they don’t respond with defensiveness, they don’t blast the people who dare imply that there is a problem in their church; don’t ignore/exacerbate; no, they simply solve the problem, in cooperation with the people.
And, the choice of the seven is made by the whole church – and we see that they want to fix the problem rather than protect their own interests or the status quo, because it seems that in solving the problem, they defer to the side of the offended minority, in order to smooth over the rift that is appearing in the church.
Because all the names of the seven who are chosen to serve, are Greek names. Now, that doesn’t prove they were all hellenistic Jews – because even Hebraic Jews might have Greek names – some of the twelve apostles are referred to with Greek names.
But, given the context & nature of the conflict, I think Luke would have referred to them by their Hebrew names if they were Hebraic Jews; and the fact that he refers to them by Greek names, suggests I think that they were Hellenistic Jews.
And, so how confident do you think these offended minority would feel that their concerns were heard; and that the inequity will be resolved and their concerns be addressed?
How much willingness to not extend this “faction mentality” does it show when the majority puts the offended minority into these positions of leadership to solve the problem?
Clearly – whatever the cause – the Church doesn’t want the rift and resentment to grow; and they show that they aren’t trying to consolidate power, but go to extra mile to build bridge across the differences.
And so, the way that this threat to unity is overcome is not by minimizing differences, but by capitalizing upon the different gifts of the body through hearts of service.
Problem: Diversity of people; Solution: diversity of gifts, and hearts of service.
One person can’t do everything. And the beauty of the body of Christ is that each person is uniquely gifted by the Spirit; such that everyone has something to offer; but no one has every gift such that everyone has something to receive.
NO one can exalt themselves; and no one ought to look down on another. Each person is needed; each person has something they can contribute. Because God binds his diverse church together through mutual giving and receiving by the diverse distribution of gifts.
The obstacle of differences among us isn’t solved by uniformity but by diverse distribution of gifts which binds us in mutual need to one another.
Now, it might sound like the apostles are looking down on others – v2. “We’re too good for that job – waiting on tables is beneath us, demeaning, lowly.”
But the English translation I think is not the best, because what the greek text says is that both of these things are service, or, ministry.
V2: “It is not right that we neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.”
v3 – instruct the church to select people to put in charge of this need.
v4 – “And we will devote ourselves to prayer and the service of the word.”
and so they say they can’t neglect serving (or minister) the word, to serve (or minister) at tables.
Both, are ministries; and both are done in hearts of service. It’s not that one is important and the other isn’t – both are necessary.
But, because the apostles special calling is to preach the word, they can’t neglect that; they can’t be distracted from it.
Both are necessary; but preaching does have particular importance in the life of the church – because the Word of God is the life-blood of the church – the word of God is what brought the church into existence – and the word of God is what sustains & nourishes the church, and the word is what Grows the church.
Such that, apart from the word of God – a church starves; it goes malnourished and risks death from starvation.
But with the Word of God – a church thrives, and a church grows. And that’s what we see happen in this chapter and all throughout the book of Acts.
chapter 5 – after the persecution of the religious leaders has attempted to get them to stop preaching; they don’t: v42 – “And every day in the temple and in their homes they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.”
and then, 6:1 – because they persist in preaching, the result is that the number of disciples keeps increasing!
And, another obstacle comes in to seek to prevent the church from carrying on this foundational duty: ch 5 – persecution; here in ch 6 – distraction.
But, just as they stood firm through persecution and weren’t dissuaded from preaching; now they navigate through the distraction such that they aren’t distracted from preaching; and again, the result is that the church grows:
v7 – “and the word of God grew (or spread), and the disciples increased in number.”
The Word is the foundation of the church; The Word grows the church.
The church (Eph 2:20) is “built on foundation of the apostles and prophets – with Christ Jesus as the chief cornerstone”
The gospel of Jesus and the truth of God taught by the apostles & prophets – that truth is the foundation of the church.
A church isn’t a church without truth. Without God’s word proclaimed.
That’s why the protestant Reformers defined the Church – one of the Marks of the True Church – the first and primary mark of the true church – to distinguish it from a false church – is the true preaching of the Word of God.
The Word is what grows the church.
because the Word of God is “living and active” – and that Luke writes that the Word of God “grew” shows that it is not a dead letter but a living power which penetrates into peoples hearts and gives life and transforms them from the inside out.
the word causes the church to grow. And so it can’t be neglected or set aside.
Often, Churches in trying to grow, set aside the word; or they alter it to make it more palatable and attractive; but in doing so they jettison the one source of power for true growth.
A church can attract people; can increase in number; without having this true word-produced growth – because if it’s not word-produced then its false growth and over time it will die.
if a church wants to grow, then it needs for the word of God to be a priority in the life of that church. and if a church wants true growth – and any growth that is true growth is growth that results form the word being preached.
But, though preaching and teaching has an especially important role in the life of the church, that’s not all the church does.
And, we see in Acts 6 the importance and necessity of ministries of Mercy.
The whole reason for the conflict in the first place was that the church was already involved in mercy ministries. And, neither the conflict nor the resolve to remain committed to the word was an excuse or cause for them to dismiss ministries of mercy. They remained committed to that and even created special provision to oversee it so that it would continue (office of deacon – not called deacons but I believe these are the first deacons).
Church has always been known for ministry of mercy.
In 4th C, the emperor Julian complained of Christians: “The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”
And, here, with the care of widows, you see the church caring for those among the most vulnerable of society. In that culture, widows could be in a desperate plight.
And, the OT consistently called God’s people to care for widows, orphans, and the vulnerable of society – those who couldn’t care for themselves, defend themselves, speak for themselves – they were called to care for them, defend them, speak up for them.
The word – a priority which the church can’t be distracted from; but nevertheless can’t be separated from the ministry of mercy.
Demonstration w/o proclamation is “social gospel” – that abandons the foundation of the church and the object of faith such that Christ doesn’t matter – just doing good – but what good does it ultimately do someone if you give them hope for this life only?
proclamation w/o demonstration is “dead faith” – James 2:26 – “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
“Gifts of God’s Spirit equip the believers to serve others, whether through spoken words that declare Gods’ truth or through serving deeds that display God’s compassion.”
Problem: Diversity of people; Solution: diversity of gifts, and hearts of service.
The overcoming of Differences – not the obliteration of them but the unity in the midst of them – is a beautiful thing.
But that can only happen if people use those different gifts with hearts of service.
Life in the Church is always the work of servants – whether its serving the word or serving tables – it is always the work of servant-hearts.
Not everyone can do everything; but God gives different gifts to the church to bind it together in service – and that can only happen so long as God’s people use their gifts with hearts of service – with a desire not to puff up oneself in prominence or arrogance – but to build up the body of Christ and one another.
“God alone – by the power of his Holy Spirit indwelling & transforming his people into those who love others selflessly – He alone can weave together the differences of his Church into something beautiful.”