Working Together through Growing Pains | Acts 6:1-7

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  • Working Together through Growing Pains | Acts 6:1-7
  • A disgruntled reader wrote the editor of his local newspaper, arguing that the paper was not what it used to be. The editor replied, “It never was.” 

     The same can be said about the church. In a real sense, the church at its birth was the church at its best. But we should not look back wistfully for some non-existent “golden age” of the church. The church has never been perfect. It will not be perfect until the Lord presents it to himself without spot or blemish. Until then, the church is in the process of becoming. We are reformed and being reformed. The Lord is building his church. But we must work together through our growing pains. This is the message of Acts 6:1-7. 

    Acts 2 records the birth of the church. The devil tried to kill the church in its infancy. The first threat to the church was external. But persecution was no threat, as the church proclaimed the risen Savior no matter the cost. The greater threat to the church was internal. 

    • In chapter 5, hypocrisy threatened to defile the church. 
    • In chapter 6, murmuring threatened to divide the church. 

    In chapter 5, the crisis is sin against God. In chapter 6, the crisis is sin against one another. Ananias and Sapphira’s hypocrisy were supernaturally revealed to Peter. When Peter confronted them, they dropped dead in the assembly. There is no supernatural element in our text. When division threatened the church at Jerusalem, the apostles and the congregation worked together to resolve the issue. Their plan addressed the concern without compromising the ministry of the word. 

    This passage marks the first organizational structure established in the church beyond the apostles. It was only a means to an end. The plan maximized the ministry that united them and minimized the maintenance that divided them. This biblical pattern applies today: Let’s work together to keep the main thing the main thing. How do we keep the main thing the main thing?

    The Big Problem 

    There are no perfect churches – not this one, not the church across town, not that church you watch online. Every church has problems. Acts 6 begins with the big problems the early church faced. 

    The Problem of Dissension. Verse 1 presents a bad and good problem. 

    A Good Problem. Acts 2:41 reports that 3,000 souls were added to the church on Pentecost. Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” By Acts 4:4, there were more than 5,000 men in the church. Acts 6:1 says, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number.” This is the occasion of the text. Souls were saved, disciples were growing, lives were changed! What a good problem!

    A Bad Problem. Verse 1 says, “A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” No government agencies, welfare systems, or insurance policies helped “widows.” The church was their only hope. Through their generosity, the church distributed food to the widows daily. But the Hellenists complained they were neglected in favor of the Hebrews.  

    • Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews from the Diaspora. 
    • Hebrews were Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine. 

    The Hellenists felt neglected in comparison to the Hebrews. This oversight may have been real or imagined. But it split the church along ethnic and cultural lines. It was not the neglect that divided the church. It was the resulting whisper campaign. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without grumbling and disputing.” Nothing divides the church more quickly or severely than complaining, grumbling, and murmuring.

    The Problem of Distraction. Verse 2 says, “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples.” Acting as one, the apostles called the entire church together. They did not let the Hellenists vomit their complaints on the church. The twelve explained what was at stake. It was not a racial, cultural, or financial issue. It was a spiritual problem that put two priorities at odds: 

    • Preaching the word. 
    • Serving tables. 

    Both were necessary, legitimate, and significant. They were not equal issues. If not handled properly, the good would become the enemy of the best. Division at the table could hinder the declaration of the truth. The apostles determined to keep the main thing the main thing. This is how spiritual leaders protect spiritual unity. Divisive people only get a foothold when they get weak leaders to take up their cause. 

    Speaking as one, the apostles declared, “It is not right that we should give up reaching the word of God to serve tables.”The apostles were not above serving tables. It was their God-given responsibility to preach and teach the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says the church was devoted to “the apostles’ teaching.” Thus, they declared, “It is not right.” It was morally, ethically, and spiritually wrong to allow anything to distract from the preaching of the word. 

    The Wise Solution 

    The twelve did not call a church meeting to investigate complaints, referee arguments, or take sides. They met to ensure the priorities of the church would not be compromised. Verses 3-4 record their wise solution.

    The Duty of the Members. Verse 3 says, “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.” Notice the flexibility of the apostles. They were not stuck in a rut, bound by tradition, or beholden to programs. Prioritizing the ministry of the word, the needs of the congregation, and leadership of the Spirit shaped the plans; they proposed a strategy to have the members minister to one another.

    The members were to select seven men to oversee the daily distribution. No individual was put in charge. The seven men were to work together for mutual support and spiritual accountability. The qualification for leading this work was godliness, not giftedness.  

    • They did not choose the highly gifted. 
    • They did not choose strong personalities. 
    • They did not choose longtime members. 
    • They did not choose the biggest givers. 
    • They did not choose successful businessmen. 

    The members were to select men “of good repute.” Their godly character was to be respected throughout the congregation. Likewise, they were to be “full of the Spirit.” This was no supernatural endowment. It is the normal Christian life. Worldly, carnal, or self-willed people should not lead the church. The men were also to be “full of wisdom,” who knew how to make practical decisions in a godly manner. These were high standards. But that’s how it should be. The more a church matures spiritually, the harder it is to become a leader.

    The Devotion of the Leaders. Verse 4 says, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Warren Wiersbewrote: “Like two wings carrying a bird in flight or two oars propelling a boat through the water, the word of God and prayer keep us balanced and moving ahead.” Every Christian should pray to God and receive the word. But the Christian minister is to be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word. “Devote” means to continue steadfastly. Prayer and the ministry of the word are not the pastor’s job. They’re the pastor’s life.  

    Devotion to Prayer. Spiritual leaders should be men of prayer. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.” The devil would have pastors do many good things if he could stop them from praying, including the ministry of the word. Preachers work hard on sermons because everyone will know if they are unprepared. We skip prayer because no one knows but God if we have not prayed. Hypocrisy is to pretend something before people you are not before God. Pastors should be devoted to private and public prayer. As we lead in the ministry of the word, we should also lead in prayer. 

    Devotion to Preaching. Acts 6 is considered the institution of the office of deacons. However, the term “deacon” does not occur in our text. The verb form of the Greek word is used in verse 4 to describe the work of the apostles. They were devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word. Acts 5:42 says, “And every day in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”Every Christian is a minister. Pastors are ministers of the word. It is a life of preparation and proclamation. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do our best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 

    The Great Result 

    What was the great result of this wise solution to the big problem? 

      The Communion of the Saints. We see the unity of the church in the seven selected and confirmed.

        The Seven Selected. Verse 5 says, “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.” 

        • Stephen would become the first martyr. 
        • Philip would lead the revival in Samaria. 

        The most crucial detail about this list is that they are Greek, indicating they were Hellenists. They resolved the problem by protecting the unity, not protecting their turf.

        The Seven Confirmed. Verse 7 says, “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” The twelve affirmed these men before the entire church. The laying on hands did not impart any special gift, unction, or ability. The fact that they made it through the congregation’s screening process proved they had what was needed for the task. They had a good reputation, were filled with the Spirit, and conducted themselves with wisdom. 

        The Conversion of the Lost. Verse 7 is a progress report: “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.”Division in the church hinders the ministry of the word. John 13:35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unloving Christians rob gospel proclamation of its spiritual credibility. 

        When the church is on one accord, the word of God increases. We often measure churches by how many people attend, how many programs they offer, or how much money they raise. The true evidence of a growing church is the word of God continues to increase.

        • Verse 1 says the disciples were increasing in number. 
        • Verse 7 says the number of the disciples multiplied greatly. 

        The Lord put his stamp of approval on this unity church by moving from increasing to multiplying their number. Verse 7 concludes by saying, “And a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Peter and John preached Jesus in the temple. 

        Acts 4:1-2 says, “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” They arrested Peter and John, tortured them, and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. Now a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. 

        Notice how Luke describes the conversion of the priests: “became obedient to the faith.” The gospel is a command to obey, not an invitation to receive. Romans 10:16-17 says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Unbelief is rejection of the truth and rebellion against God. 

        Acts 17:30-31 says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Run to the cross!


        H.B. Charles Jr.

        Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.