Problems are common in churches, disagreements, new people bring a new flavor, new outreaches can be awkward as we’re called to do new things in new ways we’ve never done before. Today’s scripture begins a major turning point in the young Church… an exiting movement of the H.S. emerges that continues to this day. The early church is shaped by diverse groups forming a movement like the world has never seen. The church always faces problems ~ let’s view problems like the early church: opportunities to refine our mission and strengthen our calling to carry the banner of Jesus Christ.
“fill in the blank” notes are available to guide today’s message (attached at end of these notes)
1. The Church is a community of people with vastly [different] backgrounds. READ Acts 6:1. Newsflash: All Jews do not think the same! “Grecian” vs “Hebraic”, a reference to Greek and Hebrew language, but the differences go beyond the language.
The Greek speaking Jews are outsiders to Israel, pilgrims that made their way to Jerusalem for one festival or another… The Hebraic Jews speak Hebrew, or possibly Aramaic, which I am told is a close to Hebrew…
The Jews are a miraculous ethnic group that’s been scattered around the world for millennia, but they have an identity… in the O.T. the Jews are deported many times from the homeland, the last large scale deportation prior to Jesus was to Babylon almost 600 years B.C. After 70 years of captivity some returned under the leadership of Nehemiah. That group reclaimed the Hebrew Language… The Jews in the homeland are steeped in the old culture, the old traditions, especially after Herod rebuilds the Temple and reinstitutes sacrifices and rituals…
Meanwhile around the known world, communities of Jews are everywhere… still a love for the homeland but a product of their environment, influenced by the Greek culture. You can see it in the names of the deacons appointed to take care of the Grecian widows (Acts 6:5) … all Greek names. If you are a Jew, living in a Greek world, far away from the Jerusalem Temple, how do you maintain your faith? In steps the synagogues, teaching centers, the keepers of the law and traditions applied to their context… It’s not hard to imagine the tension between these two groups… the rivalry between the old and new, strict traditions vs. modified traditions to fit a new context. The temple vs. the synagogue. Saducees (temple) vs. Pharisees (synagogues).
I’ve always loved the diversity of people in the church… ages, experiences…the diversity comes with challenges, i.e. people who grew up in S.S. vs. those who found the faith as adults ~ to whom do you gear a small group, an adult S.S. class? The church is amazingly diverse: Those who know a ton vs those who know nothing? How long people have been Christians, economic differences, different tastes in music….
2. There is also a [sameness] among people. The truth that rings in my head in this day and age of demanding our rights and protesting injustices, the great equalizer of all: “We are all equally unequal before Christ.” Nobody deserves his love.
The early Church had Hebraic Jews & Grecian Jews…it’s beautiful to see how the early leaders, the disciples, accepted the criticism that came there way. We are different in background, yet in Christ our earthly divisions make no differences. We are all undeservedly loved by Christ. The earthly divisions are real and may bring tension but we must go forward with a respect and appreciation for all…
3. Disagreements aren’t the problem, it’s how we handle them that [make or break us.] Read Acts 6:2. Here’s my list of what the disciples did right: they listened, they didn’t minimize the complaints, they seemed to agree it really was a problem that the widows were being overlooked (i.e. implicitly they were admitting guilt ~ more leaders need to man up and say “I was wrong”) the disciples treated them as worthy…You can add to the list of what you admire about the way the leaders handled it. May we find the same level of respect for our ever evolving church.
4. [Organization] is not the goal of the church, it is the means of serving God. Notice how the disciples refuse to be sidetracked from the greater purpose. READ Acts 6:3. Organization is vitally important. Ministry does not just happen. Half the N.T. is about the church being organized. We cannot be a group without having patterns. Yet we must always keep in mind the greater purpose of worship and service…One of my favorite quotations: “You serve God by serving people.”
5. Be open to the Holy Spirit working in [everyday tasks]. We easily declare a dynamic speaker to be spirit filled, a dramatic miracle as a great work of the H.S. It’s a lot of fun to attribute huge movements of God when waves of people come to the Lord as a work of the H.S. May we always be moved by the amazing works of God. Contrast the amazing dramatic work of the H.S. with what the Bible says about the newly appointed deacons: they are full of the Holy Spirit to wait on tables/serve ~ a mundane task. 1000 humble servants of God quietly serving Him by the power of the H.S. may get less attention than the dynamic wonder worker, but the Lord uses both…
How many quiet servants of the Lord have impacted you through their consistency and faithfulness as they work with an amazing spirit?
6. Add to the Holy Spirit, [common sense]. Acts 6:3 describes the newly appointed servants as “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” “wisdom” I think means something like common sense. The Lord gives the H.S. and he gives us brains. Use it. It’s great to think in terms of being guided by the H.S., or “God told me”, but there’s nothing wrong with making decisions that make sense. Many people think that half the problem with today’s world is a lack of common sense. Could be… Most of the time we don’t need an audible voice from heaven to tell us what is right and wrong, to know the best way forward. Common sense is part of the ordinary…
One of my teachers had more of a charismatic church background than most of the students ~ his stories and his way of thinking was something new to many. One day after a number of questions of people trying to understand he summarized this way, “You want to know what a charismatic is like? Don’t watch the raising of hands in the worship, the dancing in the aisle, or the speaking in tongues, but follow them home to see how they treat their children, or go to the grocery store. That’s where their character is lived. That’s what they are like.” We need the power of the H.S. and wisdom/common sense.
A couple of quick observations from this scripture:
7. Look for a [win/win] solution. READ Acts 6:5a. It’s surely doesn’t always happen for me, but my goal is exactly that… win/win. I want everyone to be satisfied.
8. Everyone is [gifted]. A fundamental truth of the Christian Church is that there is a place for everyone… the disciples use their wisdom guided by the H.S. to recognize the gifts of the various people…
9. Unlikely [heroes] will emerge. (the priests are heroes in Acts 6:7…) The one I want to underline is Stephen in Acts 6:5. This scripture is a turning point in the history of the church ~ God uses Stephen to make the pivot.
God gathered diverse people yet centered in the good news of Jesus Christ. A problem of inequality arose: some felt certain people were being neglected. What if the disciples poo pooed the concerns, what if they let the problem fester, what if they paid lip service, what if the problem became a wedge to pit people against each other… they do none of that, they listen, take seriously the concerns, recognize the gifts of one another, , use common sense guided by the H.S., and they find a win/win solution that pleases all.
One of the servants is Steven. In the next 2-3 weeks we’ll see how Stephen, appointed to help widows, is used in a way few can imagine: he is stoned to death. Look ahead to see the result of Stephen’s death: READ Acts 8:1b. Boom. The pillow is ripped and the feathers fly on the wind! The Church is scattered! The boldness of Stephen is the pivot… no longer is Jerusalem the center of the faith. No longer can they imagine faith in Jesus is for Jews only. The Church develops looking more like the synagogue than the temple, feathers fly to the places the Grecian Jews called home, one of those scattered feathers has drifted as far as Sumas…
The Grecian Jews have an unimaginable impact… you never know how God will use a person… want me to prove the giant impact those Grecian Jews had? What is the original language of the New Testament? [Greek].
Bottom line. The final point is a summary.
10. Turn problems into [opportunities]. That’s one of the great lessons of this scripture. When a problem is presented to the disciples, how easy it would have been to get sidetracked, but they don’t. How come they didn’t say, you know, our movement of Jesus followers is now over 10,000 people, that’s enough? A certain size was not their mission…
The early church is a growing, diverse group coming together, they respect the differences and treat all as worthy, they listen, they are guided by the H.S. and wisdom, they use discernment in using people according to their gifts, they understand everyday needs are important yet they keep their eye on the greater mission to continue sharing the faith of Jesus Christ. The opportunity we always have is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. Those early disciples did not know God was about to scatter the Jesus followers to the ends of the earth, they only knew they existed to tell the good news.
As we emerge from COVID19 limits, our church will be reorganized. Some will stay the same, some tweeked, and some will be completely new. May this be an opportunity to reaffirm the never changing mission of pointing the way to Jesus Christ.
FILL IN THE BLANK NOTES:
Acts 6:1-7 ~ Turn problems into opportunities
1. The Church is a community of people with vastly _____________ backgrounds.
2. There is also a _______________ among people.
3. Disagreements aren’t the problem, it’s how we handle them that ______________
4. ______________ is not the goal of the church, it is the means of ____________ God.
5. Be open to the Holy Spirit working in ___________________
6. Add to the Holy Spirit, ________________
7. Look for a _________________ solution.
8. Everyone is _____________.
9. Unlikely ____________ will emerge
10. Turn problems into _______________________