HANDLING HUNGRY PEOPLE

Acts 6:1-6

There is an old saying that goes: "Where there is no oxen, the stable is clean." The same principle applies to the church. A growing and vital church is often a bit messy. But such "messiness" is good because it is a sign of growth.

A similar sort of "messiness" took place in Acts 6. In the midst of ministry, something fell through the cracks. As the church was reaching out to people, there was one group that was ignored.

I donít think it was intentional. No one said, "Letís meet the needs of one ethnic group within the church while we ignore another group." But this is what happened.

The good news is that the Church rebounded from their oversight and appointed deacons who would take corrective action. And the better news is that we can follow their example when weíve found that we also let things lapse. Letís see how they handled things:

 

THE PROBLEM

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. (Acts 6:1).

The early church had taken upon itself the task of meeting the physical needs of those who could not meet their own needs. This was the practical outworking of the fact that all things were common property to them (Acts 4:32). Specifically, this meant the feeding of orphans and widows.

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27).

The meeting of this task involved a certain amount of organization. It involved making certain that they had food to eat and a place to live. And along the way, some were missed. This was not intentional. It took place while the disciples were increasing in number - during a growth spurt in the church. It was one of those things which was inadvertently forgotten.

The complaint came from a specific group within the church. They are described as the Hellenistic Jews ( ). They are seen in contrast to the native Hebrews ( ).

The Native Hebrews

The Hellenistic Jews

Spoke Hebrew as their primary language.

Spoke Greek as their primary language.

Born and raised in Palestine.

Born and raised in Gentile countries.

Both groups were of Jewish ancestry and both had come to trust in Jesus.

Their widows were being fed in a daily service.

Their widows were inadvertently overlooked.

Both groups had been present at the day of Pentecost. There had been Jews from Palestine gathered on that day and there had also been Jews from every country in the known world. The early church was an amalgamation of both these groups.

The most pressing problem in the early church was not heresy or doctrine, but race relations. This is important. It remains one of the divisive problems in the church today. This should not be the case. Christ does not have one church for Jews and another for Greeks. There is not to be one denomination for blacks and a separate denomination for whites. We are ALL a part of the body of Christ. And that body is to be united.

The church HAD BEEN united up to this point.

ē They had all things in common (Acts 2:44).

ē They were of one heart and soul (Acts 4:32).

ē They were all with one accord (Acts 5:12).

But this problem threatened to tear their unity apart.

 

THE SOLUTION

So 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. 3 Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2-4).

There is a play on words here. It involves the Greek word , "to serve." It is from this word that we get our term, "Deacon."

Verse 2

Verse 4

"It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables."

"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

The manner in which the solution was found and implemented is instructive as to how we ought to handle issues in the church today.

  1. The Apostles seem to have been equally involved in the leadership of the church with regards to the handling of this problem. Though Peter is often seen to have served as the ringleader of the Twelve, they are this time to be seen as acting as a unified body. This suggests that they had already met in private to discuss the problem and to seek a solution.
  2. The pattern for church leadership is seen in a PLURALITY. There is only one Head of the church. It is Jesus Christ. Though there are appropriate leaders within the church, they are always described in the Scriptures in the plural.

  3. It was this plurality of leaders who came up with the solution to the problem. They were acting as leaders within the church.
  4. As leaders, they took responsibility for the problem. That is what leaders do. They did not try to shift the blame to someone else. They said, "It is our problem and we have to do something about it."

    But that does not mean that it was the leadersí job to go out and to physically do this work. Their job was to mobilize the church in ministry.

    Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that it is the job of the church staff to do the work of ministry while the function of the congregation is to sit back and to watch. It isnít so. Paul sets forth the proper role of leadership within the church in his epistle to the Ephesians:

    And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

    Do you see it? The role of leaders is to equip and to prepare and to motivate and to mobilize the saints into doing the work of service. That is what the apostles did in this case.

  5. They brought their solution to the entire congregation of the church for acceptance and ratification. This is seen in verse 5 where we read that the statement found approval with the whole congregation. The fact that there was a unanimous approval suggests that there was some method of determining such an approval - a vote.
  6. The approved plan was given to the congregation for implementation. It did not call for the Twelve to pick the first deacons but rather for the congregation to have this election.
  7. The qualifications of these first deacons were threefold.
  8. (1) Good reputation.

    They had to be men who were known both within and without the church as men who could be trusted.

    (2) Full of the Spirit.

    Even though this was a physical job to which they were called (administering to the physical needs of believers), there were spiritual requirements.

    (3) Full of Wisdom.

    Why would wisdom be a necessity? Because it takes wisdom to go into a situation where there are hurt feelings and to make them better.

  9. The Twelve specifically indicated that MEN be selected for this task. If ever there was a place for women officers in the church, this would have been it. Indeed, these officers were placed in charge of WOMENíS MINISTRY.
  10. It is not that women are not capable or that they are somehow less spiritual than men. The issue is one of pattern and design. The leadership of the church is to reflect the pattern of headship. The leaders of the church are to be to the church what a husband is to be to his wife - loving, nurturing and protecting.

  11. It will be the apostles who place the deacons in charge of the task. Even though the deacons shall be elected by the congregation, they are not answerable to the congregation, but to the leaders of the church.
  12. It will not be the specific duty of these new deacons to themselves wait on tables. Rather it will be their duty to make certain that the job is accomplished in a proper manner. Their duty is one of overseeing the physical needs within the church.
  13. The reason for this delegation is not because womenís ministries are deemed unimportant but because there is a higher need for prayer and the ministry of the word.

These are the two areas which leaders in the church dare not avoid.

a. Prayer involves us speaking to God.

b. The ministry of the word involves God speaking to us.

In the previous chapter, the Sanhedrin had attempted to stop the Apostles from their task of preaching the word. Now this internal problem threatens to do the same thing.

Acts 5

Acts 6

Sanhedrin orders apostles to stop preaching.

Temptation to put aside teaching & preaching to meet needs of widows.

 

THE APPROVED MEN

5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.

6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:5-6).

Seven men are chosen for the task of overseeing the feeding of the widows. They are chosen by the congregation so that both the leaders and the members of the congregation were instrumental in bringing about the solution to the problem.

The Twelve Originated the Plan

è

The Congregation Heard & Approved the Plan

í

Explained the Plan and Delegated the Selection Process

è

The Congregation selected the men and brought them to the Apostles

í

The Twelve Laid Hands on them

This is how the church ought to work - both the leaders and the general congregation working together to resolve issues.

It is interesting to note that each of these seven men has a Greek name. This likely indicates that they were Greek-speaking Jews. They were from among the group whose widows had been neglected.

While these seven men are not specifically called "deacons," this was their function. They were the answer to the problem in verse 1 that the widows were being overlooked in the daily serving.

There are some practical lessons that we can learn from this passage for the church today.

I hear many people today speaking against "organized religion." But the alternative is disorganized religion. God is a God of order and of organization. The greater the size of the church, the more organization is needed to facilitate needs and to involve its members in ministry.


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