Good morning church family! This week we are starting on chapter 6 in the Acts of the Apostles. Last week we discussed the story of Ananias and Sapphira and the harsh penalty they paid for lying to the church, which was, lying to God. We noted that ultimately, any sin is a sin against God. Also, that Satan is always our enemy, yes, he uses people to sin against us, but he is always the enemy. Finally, we discussed how we have a habit of ranking and comparing sin.
Now it’s never easy to talk about sin. We all like to think we are good people, (and that includes me), that we don’t sin often, and when we do, it’s not that bad of a sin. But the truth is the Bible tells us that we are all sinners, and we have all, like sheep, gone astray. Sin is intolerable in God’s eyes because He is a Holy and Perfect God! He is also a just, merciful, and loving God.
Because He is holy and perfect, He simply cannot tolerate sin – any kind of sin, from murder all the way down to whatever we might consider the least sin. Because He is just, sin requires punishment. However, because He is merciful and loving, He sent Jesus to pay the price for the punishment we all deserve for those who choose to have faith in Him. And this church family is God’s amazing grace at work. If we weren’t sinners, God’s grace would not be necessary! The horrendous suffering and sacrifice made by Jesus when He died on the cross would not be necessary. So, let’s try and keep that in mind when we think about sin. It is a big deal to God; however, God also made a way for us through His amazing grace. He gives us the choice to have faith in Him. We choose – will we follow Him? Will we live for Him or will we live for ourselves?
At the root of sin – at its very foundation – is the simple matter of “me, myself and I.” We want to run the show. We want to direct and control our lives. Rather than live for Christ, which is what Christians are called to do, we prefer to live for ourselves. Personally, this has been a real struggle for me. I am pretty darn self-centered in nature. How about you?? Is it a struggle for you too? I sure hope I’m not the only one who has a problem with this!
Now let’s move on to chapter 6 verses 1-7 from the NLT. “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
So, the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.
Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.
So, God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted too.”
Let us pray…..
And with this verse, the first major section of Acts has come to completion. Keep in mind, some time may have elapsed since the end of chapter five. The number of disciples was increasing rapidly through the apostles’ bold preaching about God. Even a large group of priests became followers of Christ. Luke doesn’t tell us who the priests were, but they were probably those who performed duties in connection with worship at the temple. Doing so would have put them logistically in a great position to hear the apostles preach on a regular basis.
The continued growth of the church, however, gave rise to inevitable problems. And brothers and sisters, all churches have problems. There is simply no perfect church! Why? Because the church is made up of imperfect, broken people! Not to mention, Satan does his darnedest to wreak havoc. The last thing he wants is a church fully focused on the mission of Christ – which we learned back in 1:8 of this book. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” To put it simply, making disciples!! Oh no, Satan would much rather create division and disunity; and have everyone focused on anything but God’s mission! However, I think it is helpful to know that even the early church, filled with the apostles and many disciples who walked with Christ, was not perfect.
And just like today, some of the problems with the early church were external (primarily the persecution that had begun) and some were internal or within the church. In this case, we have an internal problem that has occurred between the Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews.
Keep in mind, that at this point in time, the church was comprised of all Jews. However, there were two groups of Jews within the fellowship. First, we have the Grecian Jews, also called Hellenists, who were those born in lands other than the Holy Land who spoke the Greek language and were more Grecian than Hebraic in their attitudes and outlook. Second, we have the Hebraic Jews, those who spoke Palestinian Aramaic and/or Hebrew and preserved Jewish culture and customs.
The Hellenists believed that their widows were being neglected in the church’s charity distribution in comparison to the widows who were Hebraic. (If you recall, we’ve heard twice now in Acts chapter two and four with it continuing into chapter five that everyone shared everything they had which included their food and land). Now most likely this favoritism was not intentional. It could have been the result of the language barrier, or the logistical challenge posed by the rapid addition of Hellenistic Jews.
At this early stage of the church, the twelve apostles were responsible for church life in general: including the ministry of the Word of God and the care of the needy. So right from the start yes, they are concerned about spiritual growth, but also that the basic material needs of their church members were being met. Nevertheless, apparently the existing church structure proved unable to keep up with the growing demands. Consequently, it was time for a change. So, how did the apostles solve the problem?
First the apostles determined that prayer and preaching were their primary duties. It wasn’t that the other role was not important; they simply believed they needed to continue doing what God had called them to do. Thus, it was imperative that they have help distributing the food and taking care of the physical needs of the church members. So, now we have two distinct roles in the early church with varying responsibilities. And when you consider the requirements of the seven men to step into this separate role (having a good reputation, being full of the Spirit and full of wisdom) it signaled the importance of all roles in Christian service.
These seven men could be considered the first deacons in the church. The Greek word used to describe their responsibility (“wait on”) is the verb from which the noun “deacon” comes. The Greek noun for “deacon” can also be translated “minister” or “servant.” The men appointed on this occasion were simply called “the Seven,” just as the apostles were called “the Twelve.” They became responsible for the practical needs of the congregation. Since all seven men were Hellenistic Jews, (their Greek names identify them most likely as such), the twelve were thereby assuring that the needs of the Hellenistic Jews were represented fairly.
The men were then set apart for their service through prayer and the laying on of hands by the apostles. Laying on of hands was used in the OT period to confer blessing, to transfer guilt from sinner to sacrifice and to commission a person for a new responsibility. In the NT period, laying on of hands was observed in healing, blessing, ordaining or commissioning, and imparting of spiritual gifts. Indeed, the laying on of hands occurs in several contexts in Acts alone (8:17; 13:3; 19:6). Here, as in 13:3, it indicated the church’s recognition that God had called these people to a particular ministry.
If you love the Lord, you are His disciple. Every disciple has an important role to play. A piece of the puzzle that you alone represent. If you don’t fill your role, the puzzle will not be complete. It is imperative that you fulfill the role God has created just for you. Yes, YOU!
Many times, people struggle to figure out what their role is – what their God-given purpose is. There is a very helpful acronym by Pastor Rick Warren that some of you may have heard about. It is very helpful to assist you in determining your SHAPE.
S stands for your spiritual gifts. When you choose to follow Christ you were filled with the Holy Spirit, and you were given at least one, if not more, spiritual gift/s. With His grace comes His gifts. There are many spiritual tests you can take online to determine your spiritual gift/s if you don’t know what they are.
H stands for heart. What do you love to do? What are you passionate about? Your passion could manifest through great joy, or great anguish. But nevertheless, you are passionate about the topic.
A stands for abilities. What are your natural gifts and inclinations? Do you bake really well? Are you good with numbers? Do you have a beautiful voice, or play a musical instrument?
P stands for personality. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you abhor change or are you comfortable with it? Are you someone who is always on time, or late?
E stands for your experiences. This includes your vocational, family, educational, spiritual, and most importantly, your painful experiences. Yes, your painful experiences!
When it comes to shaping who you are, of all the items listed above, your painful experiences have the greatest impact. Please understand God never ever wastes a hurt! That which has hurt you the most, God wants to take and use it for good. Remember Romans 8:28? “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” He will use your pain in some form of service to help others.
When you understand your shape, you will know what God has created you specifically to do. Yes, church family; He has a profound purpose for your life! And never fear, when we work and serve within our gifting, God empowers and gives us everything we need to do what He created and calls us to do. I’d like to end by sharing this devotion from Max Lucado I read this past Thursday as it fits beautifully with the message!
Your Place in God’s Band by Max Lucado
Two of my teenage years were spent carrying a tuba in my high school marching band. My mom wanted me to learn to read music, and the choir was full while the band was a tuba-tooter short, so I signed up. Not necessarily what you would describe as a call from God, but it wasn’t a wasted experience either.
I had a date with a twirler. I learned to paint white shoe polish on school buses. And I learned some facts about harmony that I’ll pass on to you.
I marched next to the bass-drum player. What a great sound. Boom. Boom. Boom. Deep, cavernous, thundering. And at the end of my flank marched the flute section. Oh, how their music soared. Whispering, lifting, rising into the clouds. Ahead of me, at the front of my line, was our first-chair trumpet. He could raise the spirit. He could raise the flag. He could have raised the roof on the stadium if we’d had one.
The soft flute needs the brash trumpet needs the steady drum needs the soft flute needs the brash trumpet. Get the idea? The operative word is need. They need each other. By themselves they make music. But together, they make magic.
Now, what I saw two decades ago in the band, I see today in the church. We need each other. Not all of us play the same instrument. Some believers are lofty, and others are solid. Some keep the pace while others lead the band. Not all of us make the same sound. Some are soft, and others are loud. And not all of us have the same ability. But each of us has a place. Some play the drums (like Martha). Some play the flute (like Mary). And others sound the trumpet (like Lazarus).
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were like family to Jesus. After the Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided to give a dinner for Jesus. They decided to honor him by having a party on his behalf (see John 12:2).
They didn’t argue over the best seat. They didn’t resent each other’s abilities. They didn’t try to outdo each other. All three worked together with one purpose. But each one fulfilled that purpose in his or her unique manner. Martha served; she always kept everyone in step. Mary worshiped; she anointedHow and Why Are People Anointed? The Uses of Anointing OilsAnointing is a common practice found in the Bible and modern Christianity. Discover how and why people are anoin…her Lord with an extravagant gift, and its aroma filled the air. Lazarus had a story to tell, and he was ready to tell it.
Let us pray. Holy God, we praise You for Your wonderful qualities! We praise You for Your amazing grace and the ultimate sacrifice that was made by Christ on our behalf. Thank you for allowing us to play a role in Your mission to make disciples around the world. It truly is a blessing, privilege, and honor for us to participate! Thank You for the gift You bestowed upon each one of us and please help us use it. Our Father, Who Art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. And all of God’s people said Amen.