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Acts 6 Sermon Outline

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Acts 6 Sermon Outline

Introduction

Swindoll “the church is like an iceberg”.

First icebergs are enormous. This was certainly true of the church in Acts. At last count there were about 5000 men in the church not counting women and children (Acts 4:4).

Second icebergs just float along with the current. The early church, too, was in danger of floating aimlessly, allowing growth to knock it off course.

A third characteristic of icebergs is that they carry a lot of debris along with them. In Acts 6, we see disturbing signs that this young congregation had already collected some debris and if it was not dealt with, the church would crack and break apart.

The Early church blessed by rapid growth

God was blessing His church and He was adding to their number more and more. But with the blessings of numerical growth there often times can come the possibility for conflict and dissension. All people are sinners and they do not leave those sins behind when they join a church. That is true today and it was true in the times of the book of Acts. The early church was not perfect. But we can learn from what they went through as we go through similar problems today.

Swindoll 4 perils of rapid growth

Uncertainty of purpose Constant busyness, daily decisions, and ever-pressing needs can cause a church to loose its original purpose. Why does this fellowship exist? How does God want us to minister in the place that He has put us?

Fuzzy priorities A wider ministry sparks additional demands. Church leaders may be tempted to throw out yesterday’s priorities to put out today’s fires. What is most important is replaced by what is most urgent.

A tendency towards professionalism As churches grow, and resources and demands grow along with them, the church may begin to look to “professionals” to do all the work while the congregation takes on the role of “spectators”. Rather than using and exercising their spiritual gifts, the members entrust all the work to the “professionals”.

Loss of individual significance As churches grow, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. A person begins to feel that no one cares about them as an individual.

These were some of the issues that the church in Acts was facing. Whenever we see the kingdom of God advancing we know that the enemy is going to be at work. He has many ways of trying to disrupt God’s program but one of the most effective weapons that he uses is division. “Divide and conquer” is an old military strategy but it is an effective one.

In chapter 6 we see him at work.

1     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.

Notice that the disciples are increasing. That is a good thing. But along with the good thing of growth there is the problem of a “complaint”. This word was used in the LXX of the “murmuring” of the Israelites against Moses.

We are not told whether this problem arose because any malice on the part of the Hebrews against the Hellenists or vices versa. The problem could have mainly been one of poor management on the part of those in charge of the food distribution. One commentator felt like this problem arose because of poor administration or supervision. But what ever the cause, there is a problem and it needs to be addressed.

What are the apostles going to do? How are they going to handle this situation? What can we learn from them?

How could the Apostles have responded?

  1. Ignore the problem. Hope that if they do nothing it would go away. The result would have been that the problem would have gotten worse and the growth of the church would have suffered and maybe even a split would have occurred.
  2. Done it themselves. The Apostles could have rolled up their sleeves and tweaked their schedules to allow them to do more and address the problem themselves. The result would have been their ministry would have suffered. The Seven would not have been allowed to minister. The needs of the church in preaching and teaching would not been met as well and the church would not have prospered.
  3. The right path was the one they chose to delegate the work to capable men chosen from among the congregation. The fellowship was pleased, the needs were met, the Seven ministered and the church grew.

John Stott, “The 12 did not impose a solution on the church but gathered all the disciples together in order to share the problem with them”.

They start by making a “Declaration of Priorities”. (vv2,4)

 

2     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.

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

Swindoll observes that the word “desirable” means “fit” or “pleasing”. It was not pleasing to the Lord for the apostles to distribute the food. Their priorities were prayer and preaching the Word.

The Apostles priorities were prayer and the word. I think that it is interesting to note that prayer is put on an equal footing with preaching. The two go hand in hand. Preaching that is not first, last and throughout strengthened by prayer will not be effective. As we looked at previously in Acts, they did everything by prayer. They knew that they could accomplish nothing apart from the help of God. Do we pray as they did?  Have we forgotten that apart from Him we can do nothing?

It is easy for leaders to feel that they must do it all. And often the congregation is very happy to let them do it all. Some leaders are unwilling to turn responsibilities over to others in the fellowship.

But the needs of the fellowship still have to be met. How will that happen, lets look.

The Apostles Solution

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.

What do we notice about how the Apostles handled this problem?

First as we have already stated they stated the priorities of the Word and prayer.

Second they tell the congregation to “select” from among themselves.

The word “select” means to “inspect” or “examine”.

They were not looking for 7 volunteers. The congregation was told to thoughtfully evaluate the men of the assembly and then select 7 capable men to minister to this need. The men chosen were to be qualified as “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Practical and Spiritual). They were to take leadership of the task and supervise the work skillfully.

The Ministry of the Word and the Ministry of Tables

Many believe that this passage of Scripture sets forth the provision of the office of Deacon or Manager in the church. Others believe that the office of deacon is not described here. John MacArthur, “These were not deacons in terms of the later church office (1 Tim. 3:8–13), although they performed some of the same duties. Stephen and Philip (the only ones of the 7 mentioned elsewhere in Scripture) clearly were evangelists, not deacons. Acts later mentions elders (14:23; 20:17), but not deacons. It seems, therefore, that a permanent order of deacons was not established at that time.[1]

 The word that Luke uses in verse 1, 2 and 4, “serve” is the word from which the word “deacon” or “manager” comes.

Sometimes the word is used as to “serve as deacons”, or to “serve” or “minister”.  

Paul outlines the qualifications for deacons or managers in some detail in 1 Tim 3:8ff

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued,  or addicted to much wine  or fond of sordid gain,

     9     but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

     10     These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.

12     Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

13    For those who have served well as deacons  obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

The managers or deacons were first to be tested to make sure that they would do a good job.

The apostles had been charged by God with the “ministry” of the Word and the seven that were chosen from among the congregation were charged with a “ministry” of tables.

The word “serve tables”

57.230 διακονέω τραπέζαις: (an idiom, literally ‘to serve tables’) to be responsible for financial aspects of an enterprise—‘to handle finances.’ οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς καταλείψαντας τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ διακονεῖν τραπέζαις ‘it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to handle finances’ Ac 6.2. It is also possible to interpret the phrase διακονέω τραπέζαις not as an idiom but simply as ‘to wait on tables, to serve meals’ (see 23.26 and 46.13), but even so the context relates to caring for needs.

Both are ministries, both are important and both are called by God into His service

As we read in the next few chapters we see both Stephen and
Philip (another one of the Seven) branching out beyond the “ministry of tables” into areas of evangelism. They did not limit themselves to just serving as deacons or managers. They were available for God to use however and wherever He directed them and gave them the opportunity.

What ministry has God called you to? In what areas are you serving the church?

Eph 4

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of  the body of Christ,

Pastors and teachers equip the saints so that they can do the work of the ministry.

The word ministry is the same word that we have in Acts 6 that refers to the ministry of the word and the ministry of tables.

Note the relationship:

Pastors and teachers are not the ones doing the work of ministry. Pastors and teachers are equipping the saints so that the saints can do the work of ministry.

Result

 

After being charged by the Apostles to make the selection the congregation chooses the Seven and then the Apostles lay hands on them and entrust the responsibility to these men. The church community selects the seven but the apostles commissioned them to serve.

This implies that they were trusting that God would lead His people in the selection of the Seven and that those chosen would serve effectively. This freed the Apostles up to focus their attention on the word and prayer which was what God desired that they do.

But God also wanted the needs of the widows to be met and for there to be no division within the body. Were all these needs met?

The answer:

The decision of the Apostles:

4          The statement found approval with the whole congregation;

The result of entrusting the “ministry” of tables to the Seven:

7     The word of God kept on spreading; and  the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

This could have been a tragedy for the early church. Instead, God used it for their benefit as well as for ours.

Application

 

Principle from John Stott:

God calls all His people to ministry but He calls different people to different ministries, and those called to prayer and the ministry of the word, must not allow themselves to be distracted from their priorities.

From Swindoll:

Strong leadership does not guarantee an absence of problems. Even with the 12 highly gifted apostles in the lead, the church still endured difficulties. In our churches as well we should not be surprised when friction arises.

Concerned involvement doesn’t require losing priorities Through delegation, pastors and leaders don’t have to be overwhelmed by the hundreds of needs that come their way. They can guard their time for prayer and the ministry of the word.


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[1]MacArthur, John Jr: The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. Ac 6:3

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