The Blessing of Community
The Blessing of Community
Big Idea: God blesses a church that strives for unity.
A. Rodney King riots
1. On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was pulled over after leading police officers in a high-speed pursuit through the streets of south central Los Angeles. Because King was on parole the police attempted to arrest him. The four policemen then alleged that King resisted arrest and proceeded to taser, tackle and strike him with batons, all of which was captured on videotape.
2. A year later, in April 1992, three of the four policemen were acquitted in court of any wrongdoing. Because Rodney King was black and the four policemen where white, riots broke out throughout L.A., and in several cities throughout the country, and lasted for four days.
3. On the last day of the riots, Rodney King appeared before television news cameras and asked the now famous question, “Can we all get along?”
B. Have you ever asked that question? Whether it’s with a friend or because you’re part of a team, have you ever wondered why people have to disagree so much over sometimes the most trivial of things?
1. Even in Christianity there are tens of thousands of denominations that exist, many of them refusing to fellowship with others over some of the most trivial of things.
C. That is not what God desires.
1. When He brought Israel out of Egypt en masse He gave them the 10 Commandments to help them be unified.
2. He wanted them to be a single entity, standing together against the other nations.
D. We’ve been studying the Book of Acts for the last few weeks and have so far gone through five chapters of history as we’ve examined how Jesus has been building His church after His resurrection and ascension.
1. Let’s continue looking at the history of the church in Acts chapter 6, starting in verse 1.
A. Setting of Growth (1a)
1. Luke breaks with his chronological account and gives us a short commentary on the State of the Church (read Acts 6:1a).
2. Looking back on what we’ve seen so far, by and large, good things were happening.
a. They were continuing the work of Jesus by healing people who were lame (Acts 3:7) and sick (Acts 5:16).
b. They were gaining audiences with influential people and religious leaders (Acts 4:8-12; 5:29-32).
c. They were being filled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31).
d. They were growing closer together in unity as a community (Acts 4:32)
e. They were gaining a measure of respect from the people in Jerusalem (Acts 5:13).
f. They were actively and aggressively going about the work of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 5:42).
3. With that, there were also some difficulties, or crises, that this early community of believers had to overcome.
a. The first one came on Pentecost day when the crowd accused them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Immediately their reputation was threatened.
b. The second one came in chapter 4 when Peter and John were arrested by the religious leaders (Acts 4:1-3) and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). In this case, their resolve was threatened.
c. The third crisis came from within the community as Ananias and Sapphira were judged by God for lying. Here, their integrity was threatened.
d. After this, the apostles were arrested again by the religious leaders and this time beaten for again teaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:28). Verse 29 (Acts 5:29) indicates that their focus was threatened.
4. In fact, there seems to be a pattern: any time good things are happening, a threat comes along to try to destroy it.
a. It’s interesting that only once did Luke explicitly say that Satan was behind a crisis, but it’s enough that we can infer that he was actively involved in the rest of them as well.
b. Let’s ask the question: if this pattern exists in the first five chapters, does it also exist in Chapter 6?
c. We’ve already been told that something good was happening; the disciples were growing.
d. Does a crisis come? It absolutely does.
B. Threat of Grumbling (1b)
1. The Hellenists created a complaint; a murmuring; a secret displeasure.
a. The Christian church at that time (remember that we’re just two to three years from Pentecost) was made up of two ethnic types of Jews.
1.) Those born and raised in Israel were called Hebrew-speaking Jews.
2.) Those born and raised in Greece, or in Greek-influenced countries, were called Greek-speaking Jews, or Hellenists.
3.) The two groups shared the same faith, first as Jews and then as believers in Christ, but they differed in language and culture.
4.) Ethnic diversity within the church.
5.) One the one hand, this is exciting because we’re witnessing the expansion of the church beyond the borders of Jerusalem, just as Jesus said would happen.
6.) On the other hand, with this new ethnic diversity, the church is having problems.
b. The complaint was that the Hellenist widows were purposely being overlooked in the daily distribution of food when the Hebrew widows were not.
1.) What would happen is that food and money would be collected from the believers in the city.
2.) It would then be divided and distributed on a basis of need, with widows being at or near the top of the list.
3.) It seems that the person or people in charge of this distribution were either intentionally or unintentionally favoring the Hebrew widows over the Hellenist widows.
4.) Because of this neglect, other Hellenists took up an offense on behalf of their fellow countrywomen and began grumbling and complaining behind the scenes to other people.
2. But complaining isn’t really that big of a deal, is it? It’s simply people disagreeing with what’s going on. Is it really a crisis?
a. First off, complaining represents a selfish and poor attitude.
1.) In the exodus account, the people of Israel just witnessed ten miraculous plagues and a parting of a large body of water that afforded their escape from slavery and deliverance into the Promised Land.
2.) What is their reaction? They grumbled and complained because there was no food, no water and they weren’t immediately in the land. They weren’t getting what they wanted (Ex. 15:22-16:8).
b. Secondly, complaining is always against God.
1.) Moses reminded them in Ex. 16:8 that their “grumbling is not against us, but against the Lord.”
2.) Their fault was in taking God’s grace as something that they legitimately deserved, and then voicing a problem with that claim. By complaining, they were trying to rob God of His sovereignty.
c. Third, complaining causes division.
1.) Complaining sets up an “us and them” mentality.
2.) When Moses sent the spies into the land to check it out, those who brought back a bad report caused the people to grumble against Moses, Joshua, Caleb and God and as a result that whole generation of grumblers were wiped out and not allowed into the Promised Land.
3.) A less extreme example is in John 6. Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 disciples with bread and then claims the He is the Bread of Life. A great many grumbled at the saying and chose to divide themselves from the other disciples and leave Jesus (John 6:60-61, 66).
3. So we see that complaining is a big deal, and was a threat to divide the community.
C. Resolution of Getting Godly Guys (2-6)
1. Perhaps the apostles were thinking about the account of the nation of Israel dying as they wandered in the wilderness because they grumbled. Or perhaps they remembered the split that happened because many chose to stop following Jesus.
2. Either way, they realized the seriousness of the complaining and chose to act immediately (read Acts 6:2-6).
a. First, they gathered the whole multitude of disciples together (Acts 6:2a). At this point there were several thousand believers in Jerusalem at this time, but this was important enough that everyone needed to be a part of the solution.
b. Second, they understood that a division of labor was necessary in order to minister most effectively to the most people (Acts 6:2, 4).
1.) Remember, the complaint was that people in need were being overlooked. It was obvious that they couldn’t do it all, but needed help.
2.) There was no arrogance or feeling that serving tables was menial and beneath their stature.
a.) The apostles realized that since they were the ones that were witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection, they were the ones who should be the most involved with prayer and the spreading of His Word.
b.) The phrasing “It is not right” or “It is not desirable” isn’t the best translation and should be better understood as “It is not pleasing to God”.
c.) The same word is used in John 8:29 where Jesus says of the Father, “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
c. Third, they gave some qualifications to the people that these new ministers should possess.
1.) They had to be full of the Spirit and of wisdom. The Phillips translation says that they were to be “both practical and spiritually-minded”.
2.) They had to have a good reputation. They had to be known for these two qualities; literally, people would bear them a good witness – nothing bad to say about them.
3.) There would be seven of them. This is not a magical number, but probably comes from the Jewish tradition that there needed to be seven respected men to manage the business affairs of a Jewish community.
3. This solution pleased the people and they set about the task of choosing these seven ministers (Acts 6:5).
a. A few things here are interesting to me.
b. One is that many commentators note that each of these seven men possess a Greek name.
1.) This is only interesting because it is the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews that started complaining because their widows were being overlooked.
2.) So to solve the problem, it seems the people chose Hellenist men to oversee this ministry.
c. Another is that although these men are being chosen to perform certain tasks that require administrative and organizational abilities, there is no qualification regarding abilities or skills necessary.
1.) What qualified them was their character that came from their love of Jesus.
d. Also, although they were chosen for this particular ministry, they were still involved in preaching and teaching.
1.) Next week we’ll look at the opportunity Stephen is given to preach.
2.) After that we’ll see Philip evangelizing and teaching about Christ.
4. The apostles then officially and publicly ordained these men for the ministry by praying and laying hands on them (Acts 6:6).
a. The laying on of hands signifies that not only was there blessing being bestowed upon these men,
b. But also that the apostles thought that their ministry shared in the authority of the apostles’ ministry, and as such, deserved public recognition and approval.
D. Restoration to Greater Growth (7)
1. God responded to how the apostles and the people handled this crisis by blessing them in many ways (Acts 6:7).
a. First, because the apostles were free to focus on prayer and preaching, “the word of God continued to increase”. The message of the Gospel spread and grew.
b. Second, because the Gospel was spreading, “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” The Great Commission was beginning to be fulfilled.
c. Third, “a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
1.) This probably does not refer to the religious leaders and priestly aristocracy that were active in imprisoning and beating the disciples in earlier chapters.
2.) This most likely refers to a class of poorer priests that had to work with their hands to support themselves who found saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. The story begins with the church experiencing growth and ends with God granting a much greater growth, all because of how they handled the crisis of complaining that came upon them.
3. If we learn anything, we learn that God desires unity in the church of believers. And He will bless a church that strives for and fights for unity.
A. There is no superior or inferior ministry
1. We need to understand that there is no difference in ministries in God’s eyes. All ministry is a form of service, both to others and to God.
2. The word used to describe the task of serving tables is the same word used to describe the responsibility of praying and preaching.
a. They are both “ministry”.
b. One is not greater than the other.
c. It’s us who get caught up in who’s up front and visible and forget about all the people that labor behind the scenes in so many different areas.
a. The smallest organ in the human body is the pineal gland, which is situated near the center of the brain and is about the size of a pea.
b. The pineal gland’s main responsibility is to secrete a hormone called melatonin.
c. Melatonin is important in regulating our sleep-wake cycles, strengthening our immune system much like vitamin C or other antioxidants do, and even in determining the onset of puberty.
d. So our physical health, our mental and emotional health, even our reproductive health are all affected and influenced by a single hormone produced in the smallest organ in our body.
B. All of us need to be active ministers
1. Saving the labor of ministry to a few will not get it done, because people will get overlooked.
2. I used the example of the pineal gland before for a reason.
a. As a church, we are called “the body of Christ” and we are all members of that body.
1.) Just as we can’t survive without our heart, lungs, liver, skin and pineal gland all working properly and in concert with each other, we as a church can’t survive without everyone serving together and doing their part.
2.) It is not enough to say “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have anything to give”.
3.) When even one of us isn’t serving, the whole body suffers because God designed each member specifically to be a functioning part of the body.
b. All of us need to be active ministers.
C. Unity brings honor to God
1. Unity is not uniformity, where everyone looks alike, dresses alike and has the same personality. Unity is instead a shared focus and mission.
a. Chuck Swindoll put it this way, “Union has an affiliation with others but no common bond that makes them one at heart. Uniformity has everyone looking and thinking alike. Unanimity is complete agreement across the board. Unity, however, refers to a oneness of heart, a similarity of purpose, and an agreement on major points of doctrine.”
1.) For the body, it’s a group of diverse organs with different abilities and responsibilities all working together to keep the body alive.
2.) For the church, it’s a group of people moving in the same direction, with one heart, for the same reason.
b. In Philippians Chapter 2, Paul said, (read Php. 2:2).
1.) That’s true Christian unity.
2.) What’s one of the ways we get there? Notice v. 14 (read Php. 2:14). No selfish grumbling.
2. Unity honors God because it reflects His character.
a. Throughout the Scriptures we are told that “God is one”.
1.) Yet we understand that there are three persons in the Trinity; Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
2.) Each of them are distinct in their responsibilities, their ministries and their manifestations.
3.) Yet there is unity because they share the same purpose, will, heart, mission and nature.
b. When the church walks in unity, it honors God because it reflects His character.
3. When Jesus told the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth, He knew that we would all be different. In fact, that was His plan.
a. But as we give up our selfish thoughts and desires, as we give up treating others differently because of how much money they have, what their social background is like or because of any other reason, as we give up our complaining and grumbling when we don’t get what we think we deserve, and as we begin to lovingly rebuke those who complain or do anything else that threatens to destroy the unity of this church, we begin to honor Him.
b. We communicate both to God and to others, that what He wants is much more important than what I want and we want our lives to reflect that.
4. God will bless that which honors Him. Unity honors God.
A. This is a short passage but an important one for many reasons.
1. We see how the growth of the church was threatened by internal complaining and how the apostles acted quickly and decisively so that the unity of the church would not be destroyed.
2. We see the importance of serving in the local church and how the health of the whole body is dependant upon each person doing their part.
3. And we see how God blessed the church as they focused on Him and His honor above all other things.
B. Wonderful story
1. Not only do we see God working in the life of the early church by increasing their number,
2. We also get to see a crucial piece to God’s master plan.
a. Out of this group of seven men we meet Stephen who later introduces us to Paul.
b. And it’s Paul who is largely responsible for taking the gospel to the “ends of the earth” throughout the rest of the book of Acts.
3. And all this happens because the apostles realized that unity within the church brings honor to God, and God blesses the church that strives for unity.