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Growing Pains

Growing Pains

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

It seems that so far, everything has turned up roses for the Apostles and the new church. Though some were flogged, they even had angelic intervention when thrown in jail! They were able to keep teaching at the temple, they enjoyed favor with all of the people because of the miracles and generosity, they kept seeing new people place their faith in Jesus - the church seems unstoppable! But isn’t that what Jesus told Peter? ⭐

Matthew 16:18 (CSB)
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

‌The church is an unstoppable force because of the Holy Spirit empowering all of God’s people. No outside force was going to be able to stop the Jesus movement.

‌While it seems like everything is good, you have to realize that they did face serious opposition from the Sadducees. The doors of opportunity swing on hinges of opposition, right? And I guess anyone who is living for Jesus in an overt manner should expect to face opposition from those who are not “in” Jesus.

John 16:33b (CSB)
33… You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

‌As we talked about a few weeks ago, we should expect opposition when we stand up for a way of living that is God-honoring and yet counter-cultural. Our lives, and our message are often viewed as a threat to their way of life.

‌So, expect that those that do not know Jesus may be offended, and we may face opposition. We will have problems.

‌SO, if the enemy (gates of Hell) cannot stop the Jesus movement from outward pressure, what about taking them down from within their ranks?

‌BUT WHAT ABOUT when the problems are INSIDE the church family?

‌Our first passage on this was Ananias & Sapphire. They appeared to be doing the right thing but their hearts were full of deception. They wanted people to think they were living one way, and yet they valued their money too much. They “lied to the Holy Spirit” and it cost them their lives. This was the first internal struggle the church faced that we know about. It was willful deception.

‌But this morning, there is another struggle mentioned. Not willful deception but an oversight. I really appreciate this little interlude that Luke throws in. There appears to be no intentional wrong done, but there are problems nonetheless. ⭐⭐

‌Acts 6:1–7 CSB
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

‌In Those days

‌This was during the time that “the number of disciples was increasing” and the Apostles were teaching at the temple.

‌Acts 5:42 (CSB) 
42 Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

‌While the church was growing… in those days… something happened. There was complaining from inside the church family. This is the first church conflict that we have recorded, and it is worth noting what it was and how it was handled. ⭐

‌Acts 6:1 (CSB)
1 In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.

‌In those days there arose a complaint.

‌Even the first church, with leaders that spent time with Jesus and the Holy Spirit empowering them to do miracles and signs and wonders, and that had all things in common, even THAT church eventually had problems. The first official complaint comes to the Apostles. Another testing from within.

‌Let’s look at this together:

‌The Parties Involved:

‌Hellenistic Jews - these are predominantly GREEK speaking Jews.

‌Hebraic Jews - those that spoke predominantly ARAMAIC.

‌ARAMAIC LANGUAGE Likely the spoken language of Jesus and his disciples. Aramaic was the common language of much of the ancient Near East from ca. 600 bc to the first centuries ad. Some parts of the Bible were written in Aramaic.

‌Acts (Explanation of the Text)
These terms describe a linguistic distinction, not ethnic differences—there were no non-Jewish believers in Jerusalem at this time.

‌They were both Jewish. They were both groups of believers in Jesus. They were BOTH part of this first church movement. The distinction is in language, and perhaps a bit of history.

‌In our NCF culture this could be something like Local and Military distinctions. We are all US Citizens, we are all residing in NYS - though some of you have residences outside of NY that you call home. There is no animosity between these groups that we know of, just like there is no animosity between local and military inside the NCF family. There is however, a linguistic barrier between the two - just like we have here, as most of us do not speak Acronyms. 🤓

‌The fact that the came from different regions and had a different language would naturally make them distinct, even if part of one church family. That is not a bad thing! So what IS the bad thing?

‌The Problem Explained:

The Greek speakers were complaining to the Aramaic speakers that their widows were not getting enough support.

One group felt like their were not being given the same level of concern or care as the other. This is certainly a challenge in any growing church.

When our church was smaller, we tried reaching out to our community by doing mailings and special teaching series. This did help us reach new families, which took a lot of my time to meet with those people and help them. Eventually, some of them gave their lives to Jesus and wanted to be baptized. However, a complaint arose among NCF that the “old guard”, the ones who had been with the church for years, felt neglected - because the leadership was spending all its time taking care of and meeting with the “new people”. We were growing, and as we took care of the needs of one group, another felt like their needs were not being met. No growing church is immune from this.

So, what were the specifics of the compliant in the first church?

Though we were told in

Acts 4:34

“34 For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold,” the situation eventually changed. Now, there was a needy group of people, widows, that were being overlooked.

A few things to notice:

it was expected that the church would provide for the needs of widows - especially those that did not have any family that could take care of them. This is actually a reflection of the heart of God: ⭐

Deuteronomy 14:28–29

 CSB

28 “At the end of every three years, bring a tenth of all your produce for that year and store it within your city gates. 29 Then the Levite, who has no portion or inheritance among you, the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow within your city gates may come, eat, and be satisfied. And the Lord your God will bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

There are many verses in the OT about the people of God taking care of those who do not have the means to care for themselves. Those that can work, should. This is NOT attempting to create socialistic society. But certain groups, like widows and orphans, were to be cared for.

Perhaps you may be familiar with the story of the book of Ruth? She and her mother-in-law were widows, and they relied on the generosity of the farmers (Boaz) to provide for them.

Apparently, taking care of the needs of widows will become such a large task that the Apostle Paul will give guidelines to the young Elder, Timothy - to help keep the expectations real and prevent people from taking advantage of the generosity of the believers: ⭐

1 Timothy 5:3–16

 CSB

3 Support widows who are genuinely in need. 4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn to practice godliness toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God. 5 The widow who is truly in need and left all alone has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; 6 however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7 Command this also, so that they will be above reproach. 8 But if anyone does not provide for his own family, especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 No widow is to be enrolled on the list for support unless she is at least sixty years old, has been the wife of one husband, 10 and is well known for good works—that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry 12 and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge. 13 At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say. 14 Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us. 15 For some have already turned away to follow Satan. 16 If any believing woman has widows in her family, let her help them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it can help widows in genuine need.

So, at the time of Acts, the church (apart from the temple) are taking up collections and meeting the needs of their widows, or at least many of them. Some are not getting enough.

2. The Apostles were the last to know about it. The complaint was made from the one group to the other group and eventually made its way to the Apostles.

I have had many people bring things to my attention and start by saying, “I am sure you know...” or “Why does this happen...” - and often that is the first time I am being mad aware of a situation. This is true both at my workplace as well as in the church.

Often, it is assumed that leadership knows everything, but more often than not, the opposite is true. It is always best to assume the leadership does not know, and therefore bring it to their attention.

The Assessment. ⭐

Acts 6:2

 CSB

2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.

Immediately, there is a desire to meet the needs. The Apostles validated that the need was real, and that something needed to be corrected. But it is was not something the Apostles should be doing.

It is not that they are above it - for whoever wants to be great must become the servant of all. However, they had a commission from Jesus already, right?

Matthew 28:19–20

 CSB

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

If serving food and distributing goods to the widows keeps them from doing the ministry they have been entrusted with, it would be a disservice to the Kingdom of God.

It is not that serving widows is a lesser ministry. We have to keep in mind that in a Kingdom economy, everything that is done for God is of value. We should not value teaching or preaching above serving tables and taking care of finances. We were reminded of this when Jesus gave the parable of the sheep and goats in

Matthew 25

.

So it should not be construed that the Apostles were above doing something like taking care of widows. It was that they understood what THEIR ministry needed to focus on.

This is a valuable lesson for all of us. ALL ministry is important. And there will always be more ministry that needs to be done than any one church can accomplish. However, each of us has a ministry to do! The 7 men had a ministry that was important! The Apostles had a ministry that was important! Know what your greatest contribution is and focus on that - perhaps you might look at this as “saying yes to your best” and passing on the things that keep you from doing the primary ministry God has given you.

The Solution. ⭐

Acts 6:3–6

 CSB

3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

It is unclear why SEVEN was selected, but the Apostles told the disciples to pick 7 men to take care of the task.

The solution did not start with a new program, it started with PEOPLE. They may have established a routine or program, but it did not begin with the program.

The solution was NOT for the leadership to do more, but for the leadership to release people and encourage people for ministry. A healthy church has everyone serving others as their gifts and abilities allow.

In some church you may encounter what my dad used to refer to as, “Hired Hand Syndrome”. HHS is a sickness where the people of the church have the mindset that if there is a need in the church, the Pastor needs to take care of it. After all, “that is what we are paying you for, Pastor”. I am SO GLAD we do not have that mindset at NCF! Thank you!!!! The cure for HHS is humility and a theology that understands that:

⭐The ordinary people of God, equipped with the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, dedicated to the Son of God, can accomplish the mission of God.

The needs of the church body are met when all the people of God are using their abilities to serve others. ⭐

Ephesians 4:15–16

 NLT

15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

At the first internal issue of the early church, the Apostles demonstrated the need for the entire church body to be involved in “the ministry”. So, they picked 7 men.

Qualifications for Serving.

There are 2 qualifications that are giving for those that will serve in this particular ministry:

of good reputation.

full of the Spirit and wisdom.

You might be thinking, “They are just distributing food and supplies to widows… why are these two things so important?”

Every ministry, every service that is done for the Kingdom is significant! It is ALL important! And anyone who is going to serve in any leadership capacity or ministry capacity should understand that they are REPRESENTING the Name! They are image bearers and what they do, how they lead, how they live, all affects the kingdom. ⭐

Proverbs 22:1

 NLT

1 Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

To be of good reputation is important for anyone who serves in ministry. This does NOT mean that they are able to make everyone happy. Understand that being able to debate carefully and work together is part of reputation.

Being of good reputation means starting with those that know us the best. It is easy to have a good reputation with people you do not know very well, but what about the ones you live with? Do you have a good reputation with your parents? With your children? With your spouse? If not, perhaps you should start by humbly working through those relationships - relying on the Holy Spirit to each you how to love and serve at home.

Full of the Spirit means they are already believers. They have the spirit of God living in them, and the fruit of that is the wisdom that is evident to all. When God’s Spirit indwells God’s people there will be FRUIT: ⭐

Galatians 5:22–23

 CSB

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.

Do you think those characteristics would come in handy when working with widows? When walking into an already aggravated situation of someone feeling like they have been left out?

So, seven men were selected and presented to the Apostles. There was no vote and all seven of them were appointed - unlike when they selected the 12th Apostle to replace Judas.

Ordained for Serving.

There are two things that took place when they were appointed:

Laying on of hands.

Prayer.

The Apostles laid their hands on them and prayed for them. This was a common practice. There was not magical power transference when they laid hands on them - it was a public display of the approval of the leaders and the acknowledgement of their new ministry.

Prayer for them for the ministry at hand.

We do not hear about this continuing to be a problem, so apparently these seven took care of business. The ONLY follow up report we get from Luke is in verse 7 ⭐

Acts 6:7

 CSB

7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.

So...

Verse 7 starts with a very cool word, “so” or “and” depending on your translation. The use of this word is to connect what is about to be said with what has already been said. Another way to read this might be, “because of this”....

Because the church took care of its own, recognized where they were lacking, stayed focused on their calling and appointed people to minister, BECAUSE of this...

The word of God spread (because the Apostles stayed focused on the Word)

The disciples continued to multiply

A large group of priests followed Jesus


A caring community is an attractive witness!

Even a large group of priests followed Jesus. The group that would be MOST threatened by the Sanhedrin, and the ones who studied the Torah the most, found Jesus to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. I love that part! It reminds me not to lump people into stereotypes - God’s grace is much bigger than man-made barriers.


It appears as though the first church passed the test when facing their first major internal conflict. There is no such thing as a perfect church. The closest thing to a perfect church is a church where the members are doing their best to meet the needs around them - for the benefit of God’s kingdom.

Though most churches try to meet the needs of their congregations, there will always be needs that go unmet or people that inadvertently get missed or overlooked. The solution is not to “quit church” - using that as an excuse. It seems like our society is good at quitting things these days. The REAL solution is to identify the problem or oversight, bring it to the leaders and look for the body to fill in the gaps and meet the needs.

That means that we all need to make sure that WE are ready to serve where the needs are. Where might you fit in?


Growing Pains