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“Factions and distractions” will disrupt any organization on mission, including the church. In Acts 6:1–7, God’s Word tells us how the early church fought against these two internal threats. After listening to the concerns of the marginalized Hellenized Jews, the apostles divided and then delegated the work of the ministry to Spirit-filled leaders. We would do well to learn from their example, as factions and distractions continue to threaten the church today!
Stephen…a Faithful Mailman Who Saw Jesus
How to Destroy a Shadow: Stephen’s Masterful Defense of Jesus Finished Work
Hellenistic Lives Matter (And So Does the Ministry of the Word)
The Gospel is NOT a Fad
Beauty and the But
Where Does That Come From?
Living Bolder as We Grow Older
What Makes a Man Fit for Judgment, Ministry and a Ready Response - Acts 4:7-23
The Beginning of Persecution and the Proper Reason for It. - Acts 4:1-12
The First and Enduring Attributes of Christ’s Church
The First Savior Exalting Sermon of the Church
The Gift of Tongues Part 2
Baptism of the Spirit, Tongues of Fire and the Beginning of the Church
From Judas to Matthias: How to Choose Leaders and Find Hope in Failed Ones
The King’s Orders for the King’s New Men
The Story Before the Beginning of the Story: Genesis - Acts 1
Good morning to my friends in Fort Worth and Plano and Dallas and all around. We are glad to be with you guys. We're making our way through Acts, and we are about to accelerate a little bit as we get deeper into the narrative of this little crazy book.
Let me just explain something to you. We're going to read in just a moment in Acts, chapter 6, verses 1-7, and it's going to be one of those places in Scripture that when you read it you're kind of like, "See, that's why I don't read my Bible. I don't really see how that's relevant to my life." I'm going to explain to you today why this section of Scripture is so relevant. Whenever you read the Bible and you don't see something there that can apply to you, you want to not just stop and go, "Okay, well, I did my little devotional thing that I think God wants me to do." No.
Take a second. If you don't know, just email it out to others you're in life with in your community and just say, "Hey, I just read this. I have no idea what it means. I know the Bible says that all Scripture comes from God and is profitable. It alone can teach me and reprove me and correct me and train me and help me be the man or woman I want to be, and I got nothing. What do you guys see here?"
If everybody goes, "I got nothing," then, collectively, you need to know if you're part of a community here, a smaller gathering of other believers who are practicing the "one anothers" of Scripture, we have folks connected directly to you whose entire job is to encourage you and help you.
Shoot the email to them and say, "Man, we looked at this and we got nothing." Do you want to bless the leaders of this church, the staff of this church, the coaches of those Community Groups? Send them an email that says, "We read this, and we don't know how it applies to our lives."
When you read something and you don't get it…there's a problem you can't solve, something that doesn't appear to be right, or you don't know how it applies…everybody can learn around you if you'll just take that opportunity to widen the circle a little bit and say, "Can somebody else teach me?" People who know things love to teach. They love to share. They want to help you. We're commanded by God to make disciples, which I will tell you in a moment are just people who are learning more the kindness of God.
So today we're going to come across one of those texts that you might read and go, "I don't get it." I think you're going to find it incredibly relevant when we're done, but I know you come in here and you have a lot going on. Maybe you heard this week that your father was diagnosed with some illness. Maybe you've been carrying a lot of hurt and baggage and coping strategies for a lot of years.
Maybe there's something in your life that has hit kind of like a wave that came up against you. You come in here, and I'm going to read some text that talks about Hellenized Jews and a bunch of guys being named to serve food, and you're like, "What?" So let me pray, and I think if somebody emails you this week and says, "I just read Acts 6:1-7; I don't have a clue how this relates to me," you'll be ready.
Father, teach us now, wherever we're at. With all of the different things that are going on in our lives, I pray that these next few moments you will just show us something, you'll teach us, you'll grow us and make us more effective as leaders, as servants of other men and women, that you'll change some of our thinking, that you'll rebuke us and correct us and then train us, that we might be adequate, equipped for every good work.
That's why we're here: to be reminded of your kindness. We believe you're a good, good Father, and we believe when we're left to ourselves and lean on our own understanding it's not going to go well with us or the world in which we live, so we want to learn from you. Thank you that there's enough going on in our lives that you brought us to a place where we're going to want to pay attention to a God who has not forgotten us.
So would you deepen the hearts of those who believe? Would you open the eyes of those who are trying to become reacquainted with you, and would you just bring into relationship with you because they see the wisdom and the goodness of who you are as a result of our gathering this morning? Would you do all that, Lord, like only you can? In Jesus' name, amen.
All right, let's read this text. Let's see what I'm talking about. We're going to go back and touch a little bit of what we have had to this point, so you're in a great time. We're going to keep setting up the context of where we are, but here's what we're going to look at today.
"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.
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. 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. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'
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. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 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."
Whoop-de-do. Right? You just read that. You were patient. You went along with me. We're looking at God's Word, and you're kind of like, "What? I'm hurting. I want to know that God is there and he cares about me. I want to be salt and light. That doesn't do much for me." I'm going to show you it does. There is so much here to encourage you. So let's go. "Quit talking about encouraging me and encourage me, Wagner. Let's do it."
Here's where we are in the book of Acts. Acts is a book where we are learning about whether or not Jesus is who he said he was. When you start the book of Acts, in Acts, chapter 1, verse 1, the guy who's writing this book, this historical record of what the church was, is going to tell you, "The first account I composed about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up into heaven… That's my gospel."
That's Luke saying, "I recorded all that Jesus did and how God revealed himself through Jesus, who is the exact representation of his nature. Do you want to know what God looks like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know about the justice of God? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know about the love of God? Look at Jesus."
You saw God was working through Christ during that little 33-year period. Frankly, three of the years Jesus really was revealing about God's heart for us and God's solution to sin and death and how God wanted to rescue us from the effects of that and the curse of it, and we're like, "Okay, God did a really good job there in that BC/AD flip-over, but that's 2,000 years ago, man. What about now? I need God to be real now."
What you're going to see is when Jesus was here he brought men back into relationship with God, because men can never earn their way back into relationship with God. God doesn't want men doing their best. God wants men knowing their best is never good enough. Men were never created to perform for God in a way that he tolerated. Men were created to be uniquely in relationship with God, and when we decided that relationship with God wasn't that big a deal, we left the God of truth and life and light, so we got error and death and darkness.
Our loving Father is running back to us, saying, "I have a better way, and I'm going to make provision for your sin. I'm a God who's slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness, full of grace and truth, but by no means will I let the guilty go unpunished, so you have to be judged for your sin, but I love you and I don't want you to be cursed and dead and separated from me forever, so I'm going to satisfy my perfect justice by giving a perfect sacrifice.
I myself will take on the likeness of a man and be found in the appearance of man, and I will humble myself and become obedient even to the point of death, and I'll make me who knew no sin to become sin on your behalf, that you then might become the righteousness of God in me." That's called the gospel. We don't do anything for God to love us. God has done it. You're like, "Okay, great, Todd. Jesus did that. Now what? Here I am in 2016. Help."
God says, "What I want to do is I'm now going to take these men who have been brought back into relationship with me and use them to bring you back into relationship with me, and I'm going to use them to be my hands and feet." There's this crazy verse in the book of Colossians that says, "Christ in you is the hope of glory." Another verse right near that says, "We complete what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ."
You're like, "Wait a minute. I thought that by his stripes we have been healed. I thought that Christ said, 'It is finished.' What do you mean there was work to be done still?" Well, here's the work to be done. Some of you in this room are far from God, separated from him, or you're not abiding with him or just life, even if you've been trying to abide with him, has just overwhelmed you and horror has come to you, and you would love nothing more than to bump into God and to see his compassion, his healing, his power, his forgiveness, and his grace.
Guess what? God's provision for that today is the church. What the book of Acts is about is, hey, now that Jesus is here and has brought these people back into relationship with him, are these people going to do what Jesus said they were supposed to do? Are they going to be the grace, the light, the power, and the hope God intends them to be?
The book of Acts records the narrative of the early church and its beginnings to be the hands and feet of Christ. Guess what? The Holy Spirit is still acting out today in his church. The question in the book of Acts is going to be…Is the church going to be faithful? Guess what the question is for us today? Are we going to be faithful in Plano, in Fort Worth, and all of the places that are watching us? This is big stuff.
What you're going to see is that the Enemy, who hates God and hates people, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, wants to mute the church. He doesn't want God's grace. He hates God. He hates people. He doesn't really care about you. You're just pawns. All he knows is that God loves you, and if he can screw up your life, it makes God sad, it breaks the heart of the Father.
So because he's a liar and an enemy and because he's been under judgment, he's trying to drag everybody he can with him: you. You're a pawn. He doesn't care much about you. He cares about himself and others sharing in his misery and judgment. God is trying to deliver us from that, and he's going to do it today through his church, which his Spirit dwells in.
Jesus was the visible image of the invisible God. No man has seen God at any time, but we beheld his glory in Jesus. That was the body through which the goodness of God was expressed. Guess what the church is called? The body through which the goodness of God is expressed. Some of you guys go, "I haven't seen God much in church. I see a lot of dead religion, a form of godliness that denies its power, people who profess to know him but do not possess the power of the Spirit."
We're trying to correct that right here. So here we go, church. We have to get it right. Here's what the Enemy has done up to this point. The book of Acts has a few markers along the way that take what has been happening, and it says that God in his kindness uses the proclamation of who Jesus is, and it says, "That day 3,000 men trusted Christ."
Then a little bit later, those 3,000 are accused of not doing what the religious leaders think they should do, so there is a prohibition against their preaching about Jesus, and they are severely warned, and yet in that warning the guys say one more time, "We're going to keep talking about this Jesus. You can warn us all you want, but we think we're going to fear God and not man, because this is the Word of life," and 2,000 more were added to their number.
Throughout the book of Acts up to this moment you're going to see markers that show that God is doing what he said he would do, Jesus is he who said he was, and he will be a means of grace on the earth through his people, the church. But the Enemy comes at the church. He comes at them first with this persecution from without.
What Satan tries to do is suppress the church by force, and we find out at the very end of that very first time of persecution in Acts, chapter 4, verse 33… "And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all." And the Word of God went forth.
It didn't work when he tried to suppress by force, so now what he's going to try to do is sabotage by falsehood. The Enemy is going to come at them again. So first we had persecution from without. Then we had perversion from within. We had suppression by force. Now we're going to have sabotage by falsehood, and look at what happens. It's bracketed with, "The Word of God went forth, but here comes hypocrisy in the church."
Let me just say this to you. Some of us have this fantasy about what the early church was like, like, "Oh man, I would love to go back and be in that early church where they were free from all the stuff that has defined the church today. There's denominationalism, and just a lot of men have gotten in there and mucked it up a ton. It was kind of small, really committed to community. There were eyewitnesses of what Jesus did. It had to be awesome."
The early church faced the exact same things we do, and if we can look at what the early church did and reproduce it, it'll be great. One of the ways you know the Bible is true is it doesn't suppress things that would make people of God look bad. It just tells you straight up. The early church faced the same things we're facing.
People had to ask, "Hey, do I want to go against the tides of society and be bold?" They found out that when they did pray that God would allow them to have courage and take heart, that God continued to work through them. It's the same thing we have to decide to do in today's day and age. The early church had guys who said they loved God but didn't love God. They wanted to represent themselves as spiritual but weren't really spiritual. It's called hypocrisy.
The early church dealt with hypocrisy. God actually did it in a rather severe way with Ananias and Sapphira. Remember, Ananias and Sapphira were not judged because they didn't give all of their money. They were judged because they represented that all they wanted to do was live for God, and they didn't want to really live for God.
Had Ananias and Sapphira showed up and said, "Hey, guys. That was really impressive what Barnabas did, the way he sold his tract of land and gave all to the church. My wife and I believe in Jesus, but we're scared to death. We're trying to grow in our faith. We have more than we need. We've sold some property, but we're not sure we want to give it all. We're going to give 50 percent of it to the church. Keep praying for us. Here's all we can by faith give right now with joy…"
Do you know what the church would have said to those people? "God bless you, Ananias and Sapphira. Way to go." But when they represent that their life is all about kingdom work and they're all in for Jesus when they're really all in for themselves, and they want the praise of men and the appearance of godliness but are not godly, God says, "That's hypocrisy, and we're not going to have that in the church."
So now here's the question…What's going to happen to the church? Well, because it dealt with that challenge well, there's this. I love this little verse. Because the church was obedient at that time to deal with some of the craziness that was going on, it says in Acts 5:13, "But none of the rest dared to associate with them…" The rest of the people who were compromisers, the rest of the people who were acting like they loved God but really didn't.
They go, "You know what? We'd better figure out who Jesus is and if we want to really follow him before we associate with the church, because we see God doesn't take kindly saying you want to represent him and you really want to just advance yourself." The "none of the rest" are people like Ananias and Sapphira. They didn't want to really associate with the church that was all in, but in Acts 5:13 it says that the people, meaning the larger community, held them in high esteem because they were who they said they were.
Verse 14: "And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number…" We know now the church is up to almost 5,000 men, which means probably as much as 20,000 people if they're mostly married and with one or two kids. So now the church is at 20,000, and watch what we've dealt with up to this point.
You're seeing that Jesus is doing what he said he was going to do. Even though there's persecution from without and the Enemy tries to suppress them by force and harass them, they continue. Even though there is perversion from within, the Enemy tries to sabotage them by falsehood, and there is hypocrisy, the Word of God goes forth.
They dealt with the persecution and the perversion. Now we have another problem. The problem is that, as the church grows, people start to annoy each other. Little differences rise up all around them, so now what we have is a practical problem from within, and that problem can be described as factions and distractions or as conflicts and complications of a larger community.
So what's the church going to do when it has conflict from within and complications in terms of how it's going to operate because it has gotten big? You need to know something. A couple of weeks ago, when everybody came back from vacation, Watermark had 20,000 folks that weekend who worshiped here, about the size of the early church at this moment. When you get to be about that size, it can get a little bit annoying.
It's funny, because the evening services right now are not full, so when people come in here, they don't go, "Oh, let's go sit by those folks." They get as far from each other as they can, because, "You wear too much perfume. You sing off key. I'm still mad at you because you parked closer than me." I don't know what it is. We just get a little bit annoyed with each other, especially when we come in here and there are cultural differences.
Let me just explain something to you that's amazing. This shocked me. This year on our 4B form… If you're a guest here, a 4B form is when we every year all evaluate, "Do I still want to do what God wants me to do? Do I believe in Christ? Do I want to belong to his body? Do I want to be trained in truth? Am I going to be strong in the life of ministry and worship?" We all recommit. Our membership goes to zero every year. We all say, "Okay, I'm down for this thing again. I'm going to practice the 'one anothers' of Scripture. Here I go."
This year on our 4B form when we asked folks about our body and our makeup… Do you know how many folks are at Watermark who come from different countries of origin? I had a guy come up to me last week, and he said, "Todd, I've never been in a church that looks like this. What are you doing to create so much diversity?" That's funny, because in the early days of Watermark we were criticized that we were too young and too white. Some of you might still feel like that.
I said from the beginning, "I'm not going to try and have a diverse church." I couldn't care less about how diverse we are. I care about how dedicated we are to love one another, and if we don't love people because they're different from us in race or socioeconomic status or family of origin, nation of origin, that's a problem, and we're going to repent and deal with that.
We're going to love our neighbor and people God puts in our path, but we're not going to try and be diverse. The church doesn't need to look like a Target ad just so we can sell things, but if the church doesn't love everybody who walks into it and doesn't go out and love everybody they run into the same, that's not God's church. The mark of the church is love, not diversity. It is unity of spirit. Watch what happens when you live in a city that is increasingly diverse.
Do you know how many different languages are spoken as the native language in the homes of Dallas Independent School District children? Seventy. Do you know, now that we're 15 years old and live in this city, how many people are members of Watermark from different countries of origin? Seventy-six. We have people who are members of Watermark who were born in 76 different countries. There were 96 different countries that filled out the 4B form, some that weren't even members yet.
What I love about that is that we're loving the city in which we live, but when you love the city in which you live, things get different. It's kind of like, "Gosh, this is crazy that some people are different than me." What you're going to see is the early church was starting to experience this conflict, because there were different cultures, and yet it wasn't going to be about Hebrew culture.
It was supposed to be about Jesus and the culture of the kingdom, where there is not going to be a distinction between Jew and Greek, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man, male and female. They're all going to be loved. Not the way the Jews treated male and female, not the way the Greeks treated male and female, circumcised and uncircumcised, but the way God views people is the way the church should view people.
We're going to find out that, just like today's church, there were some people who dragged in some prejudice and racism and perspectives that Jesus said, "We have to get rid of this or the church will not increase." We already survived persecution from without. We're going to survive perversion from within. Are we going to survive practical concerns, the haranguing and, if you will, the hurry and the distraction that comes, factions of groups and distractions from busyness? That's how practical this section is.
I'll tell you why it matters. If we don't do this, people God wants to love won't be loved the way God wants to love them. The church has to face this stuff. The early church was as jacked up as we are and faced as many challenges as we do. I love this little deal I read this week as I was thinking about this. I read this statement by one guy I thought was really good. "God mercifully uses his erring children. He has no other kind."
That's all God ever has. None of us is perfect, and the early church wasn't perfect. It had to appropriate the Spirit, study the Word, learn who Jesus was, and be conformed into his image. These aren't just great guys. They hung out with Jesus, and there were times that Jesus at the very end of his days was like, "All right, Lord. Are you sure you've got this?" At the very end of Jesus' life, they were still scattering, having petty arguments, and yet God said, "I will do what I said I'm going to do." It's a miracle.
Do you know what's a miracle? A miracle is not God in the flesh feeding 5,000 people with one kid's lunch. A miracle is when you get 5,000 people who are from all kinds of different countries of origin who take their lunch and feed one another. That's a miracle. What we're going to have is a little conflict between the Hellenized Jews and the Hebrew Jews. You're like, "What in the Hellenized is a Hellenized Jew?" Let me explain to you.
All that means is they are Jews who didn't grow up in Jerusalem. They're called Hellenized because it's a transliteration. The Greek word for Greek sounds like Hellenism to us. So Hellenized people are Greek people, but they're Jewish people who were born, if you will, of Israeli descent (in our vernacular), and during the time of persecution they were dispersed. Theologians call it the Diaspora.
They were thrown out all over the land. Some of them lived over there in the Persian area. Some of them lived in what we would now know as Asia. Some lived on little islands out there in the Aegean Sea, and the world at the time had been Hellenized. Even though Rome won the battle in terms of politics, Greece won the battle in terms of culture, so the Greek culture is what pervaded the earth.
If you were a Jew who lived over in Asia or even in Persia, it was a Greek culture, so you learned different things, but you still came sometimes, because you were a Jew, to Jerusalem for certain feasts. This one feast when they were there, this thing called the Pentecost… The Holy Spirit came on these men, and they began to preach in your language truth about this Jesus that you had heard about and what he had done and how he was the fulfillment of the Scripture you studied over there where you still lived, and your heart was changed.
Many of them stayed in Jerusalem and now followed their Messiah. I want you to think of it this way. I was born in America, obviously, but imagine that when I was 6 I went down to the Caribbean and became a "Caribbeanized" Christian. I still have my little heritage that is reading and studying about Jesus, but I grew dreadlocks, I chose Bob Marley over George Strait, and I put jerk seasoning on my chicken; I don't fry it.
I return back to America for some reason, and something happens where my heart is pierced and I get serious about my faith, and I stay here. You're serious about your faith and called out of your little dead cultural Christianity, and together we get serious about living for Christ and go at it together. But I am a Caribbean Christian, and you are an American Christian. You like fried chicken; I like jerk chicken. You like George Strait; I like Bob Marley. I have dreadlocks, and you think that ain't good, and I annoy you.
There are more of you than there are of me, and, in fact, because I'm displaced, I don't really have a lot of means to care for myself, so I have need. What we used to do in our churches, and this is what the Jews did in the synagogues… They would send guys out on the day before the Sabbath and would collect offerings from the marketplace and individual homes for those who had need, and then they would distribute them to folks who were in a particular crisis, or to some who had systematic poverty they would give enough to last for the entire week.
Then there were individual offerings sometimes throughout the week when there was crisis that would come up, like we do with one another. What happens is you would take the funds that were raised, and because your affinity and your natural relationship is with folks who like George Strait, fried chicken, and cut their hair tight, some of the folks who came from the Caribbean with me aren't getting the same attention that some of the American Christians are getting, and we're starting to have factions in the church.
This is the beginning of the HLM movement (Hellenized Lives Matter) right here in your Bible. I kind of kid, but I'm going to show you how to handle the BLM movement. I've done a Real Truth. Real Quick. on this, and I did a little message right after the Dallas shootings in July on this, but I'm going to reprise really quickly. When somebody says, "Hellenized lives matter," if you're not a Hellenized Jew, you're not supposed to say, "Well, all Jews' lives matter." That's not the right response.
If those Hellenized Jews, on the other hand, coalesce and gather up and go, "We're going to start killing American Jews. We're going to start rioting and, in a sense, making this a war between you and us. We think you've done injustice to us, so we're going to do more injustice to you or practice injustice so we can get our way," that isn't consistent with Scripture. It is not in any way to be commended, and we don't need to understand that; we need to suppress it and put it out. But if when somebody says to us, "Hey, man, my Hellenized life matters," we go, "God loves everybody; everybody's life matters," we are not listening.
Think about it this way. If my wife comes to me and goes, "Todd, I don't think I matter to you right now," and I go, "You're a wife, right? All wives matter. God made it very clear that men are supposed to give their life for their wife as Christ gave his life for the church. Leaders are not to do anything from selfish or empty conceit but with humility in mind consider others as more important than themselves, not looking out for their own personal interests but for the interests of others, and have the attitude which was also in Christ Jesus. All wives matter. You're a wife. Of course you matter. What's your problem?"
You would look at me and go, "Bro, I don't think you're listening to her." She wasn't asking me if I have a correct theological view of wives in marriage. What she's trying to say to me is, "I don't feel like right now you're aware of what's going on in my world, and I believe you want to, because if you don't, you're set apart from God. This isn't justice, and I will raise my hand and say, 'That's unjust.'"
I won't use hate to defeat hate. I won't use darkness to dispel darkness, which is one of the mistakes some of the so-called leaders of what now has become the Black Lives Matter movement are making. That's cultural Marxism. There used to be this thing called social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the idea that certain men are more equal than others and so we treat a certain class of people poorly.
We don't do that anymore, but we have cultural Marxism, where we segment people into smaller groups, and then individuals come along and say, "Hey, I'll be your advocate. I'll speak out against those who terrorize you," and they gain power by telling those groups to give them power. Often, what they want to do is get power and significance themselves by representing these smaller groups.
They love the factions, and they're not really looking for justice, unity, and understanding. They're just trying to say, "I'm going to give you power. I'll be your man." That's cultural Marxism, and they divide us. You're going to see that will not work. The Bible tells us the solution to the BLM movement right here. It doesn't start with us who are the majority, if you will, who are the Hebrew Christians, the native Hebrews, saying to the Hellenized Hebrews who are here with us, "Of course you matter."
We have to say, "Hey, would you tell me what you mean by that? Would you tell me why you're experiencing that?" What they would have said is, "Hey, I'm experiencing what I think is favoritism. I think you're not caring for us the way you care for your own widows." This was going to destroy the church, because there were going to be factions and schisms among them.
Divisions within the church are as deadly as perversions within the church, because division within the church is a perversion within the church. That's why the Scripture tells us to "walk worthy of the manner with which we've been called, with humility and gentleness, showing forbearance to one another." We ought to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
It's why it says in Proverbs, "The beginning of strife is like the letting out of water, and we need to abandon the quarrel before it breaks out." If the Hellenized Lives Matter movement said, "We're going to protest, riot, and say you guys aren't godly, and we're going to give ourselves some power by making it miserable for you, Peter and John," it would have caused great division within the church.
But what they did is they came, and Peter and John, the leaders of the church, didn't go, "All lives matter." They went, "Hey, tell me what you're feeling. Explain that to me. By the way, any action you take that's inconsistent with God's Word, we're going to admonish that and do everything we can to suppress it, but I hear you saying there's another injustice that needs to be suppressed. Let me hear that." "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind."
Listen to individuals when they tell you, "Man, I don't feel like I matter," just like a guy should to his wife and go, "Sweetie, there's a reason you're saying that. You don't think I have a bad theology. You're saying there's some application of it, as it relates to you and me, that isn't as it should be." That's why if another guy's wife comes to me and says, "I don't feel like my husband cares about me," I don't just go, "Well, I'm sure he does. I'm sure if you asked your husband if wives should be treated with honor he'd say, 'Yes.'"
I go, "Let's figure out a way to help communicate to him in a loving way the truth. We'll deal with it, and we'll call it out if it's unjust." Check this. It says, "At this time the disciples were increasing in number." Here comes this… The Greek word is goggusmos. It's a nasty word with no etymology. It's like onomatopoeia. The word is a mess, and that's literally what happened. There was a mess. There was this haranguing that came about, and they felt like their widows were being overlooked.
So the leaders, the disciples, summoned the congregation and said, "Hey, I know you guys trust us as leaders, but we shouldn't stop doing what we're doing." This is really important, because the second thing that could hurt the church in this text is distraction, when we don't keep the main thing the main thing and leaders who are supposed to do a certain thing stop doing it so they can deal with the tyranny of the urgent.
What the leaders did, because they were men full of the Spirit themselves and wise, is they said, "Hey, we're going to continue to do what God wants us to do, but we need other men who now will do this in a way that will bring glory to God." That word serve is the word diakoneo. It's the same word that shows up in verse 4, where the apostles said, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the Word," or the ministry of the Word.
It's where we get the English word deacon. So what they're going to do is say, "We have to get individuals who will take care of this business well, because apparently you guys think the folks who are serving the justice ministry or the social needs ministry are prejudiced or aren't being careful." So what they say to the Hellenized Christians, the Christians who happened to be from all around Jerusalem…
They say, "Choose for yourself seven men who are honest, full of the Spirit and wisdom, and we will put them in charge of…" Literally, that word tables, where it says "serve tables"… It could be money matters or just practical outworking of kindness and justice. The men who serve and protect. Who do you trust? Now watch who they picked.
Everybody was pretty happy about this, so they chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, who was a proselyte from Antioch, which means this was a Greek guy. He wasn't even a Hebrew who had become a Jew and now had become a Christian. All of the other guys have Greek names. So they chose, in a sense, Greek Christians who they know are trustworthy and who love Jesus and work out their love for Jesus in a practical way.
They said, "Would you make sure these people who think they're not being cared for… Would you care for them? You're leaders who aren't looking to have insurrection. You're not looking for power by saying you're going to represent them and continuing to keep class warfare going. You want the unity of the Spirit like we do, because you're full of the Spirit.
So would you make sure we do what we want to do? If there has been an injustice toward the Hellenized widows, let's address it. Or would you look them in the eye and go, 'Guys, there really hasn't been. That's your fear and prejudice and perception.' They'll trust you when you say it, because you're one of them." Do you see how they did that?
Now if there's not a Hellenized Christian who is full of the Spirit and wise and honest, you have problems, or when they make their leaders charlatans who are race-baiters and who perpetuate the problem because it empowers them, you will have no peace. That's why when you choose your leaders it's a big deal. They'd better be full of the Spirit, not full of themselves. They'd better be honest and not fleecing their flock, cultural Marxists who say, "I'll care for you and represent you. It'll give me power." That's death.
Choose your leaders wisely. Leadership is everything. These wise leaders said, "We believe there are godly Hellenized Christians," just like I believe there are godly African-American Christians, godly Asian Christians, godly Persian Christians, and we celebrate them and say, "Lead with us. Let's go." We're one, and we're about Jesus, and there is no distinction in God's family between Jew and Greek, slave and free, barbarian and Scythian, but Christ is all and in all. Let's love each other.
There's another problem here. It's not just haranguing. There is this hurry. The disciples were trying to be pulled off. They were men who were trusted. Peter and John were trusted, and they said, "We need you guys to get involved with food service." They go, "We can't do that, because we have a unique role in the church. We have to keep studying the Scripture. We were with Jesus. We have to teach the Word of God and commit ourselves to prayer. But this is an important thing, so we have to raise up men who will do that."
Watch what happens. "And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them." This wasn't like they gave some of the Spirit they had to them. These men were already full of the Spirit. Some people make this all mystical about what it means to lay hands on. It's just like a signet ring. A king would take that ring, impress it in the wax, and send the letter off.
Before all the people, they would lay their hands on them and say, "These are our guys. You guys brought these men forward. We have vetted them. We have tested them. We think they are full of the Spirit. We think they are honest. We think they are wise. So when they go out and serve, they do it as our agents, representatives of the leadership of the church, and you agree they'll do it right." The only thing you can communicate to somebody through the laying on of hands is disease and germs, so there's nothing powerful that's going on here.
It's just saying, "Hey, these guys are leading with us, and we agree with you that they're good leaders." And off they go. Why? Watch this. What the church did is it dealt with conflict and it dealt with the increasing complication. That's why the elders of this church don't deal with money matters. I don't know a dime that any one of you has given. I get involved when we're talking about whether or not the vision of the church would be about getting another campus, but when it comes time to buy another campus, I'm not in the negotiations.
Why? Because my role here… It's not better than these other guys' roles who have opportunities to serve in that way. We're both servants. That's the word diakoneo. I feed people the Word of God; they feed people food. They serve the body by property acquisition and budget analysis and wise stewardship, and I do it by stewardship of life. Together God's church is glorified.
So this is the beginning of the organization of the church, because these guys didn't say, "I want to do everything." That's why some churches who want their pastor to be everywhere and do hospital visitation and do every wedding and every funeral and "You don't love me if you don't do these things…" That's not healthy. Those pastors are not paying attention to what God wants them to do, and they get jerked off into other things.
I was remembering back in Matthew 13 when Jesus taught one of the very first parables. He said the Word of God goes out and is sowed, and what happens is sometimes the Word of God falls on hard ground and the Enemy takes it and the people don't believe Jesus is who he says he was. Sometimes it falls on ground, but then it grows up, and because of the hardness of the world around it the roots aren't deep, and it withers. That's persecution.
Then he says some of the times it gets choked out by thorns and thistles and doesn't bear a lot of fruit. That's distraction. The worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the concern for many things. But sometimes it falls where it should, and it multiples thirty, sixty, or hundredfold. That is a perfect layout for what the church has experienced so far in the book of Acts.
By the way, there are applications for the whole church, because you get churches that get involved with a lot of social justice, and they say, "We're going to do a lot of good things," but they forget why they do those things, so they don't do those things for very long, because they forget that they're doing it in Jesus' name by the power of Jesus being conformed to his image.
The social gospel is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel, and the gospel then should affect society, but you have to keep praying and ministering. This is true of the church. This is true of you individually. Let me just give you some applications. Let me show you how practical this is. The reason we have to do this is because, if we don't, what God intends the church to be won't be it for the people he loves. There are folks here today who need you to love them. So here we go.
The disciples said, "We have to teach the Word of God." By the way, because they did this… Here's the deal. There was persecution, they were bold and prayed, and the Word of God increased. There was falsehood in the church, they dealt with it, and the Word of God increased. There's complexity and conflict. They dealt with it. Look at verse 7. "The word of God kept on spreading…and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."
These are the same challenges we face. When the Word of God is taught, the work of God gets done. The Word of God has to be taught. That's why we do gather together every week and remind ourselves. It's why the very first thing a community does is devote daily, not engage missionally. We give you six things that communities do: devote daily, pursue relationally, live authentically, admonish faithfully, counsel biblically, engage missionally. That's when we go and do all of the things we do.
Secondly, when the work of God is done, that's when the Word of God increases. That's when people see the goodness and love of God and want to know its source. This is what's really amazing. In America today, there has been a decrease… Twenty percent less Americans over the last 15 years believe that the church is a source of good. In other words, 78 percent of Americans in 2001 said, "Yeah, the church is a part of the common good of America."
Now, 15 years later, only 50-some odd percent think the church is of any good. In fact, 50 percent of Americans think the government could do what the church does. I would tell you it's because the fabric of the church and the faith is so interwoven to American society we don't typically see it, but there was a recent study by Georgetown University that said that's a terrible mistake, and if we don't let the church be the church, we have problems.
In fact, the Journal of Urban Affairs said something like, "Decline in social and economic viability of any area, we have found, is directly related to the closure of geographically based congregations and churches." When you take the church out of an area, there is a decline in the economic and social stability of an area. The people at Georgetown University said, "Hey, you guys don't know what the church does."
Do you guys know this? Roman and Greek religion did not care about the sick and the oppressed. That was a Christian idea. That's why there is a Harris Methodist. That's why there's a Presbyterian hospital. That's why there's a Baylor hospital. That's why there's a Watermark clinic. That's why there is St. Paul's hospital. That's why the largest hospital system in the world is Catholic hospitals: because that's a God idea. The gospel has legs.
The early Jews got distracted. They thought God was going to bless them so they could lord it over people or make folks subject to them, and Jesus says, "No. You want to be my people? You love people. The greatest among you must be servants." But people won't serve if you pull out the reason for service. Why do we serve? Because God served us. That's why you have to teach the Word, and that's why you don't want your pastor running the soup kitchen. He'd better be feeding you the Word of God.
Now I'm not above the soup kitchen, but there are a lot of Hellenized widows here, if you haven't noticed. If all I do is meet with them and tenderly care for them, I'm not going to be able to do this effectively, and it won't be long before we go, "Why are we caring about these women?" The Word of God has to be taught, and when the Word of God is taught the work of God gets done, and when the work of God is done the way it should be, the Word of God increases. People go, "We love the church."
Do you guys know this? The church gives $1.2 trillion worth of economic viability to our culture, according to Georgetown. That makes it the fifteenth or sixteenth largest GDP in the world, between Russia and Australia. That means the church has 1.2 million social agencies with 7.5 million volunteers out there serving the country.
What's one of the biggest crises in our country today? Mental illness. Do you know the church has 78,000 different organizations that deal with mental illness? That's three times as many Starbucks. You can't go 100 yards without seeing a Starbucks. There are three times as many faith organizations that are trying to help the mentally ill. Do you want to let the government do that? What a mess we have with mental illness.
By the way, I think, by and large, the way mental illness should be biblically defined is Romans 12:2: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" There is such a thing as brain illness, but I think a lot of our problem is mental illness. We aren't thinking right. We don't think with God's Word.
I want you to know this is a mental illness organization. I mean that. Because all of the time, we're in here and we're not thinking right. We have to start thinking right so we do right. We're being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We don't even count as one of the 78,000. If you don't feed people the Word of God, it won't be long before the people don't feed each other. That's my point, and that's what the church understood.
I'll say it this way to you. When the programming of the church supplants the preaching of the Word, the church is in trouble, and that's true in your life too. This is why this has tremendous application to you. When you go about being a good wife, being a good husband, just serving in a lot of different ministries, but you're not tending to your heart, it won't be long before you're hurried, harassed, bothered, judgmental of other people, and checking out.
That's why we say a lot, "When your outflow exceeds your intake your upkeep will be your downfall." You have to make sure you're daily ingesting the Word of God so you can remind yourself why you love widows and love one another when they have dreads and you don't, or you'll check out. When good things get in the way of God's things they're not good things; they are distractions and are choking out the fruitfulness of the Word.
So you have to make sure that you're about the one thing. It's Martha and Mary's story. Remember? Martha was busy, busy, busy, and she accused God of not caring. She accused her sister of irresponsibility and enthroned herself to a position where she was telling Jesus to tell Mary what to do. Jesus said, "Hey, Martha, I'm not going to deny Mary what she's doing. She's getting her heart fed."
But when God's Word doesn't lead to good things in your life, God's people are not listening. If all we do is a bunch of Bible studies, and it doesn't make its way out to clinics and to widows and to the hurting and to other cultures, we aren't really listening to the Word of God. When God's people don't serve where they should, God's purposes are not served, so every single one of us… This is what 1 Peter 4:10 says. "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in [deaconizing] one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
You have to discover your gift, develop your gift, and deploy your gift for God's glory so that God's Word can be advanced. The social gospel is not the gospel, but the real gospel affects society. Study the gospel. Study the Word, and, church, let's live it out with one another. Be encouraged. This is the way it's happening about three miles from here in one of the most under-resourced areas of our city. Watch this.
Female: Today is Monday, just a Monday. The sun will come up. It will shine for a little while, and then it will go back down. Our city will go about its business as usual. Its people will live their lives. They'll drive to work. Children will go to school. Families will share a meal. Things will go as they normally do, but for some people, the normal version of today will be interrupted with a hurt wrist, with a fever, with a headache that just won't go away.
Today, some of the men, women, and children in our city will be interrupted and make their way through our doors looking for help. But that interruption is no coincidence. That interruption was not an accident, because today that man, that woman, that child will be given the opportunity to meet Jesus. They walked in our doors for one reason, but the Lord sent them here for another.
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If you don't know about what's going on over there, you ought to. It's just one of the places, whether it's mentoring kids from South Dallas without dads, whether it's working in elementary schools that are under-resourced, whether it's caring for folks who are sick or who have been through decisions that have led to loss of life or a myriad of other things, where the Word of God is producing in people's lives a desire to serve our country, to serve our city.
You need to figure out what it is and figure out where God has uniquely gifted and equipped and experienced and impassioned you to serve, but do it out of an overflow of your attentiveness to the Word of God. What is true for the church is true for the Christian, and you have to lead yourself before you wait on tables, but if you're feeding yourself and you're not then led to feed others, you're not letting that food… You're just a biblical bulimic, where you stuff it in and spit it out. You have to let it nourish your heart and have it make a change.
So for us to be what Jesus wants the church to be, his hands and feet, we have to make sure we're attentive to the Word, and then we have to make sure we do what the Word of God did when he was here on earth. He served others. Before you take off today, I would encourage you to look at the person next to you and just go, "Hey, how can I serve you? Maybe I've been here a little bit longer than you. Can I help you get connected?
I know you need to be in that community where you can shoot an email off like, 'I have no idea what Acts 6:1-7 is about.' Let me tell you how I got plugged in here. Can I share with you some of the ministries that are here that might be the way to assimilate? Have you ever filled out that little perforated section? Let me help you." Love one another right here, and let's go love this city. Amen? Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.