Rev. Erik Veerman
The Twelve, the Seven, and the Great Many
This morning, we are picking back up in Acts where we left off at the end of November. Chapter 6.
Before we read these verses, I wanted give a quick summary of the first 5 chapters.
Back in the first sermon. I used the acronym ACTS. It not only summarized the first several verses of chapter 1, it’s also a summary of the whole book.
• A stands for Ascension – a big emphasis in the sermons of Acts is the ascended and resurrected Christ. It’s all throughout.
• C for Church – Acts is the history of the church going back to day 1. There’s lots of applicability for us today. It’s the reason we’re studying Acts as a church plant. We’ll see that in a big way today in chapter 6.
• T if you remember is for Tucker. When Jesus commissioned the disciples and first believers back in chapter 1 verse 8 – They were called to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, [Tucker,] and to the ends of the earth. That verse is the geographical summary of the whole book. Tucker is not really in there, as you know, but it is in a way. We’re part of the history of the church – part of the ends of the earth.
• S, of course, is for the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out. That event is called Pentecost. This was a unique event in the church – we benefit from the giving of the Holy Spirit today. And it’s the Spirit, who is the ongoing ministry of Christ. That’s why a big emphasis in Acts is Jesus’ reign and redemption in him.
Then in Chapter 3 – if you remember, a man is healed at one of the gates of the temple. It’s a great testimony of faith. It’s there that Peter gives his first sermon pointing to Christ – as the fulfilled promised One, who is resurrected.
In chapter 4, Peter’s sermon didn’t sit well with the religious leaders. So they arrested Peter and John. But Peter, again, boldly preached Christ to them. The leaders were forced to let them go.
Interspersed throughout chapters 2 through 5 are highlights of the early church community. They focused on the Word and prayer. They served and cared for one another. In these first few weeks in the life of the early church, they grew from a couple hundred to a few thousand.
Besides the external conflict, we witnessed some internal conflict. Ananias and Saphira lying to Peter and God’s quick judgment on them.
And lastly, chapter 5 ended with the disciples being arrested, again. This time an angel of the Lord freed them. And what did they do? They went back to preaching Christ in the temple. They obeyed God rather than men… even though they were gravely warned not to preach Christ.
And that brings us to our text this morning, chapter 6, verses 1 through 7.
What causes local churches to split? Many have asked and analyzed that question over the years. Certainly, some splits have happened over important theological differences. Groups in churches have also parted ways over vision and mission. But many, many church splits happen because of in-fighting. Disagreements over sometimes petty or at least small issues when compared to the matters of faith and practice. Let me name a few real-world examples:
• What color to paint the education rooms
• Types of coffee and creamer to serve
• Worship attire. In one instance, a fight arose over the length of the worship leader’s beard because it was longer than the pastors.
• Whether the church property should be used as a cemetery or playground
• On another occasion, the church vacuum was hidden from certain individuals. That led to a split.
• Another church split over the quantity of food served to a deacon at a church luncheon
The list goes on. This is not new. The church in Corinth struggled over the cult of personalities. I follow so-and-so… well I follow so-and-so. Many of the New Testament letters address conflict and disagreements.
It happens because of our sinful hearts. It’s easy to find fault in others. To feel unfairly treated. To make things personal.
It’s a risk for any church, but I think it was a particular risk for the growing church in Jerusalem. Every day, people were coming to faith. Added to the flock. That’s exciting. But imagine how easily trouble could come. As the community grew, it would be harder to communicate, harder to keep track of everyone. We already know from previous chapters… the great enemy of the faith was at work against the church. As Charles preached last week, the devil’s mighty tail is swinging this way and that to wreak havoc and dissent.
And we get to chapter 6 verse 1 and we see that a small crack that has formed. A complaint arose because Hellenist widows were being ignored. Now, we’re still in Jerusalem and surrounding area. Almost all the original converts were Jewish in heritage. But they spoke different languages. We know that from Pentecost… Jews from all over had gathered for one of their annual pilgrimages. One big group were Greek speakers, those were the Hellenists – connected more with the surrounding Greek culture of the Mediterranean. Others were Aramaic speaking, connected more with the ancient Hebrew culture. But they were all part of the growing church community.
One way that the community cared for one another was sharing resources. At the end of chapter 4, the apostles received and then distributed money for those who had need. Well, a complaint arose by the Greek speaking Christians. Their widows were being overlooked. That word complaint is the word for murmuring. It’s translated elsewhere as grumbling. The sense we get is that they were frustrated. Were they sinning? Well, given the word choice here, some likely overreacted in their hearts causing more dissent. Others may have just been concerned. And this complaint reached the apostles.
The big question is this: Will sin and the devil drive a wedge in the early church?
The answer… an emphatic, “No!” What happens instead is more unity. More ministry. More word-centered growth. More maturity as a church. These verses offer us quite a testimony of God at work. And I think there’s so much here for us to learn. Especially as a church plant… as we grow and mature.
If you look at the outline on the back of you bulletin – you’ll see 4 points… These are 4 ways in which they matured as a body in Christ.
• Leadership that Listens - Caring for the full community
• Apostles that Appoint - Prioritizing preaching and prayer
• Seven that Serve - Serving with Spirit-filled wisdom
• The Word that Works - Multiplying faith in many
And these 4 points roughly line up with the 4 different groups of people that respond. There’s the full number of disciples mentioned in verse 2. Then the twelve – referring to Jesus’ original 12 disciples. Then the seven who are appointed to help the situation. And finally, the great many mentioned in verse 7. The many more who believed.
Leadership that Listens - Caring for the full community
So first… Leadership that listens - Caring for the full community.
The original disciples took this concern seriously and they listened. They gathered the full community of disciples… meaning all those who were serving and leading. And they considered the situation. It doesn’t say this… but they probably prayed together. On their hearts and minds was how to care for the full community without compromising the message. The Word of God – the Gospel.
Leaders in the church need to carefully and sensitively listen. Notice that it didn’t matter that the complaint involved some grumbling. They still graciously listened and responded.
Whether you are a formal leader in the church or serve in a ministry area. It’s important to hear input with gentleness and patience and humility.
Now, what if the disciples had said ….“you need to stop complaining… this is the way it is” or “trust the leadership” or “if you don’t agree, then maybe you should find another community”
For some of you, just saying those words may have caused a negative reaction in you. It does for me.
But, this is not how the disciples responded. Rather quite the opposite. Church leaders are to care, to express love, and concern. To be a model of grace and kindness when matters of concern come up within the body. That doesn’t mean an elder shouldn’t stand up for truth. Or defend the flock when a wolf enters the fold in sheep’s clothing. That’s a separate situation.
Here the matter is the care and shepherding of the flock. Part of the way they cared is in the list of names! Every single name listed in verse 5 is a Greek name. One of their own. And they weren’t appointed to just serve the Hellenists. No, they were appointed to serve the whole body of Christ… both the Aramaic and Greek speakers… and other believers. One body in Christ.
But let’s switch to the other side. What if upon hearing the solution, the Hellenists got upset. “you mean to say, the apostles are no longer going to care for our widows? These other guys are? I mean, didn’t Jesus wash the disciples’ feet? Why can’t they serve like he did?”
Now, we’re not actually told how the Hellenists responded. But I think here, the silence indicates their response. They received the disciple’s answer with thankfulness. It’s just as important for us receive responses from church leaders with grace and love… even if it’s not exactly what you may have had in mind.
Leadership that listens and cares for the full community.
Apostles that Appoint - Prioritizing preaching and prayer
And second, apostles that appoint - prioritizing preaching and prayer
With the growth that had been happening, something needed to change. They realized that as they gathered. They were unable to meet the needs with the current arrangement.
So, they had some choices to make. They could have tried to each do more – burn the candle at both ends, so to speak. Continue the distribution while also continuing to teach and preach. That wouldn’t have lasted long.
They also could have tried to serve fewer people. In other words, prioritize who gets the daily distribution. In a way, that was already happening.
But neither of those solutions seemed to faithfully care for the church.
They sought, in wisdom, a better solution. The original twelve realized the calling they had been given. A call to preaching, verse 2, and a responsibility to pray, verse 4. Any solution needed to take that into account.
Here’s their answer: Knowing the body of Christ, whom they served with, they called on the people to select faithful Godly men, full of the Spirit and wisdom.
Notice the breakout of responsibilities. The apostles established the qualifications. The full number of the disciples did the selecting based on those qualifications, and then the apostles appointed them to the task at hand.
An important question to ask is how these verses relate to the rest of the New Testament and then to us today? In the books of 1 Timothy and Titus and at the beginning of Philippians, two offices are established for the church. Elders and Deacons. So, is this Acts 6 text related to elders or deacons? I think the answer is both in different way.
This is the first instance where men are appointed to serve, with the practice of laying on of hands and prayer, verse 6. We call this practice ordination. This is not the only reference to laying on of hands with prayer, but it’s considered one of the main examples to follow. So in that sense, this example of appointment or ordination applies to both elders and deacons in the church.
Many have also considered this the first instance of deacons in the church. Part of the responsibility of these seven… was the daily distribution, this act of mercy, verses 1 and 2. Those matters of service in Scripture… they’re diaconal responsibility. I think probably the best way to put it is this: these verses establish the groundwork of what would become the role of deacon in the church. Over time, the office of deacon would be more defined.
And one of the main reasons that the apostles appointed these servants… was so that they could focus on teaching the Word and prayer. This was critical for the early church. Critical for the church today. Part of discipleship is growing in the knowledge of Christ and his promises. The other part of discipleship is growing in holiness and righteousness.
And the apostles needed to fulfill their call to teach and admonish, to exhort and compel. Explaining in depth how the Scriptures are fulfilled in Christ and the call to repent and believe. At this time, the church didn’t have the New Testament yet, but they had the Apostles. This focus was critical.
And besides teaching, part of their responsibility included prayer. Yes, prayer is a responsibility for everyone, but leaders in the church especially need to pray.
Now, to be sure, elders are different from apostles. The office of an Apostle was established for this particular time. God sent them to be the original foundation to the church. The Holy Spirit spoke through them as they wrote the inspired Word in the New Testament. The office of elder has the responsibility for the ongoing ministry of the Word. So these priorities for the Word… apply to elders as well. Now, elders are not the only ones given the gift of wisdom and teaching, but one of an elder’s main responsibilities is to teach, preach, and protect the Word… AND to pray.
I started studying these verses a couple weeks ago… and I’ve felt convicted and renewed. Sometimes I get caught up in tasks… you know… communicating, coordinating, making sure this-and-that happens, touching base with or meeting with different people. The common saying is that a church planter needs to be a jack of all trades. Those are important, and I do set aside significant time to study each week, but I’ve had to repent of times when prayer was an afterthought… and renew a commitment to pray – for our church and each of you.
When the apostles appointed these Godly men… it allowed the Apostles to prioritize the word and prayer.
Seven that Serve - Serving with Spirit-filled wisdom
That brings us to point #3. Seven that Serve - Serving with Spirit-filled wisdom
The seven that were selected and appointed… they were faithful, God-fearing, Spirit-filled servants with wisdom. Their reputation was above reproach – that was one of the qualifications. “Of good repute,” verse 3. In the next two chapter, we’ll experience Stephen and Philip up-close. They knew the Word, were humble and grace filled… with a desire to see the Gospel of Christ go forth. The Spirit was evident in them and through them.
Just because the apostles were to prioritize preaching and prayer… that doesn’t mean that serving the body in other ways was not important. No, rather, the apostles appointed these remarkable men because their service was important… critical for the care of and ministry to the community. The number seven even indicates this importance. The number Seven in the Bible often represents perfection or completeness. The seven days of creation. The importance of the sabbath – the first day out of 7. Or 7 times 7 …the full completeness. These seven served the body of Christ with diligence and faithfulness.
Overall, this is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ maturing and serving one another as the church grew.
I’ve been using that phrase body of Christ intentionally. Earlier in our service, we read from Ephesians 4. It’s one of several places in Scripture where the church is described as a body. Each member is given gifts for the building up of the body. Different roles and gifts that support and complement one another. All to be done with unity, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. There are a lot of parallels between Ephesians 4 and Acts 6.
Each of you has gifts, given by God’s Spirit, for the edification and support of the church. Part of the responsibility of the church, of the elders, is to see that you are equipped with your spiritual gifts. Part of your responsibility is to seek ways to serve the body, to test your gifts, to apply them in the church. Whether serving, or mercy, or hospitality, or giving, or administration, or evangelism, or teaching, or applying wisdom. To be sure, we each have times in our lives when we are more or less able to serve depending on our situations – but the call is there to serve the body in Spirit filled wisdom.
And let me say, we have been blessed at Tucker Pres to have so many serving in so many ways. It’s such an encouragement to see the body of Christ faithfully giving and caring and loving. As we continue to take steps forward in this kingdom endeavor, we’ll need to continue to mature as a church family. We’ll need deacons, and more elders, and more teachers, and those with gifts of service and hospitality and evangelism. Would you prayerfully explore what your gifts might be… and prayerfully consider how to use them here at Tucker Pres?
May the Lord equip us and call many to serve our body well, just as these seven served with spirit filled wisdom.
The Word that Works - Multiplying faith in many
But beloved, how does this all work? How is this growing church body in Acts 6 able to be united, to care for the full number, to serve one another well? How can we listen to and serve one another? Their temptation and our temptation is to serve ourselves, or to serve or prioritize certain people and needs… and unknowingly or knowingly… ignore other people and needs in the church.
What enabled them and enables us? The answer is in verse 7. “The word of God continued to increase.” We’re into point 4 now. The word that works, multiplying faith in many.
You see, it’s because the Word was increasing – empowered by the Holy Spirit… that the church body could grow and care. The word of God through the Spirit was increasing in 2 ways…
• first, in these believer’s hearts and minds – they were growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ… they were able to see the need to serve the body, to love and care in Christ, and to support the apostle’s priority of the word and prayer.
• and second, the Word increased by drawing new believers to Christ. In verses 1 and 7, the community of believer is continuing to grow! The number of disciples is multiplying greatly…. Even, verse 7… “a great many priests became obedient to the faith.” That is a tremendous testimony of God at work. Many of the religious leaders rejected the word. But many of the priests received the word.
Let me say it this way: the Apostle’s priority of the word and prayer… it was working! God was responding to their prayers… to their faithful teaching and preaching. Next week, we’ll see quite the opposite picture. We’ll see what happens when the Word is not being applied to hearts and minds.
And finally… what is the content of the Word that is being preached? It’s the Gospel. We’ve seen this already in Acts, and we’ll continue to see it all the way to the last chapter. The Apostles over and over taught about redemption in Christ. That Jesus, the son of God, died on the cross, he rose, he ascended in glory, and is reigning now. They taught that this Jesus is the only way to salvation. They called people to repent and believe, to have faith in Him
• This Gospel in them… is what enabled them to mature and be united…
• This Gospel was their motivation to support the full community.
• This is the Gospel that they shared as they served one another….
• It’s the Gospel that the Apostles taught and prayed …
• The Gospel that these seven were appointed for…
• the Gospel that these new believers believed in.
All the ministries of the church, then and now, should be motivated by and emphasize this Gospel - the Good news of Christ – our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord, our life… He’s the only hope for the world, and the only foundation for the church.
So as a body of Christ, may we commit everything we do and say to this truth – the Gospel of grace.