Kingdom Advance Through Intentional Unity
NOTE: SUNDAY POSTS ARE INTENDED TO BE USED ALONG WITH THE SERMON. YOU CAN FOLLOW THE NOTES AS YOU LISTEN ALONG JUST LIKE YOU WERE THERE. http://www.threeriversc.org/#/sermon-audio
The narrative of Acts is the historical account of the advance of the gospel of the kingdom from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Acts tells us the story of how the Spirit fuels the advance of the rule of Jesus over people and nations.
So much of Acts is descriptive of what the Spirit did and gives us “testimonies” that are worthy of imitation and they teach us what to expect as well as provide us opportunity to worship the Lord for his marvelous ways of loving his people and advancing the work through our work to the nations.
Our passage today, Acts 6:1-7, is less about the establishment of an office of the church (deacon ministry) and more about how the church encountered challenge associated with growth and how the Spirit moved in power to build unity and keep the work advancing.
Some may disagree that this passage is not about the establishment of “deacons”. There is room for that. But we can’t disagree that this passage’s primary thrust is how the church dealt with a serious challenge to unity and how unity was preserved and the results of a unified church in advancing the kingdom of Jesus.
This passage is about intentionally preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
So, let’s look at how the church met a threat to unity with some intentionality.
Observation 1: What do we see/What does it mean?
1. Growth Can Increase Complaining 6:1
The kingdom of God is increasing in spite of the persecution that has come on it.
The disciples response to the persecution has brought about the increase in the number of disciples.
An increase in saints with still ingrained sinful tendencies does not mean a decrease in sin.
Rather an increase in saints with ingrained sinful tendencies means an increase in sinful behavior and opportunity.
The Word “complaint” is a a word that means “murmur” or “grumble against”. This word carries the idea of an undercurrent or undercover talking.
1. Growth can increase murmuring.
Situations where growth happens often provide opportunity for grumblers or malcontents to murmur.
2. How one handles growth is vital. (Vision/Values that create the culture will expel grumbling)
What do we do with this?
1. Expect any growth to create opportunities for complaint.
Complaining against people.
Complaining against vision.
Complaining because some people are just complainers.
2. Expect to handle complaint appropriately as the church did in Acts 6:1-7
I don’t think this passage is prescribing any methodology. Rather this passage is describing how the whole church responded in grace to a real challenge to it’s unity.
3. Don’t allow complaining to advance. Kill it.
Complaining has nothing to do with truth. Rather most complaining has something to do with “druthers” or opinions or selfish desires.
If there is a real issue, Scripture gives us either outright instructions on handling sin and principles on handling other non-sin issues.
Observation 2: What do we see/What does it mean?
2. The Problem in Acts 6:1-7 was Legitimate but the Complaining was Not Legitimate 6:1
The Hellenist widows are being overlooked while the Hebrew widows are not in the daily distribution of food.
This is an instance where a minority is being looked over in favor of the majority.
Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who were looked down on because they had been “Greekified” by Alexander’s process of making a unified world for him to rule over. The Greek world was thought superior.
Hebrews were those who rejected the “Greekified” culture for a distinctly “Hebrew” culture.
Hebrews in this instance were considered by some the “more spiritually right” while the Hellenists were thought less of.
We don’t know how widows were being cared for.
What we can know from the text is that they are being given food and someone is giving it out or delivering it. We just don’t know how the ministry was happening.
It is more than likely not a willful sin issue of intentional neglect.
Regardless of the situation, there was a potential issue that could rip apart unity in the fellowship because rather than ask a good question and make the need known they began to “complain” / “murmur” / “grumble against” in the dark.
A legitimate problem was not addressed properly by the people and that turned into complaining.
What do we do with this?
1. It is everyone’s job to obey Jesus not just the “leadership”.
2. Matthew 18:15-20 gives us an individual framework for dealing with sin. (Not trying to read this onto the text, just as a matter of dealing with instances where sin is evident and needing to be dealt with by the individual)
Observation 3: What do we see/What does it mean?
3. Unity Destroying Issues Like Drawing Distinctions in the Fellowship Required a Response that Addressed the Entire Church and Divides Responsibilities for Effectiveness 6:2-6
1. When the “leadership” were made aware of the situation that led to the sin of grumbling, they acted swiftly and decisively.
2. Exodus 18:13-23 is the historical framework for dividing responsibilities.
3. It was necessary that the apostles devote themselves to preaching and prayer not serving tables.
“The word “serve” is the common Greek term for service, diakonia. Unfortunately many modern commentators, looking for guidelines for the later office of deacon (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8–10, 12–13) have used this text to help define that ministry task. However, these are not “deacons”; they are lay ministers/preachers. Only eisegesis can find deacons in Acts 6.”
“This is not a disparaging word about serving, but the beginning of the sensed need for a division of responsibilities among the people of God. These were not offices, but delegated functions. Gospel proclamation must take priority over some needed ministries. The Apostles were uniquely called and qualified for their task. Nothing should take away from that task.”
4. The church was commanded to “pick” seven ministry leaders who had a good reputation, were full of the Holy Spirit and were full of wisdom and they would be appointed oversee the distribution of food to widows.
The word “pick” is in the imperative and it means to examine closely and select.
The “seven” is perhaps from the number seven begin considered “perfect” or “complete” due to the seven days of creation (Genesis 1; Psalm 104).
Numbers 18 gives some historical framework to developing a secondary tier of leadership to help oversee necessary functions.
These chosen leaders are tasked with making sure all widows are taken care of equally and the situation is resolved.
Notice the love here. They selected an all “Hellenistic” crew to address the challenge. Since the “Hellenists” were being overlooked, the mixed fellowship pick an all “Hellenist” crew to fix it.
That’s showing the one’s slighted that we care more about right and the kingdom culture than we care about our “world cultural heritage”.
What do we do with this?
1. Let’s all act swiftly and decisively for unity if something threatens our unity.
Jesus’ instruction on living in unity and loving each other is not just for the pastors to manage. It’s instruction to all of us.
We believe in the priesthood of the believer. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to act biblically when unity is challenged.
(This passage is not prescribing that every time something happens that the pastors call a whole church meeting and have the people appoint a task force. This passage is showing us how the apostles engaged the entire church to combat something attacking the unity of the community of the kingdom.)
2. Know that unintentional “slights” will happen in the fellowship some small and some large. Growth will cause this as it’s easy for people to be slighted and easy to fall into cultural tendencies because its our default setting.
2a. Don’t let slights turn into scraps. Ask good questions with a sincere heart to the appropriate person and handle each other in love.
3. Sin against each other will happen in the fellowship. Missing a problem will happen in the fellowship.
3a. Expect people to mess up. There are no perfect people here.
4. How we handle sin and slights will determine whether we intentionally preserve unity and peace or invite division and hostility.
Matthew 18:15-20 is if we see sin or have been sinned against not if we have a different opinion or way of doing something. It is not an invitation to assault people with one’s opinion every time that opinion or practice is different. People are far to married to non-truth issues than ever before since I’ve been alive.
If you go speak to a person overtime they look like they have gas and you are offended (hyperbole) you will created in them a wounded heart, suspicious mind and you are then acting in selfishness not in love because is all a bout your peace of mind not theirs. The kingdom is not about you.
An understanding and generous heart with some teflon skin (don’t take everything personal) and zipped lips (just keep some things to yourself) for differences in conscience and opinion will lead to peace and love.
5. Ephesians 5:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:15-21
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
Personal Illustration: One time early on in the life of our church when Gabriel was 2 and John Mark was just born it was hard. I was working multiple jobs. Jennifer was raising two boys and managing apartments to supplement income. John Mark was a premature little fella with some lung issues and Gabe was struggling in the nursery due to some lack of oversight issues that eventually helped us to grow into what is now Radical Kids.
So I’m doing the work of Sunday mornings and my wife is tasked with having a kid scared to go to nursery and a kid with RSV issues from being pre-mature.
Rather than help, someone spoke to another person about my wife and kids being a distraction. and sent that person to ask us to do something about it.
That person would never reveal themselves although we are quite sure we know who it was, therefore rendering any proper dealing with the issue not possible because the person who was sent would be betraying a confidence. That left us suspicious, hurt and that led to tension and bitterness.
Our life situation was not a sin issue, but a life station challenge and no one willing to help. Just some willing to criticize and “complain”.
It has taken 12 years to work through that and get more healthy than we were. All over a non-sin issue.
5. Unity requires intentionality in obeying Jesus, applying wisdom to any and every situation and loving the other as they need to be loved (Matthew 7:12) not as we determine they need to be loved, and that requires effort, knowing each other and deference and submission to each other out of reverence to Christ.
Observation 4: What do we see/What does it mean?
4. The Kingdom Advances 6:7
1. The word of God increased.
2. The disciples multiplied.
3. Priests became obedient to the faith.
What do we do with this?
1. Unity is a key ingredient in the advance of the gospel.
John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
2. Unity will require intentionality.
3. As the Lord gives increase we will need to call you to action and you will need to put forward men and women to do ministry tasks.
4. Pastors, your task is the word and prayer. Disciple men.
One of the most unifying activities we an engage in is worshiping the Lord in song.
Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”