Summary: The danger of growth is great. The need for growth is even greater. The love of Jesus, the Good Sheperd for his people is the greatest of all!
(Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60)
Intro: Wouldn’t it be great if our church suddenly grew by the thousands? The book of Acts demonstrates that this is possible. It also reminds us to be careful what we wish for, because growth isn’t always easy or painless. It often means we have to deal with changes and challenges. But because of Jesus, our victorious and risen Lord, in the end, it’s worth it all!
I. With growth the church faces internal tensons
A. Growth: the number of disciples was increasing.
1. From 120 to 3,000 to 5,000, etc.
2. Its makeup was entirely people of Jewish background.
3. They were centered in Jerusalem.
[Question: what keeps us from growing that way today?]
B. Confict: there were some sore spots among different believers.
1. There were two groups of believers
a. Hebraic Jews were from Palestine and spoke Hebrew.
b. Grecian Jews were born outside of Palestine and spoke Greek.
2. The Grecian Jews had a complaint: their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. (This was their only source of provision.)
[Question: what are some internal struggles the church faces today?]
C. Example: the problem was handled wisely and well.
1. The disciples kept their focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer, but they didn’t sacrifice care and service at its expense, either—they got help!
2. They appointed seven men to handle food distribution… but not just anyone!
a. The men they chose were well-qualified: full of the Spirit and wisdom.
b. These men represented the party that had been slighted: they had Greek names.
c. This group even included a convert to Judaism (a proselyte) from Antioch
[Question: how can we apply some of these same principles today?]
D. Result: “The Word of God spread;” There was an even greater explosion of growth within Jerusalem, and a large number of priests were included.
II. With growth the church faces external opposition.
A. Growth: Stephen’s reputation grew as he became increasingly important. (He was one of the 7!)
1. He was full: “of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5) “of God’s grace and power” (v. 8) [Note: in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!]
2. He did great wonders and miraculous signs.
B. Conflict: The Synagogue of the Freemen (Roman slaves of Jewish background who had been set free and now lived in Jerusalem) opposed Stephen—perhaps they felt jealous, threatened.
1. They couldn’t “fight fair”—they couldn’t stand up to his wisdom or the Holy Spirit.
2. So they used alternate methods: politics, deception, force.
a. They stirred up the people by making false accusations.
b. Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin. [Note: This is also the approach used against Jesus!]
C. Example: Stephen answered the accusations against himwithout descending to their level.
1. He appealed to their “common ground”—the history of Israel, noting two important things:
a. The “good old days” weren’t always so good. God’s people had a long history of rejecting Moses and the prophets, a history that led up to Jesus himself.