Summary: Service is central to Spiritual development and growth of the Church. A look at Jesus and the early Church supplies a great example of the process for building workers.
(Open with an illustration: Hold up, one at a time, several kinds of towels and mention their use: paper towel, dish towel, face towel, bath towel and beach towel).
The story is told of a young Christian nurse that began working with lepers in India, bathing their wounds and bringing them food and water. Every day after her job of working in the hospital she would go to the leper colony as a volunteer. Someone discovered her work and spoke with her about it. As she explained what she did, the person said, “Well, I wouldn’t do what you’re doing for a million dollars!” The young nurse replied, “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either, but for Jesus, I will do it free.”
Somehow, someone had successfully passed on to her the towel of service.
In the gospel of John 13 we read that the night he was betrayed Jesus got up from the Passover meal and took off his outer garment and wrapped a towel around his waist, took a water basin and washed the disciple’s feet. They had all come to the meal after walking down the dusty Jerusalem roads. When they entered there was no servant to meet them at the door to wash their feet, so they, being normal men, just plopped down at the dinner table with dirty feet. Remember that this is no ordinary meal – it commemorated God’s gracious deliverance of Israel, and this group is in no ordinary company – the Son of God presided over it, and this was no ordinary time – it was Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his cross.
The Passover… The Bible tells us in other accounts of this that these disciples were also arguing with each other about who among them was the greatest. (Normal guy talk). You have to wonder about these guys sometimes. I can almost see Jesus shaking his head. Now let’s be fair about these men. They were men of faith. They have followed Jesus for nearly three years. They have seen and done miracles. These were the men Jesus himself selected to take the message of the gospel to the world. But as John tells us, here they are… down and dirty at dinner without a clue as to what they ought to do. Plus they are treating the occasion and each other with less than reverent respect. They weren’t being belligerent or intentionally bad; they were just being... oblivious. Do any of you guys here know what I’m talking about?
Jesus knew what they needed. And it wasn’t really that they needed clean feet, they needed a good lesson in what it means to serve one another in love. So he gave them one. Serving… I love Ronnie Misseldine’s lesson that he gave here for our summer series called the “towel ministry.” He said that the last time they appointed deacons there at Central they gave each of them a towel with John 13:15 on it. Our Savior’s system of success, sanctification and salvation involves loving service. It involves turning members into ministers.
Now I want to tie this into our Acts study today. I hope you will see the connection and learn the lesson of passing the towel of service. In our study of Acts we have come to chapter 6 where we see how they set up servants to expand the ministry of service and satisfy the needs of these widows in the church.
This is an exciting time for the church in Jerusalem! Even as the clouds of persecution are building their number is increasing and, in fact, they are outgrowing their leadership’s ability to meet the needs of the church. Multitudes are being added. Don’t you know this was a huge workload for the 12 apostles? They’ve got more on their plate than they’ve ever had before. The pressures of leadership are mounting and this is all new to them. Without the Holy Spirit this church would surely have fallen apart just like Gamaliel said. But this is not of men, this is of God. And while it is indeed of God, He is using men to do the work!
As we observe this situation, notice that God doesn’t just step in and make everything happen without their involvement and decision. God allows them to struggle as they learn to serve. He doesn’t take that from them, but in fact, he leaves it with them! God puts this towel in their hands! It is time for the training wheels to come off and for members of the church to take on more of the responsibility. Just as Jesus, after washing the disciple’s feet passed on the towel to them to do it for each other, God is teaching the apostles to pass the towel of service and ministry and responsibility on to others. It is the only way to continuing growth!