Summary: Even though saved, long held prejudices and human selfishness threatens division among the early Christians.
Acts 6:1-14, 7:47-60 “Squabbles”
One of the things we crave most in life is power. We want power to make our own decisions, and power to determine our own goals and our path through life. The struggle for power can be seen in the arguments parents have with children over bed times, and what clothes are permissible to wear to school. Of course there is, also the classic power struggle of the TV remote. Later on in life there is the power struggle of the car keys.
Power struggles are evident in every level of society. Some of us buck the speed limit not only because we want to arrive at our destination twenty or thirty seconds faster, but also because we don’t want government telling us what we can and cannot do. Our discontent with TSA is usually centered on power. There’s the power struggle between Governor Brewer and President Obama; a battle over state and federal rights. A little Asian nation wants to exert what little power it has and brings the world close to war. Religious extremists fight to exert their version of God’s power over the rest of us.
In today’s text, we see a power struggle in the early church.
Each of us has secrets about ourselves that we do not want anyone else to know. Families have skeletons in the closet that family members are duty bound to protect because of the repercussions. What I find interesting in this text is that a Christian family skeleton is boldly let out of the closet.
The first followers of Jesus were Jewish. After the birth of the church, the early believers were Jewish Christians and were understood to be a sect of Judaism. The gospel of Jesus Christ quickly spread beyond Israel and Gentiles started to become followers of “The Way”; disciples of Jesus Christ. When that happened a power struggle was in the making.
The Jewish Christians had all of the power. They had all of the leadership positions, and at first the early Christians followed Jewish traditions such as the Ten Commandments, Kosher restrictions, and religious practices. Those in power often ignore those with little or no power. Such was the case in the early church. In the distribution of food aid Gentile Christians, who were in need, were skipped over in deference to Jewish Christians who were in need. A flag was dropped and a foul was called. What was the church leadership going to do to rectify this injustice?
The leadership did a very unnatural thing—they shared their power with the Gentile Christians. The disciples determined that they would set aside some people to serve as deacons. These people would oversee the distribution of food care and other areas of ministry. The real “kicker” to their actions was that every one of the deacons was a Gentile Christian. The Christian leadership not only shared their power they, also, freely gave it away.
The early Christian leadership followed the way of Christ—“who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself. As followers of Jesus Christ, we do not walk a path that accumulates and preserves power. Rather, we use our power to serve and we work to empower others.
Conflicts often force us to reexamine ourselves—reevaluating our values and reviewing our priorities. This was certainly the case with the disciples.
The disciples determined that their highest priority was “not to neglect the word of God.” They were disciples—followers of Jesus Christ, leaders of the early church, and apostles—those who had been sent out to share the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ. This was their calling and they did not believe it would be true to their calling to “wait tables.” The conflict helped them reestablish their priorities.
The priorities of the early church are clear. They understood that they were “saved” not for heaven, but for service. As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians the disciples of Jesus Christ are the body of Christ—using their talents and abilities together to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We struggle with competing priorities in our lives, just like the early Christians did. Leading Christ centered lives, I believe, demands that our witness and service for Christ is the first priority of our lives. Everything else job, family, leisure activities, etc., become expressions of the primary priority.
In marketing, the strong points are highlighted, and the weak points are downplayed. This record of the early Christians certainly doesn’t market the gospel of Jesus Christ and the call of follow him in this manner. The early church practiced an early version of “truth in marketing.” The story of Stephen demonstrates this.
Stephen, a deacon, was living out the central priority of his life—being a witness and servant of Jesus Christ. It cost him his life. His death, though, in itself was a witness.