Summary: When we pick up our study of the Early Church in Acts 6, it is thriving and growing. They are having unprecedented success. •External persecution has only made the Church stronger. •We learned at the end of chapter five that after being beaten for thei
A Few Good Men
Seven Servants Who Made a Difference
One of the great classics of Western literature is Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It races the history of the decline of the Roman Empire over a thousand year period, from the second century to the final collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.
One thing that comes out throughout Gibbon’s classic is the fact that Rome fell not first and foremost because of external forces, not by invasion (though that was a factor), but by internal decay and division.
If you examine the history of the world, many great civilizations and empires have collapsed not because of external invasion, but because of internal conflict.
We can see that so clearly in our own time.
Civil wars in places like Lebanon and Rwanda have destroyed once beautiful countries, turning them into killing fields. Most recently a place like Yugoslavia, which through civil war after civil war thousands have been killed and the country has been carved up into many small countries ethnically cleansed countries like Croatia, Bosnia, and now Kosovo.
Internal conflict can be devastating to a nation. And it is the same with the Church of Jesus Christ.
When we pick up our study of the Early Church in Acts 6, it is thriving and growing. They are having unprecedented success.
•External persecution has only made the Church stronger.
•We learned at the end of chapter five that after being beaten for their faith: The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. And then that they just went on preaching the Gospel. That they never stopped. (Acts 5:41-42)
But in the history of the Church it is almost never external attack that has destroyed churches.
It is almost always internal. Things like division, dissension, and in-fighting.
I can assure you that no police state or government agency is going to bring down this Church.
•No cult or false Christian movement is going to break down our walls and steal these buildings.
•No Islamic fundamentalists are going to destroy this Church
But the one thing that could and does ravage churches is division. Conflict from within.
•It is Satan’s most powerful weapon.
And it is an internal problem that hits the Church in Acts 6.
Turn with me. Read passage.
What was the problem here?
It says, the Grecian Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Now we need a little cultural background. The Grecian Jews. These are Greek-speaking Jews living in Palestine; living in Israel..
You have to understand just as today, the majority of Jews in the first century did not live in Israel, but were scattered throughout what is called the Diaspora, the “dispersion.” There were Jews all over the Mediterranean region. Over several generations, they would forget how to speak their native tongue, and learned Greek as their first language.
When they would immigrate back to Israel, they would have to learn how to speak Hebrew, or actually Aramaic. Just as Jews today from Ethiopia or Eastern Europe to immigrate to Israel must learn Hebrew.
So the Church in Jerusalem is divided into two main ethnic groups, one Aramaic-speaking, the other Greek.
Now we have already learned the Church was a growing and thriving body. They really cared for their own.
•And they had initiated a kind of “meals-on-wheels” program for their elderly widows. And every day they delivered food to their shut-ins. It’s part of the Church’s support for its own.
•But unfortunately, the immigrants were being neglected.
Let me illustrate this in our own cultural context. Suppose we here at CABC we had a larger Hispanic congregation. Maybe 1/3 of us were Hispanics.
•And we had a “meals on wheels” program. And we truly wanted to help everyone. But by accident, the Spanish speaking group sometimes got neglected. They lived in different neighborhoods. Language was a barrier. Called to get directions, but couldn’t speak the language. We’ll get them tomorrow.
•The Spanish speakers begin to feel left out. They would feel like second class citizens of the Church. “Maybe we should just leave and start our own church!” And a few of the Anglos began to say, “Maybe you should.”
That’s essentially what is happening here. The Greek speaking widows and shut-ins are being neglected. And the Church is in danger of being torn apart.
1. The Problem: Neglected needs in the Church
It is an internal problem sparked by ethnic or cultural differences.
Unfortunately, the Church has not been immune to racial prejudice in the past.
•It is a sad indictment on the Church that whole denominations were established to promote segregation.
•It is encouraging, if you remember in 1995, the Southern Baptist denomination, a denomination that was originally founded over the issue slavery, in 1995 issued a declaration denouncing its own racist past and asked forgiveness from the African-American community.