Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the twelfth in my series on the Book of Acts.
“The Church, Taking Care of Business”
July 29, 2007
Baptist stranded on a desert island is rescued after years by a helicopter pilot who notices three huts on the island. "What’s the first", he asked. "That’s my house", came the reply. "And the second?" "I’m Baptist, and that’s where I go to church." "Cool. And the third hut?" “Oh, that’s the church I used to go to church.” What does that have to do with today’s text? Hang on; let’s read it together!
Business meetings – not exactly scintillating sometimes, with the exception being when tempers flare—that can be entertaining! And sadly, sometimes the church doing business ends up splitting. Dwight Pentecost writes of a Dallas church that split many years ago in what ended up as a court case that made headlines in the Dallas metroplex. The courts were called in to determine which side in the dispute should receive the assets of the church. It was a sad thing indeed, but it was made infinitely sadder when the source of the conflict was traced back, not to a serious doctrinal issue or even an issue of direction for the church, but rather to the fact that an elder received a smaller portion of ham than did a small child seated next to him at a church dinner. Well…
After the relatively smooth sailing of the first several chapters of Acts, we begin to read of the problems. The first, of course, was the problem of persecution, a threat from the outside of the church. The threats we consider today were more internal, but no less serious (and in some ways, they could have been more serious!). A split could have loomed had this issue not been handled in a godly manner, in this first ever “business meeting” of the local church.
I. Problems Coming - :1-2
“I will build My church”, Jesus said. The guarantee of Jesus to build it doesn’t preclude the possibility, indeed the likelihood, of some friction.
“disciples” – followers of Jesus, not a select group of 12 or what have you. This is echoed in verse 7.
“increasing in number” – Good problems, but problems nonetheless! Acts 2 – “3000”; “daily”. Acts 4:4 – “5000 men”. Acts 5:14 – “More than ever…” Explosive growth brings wonderful blessing, but brings challenges as well.
Hellenists v. Hebrews – the early church was not without its problems; it, like the church today, was populated by people, and people are notoriously…people! Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews, while Jews in Jerusalem generally spoke Aramaic. Many of these Hellenistic Jews likely had been raised in lands outside of Israel, but had moved back to Jerusalem, perhaps as a “homecoming” of sorts such as we see so many Jews moving back to Israel today from other parts of the world to which they’d been dispersed. The Hellenists formed a bit of a different culture, though they were Jews; they had separate synagogues where Greek was spoken. And the Aramaic-speaking Jews had a natural aversion to the Hellenists, likely not as strong as they had to Samaritans, but people being people, many thought of the Hellenists as second-class citizens. And people being people, this attitude subtly—maybe even not so subtly—crept over into the early church.
“the daily distribution” – Judaism had a system for the maintenance and care of widows, and the early church developed the same. If indeed many of these Hellenistic Jews were those who had moved back to Jerusalem in order to die and be buried near the holy city, then their widows would have likely had no family around to take care of them upon their death, and thus there probably arose a significant number of these widows.
“complaint” – The word in the original, gongysmos, is a fairly ugly one, the word used of the Jews murmuring in the wilderness against God. This was a serious situation, and the possibility of the first “church split” loomed.
If these Hellenists had suspicions that, even in the context of the early church, they were seen as second-class by Aramaic-speaking Jews, then this was an outlet for their suspicions to be concerned: “the Jewish widows are well taken-care-of, but our widows are being overlooked and treated shabbily!”
And this might have been symbolic even of deeper contentions, maybe not outright divisions and such, but problems nonetheless. If the Hellenists didn’t speak Aramaic, then there must have had to have been, at the very least, translation going on, if not separate meetings; the potential for misunderstanding was heightened.
Was the offense real or imagined? Who knows? Maybe a little of both. But it’s irrelevant here, because the apostles didn’t go on a fact-finding mission to determine the truth of everything; they just addressed the issue to make sure that it wouldn’t be an issue.