Summary: How to handle problems in the church.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 12
“The Complications of Multiplication.”
Together we have been tracing the history of the early church, we have seen how the church was going, growing, and glowing. At no other time in Christian history has the church of Jesus Christ been characterized by the phenomenal growth, the marvelous miracles, the pulsating power, or the unstoppable boldness which it experienced in the first few weeks of its existence. The story of the book of Acts reveals how rapidly the church was growing; on the day of Pentecost we are told that of "those that gladly believed... 3,000 were added" (2:41), and that believers were continually being "added daily" (2:47). Even persecution could not stop the church, Chapter 4:4 reveals that "5,000 men" are added, this would mean a congregation of at least 20,000. Later we are told the "Multitudes of men and women" were continuing to be added according to (5:14), until finally we are told that "disciples are multiplied." (6:1)
So here in the most exciting moment in the history of the church, when God's power is being felt, and when the church was being multiplied in size, a dissension arose among the people. Having failed to stop the church in its mission by either persecution or corruption, Satan now tried distraction, he tried to get the church to fight. Some inequity arose and became the cause of the first dissension in the church. It is an attempt on the part of the enemy to divide the church by envy and misunderstanding. It is interesting to consider that this problem in the church could easily have produced what the previous threats of the Jew religious leadership had not, the cessation of preaching of the gospel.
“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. (2) Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. (3) Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; (4) but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (5) And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (6) whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. (7) Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:1-7 (NKJV)
At other times we have looked to this passage for insight on the selection of deacons but this morning I want us to see the four things that it tells us about solving problems within the church.
I. HANDLING PROBLEMS DEMANDS DISCERNMENT 6:1
" Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a compliant against the Hebrews by the Hellenist because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution."
In Jewish society widows were particularly needy and dependent, and both the Old Testament and the New Testament single them out along with orphans as the most in need of charitable help. This dissension when the Christian community came as the result of several factors (1) The dissension occurred because Satan was at work behind the scenes trying to stir up division. (2) This dissension was the result of natural divisions within the church. At Pentecost thousands of Aramaic speaking Jews (those born in Palestine) plus hundreds of Greek speaking Jews born outside of Palestine (known as Hellenist) became one in Christ. However, conversion as wonderful as it is does not erase all their prejudices. The Greek-speaking widows soon felt as if they were been shorted in the daily division of food. (3) The dissension happened because it is easy for things to fall through the cracks of a growing church, even when that church is spirit-filled and really love one another. The success of the church was actually the source of the problem in the church. The Church was experiencing "growing pains" and this was making it difficult for the apostles to minister to everybody. As any church gets larger, things cannot be handled spontaneously or informally any longer. When a church is small, many of the jobs can be handled with little or no structure. Church growth consequently requires constant evaluation and change in the way things are done.
The complaint concerned the welfare of the widows. In this case there seems to be a real problem but this is not always so when complaining begins. The word translated “complaint” (gongysmos) is an unpleasant word, used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the murmuring that the Jews did against Moses in the wilderness (Ex. 16:7, Num. 14:27). Regardless of the cause murmuring is always wrong. These Greek-speaking Christians began to complain, but they did not complain to those in authority, those responsible, they simply complained among themselves. When you complain to other people who are perhaps involved but who are not in a position to do anything about it; that is murmuring.