Summary: Acts 6 tells us that after the church met the needs of its widows, the "disciples multiplied greatly". What caused this dramatic explosion of growth and what can we learn from that?
Back in the 17th Century, there was a German preacher named August Francke. He had seen the homeless children in his city and was so moved by their living conditions that he decided to found an orphanage for them. But as is often the case with such ministries, money was always tight, and he hardly had enough funds to feed the children.
One day, a widow came to his door begging for just a single gold coin (a Ducat). He sadly explained that he hadn’t the money and had no way to help her. To his shock she collapsed on the step and began to weep. Moved by her tears, Francke asked her to wait while he went to his room and prayed. The more he prayed, the more compelled he felt that God was prompting him to give the widow the money… and so he did.
Two days later he received a warm letter of thanks from the widow saying that because of his generosity she had asked the Lord to shower the orphanage with gifts. He was touched by the letter, but was soon surprised when – later that day - a rich woman of the city came to his door and gave him 12 ducats. Not long after that a friend from Sweden gave him 2 more. He was humbled to think that God had so amply rewarded for his meager gift to this widow. But God wasn’t done yet. It seems a German Prince had died not long before this, and, in his will, He left 500 gold pieces as a bequest to the orphanage!
A preacher met the needs of a destitute widow… and God rewarded him. In our text this morning we read a similar story.
By the time we get to the story in Acts 6, the early church had experienced heady times. At Pentecost 3000 Jews repented of their sins and were baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. And over the next few days the church grew to 5000… and then more.
But then they hit a snag. As you may recall from previous chapters, there were a number of people in this fledgling church that were needy. They’d come from a great distance and, when they were converted to Jesus, they decided to stay right there in Jerusalem with all the other believers. So folks like Barnabas went and sold some of their property and gave the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to the poor
But there was a problem. The problem was that the church of THAT day suffered from the same kinds of problems that modern congregations have.
ILLUS: Have you ever noticed how people at church tend to hang out with folks they have common interests with? These groupings are called CLIQUES. And while cliques have a bad reputation, they are not necessarily all that bad in and of themselves. Everybody has their clique - people we’re comfort to "circle the wagons” and ONLY hang out with THEIR KIND of people. People in such cliques end up only spending time with and thinking about their circle of close friends.
Well, that’s kind of what happened at Jerusalem. There were the local Christians – Jewish believers that had been born and raised around Jerusalem. THEN there were the “outsiders” – called Hellenists (or Grecians). They were Jewish believers too… but their accent was different. And because they’d been born and raised in other countries they didn’t quite fit in.
Well, it seems that the Local Boys (who were responsible for taking care of the widows) were overlooking the widows from out of town. They may not have meant to slight these ladies. It may simply have been an oversight. But frankly the Hellenists didn’t “run in THEIR circle”. It was kind of an “out of sight – out of mind” type of thing.
Whatever the reason, these widows were being ignored in the daily distribution of assistance, and some of them were getting upset. The KJV says there was some MURMURING going on (Complaining) and we all know murmuring’s not a good thing at church.
This comes to the attention of the Apostles… and they say: "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6:2-4
One of my commentaries notes that the names of the 7 men were “all Greek, it is likely they were all of the "Grecian" class, which would effectually restore mutual confidence”. (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown)
Now, what’s interesting is that – AFTER these 7 men were selected – and AFTER the needs of the widows were met: “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples MULTIPLIED GREATLY in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Acts 6:7