Open your Bibles to Acts chapter 6, and we’re going to learn a pattern to recognize.
The church has exploded for five chapters. Then the Lord’s adding to their number every day.
So, maybe we have, who knows, somewhere between twenty to fifty, maybe eighty thousand people in these first few months. The church is exploding. And the church is inside Judaism right now.
So, all those that are coming to Christ, in Jerusalem, are Jews. Now, I want to give you a little context here. Write down, the context is rapid growth or change. I want you to get that.
So, what’s happening now is that there’s tens of thousands of people and the marketplaces are full, and Peter is, you know, he’s, boy, here’s John and James and, boy, there’s all these demands and organizationally it’s growing.
They never expected something like this.
The second thing I want you to notice is the complaint. There’s going to, a complaint’s going to come up of unmet needs. When things grow rapidly, or if there is change in your world and my world, it almost always surfaces unmet needs.
Our tendency is to look at the differences and begin to blame the other person and that’s where the enemy causes division.
Acts chapter 6. “In those days,” in the days of this rapid growth, “the number of the disciples was increasing. The Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebrew Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of the food.
“So the twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.’”
Now, here’s a solution side. So you have a complaint. The complaint is rooted… and here’s the historical situation. Judaism is made up of three groups now. We read this and we have our Christian eyes.
Right now, it’s all Judaism. Inside Judaism you have the largest faction are people who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. You now have a growing faction inside this, you have one circle of people who speak Hebrew and Aramaic who have lived in Jerusalem, who’ve received Jesus the Messiah, and they’re Christians.
You have another group who don’t speak Hebrew, they probably know some Aramaic to get around because it’s the trade language along with Greek, but they are Greek speakers and they were from the Diaspora. They came from all around the area, and when they came at Pentecost, they heard the message, they’ve become Christians, and now they’re living in Jerusalem.
So they speak Greek, they speak Hebrew. This group because they’ve lived elsewhere they look at the world differently. I mean, people who speak a different language from another country, we all get along, we all speak English, but we eat different food, we think differently, we have different values, we have different styles.
That’s the situation.
Now, a complaint is, now they’re saying, “Wait a second! If you’re a Hebrew speaking person your widows are getting the food but ours aren’t.”
Add to this, historically, if you spoke Hebrew and came from Jerusalem, this is well documented, you just looked down your nose at every other Jew. You were of the pure, unmixed ancestry here in Jerusalem.
Jews are God’s chosen people, and you are the chosen of the chosen. And so, you basically think these second-class citizens, I mean, they’re okay, they believe in Jesus but we do know who is better.
So that’s the story. That’s what’s happening. Notice what happens. The disciples say, “We got a problem.” They realize they’re going to have to realign their priorities. And so, here’s the response.
“Brothers, choose seven from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and we will give our attention to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.
“Well, this proposal pleased the entire group; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and also Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, who was a convert to Judaism.
“And they presented these men to the apostles who prayed, laid hands on them,” basically delegated the authority.
So what the apostles basically said was, “Wait a second. This thing is growing but we gotta step back, not respond emotionally.” I mean, this is real stuff. They’re complaining. “What’s wrong with you? Hey, Peter, I thought you loved God. You know, my aunt’s a widow. What’s the deal?” Right? This is heavy stuff.
They step back and they realize, “We’re overwhelmed, we need to be servants, but the ultimate goal, Jesus said what? ‘Go, therefore, into all the world, make disciples.’” We’re overwhelmed, they listen, and they say, you know what? So they appoint seven of the most godly people, who all have Greek names because they’re closest to the problem, and they come up with the solution.
“And it pleased the people,” and then look at verse 7. “So the Word of God spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
And so notice on your notes here. You’ve got rapid growth, you have an unmet need, and then here’s the core.
Differences are fertile ground for division, when growth or change create real, or perceived, unmet needs.
Now, you understand when you change priorities the ripple effects, if people don’t see the big picture?
In fact, what you see in this passage is in the first half of this passage you see differences that could have divided. In the second half of the passage, you’ll notice now that Stephen, it’s more than these guys just waiting on tables. You basically have part of Judaism having a worship service in Hebrew, another part of Judaism having a worship service in Greek.
But now this group is giving oversight and as they’re giving oversight Stephen now begins to have ministry more than just this.
In fact, pick it up in verse 8 and you’re going to see that something happens but the division and the desire and the differences get people doing some very, very ungodly things. Watch how the enemy gets into this.
“Now, Stephen,” verse 8, “a man full of God’s grace and power did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the synagogue of the freed men, as it was called. They were Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria as well as men of the provinces of Cilicia and Asia.”
So, these are the Greek speaking people who have come into town, Stephen is one of them, he’s doing these amazing miracles, he’s authenticating that Christ is the Messiah. “These men began to argue with Stephen but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by which he spoke.”
And so they’re saying, “Wait a second, Stephen. What are you talking about? You can’t change anything about the law.” And Stephen would say, “No, Christ fulfilled the law.” “Well, what about the temple?”
And Stephen would say, “No, yeah, we had a temple and that was a former day. And this temple is important but we are now the temple of God.”
And so Stephen is applying all that Jesus said and it’s causing this huge division. And every time he speaks they attack, and he just goes back and says, “Well, doesn’t this Old Testament passage say that?” And they can’t refute it.
But see here’s what happens. When change or growth begins to mess with your world, and my world, there’s certain traditions and habits that keep us comfortable, and sometimes we don’t want any truth. And we don’t want the change and the implications of truth.
And the enemy gets in, and instead of it being different or I need to grow, the enemy gets in and says, “You know what? You gotta take that person out.” And so notice what happens.
“Then they secretly persuaded,” now these are Jews. They know the commandments. These are people that, “We love God, we honor God, Yahweh.” You know? So they secretly persuade people to speak against him and say that Stephen has been speaking words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.
“So then they stirred up the people.” Notice division. “And the elders and the teachers of the law and the seized Stephen and they brought him before the Sanhedrin,” which is the ruling counsel of the Jews.
“And they produced false witnesses who testified. ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs of Moses handed down to us.’”
And they’ve taken some truths and just tilted it in such a way… “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin look intently at Stephen and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
First part of the chapter, differences, potential division, wisdom, the church continues to grow, roles change, paradigms change, people understand we need to stay on track. Our differences aren’t wrong it’s just a different day. I need to be flexible, I need to respond, I need to hear God’s voice.
The second group, just the opposite. The change threatens their power, threatens their security. So, in the name of God, they produce false witnesses and we’ll learn next week what they do with him.
Well, let’s talk about you and me. So where do we go from here? What are specific ways that principles that we can apply, because this division to conquer, is flowing towards you 24/7.
So, here’s some practical principles at the first signs of disunity. Number one, don’t be defensive. Listen objectively. I love the apostles.
“Listen, maybe there’s an issue we don’t understand. We’re overwhelmed right now. We can’t meet all the needs.” They listened objectively. If you have any sense of division, if you have any resentment, if there’s someone that you’re not getting along with, just let’s stop.
And before you blame, and shame, and it’s all them, just listen.
Second, get to the core issue and refuse to blame. The issue was not the widows. The system was broken. The unmet needs wasn’t because someone was trying to do something intentionally wrong, but that’s what they were thinking, right?
It wasn’t that they missed your phone call. It wasn’t that, you know, they married you, and then tried to make your life miserable. Get to the core issues.
Third, seek outside help. There’s a third alternative. The disciples said, “You know what? We’re all Hebrew, Jewish boys. We got a Hellenistic speaking problem. Why don’t we get the seven wisest, most godly, smartest, Hellenistic, Greek-speaking Jews, and ask them what we ought to do, and how to do it? And then why don’t we delegate it? And why don’t we stay in what only we can do, and address this issue that way?”
Truth never changes. Methods, roles, always change.
The fourth is be flexible. Accept that roles and priorities will always change in healthy, growing environments. You gotta do that with friends, you gotta do that in a small group, you gotta do that in your marriage.
No, we’re not all going to agree on everything. We’re just different. And a lot of this isn’t right or wrong. But we gotta be flexible. Every season, roles change, priorities change, things are going to be different.
When things are growing, they’re alive. When they stop growing and they’re the way we like them all the time, here’s what you need to know: you’re dying.
Fifth, refuse to fear. Change means different, not wrong. See, the disciples, they weren’t afraid of the conflict. It was, here’s the deal, it’s normal.
But the Synagogue of the Freedmen, they were afraid. They were afraid of the power, they were afraid of the shift, they’re afraid that their roles and their way was going to get changed and so it produced some very, very negative, unhealthy, ungodly behavior.
Finally, beware. Our perceived loss of control and power makes us vulnerable to divisive words and behavior.
I mean, they lost power, didn’t they? And pretty soon they’re followers of God and they’re getting false witnesses. They’re followers of God and they’re making up stories. Have any of us ever done that?
And what I know, when there’s conflict, and differences, and division emerging, whether it’s in my marriage, or with a close friend, or with a group of elders, or with a staff member, or with someone out on a basketball court, what I know is that whatever I’m feeling that makes me want to blame and divide is, Satan’s at work and I need to realize, you know what? This is how I see it but how I see it isn’t necessarily reality or true.
And so I don’t want to be defensive, and I don’t want to blame, and I want to ask some questions, and with humility I’m going to say, “Our unity matters more than me getting things the way I think they ought to be.” And I ask, “What’s God’s agenda?”
Could it be that the real issue of the vision that we talked about of a powerful, supernatural work – the problem isn’t out there. The problem isn’t the hardened hearts of this secular community.
Could it be the lack of unity, and the acceptance of what I would call “moderate disunity” that we live with, and the sense of superiority of those that are outside of Christ or different than us?
Could it be that that very thing is what holds, and limits, the power of the Holy Spirit to pour out blessing through us and transform this place the way He has done in past? And that maybe the next step isn’t the big thing out there, it’s the first thing in here. And every single one of us saying, “Boy, do I need to apologize to someone? I can tell, this person, there’s coldness between us. Are things right between us? Is there an issue we need to deal with?’”
And just say, “God, my perspective, I have no idea whether it’s right, true, wrong.” Here’s what I know, agreeing to disagree and coming together around unity, and forgiving even what you don’t understand, is way, way better than allowing any kind of disunity - that you know, that is Satan’s agenda. Divide and conquer.
I had one of the sweetest moments with God and another human being, that I’d ever had. I had a very divisive, painful… I could give you pages and pages and pages of me feeling how I was wronged, in many ways, with this individual. And I think he could have had a list, equally, of me. And I took years to thank God, pray for him, I’m practicing being a Romans 12 Christian, and doing all that.
And I happened to be doing something in a city where I knew he was. And early in the morning God prompted me, “Why don’t you call him and ask him if he wants to have lunch.” “Oh, Lord, you know, I’ve already forgiven him. I just don’t want to be around him. You know? I’ve forgiven him and, you know, well…”
“Chip, this is sort of not a negotiable. You know? I’m not giving suggestions. I want you to understand that unity really matters to Me.”
And I’d heard some good things about him that I actually rejoiced so I know I’d really forgiven him. And we sat in another city for two hours, and I had lunch with the man, and we both came to a point of tears where he looked at me and I never thought I’d hear this.
He goes, “Chip, I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened. I really don’t even know what happened. And I don’t even know what I was thinking. But, man, it got ugly, didn’t it?” I said, “It did.” I said, “Same here. I know you’re a godly man, I know you love God. You know?”
And we looked at each other and then we prayed together, then he asked about my family. And I’ll never forget walking out of there, and getting in that rental car, and driving back to the hotel, and tears coming down my face thinking, “We have a redemptive God. We have a forgiving God. He can take the worst and pull it back together.”
And I thought, “Oh, Jesus, that’s your agenda.” That’s His agenda for your marriage, and your small group, and with your kids, and with your friends, and with a co-worker that doesn’t even know Christ. That’s His agenda. It takes power but you’ve got it because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.