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About this series
Satan's Agenda for Planet Earth (Including You)
God's agenda for your life and planet Earth is under constant attack by the enemy of your soul, who seeks to distract, derail, and destroy. It's the ultimate illustration of competing agendas, and eternity lies in the balance. Learn how to recognize and fortify yourself against Satan's schemes, even when you've taken a direct hit. Based on the book of Acts, Diabolical will equip you with biblical truth about your enemy and reveal the battle plan you need to thwart Satan's plans and fulfill God's agenda.More from this series
To understand really what’s going on here the early Church is thoroughly Jewish at this point. And in Jewish culture every Friday morning they would go out two by two to the market, people who sold at the market, and home to home and they would ask for donations for the poor for that day.
They would then go to the outer court and there would be, it says, waiting on tables. Don’t think of them like at a restaurant. There were these tables. And the apostles were at these tables, different groups would go around, and then they would bring food and some money.
And if you were desperate – people didn’t get paid by the month – people got paid for that day’s work. So, some people came at the end of the day, they didn’t have any money, didn’t have any food for tomorrow.
And so they would come and they could get a meal, or some money right then, or if you were a widow, there’s no social systems whatsoever, you would get fourteen meals, that would give you two meals a day for the next seven days.
And so, it was the oversight of this that the apostles were doing along, so it’s a pretty operational, strong job.
So, they step back and delegate that, and they get to the core issue, which was: how do we stay on track? Let’s not allow these differences, where they’re starting to blame one another. This could have divided and ruined the Church.
Notice also here, that the cure is new wine demands new wineskins. The presenting problem is, hey, these widows aren’t getting enough food. The disciples’ response is, our goal has to remain the same. We can’t allow the differences to divide us. So leaders step back, reevaluate roles and priorities, to make sure the needs get met.
In fact, what you see in this passage is in the first half of this passage you see differences that could have divided, and you get wise leadership and we’ll talk about our practical application in a minute.
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, 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’ve got to 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.
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, he wants to ruin your marriage.
If you’re a single person and dating someone, or you’re a single person and you have some really good friends, he wants to ruin your friendships.
A little miscommunication here, a little miscommunication here, and a text here and a voicemail there. “Oh, I think she meant that. She said that. I don’t…” He wants to destroy you. You need to understand, that agenda 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. I mean, they could have said, “Wait a second! We saw him rise from the dead, don’t you worry about these widows. We’ll take care of this.”
And instead it was, “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. Get to the core issue. The issue was not the widows. The issue was 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. Right?
Get to the core issues. I mean, it’s crazy, I mean, you get attracted and you find that you’re living with this person you thought would be really, really wonderful and then you find they do, like, really what you think is stupid stuff. Like, the toilet paper is to go this way, not that way.
And then you come in and the toothpaste is squeezed from the middle and you’re going, “Man, what’s with her? I’ve told her seven times! It’s from the bottom and you wind it up because it’s wasteful.” Ooooh.
“I sleep on this side of the bed. Well, I want to sleep on this side of the bed. I want it to be seventy degrees at night. You know, that’s too much energy. It’s got to be sixty-two.” And it starts with stuff like that.
And then it’s pretty soon of: “Your parents are this way and mine are that way. Well, you spent money over here. Well, anybody could wear that many pair of shoes, I can play golf, now.” Bing, bong, bing, bong. Right?
Those are symptoms. Those are never the problems. In churches it’s the same. There are differences. You have to learn to communicate. You’ve got to step back and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. What’s the core issue here? What’s the disconnect? What’s the value? What’s it mean to love one another?”
In churches it’s never about, “We should have hymnals instead of slides! We should have organs and stained glass instead of electric guitars!”
Those aren’t the issues. “Everyone should have a key! No one should have a key! We should use this room instead of that room. Why are they kicking us out of this room?” All of those are symptoms.
Differences provide, in an environment of rapid change and growth, an opportunity for division to occur in the most subtle of ways, and we feel justified and self-righteous in speaking evil of others, and blaming others, and it divides marriages, and it breaks up friendships, and it ruins small groups, and it goes on Facebook, and we text it to one another.
And we have no idea that the, “Nya, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” It’s diabolical! And Satan gets his agenda done and no one is thinking about demons, or evil, or the exorcist. He doesn’t need to. He’s got us pushing his agenda. You’ve got to get to the core issue.
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?”
There was a third alternative. It wasn’t feed them more, or do them less. It was, “It’s time to change the paradigm.” The new wine demands new wineskins. We’ve got to change – truth never changes. Methods, roles, always change.
And so, for some of you, you know what? You’ve been banging on each other. There’s a third alternative. It’s not you’re right or she’s right. Go to a quality Christian counselor and sit down, and get the issues on the table, and get down to the core.
There’s a third alternative. You know, in a friendship, find a good friend that you both trust, and sit down, and stop sending stuff to people, and stop talking to other people, and go directly to them with a humble heart, not blaming, not defensive and say, “I know we’re brothers, or we’re sisters, or whatever in Christ, and God wants unity and we don’t have it. What do we need to do?”
Get outside help. It’s a third alternative. We all don’t have to worship the same, we all don’t have to have the same style, we don’t have to like the same music. But we have our allegiance to Christ. And those coming to Christ. And those who come to Christ mature. And those who are mature, loving and caring for people.
The fourth is be flexible. Accept roles and priorities will always change in healthy, growing environments. Our elderly lady, Gladys, who likes to get her stuff from Peter, just needs to know, you know something? God’s agenda is bigger, and more important, than her personal preference.
And by the way, we all have to do that all the time. You’ve got to do that with friends, you’ve got to do that in a small group, you’ve got to do that in your marriage.
Boy, you know, have you ever stopped to ask, “What is God’s agenda in this conflict that I’m having in my marriage? What is God’s agenda in this conflict that we’re having in this small group? What is God’s agenda in these parts of, you know, this Ingram guy? And he’s just doing some stuff and one week I like him and the next week, just hate him. And then, you know, but I can’t say that because it’s so ungodly so I just email sort of these passive aggressive little things to other people and tell them, ‘I’m not sure this is really where we ought to…’”
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’ve got to be flexible. We’ve got to accept, you know, 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. Conflict is not even bad. It’s just 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? Any of us ever made up stories about how it’s going with a relationship, or how it’s going in a marriage or, you know, we talk with one another.
I’m always amazed. I do a lot of studying in coffee shops and I do not try and listen to people. But some of them just talk so loud.
And, I mean, you ought to try this sometime. I don’t know if I should say that but maybe not on purpose listen. And just ask yourself, of the five conversations that I heard, was there even one where two people weren’t talking about someone else that didn’t measure up to their expectations, or did something to them?
I studied for about three hours in the Starbucks around the corner and people here, people here, people there. And I was there for two hours so they rotate, you know, a new group came.
And I just, and I’m studying this. “I mean, you know what? My daughter-in-law, I just don’t know what she’s thinking about, and that boyfriend live in. I just, you know, she has no respect for me.”
You know, “Well, I don’t know. My supervisor, I’ll tell you what. This whole job thing…”
And, I mean, it was just like, ge, goo, ge, goo, ge, goo, ge, goo. And I just wonder if Satan isn’t laughing and dividing.
And here’s what scares me: I know when I’ve been faced with differences, and when I’ve been wounded, and when I don’t like the change, I have been that person. And in sophisticated ways, with an occasional Bible verse wrapped inside of it, I have made other people look bad.
I had a season of my life where I thought my view was the truth. And I was convinced. It was such a disease in my life, earlier, I actually wrote on a card, “My perspective of this situation is not necessarily the truth. It’s simply my perspective. It may or may not have anything to do with reality.” And I read it over, and over, and over, and over.
So, when something comes to me, or a person comes to me, or I look at something, I can at least try and be like the disciples, and step back and say, “Now, wait a second.” Because my immediate reaction is, “That’s dumb, that’s ungodly, this is the way it is, they shouldn’t do that.”
And I’ve responded in that way, at times, only to find out I didn’t have all the facts. That as objective as I think I am, I’m not. I actually come from a background, and a language, and a set of values, and I look at things like this, and sometimes they’re not like this. They’re like this.
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?”
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.