Published by Stanley Pouw in 2022 · 1 October 2022
The early church grew rapidly. And because with that growth, there needed to be an effective and efficient way to minister to the people and to establish an effective witness It is the only spiritual organism in the world. Every false religion is an organization orchestrated by men and demons. And every human institution that is non-religious, is a structure made by men.
The only organism that God has established is the church. It is the living organism of people connected to the life of God through union with Jesus Christ. We share common eternal life. Christ lives in us. And there are people who think that because of that reality, we need to run from being organized. We need to run from structure and everything needs to be free-flowing.
An example of a lack of structure in a church, are in the letters of Paul. Clearly, the Corinthian church was in a state of chaos. What was absent was a cohesive structure and leadership, and different people were claiming to be their leader. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, and has an interpretation.”
God doesn’t do things like that because you must be like God and do things decently and in order. So there is a model for chaos in the Corinthian church, chaos that had to be corrected, chaos that was confusing. Yes, the church is an organism, but it is an organism that requires organization. It requires structure. Let me just kind of lay out what’s going on in the book of Acts.
By Acts 6, the church is significantly large, numbering in the tens of thousands. From the Day of Pentecost on, they’ve been baptized. The Lord adds to the church, and they keep record of that. They met officially at certain places on the first day of the week for public worship, public prayer, and the preaching of the gospel. They were also breaking bread and somebody had to plan the event.
We know that years later Paul is still raising money to care for the poor saints who are still in Jerusalem and never went back home. So there’s the need to collect money. We’ve seen that some people were actually selling their property and taking the proceeds to distribute it to the apostles. And the apostles were using that money to meet the needs of all the people in the church.
So after the birth of the church they had a complex set of conditions that had to be met. A large number of people were added to the church every day. People were being baptized, people gathering for the Lord’s Supper and in homes for meals. People gathering on the first day of the week, to open the truth of God to them, to explain to them the meaning of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Christ.
This demands structure. God gave gifts to people as the church began to grow, the Spirit of God would prompt the hearts of people. And they would begin to do ministry along the lines of their gifts. Then when we see that ministry unfolding we need to give it whatever necessary support and structure it needs. The apostles were the key to the church, and they had the revelation from God.
They were the resource for all the questions that new converts asked. Now, the first time this becomes apparent is in Acts 6:1-7, “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.”
The disciples are increasing. A disciple is a Christian, who looks at Christianity from the standpoint of a student. Paul even uses that phrase when he reminds us that we shouldn’t sin because we have not learned that from Christ. Acts 6:1, “Now a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.”
Dissention in the body of Christ is nothing new. Pride, insignificant issues, bickering, discontent, jealousy, personal preference and power struggles. In this new Church you’ve got two groups of people. The native Jews who live in Jerusalem and Israel, and then you have the Jews who came for the Passover, and were converted to Christ and are still there because there is no other church.
They’re Jews from the Greek world. There are synagogues scattered around the Greek world. Now, there’s no nation with more sense of responsibility for the less fortunate historically than Jews. There were collectors, who went around the market and around the houses every Friday morning and made a collection of money and goods to redistribute to the poor when the synagogue met.
Later in that day on Friday when the people gathered, what had been collected was distributed to them. Those temporarily in need received enough to carry them through, and those permanently in need received enough for 14 meals. That would be two meals a day for a week. This was traditional among the Jewish people. They cared for their own poor and that is what God wants.
These people who are there define what poverty is because they’re away from home. So, immediately they do what they’d always done traditionally. They start collecting money to be distributed to those who are in need. Now, caring for widows was part of being Jewish, and it is repeated in the New Testament. James 1 says, “Pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans.”
This became part of church life. The feeling was that this wasn’t equal. Verse 2, “So the twelve apostles summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God in order to serve tables.” Whether it’s giving food and meals or distributing money, the apostles can’t do it.” We need to be studying the Word, and preparing to preach the Word of God.
That’s exactly what they say in verse 4, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” So they were like anybody else who ministers the Word of God. They had to study the Word of God, and what was their Bible? It was the Old Testament. Jesus had gone to the Old Testament and taught them starting on the day of His resurrection.
What the apostles did was their priority. This is still the dominant priority in the church. Paul calls Timothy and says, “Take heed to the doctrine.” Read the Word, explain the Word and apply the Word.” This is the dominant reality in the life of the church. 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all patience and longsuffering.”
1 Corinthians 9:7, “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and doesn’t eat the fruit of it? For it is written, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing. It was written for our sake, because the ploughman ought to plough in hope of sharing the crops. If we have sowed spiritual things, should not we reap material things from you?”
1 Corinthians 9:14, “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” It is clear that the main responsibility is to have a core of leaders whose goal and life commitment is to pray and preach the Word of God.
Verse 3, “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Notice that the people in the congregation played a role. If you desire to be a deacon or a deaconess, you have to pass the scrutiny of the church that looks at your life and determines whether you’re above reproach.
To begin with, they chose seven men. God has always used men to lead the church. That doesn’t mean women aren’t important. There were women in the Old Testament who had significant roles. There were even women in the New Testament who spoke for God, the daughters of Philip. There was Aquila and Priscilla, and they informed Apollos more perfectly in his theology.
“Of good reputation.” Character first, conduct above reproach. They have to have integrity. They have to be blameless, well-attested, good report. They need to be full of the Spirit. They need to be men who are wise. They are marked by spiritual insight, practical wisdom, and good righteous judgment. The task is getting food and money to the right people on an equal basis.
Why do you have to have such high spiritual qualifications?” Because this is a spiritual ministry on behalf of Christ for His church body. Distributing food has to be done with spiritual integrity, and caring for money has to be done with spiritual integrity. They had to be men who were impeccable because if you’re handling money and resources, you’re susceptible to serious temptation.
The Talmud of Jewish law says seven was the number of persons appointed to transact business in Jewish towns. This is a temporary setup replaced later by deacons. Verse 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,
Verse 6, “whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” They thought it was a great idea. They didn’t want the apostles to leave prayer and the Word. All seven that were chosen are Grecian Jews. They put the whole responsibility in the hands of Hellenistic Jews. The people who have the most at stake in a ministry are the people who should lead the ministry.
The people who do the ministry should lead the ministry. It’s the people who are pouring their life into it that have all the authority and the empowerment to do that ministry the way they think it should be done. This demonstrates trust and love. So they said, “You care the most. These are your people. So please, you take care of the whole thing.” That kind of trust is necessary.
Then we see the results in verse 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.” Now, they’re on the brink of global ministry, and it’s going to come quick. You meet the apostle Paul, who comes into the picture when he’s holding the garments of the people stoning Stephen to death in Acts 7.
In Acts 8, the church is scattered, and it begins its global evangelization, and it’s not too long until you come to Acts 9. Paul, who is threatening and slaughtering the church and taking Christians prisoner, has his Damascus Road experience, and all of the sudden the gospel leaps from Judea, Samaria to the world. Another church is planted in Antioch, and from Antioch Paul is send to the world.
The Lord was structuring us and organizing us around the priorities of prayer and the Word and faithful people were doing ministry that was in their heart to do. Because it was in their heart to do ministry they were gifted to do the ministry, they had full charge of the ministry. The people who cared the most, invested the most in that ministry, and that made those ministries flourish and succeed.
Notice they laid their hands on them. That is a traditional way to affirm unity and solidarity. We stand with them. Why do we stand around them here and have all the people come and lay hands on them? Because that’s what they did, and what does that say? That says we’re with you in solidarity. We empower you with our prayers and our trust and our support.
Then verse 7, the real results. “The Word of God kept on spreading.” Why did the Word of God keep on spreading? Because the apostles didn’t do anything else other than preaching the Word of God. It’s easy for pastors to get distracted. It’s tough work, and it’s relentless. My life never changes. It is a series of endless Sunday sermons. The preparation never changes.
The number of disciples in the first church continued to increase greatly, and the impact was so great that, “a great many priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” Now, that doesn’t mean Sanhedrin members, but because there were 24 groups of priests, there were thousands of priests in every town and village. And many of the ordinary priests were obedient to the faith.”
You have godly, gifted teachers and preachers who sustain the life of the church and the impact of the church by being the source of the spreading of the Word by which people are saved. Then following that, you have faithful gifted people, who have passionate concerns for various kinds of ministries. When you support those people for those ministries, the church will grow. Let us pray.