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Getting the church organised

Today I want to have a look at a passage from Acts chapter 6. In the NIV it is titled, The choosing of the seven¯. Now when we approach the Book of Acts we see it as a kind of history book of the early church. Luke, who was Paul's companion, wrote the Gospel of Luke. He also wrote the Book of Acts. In many ways it is a second volume. The first was an orderly account of Life and Message of Jesus and His early followers. The second volume is an orderly account what took place after Jesus returned to heaven and the beginnings of the early church.

As the Book of Acts is a kind history book we should look back at what happened immediately before this passage. We see that Jesus returned to heaven, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter preached the first sermon and 3000 people were added to the church. The believers we in one accord, met daily in homes and shared possessions with those in need, Peter heals a beggar, Peter gets called before the Jewish Council and told not to speak of Jesus, the believers prayed, the Apostles healed many and kept talking about Jesus, and they were persecuted. This is the immediate background to the passage we will read.

Let's have a look at Acts chapter six.

Reading Acts 6:1-7 (NIV 1984)

Background and teaching on the text

Verse 1
In verse one we see there was tension among the group of new believers. There are two main people groups mentioned. The Hebraic or Hebrew Jews; and the Grecian or Greek Jews. The Hebrew Jews were those who lived in and around Jerusalem. They would have had close contact with the Temple for worship, prayer and sacrifices. The Greek Jews were the descendants of those who were dispersed to the surrounding regions in the Diaspora that took place a few hundred years before as a result of persecution. When they were dispersed they set up synagogues where there were 10 or more men. Because they were dispersed in a mainly Greek culture because of the conquests of Alexander the Great they would have naturally spoken Greek. This is where the tension would have come from, because of the language and possible culture differences it would be harder to communicate when finding who need help and who needed food. We need to realise this new church group was formed from the two groups of Jews (Hebrew and Greek) into one new community under Jesus.

Verse 2
In verse two we see the problem was brought to the 12. This would have been the original 11 that Jesus called to follow Him and then Matthias who the group chose to replace Judas. When the Apostles say that they can not neglect the Word to wait on tables they are not saying it is a menial task. In the culture of the day serving food was an important task. Generally the head of the meeting or most senior person of the family would serve the food. Like the father carving the turkey at Christmas or Jesus serving the His followers at the Passover meal. So we have to make sure we don't see this job as a waiter delivering meals or a person working in a food hall clearing tables. It was an important task.

Verse 3-4
An interesting point in verse three is that the problem was brought to the Apostles they didn't sort it out. They advised the group to select the right people. They said they had to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. The NLT also includes well respected by all. The Apostles say we will then turn this responsibility over to them. The Apostles were not saying this is a menial task, but recognising their own gifts and focus of their primary call.

Verse 5
In verse five we see this proposal was acceptable to the whole group. Wisdom! An interesting thing to note is the names of the people chosen. They are all Greek names. It was a problem among the Greek portion of the congregation and they chose Greek people.

Verse 6
In verse six we see that the ones chosen were taken to the Apostles to be prayed for and they laid their hands on them. The laying on of hands was an important Ancient Jewish practice done to set people aside for a special task or service (see Deuteronomy 34:9, Numbers 27:23). It was seen as the leaders under God giving authority to others to serve God in an official task.

Verse 7
The final verse in the passage shows that growth was able to continue on after these appointments. It says, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith"¯. It is interesting that after this more people are persecuted and Stephen is martyred!

Application Points

As I read through this passage I found there were a number of things that jumped out at me that we can learn from today.

1. The Apostles were limited in what they could do and needed help

We find that with the rapid change and growth in the church, the Apostles were no longer able to take care of the day to day running of the church. How did they find out about this problem? Well people started to complain that they were missing out and the widows of the certain groups were not getting what they deserved. People felt like they were being neglected.

The Apostles knew they were called to pray and preach the Word. They couldn't let things distract them. With 3000 plus people this was vital if they were all going to move forward and grow in their new faith.

Likewise today for a healthy church, leaders need to delegate and people need to take on tasks to help the church run smoothly. Leaders and church members need to remember we are all Christ's ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), we are all a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), we all have gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12) and we are all called to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The Apostles needed help.

2. They wanted the right people for the job

The second thing I noticed in this passage was that the Apostles saw there was a need and they needed help. However they didn't just want just anyone in the role. The wanted a certain type of person.

On the surface we might be tempted to think that anyone could hand out food. You don't have to be deeply spiritual or overly gifted to do this type of thing. But as we saw it was an important role, not just being a waiter. It was a role that Jesus did.

We see that the Apostles asked the people to choose seven from amongst them who they felt were made of the right stuff. I like the way the leaders asked the people to select the seven. They didn't interview people or call for tenders. They simply trusted the people could choose the right people for the job. They wanted people who were well respected, the right character, full of the Holy Spirit and God's wisdom. The Apostles realized the need to have people who were solid of character and whom could show discernment when needed. Because when dealing with that many new people, discernment would be required!

I think they wanted to structure in place so they could trust that things would be taken care of and problems could be sorted without them needing to be involved or micro manage things. Again I believe this was so they could devote themselves to the teaching of the Word and prayer. They wanted the right people for the job.

So that leaves one question. What was the result of the new structure in the early church?

3. The new structure led to more people being saved

We see the answer in verse seven, "So God's message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too".¯

The result of the new structure and having the right people in place was a much healthier church. The people were unified again, the complaints stopped, the message continued to spread greatly and even some of the Priests were converted. Bottom line is that people were saved and growing in Christ. They realised there was a problem, the addressed it and then they were free to move forward.

Conclusion

1. Leaders are limited in what they can do so they need to delegate and people to help.
2. We need the right people in the right job with the right character, full of Holy Spirit and people who have God's wisdom.
3. The right structure and people in place can lead to more church growth.

By Dave Quinn
Founder of PASSION Australia


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