* HONOR VETERANS *
This morning, we’re continuing our message series as we continue through the book of Acts. Our goal is to learn from the methods, successes, and even failures of the early church. After all, this first group of disciples were the first ones to determine what it meant to be the church and had no resource outside of the Holy Spirit’s direction as their guide.
So far, we learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and what a day in the early church looked like. We found the power that God chose to release to common, ordinary people like you and I. We were encouraged to take the stress and excuses off of ourselves as ministry is all about Jesus. It’s by Jesus, for Jesus, and we’re simply His willing vessels whom He chooses to use.
We learned about how to become a healthy “me”, which in turn, creates a healthy church. We learned that the key to this is selflessly following Jesus. As each one of us, so unique and diverse from each other, move toward a common goal, we will become united just like a symphony.
Last week, we learned about the power of thankfulness to release not only the spiritual fruit of joy in our lives, but also how it motivates the generosity of God toward us.
This week, we continue our study through the book of Acts. This week, we learn about ministry. Ministry literally means to serve. It carries the idea of one who carries out the commands of another. For us, we’re carrying out the commands of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. When we minister, we are serving Jesus and usually doing so by serving people in the same way that Jesus served the Father by meeting the spiritual and practical needs of those around Him.
As we continue in Acts chapter six, we find a scene familiar to church life; conflict. Any time that a group of individuals get together to accomplish something, conflict is certain to be there as well. Through this conflict, however, we see how the church chose to respond. Here, we find how church structure and government began to form out of sheer necessity.
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 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. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 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.
With church growth comes growing pains. These are expected and healthy to find in a church. As new people believed in Jesus from a variety of backgrounds, they come into the church with their own expectations. In this case, the Hellenistic Jews saw injustice as their widows were being overlooked and the Hebraic Jews were not. They clearly felt that there was a prejudice against the Hellenistic Jews and favoritism toward the Hebraic Jewish widows.
Now, the apostles could have refuted their complaints and defended the Hebraic Jews. They could have ignored the complaints and moved on. They could have shut down the ministry and expected others to take care of the needs of these widows outside of the church. Instead, they responded with wisdom as they were guided by the Holy Spirit.
Where there was sharp division, the apostles brought unity. They physically gathered the church together and acknowledged the problem. They actually went beyond mere acknowledgement and accepted responsibility for the division.
They recognized that they had simply become too busy to properly oversee this important ministry to the church. They saw that it was more important for the health of the church for them to focus on their own responsibilities to prayer and the written word of God than to wait on tables, which anyone in the church could do. They refocused the church together placing an emphasis and value on prayer and the word and delegated the responsibility of overseeing this daily event.
They decided to delegate this responsibility by forming what we call today a ministry. In this account, we find the beginning of the church leadership known today as deacons. The word ministry is derived from the Greek word used in this account: diakonia. The purpose of this newly formed board was to oversee the practical ministry of the daily distribution of food.
It is important to note that there are two different ministries mentioned here in Acts 6. In the original Greek, both the handing out of the widow’s needs as well as the sharing of God’s word were both the word diakonia. Both were the same function, ministry. However, the needs that they were meeting were different. The apostles were serving people by ministering. They were teaching and applying the word of God in one ministry and meeting the daily needs of the widows in the other ministry. Whether this was just food or financial distribution we’re not completely sure of, but regardless, these widows were relying on this ministry for their needs.
Those who were chosen to lead this ministry to the widows were chosen by the church body overall. With this daily responsibility now handed off from the apostles to others in the church, the church again began to grow and increase rapidly. We read that not only did the church begin to rapidly grow, but that it began to reach a whole new group of influential individuals. A large number of priests also began to put their faith in Jesus. I think that these priests saw that this was not a fly-by-night operation, but a legitimate and organized movement of God and jumped on board.
God used conflict to almost force the church to be more organized and to delegate responsibilities from the five-fold ministry down to the lay people for leadership. Although this didn’t seem to be a very spiritual or significant move, it caused a huge transformation in the church culture that caused rapid growth and enabled them to reach even more people with the good news about Jesus.
The awesome thing about church life is that God never intended for it to be a small group of leaders doing all of the work of ministry and being followed by a large group of mere followers. Church life was intended from the beginning to be a group of individuals all working together toward a common goal. Ministry wasn’t a responsibility of just a few select individuals, but rather, God poured out the Holy Spirit on all believers to equip and empower them all for ministry!
Sure, there was an organized structure, but that was simply intended for oversight. It wasn’t the responsibility of the apostles, nor the newly formed deacon board to do all of the work of the ministry. Rather, it was their responsibility to oversee the ministry to ensure that it operated smoothly. Jesus provided for us ministry to oversee and to lead and to become His church. Listen to what Paul wrote about the ministry:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
We, as a church, are intended to all grow and mature so that we become in every respect, the mature body of Christ. This is where we get the term “five-fold ministry” from: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. However, it isn’t the five-fold ministry that is supposed to do all the work of ministry, but rather to equip all of God’s people for the work of ministry. It is only together that we can reflect the true image of Christ here as a church. It is only when we build each other up in love and each of us do the work of ministry that we fulfill our purpose.
God chose you to be a part of His body. It was an accident, but intentional that you are here in this local church body. You possess a unique gift and talent and ability to serve a specific purpose. Jesus not only needs you here, but wants you here. Not just to kick back and be served, but to also serve the needs of others. Though your talent may not seem spiritual, it can be the key to unlocking rapid church growth and expansion to reaching new people for Jesus.
This ministry simply handed out food to widows. The ministry, itself, didn’t really change here in Acts 6, did it? Nope, the widows were still receiving what they needed for their daily needs. It was just being handled a little better to reduce favoritism that was being shown. The only change was that instead of the apostles handing these things out along with all of their other responsibilities, they created a leadership team to handle this task from people within the church. This simple change, however, radically transformed the entire church!
Fresh leadership brought on a fresh zeal for ministry. A new team rose up who didn’t feel burdened by the ministry, but who were fueled by it. The church was better together. The complaints of the church strengthened the competence of the church. The division of the church lead to stronger unity of the church. Delegation in the church resulted in even more diversity in the church. A small complaint inside the church resulted in greater and increased influence outside the church. Why? All because of the apostles asked for some help and the church stepped up to provide it.
Imagine if the apostles brought the church together and shared the need for this ministry opportunity with the widows. They simply asked the church for seven individuals to take care of the responsibility of this ministry. What if they came back together the next week and nobody responded? What if week after week the apostles shared that same opportunity to the whole church, but seven people never stepped forward? What if the apostles continued to try and juggle multiple ministries? What if instead of offering to help with this existing ministry need the following week, the church instead asked the apostles to start up a few new ministries instead?
Would have the church seen that rapid growth? Would have the church ever caught the attention of the priests in their community? Would have their ministry reached beyond Jerusalem into all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth? Thankfully, we’ll never have to speculate those questions! The church chose to rise up and seven men were chosen to take on that role and the church did grow, they did reach a great number of priests, and their ministry has reached the ends of the earth.
The real question this morning is, “What is God calling me to do?” There are no lack of opportunities here in the church and, perhaps even more importantly, there are certainly no lack of opportunities in our community that we could reach out to meet. There are people on the path to hell all because they haven’t had an encounter with Jesus, which we’ve been commissioned to bring people into.
I praise Jesus and thank Him daily for each one of you and for the ministry that you do here and everywhere that God takes you. Most people are here volunteering their time and money and I know that they don’t have much of either to begin with. I’m overwhelmed that people would give themselves to the work that God is doing here. Please don’t hear me wrong, I am truly and utterly thankful for those who give their all.
However, I also know that God has much larger plans for the ministry here than what we are doing now. I know that God has brought an amazing group of people here who have talents that they are not yet using for ministry. I know that there are people here who could do a far better job than I am doing with some of these ministries. I know that when I consider what God has done for me, nothing is too great for Him to ask of me in return. He deserves not my leftovers, but the first fruits of my life. He is worthy of all I am and so much more.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve Jesus. It is amazing to think that the God of all of the universe, the perfect and all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords would choose to work through a broken and weak vessel like you and I. It is humbling to be chosen to be co-laborers with Christ, which each of us are.
The church is not about the pastors, or the elders, or the deacons, or any other position in the church. It isn’t a fight of leading versus following or striving competing. No, the church is about each and every one of us building something together. It is about Jesus, the head of the church, and what He wants to do. It is about each of us doing our part so that together, we transform this community into what Jesus desires it to be. We are not here in this community by chance or accident, God chose to use you and I to do something great through! Listen to what Paul wrote about this very matter:
1 Corinthians 3:1-15
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (we ARE FAR more than mere human beings!!!)
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
It is the joy and pleasure of God to pour out His amazing grace and limitless power into and through our lives. He counted it worth the cost of His one and only Son to save your life. Jesus counted the cross a joy because He knew that on the other side of it, He could pour out the Holy Spirit within us to fully empower and equip us to become the greatest builders of all time.
No, not a physical building, but rather building up people. We are workers in God’s kingdom, every single one of us in full time ministry. We each have a critical role to play and not one is more important than the other. We are co-workers in God’s service all answering to Jesus, our supervisor. What do you think Jesus would say at your annual review about your service to Him? Would it be, “Well-done!” or “What have you done?”
God calls us, empowers us, and equips us all into His service. How we choose to work for Him is exactly that, a choice. We choose how we are working to build His Kingdom and even if we are working to do so. Some of us, on the day of that great review before Jesus will be richly rewarded by Him; others will be barely escaping the flames of Hell. The choice is ours here and now. No deed, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem goes unnoticed by Jesus.
Even giving a bag of food to a widow in need was deemed worthy to be included in His word. Jesus said that the day of this review would look something like this:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then, of course, Jesus goes through the same list about those who neglected these things as if though they intentionally did not do them for Jesus. He says to them:
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Come one now, who is up for some eternal life this morning? Let’s hear it!
It is an honor and a privilege to serve Jesus. The God of all of the universe, the perfect and all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords would chose to work through broken and weak vessels like you and I. This is truly the amazing grace of God! Let’s build something great together! Let’s work together to build up this community until it looks just like Jesus always intended it to look. Let’s take advantage of every opportunity that we can possibly grab ahold of and watch the power of God transform lives as only He can. We plant, we water, and then we watch in awe as God makes things grow!