Acts: For the Cause of Christ #13
Title: Church leaders
We saw last week how the Apostles again claimed their obedience to God over the disobedient Jewish Leadership, how they again proclaimed to a large portion of the Ruling Council that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and that they had Him killed, but God raised Him from the dead making Him the Savior.
We saw how Gamaliel reminded his colleagues that if the Apostles were not obeying God, they would fail as many others have. We saw that the Apostles were beaten for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah against the wishes of the Sanhedrin, and how the Apostles rejoiced for being able to suffer for the sake of Christ.
Today we move on and see some strife brewing in the early church from factions within the church. How the Apostles handled it, and how it was resolved.
Hellenists against Hebrews v 1
We see two factions within the Church here. We need to remember that first the entire church was Jewish at this point. Every believer was either born a Jew or was a convert to Judaism, and these factions actually continued into the Church from Judaism.
Hellenistic Jews were Jewish descendants from the dispersion of Jews along the Mediterranean coastal cities. These Jews spoke Greek and more than likely attended Greek speaking synagogues even in Judea and Jerusalem. The Hebraic Jews or Hebrews were those Jews that were from the Palestinian region. They speak Hebrew or Aramaic and attended synagogues where Hebrew was spoke.
There was probably several minor, social and cultural differences between the two factions as well. In the whole of the Jewish Realm there were tensions between these two groups, and as many were beginning to follow Jesus as Messiah, the tension obviously continued into the Church as well.
The complaint that is brought up is over a practical matter, rather than a theological issue. Which speaks to the fact that everyone in Church was believing and following the same teaching and doctrines taught by the Apostles. The Hellenists were complaining that during the daily giving out of goods, possibly money to purchase food and other things, their widows either weren’t receiving enough or weren’t receiving anything.
Remember wealthier members have sold off items and property and those funds went into some sort of common account to assist the poorer members, it was the distribution of these goods that was happening daily and was creating the issue.
Factions in churches are never a good thing. Factions begin over silly little things. The color of the carpet, pews or chairs, hymnals or songs projected on screen, what the bulletin looks like, who is on what committee. In our passage it was affecting the livelihood of some the the church members. Are we holding onto things too closely for our own good? Remember anything that replaces God in the heart is an idol.
Apostolic Delegation vv 2-4
The trouble was brought to the Apostles’ attention and they decided to intervene and delegate. The summoned the church body together, they called a special business meeting, and instructed the Church members to choose 7 men to oversee this issue.
The Apostles told the people that they had to continue to preach and evangelize within city and that it would not be right to for them to give up this ministry they had been commissioned to do to distribute goods.
They gave the people a few qualifications to use to choose the seven men for this duty:
The men had to be of good reputation – if the men were of good reputation, then their integrity and decisions wouldn’t be questioned by the rest of the church members.
The men should be full of wisdom – this way they people knew that the men could administer competently and handle interpersonal issues like the one the church was facing.
The men also had to be full of the Spirit – this was the most important qualification, they had to be godly men. If someone was asked what does a godly man look like, they should be able to Stephen or Phillip or the rest of the Seven as an answer without thinking.
Notice the Apostles’ didn’t specify if these men had to be Hellenists or Hebrews. The qualifications they listed went beyond where someone was born. They didn’t dictate who was going to oversee the ministry. Apostles’ as the formal leadership let the body choose from themselves leaders to assist the Apostles’ with this ministry.
This is one passage that is commonly used to show a congregational government of the church. The Apostles’ knew they could not do everything that would be asked or demanded of them. They knew their primary responsibility was to prayer, preaching and teaching of the Word of God, so they went to the church membership and had them choose from amongst themselves men who would care for this needed ministry they had. Promoting a church, growing a church, financing a church is the work of all the members of the church. It cannot be just on the shoulders of the church leadership. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he himself [that is Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,”. When church leadership is expected to and do everything, they burn themselves out, or they lose focus from what they are supposed to do: equipping the saints, devoting themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word.
As Vice President, Richard Nixon came upon President Eisenhower one day signing an immense stack of mail in his office. Mr. Nixon watched quietly for a moment and then asked the General how, with all that mail, he ever found time to think about the big problems of the country.
Ike replied: “Dick, I really haven’t spent that much time on these letters. In fact, in some instances they probably don’t even say exactly what I want them to. But you’ve got to learn that, if you get bogged down in all the fine print and little detail you’ll never get anything accomplished as President.
Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992
Seven Selected and Church Growth vv 5-7
The members agreed with the Apostles’ proposal. The seven chosen were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus from Antioch, all these men appear to be Hellenists and were probably leaders within the church already.
Stephen, being listed first, may have been prominent within the church already and is distinguished as being full of the Spirit and faith. Stephen plays a large role in the rest of this chapter, and the next, he is remembered and recorded in Scripture as the first martyr of Christianity. As we will see, Stephen’s death cause the church to spread out from Jerusalem.
Philip is mentioned later in Acts, first in chapter 8 during the dispersion, probably a number of the significant leaders and teachers had to leave Jerusalem and Philip was among them. We will also see Philip many years later in Acts 21 hosting the Apostle Paul and his companions for many days.
The other five are not mentioned again in Acts or the NT. There is tradition that Prochorus was bishop in Nicomedia. Tradition says that Parmenas was martyred at Philippi and may have been the bishop of Soli. Nothing is really known of Nicolaus other than he was originally from Antioch. Antioch playing an important role in spreading the Gospel around the Mediterranean by sending Paul on his journeys. Some believe that this Nicolaus founded the heretical sect of Nicolaitans that Christ condemns in Revelation chapter 2, but there is no positive evidence of that. Nothing further is known of Nicanor or Timon.
The whole body chose these men and presented them to the Apostles. There is no record of how these men were selected, if it was a unanimous vote or how many other men were considered, if any. These men obviously met the qualifications the Apostles had given, and met the approval of the Apostles as they prayed over them and laid their hands on these men.
The laying on of hands here is not the giving of special blessings or giving the Holy Spirit to them. Remember, the men selected for this position was supposed to be full of the Spirit already. There was no mystical meaning with the action here. This was simply the Apostles installing the Seven and formally associating these men to the duty they have been given charge over.
This passage is generally considered to be the origination of the office of Deacon. The word we derive “deacon” from is not used in this passage, but two related forms are. One of the words used is a noun that is translated “distribution” in verse 1 and “ministry” in verse 4. I personally don’t have an issue with viewing this as the beginnings of the office, but it is incorrect to read into the passage the office we know today and we need to remember that the list of qualifications had been added to later in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
The Seven were charged with care for some finances of the church, and the distribution of some common goods to the poorer members of the church. However, we see that their responsibilities were not confined to that duty. Stephen and Philip at least were general leaders in the church and were able to teach and preach. Stephen will defend the gospel before the Jewish Leadership and Philip will travel and evangelize in other cities.
Verse 7 is kind of a break in the narrative for Luke to give a sort of progress report. There are five other reports like this in Acts, 9:31, 12:24, 16:5, 19:20, and 28:31. One source says that Acts is divided into six sections by these progress reports, and that each section averages 5 years.
Here Luke is showing us the growth and popularity of the church in Jerusalem. Their numbers were growing greatly in Jerusalem through the preaching of the gospel and the work of Holy Spirit through the Apostles. We also see that a large number of priests were believing and joining the disciples. This would increase the ties between the disciples and the temple. It is probable that many of these priests were separated from the wealthier chief-priestly families, and would be more like the common Jew in Jerusalem. It is also possible these men did not give up their duties at the temple. No doubt these men were like John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, holy and humble and persuaded by the truth of the gospel.
Here we saw that the whole church body selected godly men to be leaders in the church, and to relieve the suspected partiality that was at the heart of the incident. We saw how though these men had a specific duty they were selected to do, they continued the primary objective of the church to preach the gospel and honor God.
Though you are involved in part of a ministry at the church, we are all involved in the overall mission of the church: to share the gospel at home and abroad. To talk about our faith and live godly lives before the world.
Factions in churches are never a good thing. There are enough politics in the world, let’s keep it out of the church.
The Apostles’ knew they could not do everything that would be asked or demanded of them. They knew their primary responsibility was to prayer, preaching and teaching of the Word of God, so they went to the church membership and had them choose from amongst themselves men who would care for this needed ministry they had. Promoting a church, growing a church, financing a church is the work of all the members of the church. It cannot be just on the shoulders of the church leadership.
Though we are all involved in part of a ministry at the church, we are all responsible to the overall mission of the church: to share the gospel at home and abroad. To talk about our faith and live godly lives before the world.