|What I Read||Acts 6:1-6|
|What I Saw||The early church is growing and with that growth, certain things are starting to be overlooked. One of those things is the daily distribution of food to the widows. The Hellenists complained that their widows were being overlooked and not served well.
In response, the apostles call together all of the disciples and charge them with selecting seven men from among them who are in good standing and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. It is these men who will serve so that the twelve can focus on matters of first importance; namely remaining devoted to prayer and preaching the gospel.
After the men were selected, the apostles laid hands on them and prayed over them to set them apart for this service to the church.
|What I Think||Along with church growth comes growing pains. Sometimes these growing pains are not felt or realized until the body informs you of them; typically in the form of a complaint. What we see here in Acts 6 is a great model for how to respond.
The first thing I like is that the apostles didn’t just rest on status quo or say, “but that’s how we’ve always done it”. They used this complaint as an opportunity to assess how the church was functioning and they identified a need to change and adapt in response to the growth and the felt needs of the church body. In response to this situation, they basically changed their organizational structure so they were better positioned to continue serving the whole body well.
I also like that they don’t diminish the role of serving the body and ensuring the food is distributed equitably. They see it as very important. But they also keep it in perspective to that which is most important; that they remain devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word. Consequently, they engage the rest of the disciples to identify men who can fill this need and keep them free to focus on their priorities.
But not just any men. They are told to select men who:
– are from among them: they are not outsourcing this work. They want the body to take care of the body.
– are of good repute: these are men of integrity, are well-respected and can be trusted.
– are full of the Spirit and wisdom: these are men of the word who live, breathe and move as the Spirit leads them.
|What I’ll Do||My pride often dictates how I respond to criticism or complaints and it’s not helpful. I will repent of that behavior and submit to the Spirit that I might see complaints or other problems as an opportunity to assess and identify opportunities for positive change.
I will strive, in partnership with the Spirit, to be the type of person that would qualify as one of the seven and desire that my motivation would be for Christ’s glory and not my own.
Regardless of my formal position or role within the local church, I will strive to promote unity and where I see need, I will humble myself and make myself available to serve.
I will pray for my church leaders that they would have a Spirit of unity and that they be granted the wisdom to serve the church well, for the joy of the church body and the glory of God. I will play my part so that they may fulfill their calling to teach and preach the word.
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Acts 5:41
While reading in Acts this morning it struck me that the apostles rolled a little differently than we do today. Today, if we face persecution because of our profession of faith in Christ, we send out a press release, organize a march, encourage a boycott and file a lawsuit. Back then, they rejoiced and considered it an honor to be counted worthy enough to suffer for the name of Christ. My how times change.
Disclaimer: I realize that historical, cultural and political context are important considerations when interpreting scripture and also I am in no way condoning discrimination or persecution of Christians. I’m just saying.
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas have arrived in Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day, they enter into the local synagogue and, along with the rest of the parishioners, listen as the rulers of the synagogue read from the Law and the Prophets. It is then that the rulers of the synagogue ask if either Paul or Barnabas have any word of encouragement for the people. Paul takes the opportunity to stand up and address the crowd. However, his methods for encouraging them might differ from some people. He doesn’t compliment the rulers for choosing such nice passages to read from the Law. He doesn’t comment on what a beautiful facility they have. He doesn’t say how nice everyone has been to make them feel so welcome in visiting their church. No, Paul is faithful to save all those niceties and instead, speak the truest words of encouragement that he knows. And boy, does he preach it.
Paul starts by reminding them of their history and how the Lord has been faithful to His chosen people from generation to generation. Everything from the exodus out of Egypt to wandering in the dessert for 40-years to entering in to the promised land. He walks the people through their lineage of kings and the promises of a savior. He instructs the people in how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and how by His death and resurrection, Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises of God. And finally, Paul gave them an invitation and explained that,
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’”
(Acts 13:38-41 ESV)
Paul is asked if he has anything encouraging to say to the people. In response, he could have said anything. However, he chose to speak the word of God. The word of God that is the word of truth. The word of God that is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The word of God that is living and active. The word of God that gives life. And the word of God that is encouraging. We know it was encouraging to the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia because after Paul speaks, we read the following,
As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
(Acts 13:42-44 ESV)
Not only did the people who heard it beg to hear more, but they obviously told their friends, family, and neighbors about it too because the next week the whole city gathered. They didn’t gather to hear a great speaker named Paul. They gathered to hear the word of the Lord. They hungered and thirsted for the word of God that revives the both the heart and soul. I pray that by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I could live to see a revival that would have my whole city gather with no other desire than to simply hear the word of the Lord.
As I read this today, I find myself overwhelmed with thankfulness for pastors like my own who are faithful to proclaim the word of God. I find it to be greatly encouraging and certainly worth showing up for on my Sabbath day.
In Acts 12 the heat gets turned up on the church. Herod is on a rampage and is doing all he can to persecute followers of Jesus. First he puts James to death by the sword and then he imprisons Peter with plans to have him meet the same fate as James. The thing Peter had going for him is that the Passover was near and Herod planned to wait until after that to bring Peter out for his execution. Of course, the timing is all God-ordained and during the time of his imprisonment, an angel springs Peter from the clink.
As I consider Herod’s attempts to persecute the church, what stands out to me the most is this:
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
But the word of God increased and multiplied.
(Acts 12:21-24 ESV)
Long story short; Herod died and God’s word lives. Herod was eaten by worms and the word of God increased and multiplied. Herod may have enjoyed some earthly power for a time, but Herod met the same fate that all persecutors of the church (and the rest of us for that matter) will meet:
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
(Hebrews 9:27 ESV)
Not only did Herod die but, according to that verse in Hebrews, he will face judgment too. Judgment for killing James, and imprisoning Peter, and everything else he ever did in his life. All men will die and will face judgment.
Does this fact give hope to the persecuted? In the midst of persecution, does this truth encourage you to persevere? Is this enough to cause those who persecute to consider their actions in light of the truth that should send shivers up their spine; that they will be judged?
One thing I do know is that regardless of man’s attempts to scrutinize the authenticity of the Bible and to disprove it’s claims, the persecution of those who believe the Bible to be God’s truth, or any legislation of ungodly countries to outlaw the ownership or distribution of Bibles, God’s word will continue to increase and multiply. God’s word will stand forever.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
(Isaiah 40:8 ESV)
The word of our God will stand forever!
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
(Acts 4:29-31 ESV)
As you can tell by now, despite the fact that my reading plan has me in Acts 8, I am still ruminating on some things in Acts 4. The above quote really struck me because, after Peter and John were arrested and brought before (and ultimately threatened by) the council of the priests, captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, they returned to their friends with a report of what had happened. They immediately joined in prayer about the situation, but what is amazing is that they didn’t pray the way I probably would have prayed.
My prayer probably would have been focused on asking God to protect me from the threats and harm of the rulers, or to somehow change the hearts of the rulers so that I could feel comfortable proclaiming the gospel of Christ without having to face such harsh opposition. But that is not how Peter and John prayed. They did not pray to be relived of the opposition. No, instead, they prayed that they would be able to continue speaking God’s word with boldness in the face of the opposition. The recognized that their flesh might become weary in such a circumstance so they ask God to grant that they might be able to continue with all boldness while God reveals Himself through signs and wonders, for His glory alone.
This is a good reminder for me. When I am facing opposition, don’t offer God the quid pro quo prayer request. Don’t negotiate open doors, green lights, and red carpets in exchange for obedience. Don’t spend all my time asking God for the opposition to cease when I could be appealing to Him for the strength, boldness, and courage to respond in obedience regardless of the cost and in the midst of opposition.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
(Acts 4:13 ESV)
I’m having a hard time moving off of Acts 4 because there are so many little things that I feel compelled to call out in my notes as I read through the chapter. Take the verse above for instance. The line that grabbed me was, “they recognized that they had been with Jesus”. My first thought was, that’s what I want. I want people to be able to recognize that I’ve been with Jesus. Now, I could come up with plenty of sound and logical ideas for how to help that come about but if I just look at the context of Peter and John, it seems to come down to a few specific things.
- Boldness – the rulers, elders, and scribes saw a boldness in Peter and John. Apparently, that’s what happens to a person after the Holy Spirit has come upon them. This statement about boldness should not be perceived as an observation and appreciation for the courage of Peter and John so much as it is an acknowledgment of the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit was leading and guiding Peter and John into all truth, they were equipped and empowered to speak the word without fear.
- Uneducated and common – whereas the observation of boldness should be attributed to the Holy Spirit, Peter and John get to take all the credit for this one. Remember, these guys were fishermen before Jesus called them to Himself. Now, they are proclaiming the gospel with boldness before the religious leaders of that day. This is a perfect example of God using what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.
- They had been with Jesus – this is the key to everything. It’s the conclusion that is reached by the rulers, elders, and scribes as they consider how such common and uneducated men can teach so boldly. Peter and John had spent the best and most exciting three years of their life walking with Jesus and learning from Him. Through that time, they came to an understanding of how Jesus had come to fulfill the law and that no man can come to the Father except through Him. They witnessed his active obedience to God the Father as He lived a perfect and sinless life, as well as His passive obedience of humbling Himself to death, even death on a cross. And in His absence, the Counselor had come to dwell within them to empower them as they continued to fulfill their mission of making disciples of all nations.
My application from this is to not dwell on my perceived deficiencies, hindrances, or limitations. I need to rebuke Satan during the times when he attempts to remind me that I am uneducated and common in my theological understanding and be reminded that I have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. I need to not quench the Holy Spirit but rather, in humble submission, allow Him to lead and guide me in to all truth. I need to allow the Spirit to manifest within me the same power that raised Christ from the dead and in that power, be bold for Christ’s fame and glory.
If all that is too much to remember, I will just remember this – to be with Jesus. I will practice listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd. I will spend daily time with Jesus, in His word and in prayer, that I might be equipped for every good work. I will abide in Him for apart from Jesus, I can do nothing.
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
(Acts 3:1-10 ESV)
The above referenced passage reveals the grace of God, an Apostolic miracle empowered by the Holy Spirit, and provides a platform for Peter to share a gospel message with a crowd of people. There is a lot of important stuff going on here. So, please forgive me for not spending too much time discussing those things and instead, just sharing some quick thoughts on some of the nuances of the lame man.
- He fixed his attention – although it’s been a few years since we’ve had a dog in the house, I can vividly remember how attentive to my commands our dog would be when I was holding a treat in my hand. Ears perked up and with his eyes glued to the treat in my hand, he was ready and willing to do whatever was required in order to receive the treat. Even with my children it is easy to see a difference in their focus and attention when they know I am about to reveal a “surprise” or share with them some news that will directly benefit them.
The lame man knew that Peter and John could help him and may have something to give to him. Because he realized that they could provide the help he so desperately needed and for which he hoped, he “fixed his attention on them…”.
- He expected to receive something – the reason that the lame man fixed his attention on Peter and John is because he expected to receive something from them. After all, that is the whole reason why he sits at the Beautiful Gate every day. And now that Peter and John have his attention, he looks at them in expectation of receiving something that will benefit him. The thing is, what the man expected was different than what he received but what he received (healing) was so much greater than what he expected (money).
- He praised God for what he received – the man that was formerly lame exhibits the appropriate response to the blessing that he received. He praises God. Sure, he could have spent some time exercising the legs that have been lame since birth but instead, he walks straight in to the temple to leap for joy and praise God from whom all blessings flow.
In times of trouble or in seasons of want and despair, fix your attention on those things that are helpful. Allow the things of earth to grow strangely dim as you fix your eyes upon Jesus. Look upon the author and perfecter of your faith. Call upon the name by which all men are saved. And when you do, expect to be the recipient of the Father’s good gifts. Expect to receive grace that is sufficient for whatever circumstance or situation in which you find yourself. Expect to be bolstered with a faith that recalls all the past evidences of God’s faithfulness. Expect to experience a peace that transcends all understanding. And when you do, give praise and honor and glory to the one whom it is due.
Christian, do not be ashamed to let people see you in your weakness and do not be ashamed to let people see you praise God as you glory in His strength that is made perfect in your weakness.