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Posts tagged ‘Acts’

10. Church Begins – Final Journey Completed

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10. Church Begins

Final Journey Completed

Acts 27:39 – 28:30

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Acts 27v39 – 28v6 When it was day, they didn’t recognize the land, but they noticed a certain bay with a beach, and they decided to try to drive the ship onto it. Casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time untying the rudder ropes. Hoisting up the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But coming to a place where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground. The bow struck and remained immovable, but the stern began to break up by the violence of the waves.

The soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, so that none of them would swim out and escape. But the centurion, desiring to save Paul, stopped them from their purpose, and commanded that those who could swim should throw themselves overboard first to go toward the land; and the rest should follow, some on planks, and some on other things from the ship. So it happened that they all escaped safely to the land.

When we had escaped, then they learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us uncommon kindness; for they kindled a fire, and received us all, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said one to another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped from the sea, yet Justice has not allowed to live.” However he shook off the creature into the fire, and wasn’t harmed. But they expected that he would have swollen or fallen down dead suddenly, but when they watched for a long time and saw nothing bad happen to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

Along the journey, eventually the ship arrived at Malta. Everybody was safe and secure, but tired and bedraggled (Acts 27v39-44). The Roman centurion did not want to kill the prisoners he was guarding, because he wanted to keep Paul alive (Acts 27v24, 43). This group of people stayed in Malta for three months and all we know of their stay in Malta, is two quite remarkable events.

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9. Church Begins – Final Journey Commences

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9. Church Begins

Final Journey Commences

Acts 27:1-38

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Acts 26v19-32 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to them of Damascus, at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple, and tried to kill me. Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would happen, how the Christ must suffer, and how, by the resurrection of the dead, he would be first to proclaim light both to these people and to the Gentiles.” As he thus made his defence, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are crazy! Your great learning is driving you insane!” But he said, “I am not crazy, most excellent Festus, but boldly declare words of truth and reasonableness. For the king knows of these things, to whom also I speak freely. For I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa said to Paul, “With a little persuasion are you trying to make me a Christian?” Paul said, “I pray to God, that whether with little or with much, not only you, but also all that hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these bonds.” The king rose up with the governor, and Bernice, and those who sat with them. When they had withdrawn, they spoke one to another, saying, “This man does nothing worthy of death or of bonds.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has spread throughout the Roman Empire, and Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea. The Jewish leaders wanted Paul tried and executed, and Festus was willing to go along with that idea. However, Paul, ever guided by the Holy Spirit, appealed directly to Caesar! Paul was a Roman citizen and any Roman citizen had that right! So after what we call the three missionary journeys, Paul is now on a final journey – to Rome! We jump forward now to Acts 27 to look at this final journey.

Final Journey Begins

Luke records the course of the voyage in detail, and we can feel just how people travelled back in that time. The prisoners were probably put on the boat at Caesarea. They sailed up the coast of Sidon, to the east and north of Cyprus. At Sidon the centurion in charge of Paul, “in kindness…”, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs’ (27v3). Now as far as we know, Paul had never visited Sidon although perhaps he had met Sidonese people on his travels. This was to be the last time he would have had the fellowship and family worship of a Christian home and a wider company of believers. Strengthened and encouraged by this group of Christians, Paul was ready for any trouble that lay ahead for him.

After two weeks sailing, they landed at Myra, in what is now southern Turkey. They then changed ships, for one heading towards Italy, and their next stop was Crete. The time of year was now late October, and the weather was quickly getting worse (27v10). The captain and owner of the ship thought that it was wise to seek a new place in which to stay for the winter. Paul foresaw the disaster, and said so. Paul, it must be said, did believe that God was ruler of the winds and waves and would get him to Rome come what may. He was simply stating that it was better to be safe rather than sorry, to arrive in Italy safely in spring rather than not arriving at all. Paul’s advice set the scene for the events that happen later on in the voyage in which God once again confirmed Paul’s discernment and calling by miracles and mighty works, even if it had no immediate effect on those responsible for the decision to sail on regardless.

The sailors were not fools however. They waited until the weather improved before starting to sail from Crete (27v13). Their optimism was soon blown away by a strong wind, which started to blow them towards Africa. Day after day after day, for two weeks they ran with the wind, hoping that the wind would stop, and at the same time seemingly waiting for the ship to sink. The sailors were probably starting to reflect on their life and commitments, or the lack of commitments. During this time, Paul intervened to encourage their disheartened spirits.

Encouragement

  • A call for faith (27v21-26) – By this time, everybody on board must have been aware that Paul was right in his warning not to sail on. He said they should keep their courage, because no-one would lose their life, even if the ship was damaged beyond repair. But why should they believe this? Because God had sent an angel to assure Paul that he would arrive in Rome, to stand trial before Caesar. Paul had faith in God that it would happen just as he had promised. They should take courage. All people, whether Christian or not, are in the same boat of life. All people share a common life of ups and downs. Godless sailors lived because of godly Paul. Yet it is up to us as Christians to share a message of hope to all those who do not believe. These sailors, even though they were blessed by God to survive this disaster, may not survive the next voyage of disaster, and then they would end up in hell. Regardless of their blessings, they stayed lost if they didn’t come to Christ in faith. For Paul, however, to live was Christ and to die was gain (Philippians 1 :21). Whatever trials we face as believers, we must hold fast to the glory of Jesus. The real issue, Paul tells his shipmates, is not whether we live or die, but what will you do with Jesus? Paul spoke of God’s promises and his faith in God. He invited them to believe in God, just as he did.
  • A call for unity – stay together (27v27-32) – Their crisis came fourteen days out of Crete. They were about to land at Malta, in conditions that were worse than awful. Some sailors were trying to sneak off in the life-boat. Paul, however, insisted that all hands were necessary if any were to be saved, and the centurion prevented them from escaping.
  • A call for effort – The promise of God, always includes the means to fulfil His promise. God doesn’t commend or give His power to the faithful, so that they may be lazy and not plan, when there is a definite reason to be careful. When God makes a promise to us, we must be responsible to receive his promise. God promises to save us, yet it is our responsibility to accept by faith His Son Jesus Christ. Paul always reminded them of God’s promise. He urged them to take food so that they would be strong when the time was needed for strength. He once again reminded them of the promise of God. He also witnessed to them, when eating, by giving thanks to God. Paul was a man of a God and a man of action, a man of the Spirit and common-sense, a man who combined spirituality with sanity, faith with works, a man who was heavenly minded and of earthly use.

Christians, should be the most practical people in the world, because the Lord has given us the real truth about the real world and its real needs. How do you respond to the world? Are you like Paul?

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8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

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8. Church Begins – Forward in Unity

Acts 15:13-35

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James, the brother of Jesus and writer of the epistle of James, was not an apostle. He delivered the coup-de-grace to the Judaism argument with a direct appeal to the Word of God. God had already spoken on the matter! Quoting Amos 9v11-12, James reminded them that the prophet had declared that ‘David’s fallen tent‘ was be restored and that this would involve the in gathering of all the Gentiles who bear the Lord’s name’ (Acts 15v16-18). This is fulfilled, James says, in all that Peter had described (Acts 15:14). The church of Jesus Christ was all along intended to encompass both Jew and Gentile and, one by one without discrimination, they are brought to the same faith by the same Lord. The gospel is for all nations. This, James showed, was ‘the mind of God”, in the Scripture’.

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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7. Church Begins – Problems Arise

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Acts 15:1-4 “Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all things that God had done with them.

At its beginning, the apostolic church was one church under the unitary leadership of the apostles. It had an expanding eldership, often called presbyters, bishops or overseers.’ From earliest days, the church had a simple but well-defined order. Elders and deacons were set apart to their particular tasks, as we saw earlier in Acts 6. Members were received upon profession of faith and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were administered. Discipline was exercised, in which members who had fallen into sin and remained unrepentant were excluded from the church. The church was never individualistic: that is to say, people did not suddenly decide to ‘join’ or ‘leave’ the church, as is too often the case in modern churches. The church was a corporate entity, in which pastoral oversight and spiritual authority were exercised by the leadership. A leadership raised up by the Lord and set apart according to a church policy mediated by the divinely inspired guidance of the apostles. This did not mean that there was neither controversy nor the threat of disunity. From the beginning, problems arose which needed to be resolved with pastoral, spiritual and judicial authority.

It is therefore no surprise to find, early on in Church history, a question arising about the nature of membership in the church and to see the matter being dealt with through the collective leadership of the church, the apostles and elders, who met together in a deliberative assembly (Acts 15v6).

The problem arose because some men from Judea came to Antioch and promoted the view that circumcision, according to the law of Moses, was necessary for salvation. ‘They were opposed by Paul and Barnabas. The church must have been seriously upset by the dispute. There was no final resolution and so help was sought from the church in Jerusalem, still at this point the heartland of the Christian church, from which the problem had come in the first place. Paul, Barnabas and some other believers were reputed to take the case to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

It is impressive to see the orderliness and seemingly good spirit in which they sought to deal with the dispute. This is reflected in the way the news of the conversion of Gentiles was received along their path. The church was one church, united in a glorious obsession with the gospel and the conviction that there is one truth by which the people of God are to be guided and ordered in one, undivided body. Every theological and practical controversy potentially threatens the unity of the church. In this case, the issue was fundamental to the meaning and application of the gospel itself. The intense conservatism of some of the Christian Jews was expressed in an insistence that certain regulations of the Old Testament law be required of non-Jewish converts as prerequisites for their recognition as members of the church of Jesus Christ. This is, of course, the so-called ‘Judaizing controversy’, which, notwithstanding the action of the Jerusalem Council, continued to dog the progress of the apostolic church and was to be he target of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. The heart of the matter is the tendency to add to the Word of God in defining who is, or is not, a Christian and thus expand the scope of what makes for a credible profession of faith to take in all sorts of unbiblical rules and requirements. The ‘Judaizing’ Christians in Antioch did not want to add some new man-made tradition of innovation, but desired to keep certain elements which had been God’s will for the Old Testament church.

How could that which was good and holy until Jesus came again, become an improper imposition afterwards? The answer had already been given explicitly and also implicitly in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Samaritan and Gentile believers (Acts 8v7; Acts 10v45-48). The maintenance of an Old Testament regulation (in this case, circumcision), when it had been replaced by a distinctively New Testament ordinance (baptism), was equivalent to imposing a man-made tradition even though God had originally given it to his people. Why? Because God had made it clear, through the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, that baptism was to be the ordinance of incorporation with his people for the whole New Testament era, until its culmination in the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 28v19; Acts 2v38). The transition period of the first-generation church of the apostles, however, made sensitive and difficult matter with which to deal. Jewish Christians still attended services in the synagogues and observed the ceremonies at the temple (see Acts 21v26 for an instance of the involving the apostle Paul). Only with the destruction of the Temple in AD70 would the ceremonial aspects of the Old pattern for godliness decisively recede from the practice of church.

On arriving at Jerusalem, the delegates from Antioch were welcomed by ‘the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them’, This gathering evidently consisted of the leadership (apostles and elders) and many of the membership, including those convened were putting forward the requirement that Gentiles ‘must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’ (Acts 15v5-6). This was the context for discussion of the issue.

The Jerusalem Council, as it has been named, was a group of ordained elders together with the apostles, The significance of this council, beyond the immediate decision which was made, lies in the fact that the apostles did not make the decision for the church, as could well have been expected of men of their unique position and gifts, but participated, for the purposes of this decision, as elders with the other elders, albeit as the ‘first among equals’, It is for this reason that the Jerusalem Council is the great prototype of ‘synods and councils’, whether congregational or Presbyterian, ever since. Having convened for that purpose, the apostles and elders’ engaged in a deliberative discussion of the issue referred to them by the church in Antioch, namely, whether the Judaistic proposition that circumcision and a commitment to keeping Mosaic law were to be required of Gentiles (Acts 15v7). There was free debate and no papering over differences. The apostles let the elders speak before they joined in, thus showing the way for the future, when their uniquely revelatory gifts would be gone,

Furthermore, it is clear, from what is said later, that their goal was to know the mind of the Holy Spirit in the matter (Acts 15v28). The Jerusalem Council is a reminder to the church of Jesus Christ to go back to God’s way of seeking the mind of the Spirit on the issues confronting the doctrinal purity and the practical peace of the body of Christ – namely, by God-appointed elders in deliberative assemblies. The way the discussion unfolded in Jerusalem is the most vivid recommendation for God’s way to solve the church’s challenges,

Peter arose after much discussion, and proceeded to demolish the Judaistic viewpoint with arguments drawn from his own experience of ministry to Gentiles. He first described the conversion of the Gentiles as the work of God (Acts 15v 7-9). It had been God, not himself, who had determined that, through his lips the Gentiles might hear the message of the gospel and believe. It was certain that God had accepted them, because He had given the Holy Spirit to them, just as He had to Jewish believers; and this was proved by the Gentile Christians’ faith, which was no different from their own (Acts 15v9). He then rebuked those Jewish Christians who would insist on human works – in this instance, circumcision and the law – as necessary for salvation (Acts 15v10). They should have known better! Their fathers could not bear the ‘yoke’ of the law. It could not save them. They could not keep it. To suggest that this same yoke is necessary to being recognised as a true believer in Christ was, in effect, to deny their own profession of Christ as their Saviour! Worse still, it was to trying to test God – that is, to challenge God’s ability to save lost people by grace through faith in Christ alone!

To make any action, however righteous in itself, an instrument of the justification of a sinner before God, when God has made it plain by precept and actual experience that it is by grace alone through saving faith in Jesus Christ, is to contradict the very essence of the gospel! Faith is in a category all of its own. Faith is not a ‘work’. It is, to be sure, the act of the human heart casting itself upon the Lord, but it is pre-eminently the gift of God as Paul later says so that no one can boast (Ephesians. 2v9). Rising to a glorious crescendo, Peter declared emphatically the very heart of the gospel (Acts 15v11). Salvation is by grace alone, both for Jews and Gentiles. Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11v30). There is no place for the yoke of a law, which could only condemn us!

The two missionaries, whose labours had largely occasioned the controversy, supported Peter with testimony to the miracles attending the ministry to the Gentiles. These showed that God was working among them, as he had among the Jews. Then, as we shall discover next time, James speaks and the church goes forward in unity! Thank you.

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6. Church Begins – Paul is sent

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6. Church Begins – Paul is sent

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Acts 9:10-31 “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.”

9:11 The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, 9:12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.”

9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 9:14 Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 9:16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

9:17 Ananias departed, and entered into the house. Laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 9:18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized. 9:19 He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. 9:20 Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God. 9:21 All who heard him were amazed, and said, “Isn’t this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!”

9:22 But Saul increased more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ. 9:23 When many days were fulfilled, the Jews conspired together to kill him, 9:24 but their plot became known to Saul. They watched the gates both day and night that they might kill him, 9:25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. 9:26 When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.9:27 But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 9:28 He was with them entering into Jerusalem, 9:29 preaching boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. He spoke and disputed against the Hellenists, but they were seeking to kill him. 9:30 When the brothers knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus. 9:31 So the assemblies throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, and were built up. They were multiplied, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”

Transformed

From the conversion of Paul, we go to the consequences of his conversion. The first consequence we maybe aware of is that he changed his name: changed from Saul of Tarsus to Paul of Tarsus – we read that in Acts 13!  Paul’s conversion was a total transformation. His attitudes, character & relationships with God, fellow believers and the unbelieving world were utterly transformed. A changed life is the uultimate proof, that conversion is real and the Holy Spirit is working. Now that through Jesus and his cross, Paul had been put right with God, Paul, as with all believers, enjoyed direct access to the Father, as the Spirit witnessed with his spirit that he was the Father’s child (Romans 8:16). Perhaps his prayers were for forgiveness of sins of self-righteousness & cruel persecution of Jesus & the church. And no doubt they contained worship. The mouth that breathed murderous threats against Jesus like a roaring lion, was now breathing prayers & praises to God like bleating lamb. Paul’s life was changed from self-righteousness to righteousness through Jesus. The evidence of this was a change in the way he lived his life.

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5. Church Begins – Converted

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5. Church Begins – Converted

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Acts 9:1-6 But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he travelled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank.

The conversion of Paul is perhaps the most famous throughout the history of the Church. Luke tells us the story three times. But was Paul’s conversion special? Many people say “I have not had a Damascus Road experience“. There were, it is true, special events on that day, which make Paul’s conversion unique. Let us look together at his conversion experience.

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4. Church Begins – Let’s Get Organized

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4. Church Begins – Let’s Get Organized

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Today we go back to the beginning of Acts 6. So far in the book of Acts, we can see that the Church has come under attack by the world (through persecution) and satan (through deceit & moral compromise).

A new crisis has appeared. Unable to destroy the church by way of persecution and deceit, satan now tries to create a split in the church by getting believers to argue and fight with each other. If satan had succeeded in creating an implosion within this church, the only church in existence at the time, then the effects could have been devastating. I have had people tell me they want a church without any form of organizational structure. If a church has no organizational and leadership structure then it will soon have chaos instead of harmony, and will collapse rather than grow. Of course, some leaders are corrupt or make wrong decisions as we have seen already, but Godly leaders will not be corrupt and as we shall see, make decisions that are wise and based on prayer and spiritual insights.

So, what was the problem, what was the solution and what happened after it was resolved?

The Problem! (Actsv1)

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service.

  • Good news – they were growing, but this had caused a problem!
  • Bad news – Some widows were not being cared for!

Hebraic Jews had always lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic. They would have been well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews: the Gentiles..

Grecian or Hellenestic Jews were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem. These mainly spoke Greek, and were well used to working with Gentiles.

We know that widows were and are important to God, because justice is important to God. God is a God of justice and mercy. In the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, God commanded provision for those who were widows, oppressed or uncared for. The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed. We know this because earlier in Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for. This included making sure that everyone got fed, particularly those who had no family to care for them. Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out.

What then happened?

The Solution! (Actsv2-6)

The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Three things about the solution

Transformation of the Apostles – James, Peter & John particularly (v2)

Its not stated here, but a transformation had taken place! Only a few short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter); some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John). Their old nature must have started asking questions and prompting them to react negatively. The world has attacked the church, satan has attacked the church, and now satan would have been using the Apostles old nature to attack the church. But – as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and now have a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ, they react much more righteously and judiciously.

All together now! (v2-5)

Notice they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting. The gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do – to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when travelling with Jesus Christ before His ascension. Their time, rightly so, was best spent doing that, for that was their ministry of service. But other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that! So what of these seven men with Greek names? They were elected by the whole church, both Grecian and Hebraic, to perform this duty. They may already have been doing it, but now were being set apart especially for this role. These men were controlled by the Holy Spirit and were wise. They were chosen to give relief to the leadership so that the Word of God and prayer would not be hindered.

Commissioning (v6)

Interestingly enough, the word diakonia is translated here as ministry. Another way to translate it is as deacons. But, they were not deacons in the way the Paul uses the word as part of a church government in 1 Timothy 3. Rather they were deacons, set apart for this specific task – it was their ministry. It may well have been from here, that Paul developed what some parts of the universal church understands of the role of deacons. So these seven men, were prototypes as it were, for the Paul-ine idea of deacons.

Note also that the Apostles didn’t say their work was more important than serving. They were just following what God had called them to do, just as God had called these seven men to take responsibility for providing food for the widows. So they were commissioned by God, by the laying on of hands and set apart to perform it. We know only of Steven and Phillip and that they continued doing other ministries as well as this.

The Result! (v7)

The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

The result was growth! Growth and witness may well see the conversion of former enemies. Growth and witness may well see reasoning and transformation.

Now that the Apostles had time for their dedicated and unique ministry, all the widows could be fed, and all believers able to participate within the life of the church. Not only that, Stephen was instrumental in reaching the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:58). Philip was instrumental in reaching the city of Samaria and won over for Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian Eunuch who then took the gospel to Africa. (Acts 8)

This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel. This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! It was explosive! So explosive that even former enemies were becoming converts! Sadducees were Jewish believers who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection – yet they came to faith and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not hard to imagine that some of those Priests coming to faith in Jesus Christ were former persecutors of the Church! They were watching the church to see how best to attack and debate them. Yet found that they were joining the church, rather than continuing to oppose it. The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it. There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent – it lived as it believed. The church was seen as transformative and servant-like. While the Church continued to reason with others about the validity of Jesus Christ’s claims to be the Messiah, it would have not been effective if lives were not being transformed. If lives were not being changed, then no amount of reasoning alone would have seen the growth in numbers being added to the Church. Just as transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it.

Transformation

The early Church was a radical community of believers, growing quickly. At Pentecost, the church community began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people’s lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. This church in Jerusalem grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others and serving. It was a church where every member was asked and expected to play some role, in the life of the church. .

The Christian life is to be dynamic and active. As we have seen the word “deacon” here denotes ministry. Ministry is any service for Jesus Christ. When you serve as God’s deacon in this way, God’s honour is released. That’s why the embryonic Church in Jerusalem grew and flourished. This is done because service shows the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ to those being served and to those watching. That is to be our motive for service. Serving and ministry should never to be about what you and I can get out of it. When that is the motive, God is not glorified. God’s glory and supremacy is our goal as Christians. Spiritual growth comes from serving rather than being served. This is because what ever is given in service of God and others, faith grows and Jesus Christ gives back even more. Jesus speaking in Matthew 25v15-30 tells of the rewards for faithful service and the penalties for being faithless.

Serving others is a sign that you are trusting God and having faith in God. Serving God and others is the mark of a spiritually maturity and through service, the greatest servant of all, is reflected: Jesus Christ, who came to serve and give his very life for others (Mark 10v45). As Christians, we are to be as Jesus Christ (Romans 8v28; Philippians 2v5) and to serve. Yet if we are honest, we sometimes feel incapable, just as Moses did (Exodus 3). An excellent example to follow is that of the deacon Stephen.

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