FOCUS ON PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

 

Acts 6:1-15

Key Verse 6:3,4

 

            “Brothers, chose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

 

            In this morning’s passage we see that the Jerusalem church was growing in number. Verse 1 says that the number of disciples was increasing.  As with anything else, be it a family, a country and even a church, when numbers are growing there is always a potential for new problems. The first church was no different. The problem was with unity. The cause was the distribution of food to the widows. Some widows were being neglected and were missing meals.

 

Today we will see how the apostles dealt with these problems that could become very serious if they were ignored and not solved in a godly manner. The way they solved the problem showed that they held onto two basic spiritual qualities so that the work of God might be healthy and growing among them. These two were prayer and the ministry of the word of God. Then they humbly delegated responsibility to the Greek minority members to oversee the food issue. When they did this, then unity was restored and the work of God could grow in incredible numbers.

 

            May God help us to learn to keep unity in the midst of our growth this year by focusing our attention on the word of God and prayer so that we may come to have the heart and mind of Christ for each other. May God bless our Fellowship’s and ministry to be an exemplary fellowship of Christian unity. 

 

Part 1. The Choosing of the Seven (1-7)

 

            Let’s read verse 1, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in their daily distribution of food.” The number of disciples was increasing day by day. Every day sheep brought more sheep to Bible study. Brothers brought their brothers and sisters to Bible study. They studied the word, repented of their sins and made a commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. They said in an oath, “We are soldiers of Christ. Because he loved us first, we will serve him and love him and go wherever he tells us to go and do whatever his word tells us to do. We will go out as a missionary for at least one year to Central America, South America or China.” The word “disciple”  mentioned here, does not mean a church shopper. Disciples are those who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. The church was not only growing in number, but in spiritual depth. Its numbers were growing in faith and commitment. But whenever things are growing, problems will naturally arise. Especially, when the church grows, Satan is jealous. He wants to divide the believers and break them up and hinder the work of God.

 

            Now let us look at the situation more carefully. What happened that began to disrupt the unity in the church and cause a division? Look again at verse 1. “…the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” In the Jerusalem church, there were Hebraic Jews and Grecian Jews. The Hebraic Jews were Jews born in Judea and Galilee. They spoke Aramaic and followed Jewish culture. The Grecian Jews were Greek speaking Jews born outside of Palestine. They followed Hellenistic or Greek culture, one of the predominately main cultural influences at that time in the world, other than the Roman influence.

 

            The Jerusalem church was predominately Hebrew.  The Grecian Jews were most likely the minority. So what developed here was an ethnic issue. Apparently, the Hebraic Jews were in charge of distribution of food to the needy on a daily basis. They never missed giving their widows their distribution of food. However, they seemed to miss giving the Greek widows their distribution of food. It was probably not intentional at first. Perhaps, as a matter of concern, they put their widows first, making their rounds to give food to their widows,  before the minority Greek widows.   Soon, the Grecian widows began to get hungry. In addition they began to get sorrowful feeling that they were being abandoned and were not important people. They lost weight and became pale. To most people, widows are not noticed. They do not seem like an important part of our society.  But to God, they are very special people. We can see this attitude of God towards widows in his word.  Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.”

 

            So when these widows were not treated properly, it began to become a big problem in the church. The minority Greek brothers complained that the Hebrew brothers were being selfish and proud and only were concerned with their kind.  They began to point their fingers at them and call them names. Then the Hebraic Jews also began name calling back at them. They called them “Gentile dogs.” They even told some to go back home to Greece where you belong. They argued and fought and some even began to meet separately.

 

What was going on here? It was the problem of unity. It was how to work together as a church whose members are mixed and full of many different backgrounds and cultures and languages. Our church is similar. We have many different cultures, backgrounds and languages represented here. We are from Korea, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Guatemala, China, Columbia, India and other parts of the world. Even Americans here are from different states. Some are from cities others are from the country area. By nature, we meet with our own kind and when ever possible speak to each other in our own native tongue. Perhaps this is OK in the outside world. But as a church, we need to break down all barriers and work together as one body. We need to be sensitive towards each other so that unity in Christ may be our desire and in our actions and words. This is what Jesus prayed for. He prayed for his disciples to be one. Jesus prayed in John 17:11, “…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name---the name you gave me---so that they may be one as we are one.”

 

Jesus came to break down all barriers that hinder people from working together. He helped a lonely Samaritan woman who was despised by Jews and her townspeople, at the surprise of his disciples. Almost every year there is always the suggestion that Korean missionaries should learn to speak English all the time, especially at the Bible center. When Korean missionaries speak Korean to each other in front of those who do not know Korean, those who hear them might begin to think they are saying something about them and question in their minds, “Just what in the world are they saying? There is a natural tendency to feel a distance and even feel uncomfortable. Often times, unintentionally and sometimes because we are insensitive, we cause divisions as we gather with our own kind and only talk with our kind and eat with our own kind and do not make any kind of effort to be united with other believers. However, in Christ, we are all new creations. Despite our different ethnic backgrounds and cultures we need to build up each other and be one in Christ and consider others as our very own. This means that missionaries should regard American shepherds as their own and American shepherds should regard missionaries as their own.

 

            How did the apostles deal with all the complaints and name calling and potential  division in the church? Let’s read verse 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.”  We see here that they dealt with the problem immediately. They did not ignore the minority Greek believers. They considered them very important members of the body of Christ. And they did not ignore the widows food problem, either. This shows us that we should not ignore anyone’s complaints about the church or about its members but listen carefully to what they say and be sensitive about it. However, from their comment we can learn what the pressing problem was. It was the apostles realization that they had neglected the word of God.

 

The apostles themselves had tried to help with the distribution of food.  They had dedicated themselves to solve this problem when it became large. They did not want to ignore the needs of the widows. However, after some time they became exhausted in taking care of the widows food problem. To prepare the meals, to cook the meals and then to distribute them became a very involved activity. They went to the library and checked out many kinds of cook books. They went shopping to buy all the ingredients. They even tried to cook and prepare delicious meals to bring to the widows. All of this became an exhausting activity. It really began to hinder them in doing what God pointedly called them to do, that is to be the one’s equipped to teach and preach the word of God to the people of God. So, by the time they were done taking care of this important matter of the widows food distribution problem, they were too tired to study the Bible and pray.  They were too tired to prepare for group Bible study. When they tried to write their testimonies, they couldn’t because they were too tired to hold their pencils. All they felt like doing was sleeping. It was hard to keep their eyes open even for five minutes to pray. So we can see that they were taking upon themselves too much. This task should be given to others.

 

            God has blessed our ministry with many excellent cooks such as Missionary Rebekah Lim and Missionary Grace Park and many other women. Even Shepherd Anthony Morekre is a good cook since he used to work in a restaurant. However, when we come to Sunday Worship, it shouldn’t be because of the delicious lunch that is prepared for us. We shouldn’t come to the Bible Center saying to ourselves, “I wonder what is for lunch today?”, nor should we say this to others. I notice that some people as soon as they come to the Bible Center on Sunday they go right into the kitchen, very eagerly and excitedly. However, they are slow and reluctant to go into the main worship room and when they do it is at the last moment and they take a seat way in the back.  So when we come to the Bible Center, we should say instead of saying “What is for lunch today, we should say,  “Let’s pray to receive the word of God today” or “I want to receive the word of God today at Sunday Worship service.”  Then we should go in at least ten minutes before worship, sit down read the Bible and pray and prepare our hearts for worship. We know that we can’t ignore our stomachs and the physical needs of others, especially our fellow believers, because Jesus himself didn’t. However, the word of God is the one thing that gives us life. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

 

How did the apostles practically  propose to solve this food problem that was causing divisions?  Let’s read verses 3-4, “Brothers, 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, and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

 

            The disciples decided to delegate the responsibility of food distribution to others,  instead of trying to monopolize the church and control it. They did so in order that they could focus on the word of God and prayer. They asked the brothers to choose seven men for the task. What were the qualifications in choosing these seven? It was not based on human ability nor was it based on those who achieved elite academic standing  such as a Phd or a theology degree. It was based on their spiritual maturity. The men had to be full of Spirit, this means the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  This wisdom is not worldly wisdom, though that is good to have. It was the wisdom that comes from the fear of the Lord. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” This is reverence towards God and a deep respect of him that he is God Almighty and we are just mere men. Anyone who is appointed to a task of stewardship in the Christian church or desires to do so, should be men and women full of the Holy Spirit and men and women who have God’s wisdom. This is the qualifications that the leaders of the first church expected and this is the example that we need to follow.

           

Here we learn from the apostles that basic responsibilities of the church must be acknowledged, and not avoided.  When it is necessary, these responsibilities can be delegated to spiritual men and women, even if they are young, they can be given the responsibility. The Apostle Paul did this with Timothy because he recognized Timothy’s faith and called him a man of God (1 Tim.6:11) Timothy was entrusted to lead a church because he was shown to be qualified, a man full of the Spirit and wisdom. This is how the church of Jesus grew because the responsibility was delegated out so more could be entrusted to others. They could grow in leadership positions and have a broader mind for God’s work which includes understanding all kinds of people and helping them to follow Jesus Christ .  They could take the burden off the leaders so that the leaders could focus on prayer and the word of God. We know that Senior leaders must be responsible for everything that goes on in the church.  But this does not mean that they do everything themselves. If they try to, then they will become too burdened and eventually they will become exhausted and burned out. Can you imagine Missionary Jacob Lee doing everything around the Center, and also presiding, cooking, cleaning, leading fellowship meetings and many group Bible studies during the week? It would be too much for him, let alone any one person. Then he could not take time to personally study the Bible and pray because he would be too physically exhausted. Then our church as a whole might well lose its direction and purpose.

 

 In our ministry, God is helping us by raising up responsible leaders who can be entrusted, like the Seven mentioned here in Acts chapter 6. We have the presiding team, the message council and the daily bread team to name a few.  All of them have been given responsibility by God through Missionary Jacob so that the ministry of the word of God might grow.

 

For example,  the presiding team, which was just newly created. This to is help make a good spiritual environment for Sunday Worship to prayerfully and responsibly support the word of God. Shannon Smith, Lawson Glenn, Anthony Morekre and Belssi Chang are working together to choose prayer servants, music servants and be smiling ushers. They are finding many different ways to help so that the word of God may be planted in each of our hearts. They are diligently working behind the scenes. The message council that meets on Saturday to help the messenger prepare his Bible message reveals how sacrificial God’s people are to help the word of God grow. Without them, it would be hard to write an orderly and meaningful Sunday Message. They give a few hours late Saturday afternoon. This is prime time to relax after a long and hard week. Yet they do it because they are reliable and full of Spirit and wisdom. I was encouraged to see Jay Jagun as a new member. She makes such good comments and has good ideas.

 

            Now again, the reason for the choosing the seven men was so that the apostles could give their full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. Though a church may have many programs and activities, if it lacks leaders who pray and who minister the word, then it can not be an influential body of believers. It might look good, like a green leafy tree, but it will lack any real fruit. It will wind up looking like the Salvation Army. Also, without prayer and commitment to study God’s word and teach God’s word, we become very weak spiritually. We cannot overcome sinful temptations without prayer and the word of God.

 

Attention to prayer and the ministry of the word are two key elements for our Christian growth both personally and as a church. This decision by the apostles to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word became the foundation in which the first church was built upon. 

 

            The word “attention” here means the act of keeping one’s mind closely on something, or the ability to take notice. When we give our attention to God’s word and prayer then we are ready to listen and obey our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of finding ourselves fighting against the will of God , and fighting others, we find ourselves humbly and thankfully and joyfully serving the will of God and sacrificing for others.  Through giving attention to prayer and the ministry of the word, God can give us new and fresh insights so that we can serve the will of God more effectively and fruitfully and use our God given talents to glorify God.

 

            How did this decision by the Twelve Apostles go with the disciples? Let’s read verses 5-6, “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. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” All were pleased with this decision. They said, “Wow, that is a great idea! You guys are really smart.” The names here suggest that those who were chosen were Greek believers. This means that the minority Greek believers were chosen by the majority Hebrew believers to take this responsibility. It shows that God gave them humble hearts to accept their Greek brothers and sisters and to work with them. As a result, unity as a church could be restored. A potentially dangerous outcome was averted and the direction of the church remained clear to all: To give our full attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

 

What became of the result to chose the Seven? Let’s read verse 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.”  An amazing great work of God happened!! All of us who are here to hear God’s word today are greatly blessed because you can learn what made the first church very fruitful and how you yourself can be part of a fruitful ministry. It is by earnestly making every effort to keep unity and put aside all human barriers. It is also by giving ourselves full attention to prayer and the word of God.

 

Part 2. Stephen Seized (8-15)

 

            Among the chosen stewards, the first one named is Stephen. He was an exemplary man of faith. When he was chosen to distribute food to widows, he could have felt sorry about it, thinking that his calling was too insignificant and unnoticeable.  But he did not show any signs of that. Instead, he accepted his mission with willingness, gladness and obedience. He was ready to do anything he was asked to do in order to serve the work of God and to help build up and encourage people in the church.

 

            The widows might have  enjoyed his conversations and wished that they had had such good sons like him. He made sure that they each received enough food each day, especially the food that they could eat, since some might have been missing some teeth. He thanked God for them and reminded them of their value to God.  He might have told them to devote themselves to prayer and in helping the younger women in the church.

 

            But Stephen’s most striking quality was that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.  Although he was chosen initially to oversee the distribution of food to widows, he became a powerful servant of God’s word, devoting his free time to study and prayer. God did great wonders and miraculous signs through him. Like Stephen, those who humbly perform menial tasks in God’s church with personal faith in God can be powerful spiritual leaders. In fact, Stephen and Philip, the second man mentioned in the seven in verse 5,  became the next generation of spiritual leaders in God’s work.

 

            When God was working through Stephen however,  opposition arose. Evil men formed a conspiracy against him. They bribed some men to say false things about Stephen.  Look at verse 11, “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”  They stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and  brought him before the Sanhedrin (verse 12). They treated him as they had treated Jesus. Producing false witnesses who slandered him and lied about him. But Stephen was not upset. Nor did he become fearful and lose control and try to run away. According to verse 15, his face was like the face of an angel. This means he had the peace and calmness coming from the Spirit of God. Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit had Jesus’ heart towards those who were accusing him and who would later stone him to death. Stephen’s life truly imitated Christ’s humility both outwardly and inwardly.

 

            In this passage we learned how the first church solved a potential dangerous problem that threatened to break the unity of the church. The Apostles overcame all ethnic barriers and delegated to other members of the church the responsibility for the matter. Then they decided to give full attention to prayer and the word of God. As a result the problem was solved and the church grew in number.

 

            May God help us to be sensitive to each other and make every effort to keep unity despite our cultural and language differences. May God especially help us to give our full attention to prayer and the word of God so that we may see the work of God spread through us.