This morning we come in our study to the 6th chapter of Acts and the message that I think is important as a basis for understanding proper organization within the church.
Somebody once said that Christians become very unchristian when they get organized. And I think, in great measure, that statement can be true. I suppose it has to do with who the Christians are and how well organized they get. But there’s been a long running kind of debate about whether the church is to be organized or not, and I think it’s kind of reached a focus in our current age. There seems to be not only the super church, well organized, well staffed, and run like a very efficient corporation, but there seems to be the kind of underground operation that we read about today, with little home Bible studies and emphasizing the life of the body, etcetera, etcetera. And these basically are the two poles to which people go in determining the degree of church organization.
Some would contend that the church should have absolutely no formal organization. It should not own a building; it should not have a piece of property; it should not have anybody who is responsible for any particular functions. Everybody just kind of moves around freely within the body of Christ, connected corporately to themselves and to Christ who is the head.
And I heard one say that anything that is organized is not of God. Anything that is a system is not of God, which is a little difficult to support. God is so organized that the sun keeps coming up all the time or whatever you – however you want to express it. The earth keeps revolving if you’re a scientist. That everything goes on all the time like it ought to. We shoot men up into space, and we figure they’ll land somewhere in the ocean. And guess what? They do, because everything is the way it ought to be. God is extremely well organized.
So organized is God that your body actually operates year after year without you pushing any particular sides or making anything do what it ought to do. You are very well organized. The microcosm, the macrocosm, every dimension of God’s world is organized.
And so, to say that anything that is a system is not of God is to misconstrue the very nature of God which is the absolute epitome of being organized. Not only that, if you read anything about the Old Testament, you’ll find out that the Old Testament was ordained by God, and it’s a system from beginning to end.
On the other hand, there are some people who say that the church is totally an organization, that it must be run like a business, that it must develop complex organizational charts with all kinds of boards and committees and subcommittees and branches and little boxes of this and that all over everywhere.
And some that I’ve seen need a scientist to decipher, that everybody should have a job description of three or four pages, a portfolio of functions and operation, that everybody should fit into all of the programs that are prescribed and ordained by the executive committees of that church, that everything should be a detailed structure, and then the Holy Spirit should be told to operate within the frames and the boxes created by the system. And as you can see, that’s just as bad as the other extreme.
To create an organization, and then tell the Holy Spirit what to do is just as foolish as to tell the Holy Spirit what to do and not give Him any structure to help Him to do it through people in a smooth-functioning way. Now, both extremes are wrong. I believe the New Testament Church is an organism. Don’t have a question about that; you know I believe that. And I believe that the life of the body is its – is its connection to Christ and its – its organic unit to it itself. I believe that.
But I also believe the church has to be organized. I mean I also believe that we must be here at 8:30 and 10:10, or we’re going to not be able to function rightly within the framework of the body, because this is the time we get taught. You see? There are certain things that must occur organizationally.
So, both extremes are wrong. To say that the church is only an organism and cannot be organized is wrong. To say the church is strictly an organization and shouldn’t be a functioning, flowing kind of living thing is wrong. And both extremes get into great trouble.
Now, the early Church was an organism, but it was an organized organism. All organisms that do what they ought to do are organized. To be organized simply means that something functions in an ordered sequence. And the apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians said this, “Let all things be done decently and” – what? – “in order.” It’s obvious that we can’t do everything at the whim of everybody that wants to do it. There’s got to be an organization within the organism. It’s a good thing your body functions in that way. It’s a good thing that the organism is organized.
Now, the early Church, as we come in chapter 6, needs to get a little bit better organized. They are a functioning organism. Man, they are the most functioning that-that history has ever seen. They are one body, absolutely devastating the world. Their effect is unbelievable. They have had a colossal effect upon the Jewish community in Jerusalem. They have astounded people with the miracles and the wonders and the signs that had been going on. Multitudes had been coming to Jesus Christ. Fantastic love exists. The community of believers is-is sharing in all things, and there’s a beautiful kind of relationship everywhere. It’s a – it’s a beautifully functioning organism. But you know what? The Spirit of God knows it needs to get organized. And the crisis comes in chapter 6, and we find the beginnings of the organization of the church here.
Now, let me give you a little idea here, to start off with, that will be a kind of pervading thought, and I want you to get it. Biblical church organization always accommodates ministries that the Spirit has already begun. Now, if we follow this through the Scripture, we find this. Biblical church organization accommodates what the Spirit is doing. Biblical church organization doesn’t say, “Let’s organize this, and now, Holy Spirit, that’s what we’ve developed. You go do it.” That’s making the Spirit of God fit your box and your mold, and that isn’t the way it is in Scripture.
In Scripture, the flow of the church takes place. The church begins to live and breathe and move and develop ministries, and then the church moves in and puts a frame around it so that it can function smoothly. But all biblical church organization appears to be accommodating what the Spirit of God is already doing. And we believe that here at Grace Church, don’t we? We believe that it’s not up to us to stand up here and organize all kinds of things and push everybody into it, but rather to see what it is the saints are doing and then to put a frame around it to help them do it effectively.
Now, the early Church had begun to evangelize, and they were really moving in evangelism. Exciting things were happening. But they came to a point where they needed to get a little bit better structure in order to make their evangelism more effective.
Now, in our church, we’ve been teaching on evangelism, and some of you have become excited, and many of you have come to me or to one of our other pastors, and you’ve said, “You know, this emphasis on evangelism’s really gotten me excited. Boy, when-when are we going to get going on this thing?”
Well, we’ve been preaching it, you know, and now we’ve got a couple dozen people who are ringing the phones saying, “When are we going to get this thing going?
And so, now what we’re doing is praying and asking God to show u what kind of frame to put around that which the Spirit of God has already set in motion. That’s biblical church organization. It’s accommodating the Spirit of God in a smooth-flowing kind of structure so that what people want to do in the energy of the Spirit can be done smoothly and to the best benefit. That’s what I see as the correct organization.
Now, keep that in your mind. That in itself is a great principle, and you ought not to forget it. The church must accommodate what the Spirit is doing, not make the Spirit accommodate what the committee decided ought to be done.
Now, this early Church, we can see this pattern in the early Church because they have begun to great organized little by little. They weren’t just a freewheeling crew, roaming around, doing nothing, and nobody had any responsibility and nothing in terms of organization.
Let me show you why I know they were beginning to get organized. First of all, a couple of times it tells us how many believers there were, three thousand and five thousand, which meant that somebody was taking count. Somebody must have been responsible to know who was in the believers’ fellowship in order that they might know their membership and meet the needs of their membership. That was important.
It is also important that they had certain places and certain times to meet together for public worship, prayer, and the study of the Word. And apparently they had such times, and somebody was setting those times, and somebody was having a place where they all came together. All of that was basic organization.
A person said to me one time, “You have church, and-and you have all those buildings. Why do you have all those buildings? It’s a terrible waste of money, all those buildings.”
And I said, “The Lord keeps sending us these people, and we just keep putting walls around them.” “And we have all these chairs, because people, when they sit down, they’re much more able to listen.”
He said, “Why do you have all that carpet?”
Well, because it’s cheaper than having linoleum. Because if you have linoleum, you got to pick up the chairs and wax the floor. You see, there are some simple things.
Somebody said, “Boy, you know, churches spend millions of dollars.”
Well, this building, as you see it now, seats about 1,200 people. It costs about $175,000.00. That’s about as cheaply as it can possibly be done. Four walls and that’s about it. But we accommodate what we feel God is doing. And I feel this is what church organization and church structure is all about.
Now, this early Church began to accommodate the Spirit of God. They met the first day of every week. And it says in Acts 2 they broke bread from house to house. They must have had some organized way of going around to the various houses. And the people were telling where they were going to be at what time. Money and goods were being collected and distributed. Things were held in common. Everybody’s need was being met. Somebody was organizing this whole thing.
So, little by little, as the Spirit of God began to flow through the life of the body, the body accommodated what the Spirit of God of was doing by framing it within some structures. Now, that’s biblical church organization. And, you see, that way you’re never imposing on the Spirit of God. That’s why I don’t believe for a minute that my job is to develop programs, invent all kinds of schemes, and then go find people to do them. My commitment is to just keep teaching the word, and when a bunch of people want to do something, give them a frame to do it in.
All right, so, it’s obvious, then, that the church had begun to get organized. Now, organization is never an end in itself. I mean you can’t come and say, “Well, we’ve got our program, boy, we’re rolling.” That isn’t – your program isn’t the issue.
Now, the early organization was pretty simple. The apostles taught; the apostles ruled, and everybody else carried out what they said. But the Church began to grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, and they began to face some real problems organizationally. And we come to the first organizational crisis in chapter 6 of Acts. And necessity, again, becomes the mother of invention. Now, this is important. The Church always added to its organization only as its life and growth demanded it, only to frame the ministries going on and – watch this – to eliminate problems existing. And I think that that’s what organization is all about. If you’ve got a problem, maybe you need to organize to eliminate the problem.
Some people said about a year ago here that we had a – that our – that a whole adult area was kind of a problem. So, we moved in and tried to set up a structure that would meet the problem to organize what God wanted to do in that area. And as I say, the recent evangelistic emphasis in the book of Acts that’s gotten people excited is giving birth right now, in my mind, in the mind of the other pastors, to a structure that’s going to be exciting, and we’ll be sharing it with you pretty soon.
But it’s already begun to be developed by the Spirit of God as people are getting excited about sharing Christ and saying, “How do I do it? Show me which way to do – to go? What’s the pattern?” and we would not impose some dreamed up structure on the body unless we sensed that the body is moving in that way under the energy of the Spirit.
Now, necessity, then, prevails, and organization results. Let’s look at this text, verses 1 through 7, as the Spirit gives us time this morning, considering four things that appear here in the first spiritual organizational meeting.
First of all, the reason. And that is the basis upon which they needed to get organized. What was the reason for organization? Secondly, the requirements. If you got an organization, all that means is you have certain people doing certain things. And what were the requirements for the people? That’s the next thing. The third thing is the roster. Who were the people chosen? Fourthly, the results. What happens when the church begins to get organized to accommodate the Spirit? Does it help? And we’ll see those four things.
First of all, let’s look at the reason. Why did they need to get organized? What couldn’t they just flow like they’d been flowing? Well, watch, verse 1, and you’ll see several aspects. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied” – stop there. Now, there’s your first problem. You’ve got too many people for the apostles to handle all the work.
You say, “How many?”
Well, I don’t really know, but I would venture a conservative guess at 30,000 at least. Between 20,000 and 30,000. Now, that’s a large congregation. I wouldn’t begin to try to unload on you the administrative problems and responsibilities of a church of just 2,000 like this, but you could imagine trying to handle a congregation that small, not only when you were handling their spiritual needs, but disseminating all their physical needs and caring for the poor and the widows and everybody else. Talk about a monstrosity. And here were the 12 apostles, stuck with most of that. It was large. It was terrifically large. It had grown so fast.
And, you know, one of the problems with fast growth, as we have discovered, is that you-you never get time to adjust to anything. You wake up with – one morning, and you’ve got all of this huge thing. And you haven’t been able to grow with it. You know? And here they are, a couple of months old, with 20,000-30,000 people, and they haven’t adjusted to the growth at all. And now they’re faced slam bang against a fantastic problem: too many people in the church.
And what makes the problem worse is they’re not done yet. They’re going to add them as fast as they can add them. And just handling the care of the believers is a great problem, making sure that the poor people get the food they need, and making sure somebody’s collecting all of that which is placed in the hands of those apostles and distributed, making sure that somebody provides elements for the Lord’s Table and somebody figures out how many people are going to be there so nobody comes and there aren’t elements enough for them. Making sure that the baptism is cared for, the details of having towels to dry the people off, and making sure the pond’s got water in it or whatever’s going on, they had to organize it.
And so many people, they had to be sure that when a meeting was going on over here, the people knew about it and somebody was responsible to be the teacher at that meeting. And if they were having a street meeting, or if they were going to be preaching down at the courtyard of the temple, who was going to be doing the preaching, and who was going to be there to do the follow-up? They had all of that to take care of. And you can imagine that the apostles, all 12 of them, were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to keep this thing together.
In addition to that, which makes it all the more exciting, was they had accomplished number one of the fourfold goal that Christ had given them when He said, “You shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.” They had already filled Jerusalem with their doctrine. Right? Chapter 5, verse 28. They had already done that. They were ready to move out now to Judea, Samaria, and the world. They were on the threshold of Gentile evangelism.
Now, in order to get that thing going, they had to get some kind of organization, some kind of structure as a basis from which they could move out. And their evangelism had already been going. They’re such a picture of our church, it’s unbelievable to me. Our church – all along, many of you have been reproducing, and many of you are new Christians and been won to Christ by other friends. And we’ve been doing evangelism and moving along. And all of a sudden we’re right now on the threshold, I believe, of a great evangelism explosion. We’re saying, “Now, before we can really do that, we need to frame some things so that we can really begin to function in a smooth fashion and accomplish what God would have us to accomplish in an orderly way.
But they were on the verge of such an evangelistic explosion. In fact, chapter 6 introduces Stephen to us. Stephen appears in the next chapter, and following on Stephen’s heels is Paul, and Paul began evangelization of the Gentiles. So, we’re right on the threshold of that whole movement.
And before the church can really be effective in the world, it’s got to make sure that it’s handling itself properly. And I’ve said this to you many times, and continue to say it, and will continue to say it. The church that is effective in evangelism is the church that is one, that is united. And this is what they had to deal with.
So, the very fact of their size, and the fact that they were on the threshold of the Gentile evangelism I think was very important in the forming of this basic structure. And it’s also interesting, I think, that as soon as you get on the threshold of something big, Satan begins to work. Believe me this is so. I’m not telling you that out of a textbook; I’m telling you that out of every day’s experience in my life. As soon as you begin to do something for God, Satan moves in to mess up.
Now, Satan approaches the church from one of three ways, two of three ways, or all three ways. Let me give you the three tactics Satan uses; they’re general, but they’re all – they’re the same; they’ve been the same ever since the early Church.
Number one, persecution. Satan uses the tack against the church of persecuting the saints. You know, whether it’s the emotional persecution of being ostracized from your society, or whether you’re looked down on as some kind of a religious nut, or whatever it is, the mental, emotional persecution, or even physical abuse, Satan attempts to get the Christians to lose their nerve, you see, in the world and chicken out of the battle.
And so, much of the ministry is spent trying to get the saints excited and committed and bold and get them back out in the world with nerve enough to communicate Christ. And, brother, that battle never ends. You’ve always got some saints lingering in the shadows who never get into the battle. You’ve always got a whole gob of them sitting on the bench. You know? The traveling squad, but none of them ever play. And you’re always trying to pump those Christians into the system so that they get going. You know? “Get in with this deal. We’re reaching the world; get going.” And they’re sort of out there, and every time a little resistance comes up, they crawl in a little hole. See? So, Satan uses that. Well, he tried that on the early Church; it didn’t work. He persecuted the early Church, and the message flew faster and gave God opportunity to do more miracles to more abundantly prove that Jesus was Messiah. And every time he persecuted the church, God overruled it, and the church grew faster.
So, then he has a second approach. His second approach was sin in the body. If he can get some individuals within the body to-to begin to sin, then he can pollute the body. And he tried that with Ananias and Sapphira, and God moved in and just killed Ananias and Sapphira dead on the spot, right in front of the whole church. And you know what that did to the church? It purified the church just that fast. The Christians began to say to themselves, “Listen, people, we better make sure our lives are right. You know what happened to Ananias and Sapphira? Don’t mess around.”
And not only did it purify the existing church, but it made sure that those who were added to the church were pure, because nobody wanted to join a church like that unless they really were sincere. Because the word was out, “You get into that deal as a hypocrite and you’re liable to die.”
And so, Satan attempted to use sin in the body, but it failed, too. God dealt with the sin, and the result was the church got purified, and the – and the Gospel went faster yet. The purer the church, the faster the Gospel.
Satan has a third tactic. This is the tactic that he uses here in chapter 6 to precipitate really a negative effect upon the church and bring about a loss of power, and that is dissension in the body. Dissension. Get the church so busy fighting within itself, that its message is lost in hypocrisy, and its energy is dissipated in internal struggle. How many churches have you known that are just sitting around fighting each other? That’s going on all over the place. Bickering back and forth, little petty pride issues, discontent, gossip, power struggles. All kinds of piddly little stuff to split the thing all up so everybody’s energy is sapped in just trying to keep the thing together, let alone ever fulfill the commission of the Lord.
Listen, before really effective evangelism can begin, the dissension’s got to get out. And here, beginning in chapter 6, there’s a potential dissension that Satan wants to create. And this thing has to be dealt with. And this is what really precipitates the spiritual organization that takes place here.
Now, may I hasten to say that Satan still uses the same three things; nothing is ever different. He’s always got the same – it’s amazing how we know what he’s going to do, and yet we let him do it. Isn’t it? I used to think to myself, “You know, if another football team only had three plays, I don’t think they could be too effective. You could know what they were going to do every time and just stack your defense against it.” And yet, we know what Satan’s going to do every time, but we let him do it. We know exactly what he wants to do; we let him do it.
Satan’s trying to wipe the testimony of the church out by shutting up the saints by making them afraid. And what do we do? We get afraid and we shut up. Satan’s trying to mess the church up by sin in the life of the believer. What do we do? We sin. Satan’s trying to create dissension. What do we do? We get into little hassles and little bickerings and little dissensions, and we – we don’t like this, and we don’t like that and so forth and so on. And this group’s against this group and so – you know? – and this – this person’s against that person. And we know what he’s going to do, and we let him do it anyway.
And I can say honestly that never, since I’ve been here at this church, has there been a time when we haven’t been fighting one, two, or all three of those things all the time. It never ends. You just claim victory, and the next morning you wake up and it’s battle all over again.
You say, “Does it get discouraging?” Of course it gets discouraging. It’s endlessly repetitious. But let me tell you something else; it’s also fun.
You say, “What do you mean it’s fun?”
It’s exciting. The only time you ever win a victory is when you’re in a battle. And so, the struggle is good because, you see, God vindicated it. And what are we trying to do always in the church? Always in the church trying to get the persecuted saints who’ve lost their nerve to get on the stick, trying to get the sinning Christians who are polluting the fellowship shaped up, and trying to get those who may be divisive, threatening to split the church, to get together and love each other. It’s constant. Absolutely constant. And that’s – the third thing is what pops up here.
Now, let’s look at verse 1, “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring” – ah, here it is, dissension, murmur, murmur, which being translated is somebody was griping. Now, this is a problem; somebody’s griping. What are they griping about? Well, listen to this – “the murmuring of the Grecians” – the Greek Jews. Now, there were two kinds of Jews in the church. The church was made up of all of Jews here, because they hadn’t moved out to the Gentiles yet. That doesn’t come until Paul.
So, it’s all Jews, but there’re not just one kind of Jew, there are two kinds of Jews. There were the native-born Palestinian Jews, the Hebrews, as the word is here, and there were the Grecian Jews or the Hellenist Jews. They were Jews who lived outside. They lived in Asia Minor, North Africa, and all of those areas. They had moved out, some of them three-four generations from living in Palestine. But they had maintained Jewish heritage, and they always came back to Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost and everything. Many of them were saved at Peter’s preaching. Right? So, the church is made up of Jews from Israel and Jews from outside the land.
Now, it was only natural that there would be an immediate kind of break there, because the Jews from outside spoke Greek; the Jews from Israel spoke Aramaic. So, they spoke two different languages. Therefore, they would tend to group into the language groups where they could communicate. Not only that, the native Jews looked down somewhat on the Grecian Jews, in a little bit of a snobbishness, because they felt they had probably been polluted by alien culture, and they weren’t true Jews, loyal to the land.
And so, there was this little friction here. So, the Grecian Jews have a complaint. The murmuring – “There arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”
You say, “Petty, petty, petty. Somebody’s mother-in-law didn’t get her goodies. That’s what it all boils down to.” “I mean why would they ever let something like that...”
Listen, it’s always those little things that mess up. It’s always somebody’s little thing that is blown into a huge thing. And so, what was happening was, the Grecian Jews thought that in the dispensing of the food and the money to the widows, the Grecian Jew widows were coming out on the short end of the stick.
Now, they were in the minority number wise. And so, maybe there was a tendency on the part of the native Jews to overlook that responsibility somewhat, and especially since the perhaps tended to divide themselves a little bit. Bu anyway, the complaint came up.
Now, you see, the care of widows was always a part of Jewish custom, as was all the care of the poor. In fact, in the synagogue, there was a routine kind of procedure. There were officials known as receivers of alms, or people who took donations. There were two of those collectors sent out every Friday morning, and they mingled through the marketplace, and they went from house to house, and they collected an offering. That offering, later in the day, during the early afternoon on Friday, was passed out to the poor and the widows. If somebody was in temporary poverty, they received enough to tide them over. If somebody was a permanent case, they received enough for 14 meals, which meant 2 meals a day for 7 days. Next Friday, they’d come back again.
So, this was a common custom, for the Jews to care for the poor, and the needy, and the widows. This is specifically defined by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5 as a responsibility of the church. I believe the church’s responsibility is to meet the needs of the widows of believers. I believe, as a church, we have the responsibility to meet the need of any of you who are widows, who find yourself in a position where you are not able to have that which you need to live. I believe it’s our wonderful privilege to meet that need for you, and I trust and pray God that you’ll bring that need to our attention if so be the need.
These widows should have been getting what the Lord really designed the church to provide, but for some reason they were not getting it. And so, griping began. Well, already with that kind of natural dichotomy existing, this griping could have really driven a wedge between these two groups, and if the church gets split, it gets ineffective. Right? Can’t you imagine if that early Church had of had a rift like that what kind of blackness that would have splattered all over the face of Christianity? And so, the griping began.
And, of course, like anything, it sooner or later got to the apostles, just like when the children of Israel in the wilderness wanted to gripe, they griped to Moses and Aaron, so the people griped to the apostles. But that’s good. If you have a complaint, you want to go to the people who can do something about it. You don’t want to talk to everybody else about it.
So, they went to the apostles. Well, the apostles wanted to meet this grievance. So, let’s take a it a step further and see further reason why they needed to get organized. Incidentally, the second factor in this was that some of the people weren’t getting their needs met. The thing was too big; the apostles were overlooking certain Grecian widows. They don’t deny this. Apparently, this actually was happening.
“Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said, ‘It is not fitting that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables.’” Now, the first thing they say is, “Look, okay, guys, we recognize their problem, but we – we can’t handle it. We can’t run around making sure everybody gets everything. It’s too big; it’s too much for us. If we do that, then we must leave the Word of God.” Now, what that one. “We must leave the Word of God, and we don’t want to do that.”
Now, they knew what they’re calling was. Their calling was to the Word and the preaching of Word, and they didn’t want to leave that. “We will not leave that to serve tables.” The word “tables” here refers to – it’s used to refer to meals. It’s also the word used in Matthew 21:12 to refer to the table of the moneychangers. So, it’s very broad. Whether it’s talking about serving dinner, serving the Lord’s Table – I shouldn’t say the Lord’s Table, because it probably – they probably did involve themselves in communion, but whether to serve the table of believers when they were open coming together to eat, or whether to serve money and to dole out that which needed to be doled out for necessity to those people who were in need, or whether it was collecting funds – all of that business of food and money and all the detail work was too much for them.
Now, may I hasten to say, there is nothing wrong with doing that. All of that is good. It’s good to serve tables. It’s wonderful to dish out the money and the food, whatever it is. It’s wonderful to care for the business, the transactions that must be taken care of within the fellowship of the church. It’s wonderful. But if God has called these men to the ministry of the Word, then that must take priority.
Now, the work of the service had grown to such proportions that the 12, in order to do it, had to leave the Word of God. There needed to be somebody else who could look over that work and get the people mobilized to carry it out. Now, this is the real crisis. Now, that statement that sticks out in that verse to me is, “It is not fitting that we should leave the Word of God.” I’ll tell you, I would – I would hate even to think of how many men, who in the ministry today have done just that. They are busy, busy, busy doing everything but what God has given them as the priority, and that is the ministry of the Word of God.
Now, this is a real crisis. It’s so easy today for pastors and teachers and missionaries and evangelists to become involved ministering to widows and serving tables and all these other things that they leave the Word. And congregations languish in spiritual infancy year after year after year after year. They never get anything. The fellows are wonderful people. Maybe in many cases they’ve been pushed into those things by a congregation that expects the wrong things and not the right things.
And I’m not trying to shirk my responsibility; I want to do my responsibility before God. Those apostles knew what they had been given to the church for, and that was the teaching of the Word of God, and they were starting to have to turn that over or just leave it undone because of time and other necessities. So, the apostles had a problem. Their great calling was to teach and to preach and to study, and they were losing time in that because of these other tasks. So, they give a statement of their priorities.
Now, look at verse 4, and this continues the reason, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” In other words, “We can’t be doing this; we must concentrate on the duality of our ministry: prayer and preaching.” Prayer and preaching. They’re saying, in effect, “You serve tables, we’ll serve the Word.” Same word in the Greek, diakonia. Serve tables and minister the Word. Serve and minister are both the same word. “We’ll serve the Word, you serve the tables.” And that’s the way it is, isn’t it? Remember in Ephesians chapter 4 the apostle Paul says that the Lord has given to the Church apostles, prophets, teaching pastors, and evangelists? To do what? Perfect the saints to do the work of the ministry. “We’ll bring you to maturity; you do the work of the ministry.” That’s the point. And so, they were determined not to let any service take precedence over the ministry of the Word and prayer. This is the priority. This is the primary task of the church, to teach the Word of God. And I mean to teach it as it ought to be taught; not platitudes about the Bible, not stories about spiritual truth, but to unfold the text. That’s the obligation. And to preach the Gospel. Prayer and preaching.
But, you know, preaching without prayer is shallow and dry. Preaching must involve constant prayer for those to whom we preach and that God would make of us the right vessel.
You know, the great joys that we have, although we cannot – I cannot, at least, be about all the time visiting people, and so forth and so on, in order that I might spend my time in the Word and study and preaching. But I do have the great joy of being able to pray. And every week I have a list that that we put together on Wednesday with all of our pastors, as we meet for prayer, and we share all of the various needs that have come from all the congregation. And we pray very specifically about many of you – most of you – and your particular needs as they arise. And this is a joy. We pray through the week through the list. We come back on Wednesday, share how God has answered, and start a new list. And this is prayer, and this bathes that preaching in a very personal relationship. You see? And that’s an exciting thing. And our elders all meet together Sunday morning early, before any of you were here, and we spend that time in prayer for you as well.
And so, the ministry must be prayer, but it must be prayer and preaching; this is our priority. And I feel so strongly that the Bible teaches that the man of God, called the shepherd of the flock, must give himself wholly to prayer and preaching. He cannot forsake the Word to do other things.
Now, these early men set the pattern. And I want to you how this thing demands a total commitment. Look at verse 4. It says, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. Now, notice the word “continually.” Never letting up. There’s no substitute for this.
Now, notice just that first phrase, “We will give ourselves.” Do you know that the kind of ministry that I’m talking about the in Word demands everything you are? It demands saturation. It’s to wake up in the morning and begin in the Word of God, and to go through the whole day just saturating yourself in the Word of God so that when you stand up, you’re saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and you’re saying it legitimately. It’s a total commitment.
One time a great Bible teacher taught, and a young man came and said, “I’d give the world if I could teach the Bible like you do.”
And the man looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, and that’s exactly what it’ll cost you.” It’s a total commitment.
The apostle Paul knew something about that kind of commitment. He gave himself to the Word absolutely and incessantly. He never let up. In Acts 20:17, “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, ‘Ye know that from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you all season, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many trials and tears which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews; and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you and taught you publically and from house to house.’”
Do you know that at the end of the book it says that when he was in Rome, he taught the Bible from morning to night, every day for two years?
You say, “When did he do visitation?”
In the first place, he was chained to a Roman soldier. Visitation came to him. And yet, there was never a more personal, warm heart than the apostle Paul. He loved people. He said to Timothy, “Come to me, Timothy.” And then later on, in the same book, he said, “Could you come before winter? I need you. Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” He had personal relationships with people. He had personal relationships with people. He had a ministry on a personal basis, but his commitment to the life of the church was the teaching of the Word of God and the preaching of the Word of God, and he had to give himself to that. It’s a total commitment. There’s no other way to do it. You can’t do it unless you commit yourself entirely to it. It can’t be done. There’s no way it can be done.
In looking at the ministry today, I don’t think we can see it any differently, frankly. I think that the apostles have set the pattern, and I think that we must be obedient. And, you know, it’s not an easy thing. It’s a commitment. It’s diligent, difficult study. And sometimes there are many other things you’d rather do than just to study and teach and preach.
You know, I’ve often thought to myself, “MacArthur, you probably preach too much. You’re always talking somewhere. You’re always going somewhere to talk or teach or preach, and you’re always studying the Bible. Why don’t you rest?” And you know, I-I feel like Paul, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel. It’s a compelling thing. If I could get off the hook, I would. My depravity tells me that constantly. And we who – who have the responsibility of teaching find that if we ever yield ourselves to it, it becomes a consuming thing.
I’ll tell you very honestly, there are many days when I don’t even want to go out of the house. And I say, “Oh, I don’t know if my mind can take another day of study. I don’t know if I can’t dare go there. I’m so tired of preaching; I’m sick of hearing myself talk, and I’m tired of it all.” And yet, there’s something in you that sends you, and you go, and you preach or your teach, and God blesses, and you’re off and running again. But we’re just human enough to recognize the fact that this kind of diligence and this kind of commitment involves a lot of pain and a lot of self-discipline, and sometimes you don’t always do it in the right frame of heart, and God has to chastise you a little bit by showing you his wonderful grace as He uses you again, even against your own abilities and your own will, very often. And so, it’s a total commitment. “We will give ourselves continually.” You can’t do anything but that if you’re going to do it right.
The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Timothy, here’s how your ministry ought to go.” Boy, is it simple. Chapter 4, verse 11, “These things command and teach.” You command, and you teach, Timothy. That’s your ministry. Verse 13, “Till I come, give attendance to three things: reading, exhortation, and doctrine.” Now, that’s how to preach. You want to know how to preach, there’s how to preach. Reading. Read the text. Doctrine. Explain the text. Exhortation. Apply the text. That’s expository preaching. Read the text, explain the text, apply the text. And he says to him, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” That’s his gift. His gift was as a teacher, a preacher. Don’t neglect it. 15, “Meditate upon these things. Give thyself W-H-O-L-L-Y completely to them.” That’s your whole thing. Take heed unto two things, Timothy” yourself and teaching. Make sure your life is right, and then you teach. Because if you don’t teach out of a pure life, you haven’t got anything to say. You haven’t anything to say.
Verse 12, “Let no man despise thy youth, but be an example of the believers in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity.” Match your teaching with your life. And so, he simply says, later on in 2 Timothy, he says, “Timothy, do this, preach” – what? – “the Word.” Now, it’s a total commitment. In fact, the Bible says that a minister of the Word of God is to not have to be encumbered by earning a living apart from that.
In 1 Corinthians – and I just share this with you, because I think it’s important – in 1 Corinthians 9 – and some other time we’ll study this in detail, but in 1 Corinthians 9:14 it says this, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” Now, that does not mean that our life ought to match our message. That’s not context. The context here is making sure that you pay the preacher. Now watch this, verse 11.
You say, “Oh, MacArthur, you’re blowing your own horn there.”
Verse 11, just a minute, give me a chance here. I’m only teaching the Scripture at this point. I’ll apply it in a minute. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Why, it’s only the natural thing. If we teach you the Word of God, then you should care for our physical needs. And that’s what he’s saying; pay the preacher. Don’t muzzle the ox while he treads. In Galatians 6:6, he takes it a step further, and he says, “He that is taught should share all good things with him that teacheth them.”
You see, the Bible recognizes the total commitment. Now, please understand, I do not want a raise. I absolutely would refuse it if you gave it to me. I am so overpaid now it’s ridiculous. God provides way more than I could ever use. And so, we have the opportunity of giving it to him and seeing it used other places. God is so good; and you people are so gracious, and so loving, and so well take care of this ox that I ask – I ask nothing. I ask nothing, and I want nothing and would refuse it were it offered. And you have been so gracious.
So, I am only saying that this kind of ministry is such a total commitment that the man should never be encumbered with having to earn his own living. That shows how greatly he is to saturate himself in the preoccupation with study and preaching. And if people say to me, “Why do you preach so much,” I say to them, “I can’t help it; that’s what God’s called me to do. I can’t stop myself. Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel.” I endeavor to find the balance between ministering to your needs and loving you and sharing with you, and also in hearing the call of God to go elsewhere from time to time and teach and preach.
And I have to find, in my own life, how I feel the Spirit of God leads me and shows me what obligations I should fulfill. So, I ask that you would even pray for me that God might give me wisdom in knowing how to balance this out with the time I need with you and with my own family. So, it’s a total commitment. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
All right, now, to summarize this first point; it’s simply this. The church was very large. There were a basis of a natural friction between the two kinds of Jews. The ministry was so detailed. The apostles needed to study and preach, and therefore, the needed to get organized. Somebody had to take over this responsibility.
Now, very quickly – and we’re going to take the next three points in five minutes, but I think we’ve emphasized what we wanted to emphasize anyway, Lord knows. What are the requirements? If you’re going to have men to take over some of these ministries, what are their requirements? Now, here are the basic requirements for church ministry, verse 3, “Wherefore, brethren” – because we have this need – “look among you” – that means select – “seven men” – now watch, here are five requirements for leader in the church. Number one, men. They are to be men. Now, I have nothing against women. Women are wonderful. In the body of Christ there’s neither male nor female. There have been some wonderful women throughout history. There were some wonderful women in the early Church: Dorcas, Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla. God has used women; God still uses them. Titus chapter 2, verses 3 to 5, says that women are to be instructing the younger women, teaching them how to stay home, not gossip, and love their husbands, be chaste and all of that. They have a great responsibility. Tremendous. And God knows they are so much the warmth and the depth of the church in many ways. But in terms of God’s basic instruction that man is in authority and woman is in submission, the leadership of the church belongs to men. Requirement number one, men.
Two, that they be from among you. Isn’t it wonderful that God expects the church to find its own leadership from within its own ranks? And this is what I believe has become such a wonderful part of Grace Church, the fact that the leadership of Grace Church has come from Grace Church.
I so many times see men so frustrated, looking around to find leadership from other churches, and taking pastors and assistants and-and finding people, when all they need to do is look within them and see what they have there as God is maturing saints and raising them up to be used within the church among you. I think the leadership of the church comes from within the church. It goes without saying they be believers. Right?
Third thing, they be of honest report. You know what that means? Good reputation. Men whose integrity and reputation is blameless.
Next, fourthly, spiritual men. Full of the Holy Spirit, filled with the spirit. What does that mean? Controlled by the Holy Spirit. Whose lives are not their own but lost in the will of the Spirit.
Fifth, that they be wise, full of wisdom. And when you find men like that, you appoint them over this business.
Now, you say, “Is this the role of a deacon?”
I’m not convinced that these are deacons here.
You say, “Oh, I thought this was the first deacons.”
Well, it doesn’t call them deacons. I think this is just the basic organization that the Spirit of God used to accommodate the church at that time. Later one, Paul splits it up and defines three different categories: elders, deacons, and deaconesses. But for this point, why do we have to call them deacons any more than elders? Certainly Stephen and Philip were more than just the function of a deacon, as we know it later on in Paul. They were out preaching. Philip became an evangelist. Stephen must have been an evangelist. They look more to me like elders than they do deacons. And they’re not called deacons at all. So, let’s just say this is how God accommodated that need in the early Church by these seven men.
Why were there seven? Because the Mishnah said in Jewish towns, anybody conducting business would have to have seven men. And so, there were seven, very likely, in order that they might conduct the business within the Jewish town. And so, the requirements were laid out.
This is the kind of leadership the church needs. Oh, I thank God for men like this in our church, and I pray God He’ll raise up more men like that to lead as elders and deacons.
Now, let’s take it a step further. We’ve seen the requirements in addition to the reason. Let’s look at the roster. Who was chosen? Verse 5, “And the saying pleased the whole multitude” – now, that in itself is wonderful, isn’t it? The two were beginning to split, and here they are back together, untied again. God has accomplished His purpose; the devil’s been defeated. The whole multitude was pleased. Isn’t that good? They’re back together; no more split. They got together. Praise God.
Whenever Satan tries to divide, and God has His way, things get back together, tighter than they’ve ever been before. You know something? If this little issue had come up, maybe those two groups would have stayed just a little bit apart. But they welded back together, and they chose.
Look what it says, “They chose.” I think the church should choose its leadership. I don’t believe they should be appointed by me or appointed by any leadership. I believe that the church, the people, in a democratic way, should select from among them those full of the Spirit, wise, of honest report, men who can lead them. I believe that’s your responsibility, and that’s why we always offer to you the opportunity of suggesting to us and sharing with us who you feel should be deacons and elders and deaconesses and people who serve in the church. This is your responsibility to chose those among you who have given evidence of this kind of life.
And then, having chosen them, they were presented in verse 6 before the apostles. But let’s back up. Who were they? Stephen – and we’ll see more about him – much more - full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. What a commendation. And Philip; and we’ll see much more about him. And then the next five we’ve never heard of before and never will again: Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch. Nicolas had been proselyted to be a Jew, and now became a Christian. And I want you to notice something wonderful about the roster. All seven names are Greek. Now, watch that thought: all seven are Greek. You know what happened? The church got together and unanimously chose seven Grecian Jews to lead them.
You say, “What does that prove?”
That proves the loving unity of the church. If it had been the church today, we would have said, “All right, let’s have three Palestinian Jews, three Grecian Jews, one proselyte.” Right? “And we’ll have an equal say in that deal.”
Not them. They said, “Hey, if the Grecian Jews feel like they’ve been slighted, oh, God forbid. Let’s choose deacons.” And the whole church chose all seven of them from the Grecian Jews.
Can you imagine what Satan thought? “Mm-mmm.” You know? Shot down again. What he tried to sow as discord turned out to be beautiful unity. Can’t you imagine the love that those Grecian Jews then had for those Palestinian Jews when they saw that kind of humility and that kind of condescension? When they as much as said – they were in the majority; they could have voted in whoever they wanted. They voted in all seven of them from the Grecian Jews. Boy, that thing just came like that. That was a beautiful, little, simple organization.
And then those seven men began to function and to carry out the menial business, the secular business of the church. And you know what? The apostles were freed for the Word. And so, we see the reason, the requirements, and the roster.
What are the results? Quickly look at them. Verse 6, “They took these men, set them before the apostles. They prayed and laid hands on them.” This is their commission service. The laying on of hands simply means an identification of the solidarity and the oneness of the whole church with them in their ministry. And elders, deacons, and everybody that ever served in the early Church was ordained this way. It’s a very beautiful ordination. It just simplifies that we’re one by laying hands on them. They ordained them. The church got organized. And you know what happened? When the church gets spiritual organized, as the Spirit directs it, the results are fantastic. Verse 7, “The Word of God increased.” Why? Number one, the apostles had more time. Number two, the church was in love with itself again, and it was effective. And as a result of the Word of God increasing, look what happened, “The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” More people got saved. They just kept getting saved faster and faster. And not only that, look at this shock, “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Now, those aren’t the chief priests, those are the ordinary priests, looking for their Messiah. They found Him in Jesus Christ, and they had a revival among the priests.
Does the church need organization? Listen, my friend, the church needs to accommodate what the spirit of God is doing by putting enough structure around it to make it effective. And that’s what they did. And look what happened. God blessed.
Oh, I pray God that we shall be what we need to be to let the Spirit do what He wants to do. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You this morning again for this clear lesson of instruction from Your Word. We thank You that the early Church gives us a pattern. We see what it is that is required of leaders. We know that later on Paul more clearly defines them as deacons and elders and even divides the elders into two kinds: those that – the ruling elders, and then those who labor in the Word and doctrine.
But, Father, we see here the accommodation of organization to the work of the Spirit. God, help us to really see this working and functioning here. And help us to have the kind of leaders that are from among us, full of the Holy Spirit, good reputation, wise in terms of spiritual things, that we might begin to care for each other in a kind of loving unity that will indeed make us effective as we stand on the threshold of evangelism in this world.
We commit ourselves to You, Lord, for this purpose and to this end, that Christ might be lifted up and exalted. We pray in His name, amen.
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