Ministry in the Early Church
It is interesting to look at the dynamics in the early church. We pick up our study in Acts 6. We are told about a complaint among the leaders –
“And in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” (Acts 6:1)
The Grecian Jews were those who could not speak Aramaic, the native tongue of Jews living in Israel. They may have been born and raised outside of Israel, speaking both Greek and their native tongue. This group may have also included Gentile proselytes to Judaism, who later became Christians.
So, we see that they murmured or complained that their widows were being neglected. So, we read in Acts 6:2-4, that the leaders held a conference.The leaders shared their dilemma (6:2), “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.’” It is so easy for a Pastor to become caught up “waiting tables”, (which is important) that we don’t have time to immerse ourselves in prayer and study and teaching of the word. I praise God for the way that you folks in Jubilee protect me so that I do have time to seekthe LORD, study His word and share God’s truth with you. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Notice the decision they came to in their conference. “Wherefore, brothers, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom you may appoint over this business.” (Acts 6:3).
These seven men were to care for the temporal, physical needs of the widows, orphans and poor. I would have you note there was no “double standard” between pastors, deacons and trustees in the early church.
That decision would free the leaders up to dedicate themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Even though I have a humorous streak running all the way through me, God did not call me to be an entertainer. He called me to preach and teach the word. I am to raise up disciples who in turn will raise up disciples, who in turn will ….
In Acts 6:4, the leaders said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayerand to the ministry of the word.”
The next thing we observe is the choice of the laborers or individuals to carry out the special service to hurting people in the church. (Acts 6:5-7)
“And the saying pleased the people (whole multitude) and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor and Timonand Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.”
(Note: All seven had Greek names and may have come from the Grecian group. If that was so, it was certainly a very gracious gesture by the leaders.)
We see the installation of those who were chosen for this special ministry. “Whom they set before the apostles, and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them.” (Acts 6:6).
In Acts 6:7, we have mention made of an increase and multiplication. “And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith!
I am impressed by the courage of these Jewish leaders. It is quite different from that of the chief rulers mentioned in John 12:42-43, where we read, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed in Him; but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
Let’s shift our focus and take a close look at Stephen, one of the seven chosen to “wait tables.”
A. The first thing I note is his maturity.
1. He was a man of faith. Acts 6:5
2. He was filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. Acts 6:5,10
3. He possessed divine wisdom. Acts 6:10
B. Next, we see that God accomplished miracles through him. In Acts 6:8 we read: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
C. It wasn’t long before a group of people began to malign or slander Stephen, Acts 6:9-14. As we will see, it doesn’t take long for the LORD’S servants to experience opposition as they seek to serve Him. It seems that the preaching of Stephen had irritated or offended the synagogue of Libertines. These were a group of former slaves that may have had their own synagogue in Jerusalem.
D. In verse 11-14 we see their accusations. “Then they secretly induced men to say ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elder and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.’”
How do you or I react when false charges are brought against us? Do we become angry and defensive? In Acts 8:32, we read of our LORD’s reaction –
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before it’s shearer is silent, so he opened not His mouth.”
E. Notice the manner and meekness of Stephen. Acts 6:15, “And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.”
The Apostle Peter gives us some words on how to respond when we are reproached for the LORD JESUS. In 1 Peter 4:14 we read, “If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you; on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part, He is glorified.”
I have often reflected on the five missionaries who were martyred by the Auca Indians back in the 1950’s. When their bodies were found, they also found their fully loaded rifles and not a single shot was fired. They could have easily defended themselves, but chose not to so that the cause of Christ was not hindered.
Stephen shared with the people that because of their willfulness, and rebellion against the God of Israel, that they would be held accountable. They would be judged by God. That angered them, and in Acts 7:57, we read, “Then they cried with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord.”
In verse 58 it says, “And (they) cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” That young man never forgot how Stephen died, because in 7:56, we read what Stephen saw and said,”…Behold, I see heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
F. Notice how Stephen died. Acts 7:59-60.
a. In verse 59, we find him praying for himself, “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
b. In verse 60 we find him praying for his enemies – “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’” (Vs. 60a).
c. Lastly, we read of his passing, “And when he said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60b).
In September we will have our congregational meeting at which time we will elect officers for the next year. It seems to me that there are some principles in this account as we wait on the LORD for those He wants to lead Jubilee.
1. Those we choose should be people of faith.
2. They should be people who are full of the Holy Spirit.
3. They must be people of prayer.
4. They must be anchored in life by God’s word.
5. They must have a desire to serve God and His church.
6. They need to be willing to persevere under all circumstances.
7. They need to be willing to invest their lives totally for the glory of God.
Let’s begin now, to pray and ask the Holy spirit to raise up leader’s like Stephen. Who knows, you may be one of them.
For His glory,
Quotes from Charles T. Studd, missionary to China and Africa.
“I cannot tell you what joy it gave me to bring the first soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have tasted almost all the pleasures that this world can give. I do not suppose there is one that I have not experienced, but I can tell you that those pleasures were as nothing compared to the joy that the saving of that one soul gave me.”
“I realized that my life was to be one of simple, childlike faith, and that my part was to trust, not to do. I was to trust in Him and He would work in me to do His good pleasure. From that time my life was different.”
“.. I do not say, ‘Don’t play games or cricket and so forth. By all means play and enjoy them, giving thanks to Jesus for them. Only take care that games do not become an idol to you as they did to me. What good will it do to anybody in the next world to have been the best player that ever has been? And then think of the difference between that and winning souls for Jesus.’”