by Steven Chan
The “high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel” (Acts 5:21); they “called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:40). The response of the apostles to the persecution of the Jewish authorities as recorded in Acts 5:41-42 is indeed most encouraging: “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
The attitude of the apostles towards persecution was one of rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. They did not “rally the multitude and try to forcibly overthrow the Jewish authorities” or “fight for justice” or “freedom of expression”! They just rejoice that they were suffering for believing in the truth and doing what was right.
They refused to be silent as regards the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” They preached daily and openly in the temple as well as in every house.
The Bible records the effect of their commitment in preaching the Word in Acts 6:1: “Now in those days … the number of the disciples was multiplying…” Growth in disciples will only occur “when the Word is preached in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). The seed which is the Word of God (Lk 8:11) has to be sown in the hearts of men so that there will be opportunity for God to give the increase (1 Cor 3:6). Until that is done, there can be no growth. Are we doing all we can, to preach the Word? Or, have we grown weary in sowing the seed (Gal 6:7-10).
However, the Bible also tells us in Acts 6:1 that the church was faced with a problem that needed to be addressed: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.” Even though God was powerfully working in their midst, it’s no guarantee that all will be well. When there is growth in disciples, there will also be problems among disciples.
It is instructive for continued church growth, to note how the apostles resolved this problem among the disciples which had the potential of derailing the explosive growth of the church.
1. They did not ignore the problem and pretend that it did not exist. They did not scold or lecture those who were murmuring – that they were being unchristian – and asked them to be long-suffering – why are they causing trouble in the church? They didn’t say that it was an unimportant problem as it relates to physical needs – the church should only be taking care of spiritual needs. Consider how the church today would have taken care of this problem.
2. At the same time, they were not prepared to be distracted from their primary work of preaching the Word and in Prayers and they expressed that concern to the brethren in Acts 6:2: “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” In many instances, the work of preaching the Word and the practice of Prayers are neglected because preachers are distracted into doing everything that is needed in the church. So, who is left to preach the Word in the church? No wonder the church does not grow because it is too pre-occupied with meeting internal needs (instead of eternal need).
3. So, they called the multitude of believers together and told them to select seven men that they may appoint to take care of serving tables in an equitable manner. But they did not leave it to them to choose whoever to serve. Neither did they ask who would volunteer to do the work. Listen to what they said in Acts 6:3-4: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Those who are entrusted to serve in leading capacities in the church are not simply volunteers but those who meet the criteria of “good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. Do we wonder why oftentimes, our suggested solutions actually compound the problems that we are trying to resolve? Because we entrust to “anyone who is willing” without regard to whether they are “of good reputation”, spiritual and wise.
4. The suggestion by the apostles was well received by the believers: Acts 6:5: “And the saying pleased the whole multitude.” Today, some have challenged and criticised the authority of elders by bringing up examples of instances where the elders decided on everything and the members of the congregation had no say whatsoever in these decisions. In order to avoid such problems, they re-interpret the scriptures and contend that elders do not have any authority over the flock over which they are charged to oversee. They are in error. The apostles in Acts 6 had the inherent power to go ahead and select 7 men to serve tables. But they didn’t do that. Instead they proposed the idea of selecting seven men to serve tables, and they also entrusted them with the task of selecting the seven men who met their stated requirements. The apostles did not act in a dictatorial manner; they did not invalidate the idea of every member functioning as a body or the universal priesthood of believers. They sought and received the involvement of all the members of the congregation. Their suggestion pleased the multitude of the believers; they appreciated their wisdom and counsel.
5. The apostles retained the responsibility and authority of appointing the seven selected men to serve tables. Acts 6:5-6: “And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” The apostles endorsed their selection and they committed them to the service of God in this area by praying to Him. The apostles did not abdicate their responsibility towards the congregation. They did not treat the matter of serving tables as unimportant. But brethren, in all matters of the church, not just in spiritual matters, only suitable brethren may be selected to serve or lead in serving. Not just anyone who volunteers may serve in the leading capacities of the church. We will do well to take heed of how the apostles resolved the problem in Acts 6.
In Acts 6:7, the Holy Spirit inspired scriptures testified thus: “then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” When we resolve church problems in the way God intends, then the church will grow. The word “then” explained how the word of God was able to spread and the number of disciples multiplied greatly.
Brethren, church growth – God’s way – not man’s way – is to keep on preaching the Word of God no matter what may befall us. Nothing should prevent the Preaching of the Word and the Practise of Prayers. However, while we preach and pray, we must also seek to resolve problems that may arise in the church in a way that please the brethren (although this does not mean compromising the truth or being men-pleasers only) and which involves the participation of all the brethren as functioning members of the body of Christ and always consistent with God’s standards and values. In Acts 2:47, the Bible records thus about the early church: “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” May we grow the church – God’s way!