by Steven Chan
It is not uncommon for us to lose focus in our lives. Some start out wanting to be medical doctors to help those who suffer from sickness but when they grew up their focus shifted to other things and they soon forgot their “first love”. Immediately after baptism, some pledged to serve the Lord with total commitment and fervency of spirit, but soon lose that focus due to the challenges and pleasures of the world and they become unfruitful (Mark 4:18-19). Perhaps towards the end of their lives, they may suddenly remember their original aims in life! No wonder the Bible admonished us in Ecc 12:1: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”.
Jesus did not lose His focus of His work on earth. After reaching out to Zacchaeus who had sought to see Him, Jesus said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” His purpose in life was “to seek and to save” sinners because they are lost in their sins.
So we read in Mark 1:35-39 of how He refused to be side-tracked from His Mission:
“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37 When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” He would not be distracted by the crowd of “fans” looking for Him. He had to go to the next towns to preach there also. Some of us may be tempted to stay back in that town where “everyone was looking for you” but not Jesus; he would not be side-tracked from His main mission. He would later issue the commission to those who follow Him in Matt 28:18-20 to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”
Jesus did not commission us to build the biggest church in our locality or have the biggest fan club who are “looking for us” to speak or teach, etc! Like Jesus, the need to “seek and to save the lost” requires that we must need “go to the next towns” to preach the Word. Are we satisfied with remaining in the comfort zone of our own town or our circle of friends/fans where “everyone is looking for you”?
In Acts 6:1-7, we read that the apostles also refused to be side-tracked by the various other works in the local congregations, so that they can remain focused on their primary work of preaching the Word:
“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. 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. 3 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; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. 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, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 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.”
Consider the many “M”s in the above account:-
1. Multiplying disciples: the early church was growing at a very fast pace because according to the preceding verse of Acts 5:42: “daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Many will respond to the gospel if all disciples of Christ do not cease “teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” DAILY both in places where people come to worship and also in their homes.
2. Murmurings against the Hebrew Christians (those Jews who lived in Palestine and spoke the Hebrew language) by the Hellenist Christians (those foreign Jews who lived outside Palestine and spoke the Greek language) because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution of food for those in need. This allegation of “neglect” was probably due to the fact that the daily distribution had been entrusted to the Hebrew Christians and hence, giving a “perception of partiality” by the Hellenist Christians. Although they were all members of the body of Christ, they were “not perfect” and as such “differences” would arise. The key to unity lies in how we handle “differences” when they arise so that peace and unity may be maintained or restored to the glory of God. Leaders in the churches should not “sweep under the carpet” or “turn a blind eye towards” any murmurings that may arise among the members in the congregation. They need to be resolved to the satisfaction of all (including the disgruntled members) so that none are stumbled and peace in the kingdom prevails (Rom 14:14-21).
3. Multitude of the disciples was summoned by the apostles so that they can explain to the multitude how they propose for the matter to be resolved. The apostles were blessed with godly wisdom to include all stakeholders in seeking a solution that would resolve their differences. The apostles did not exclude the ordinary Christians in contributing towards the solution. They did not make a decision on their own or in secret. The apostles said to the multitude: “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”(Acts 6:3). They laid out the necessary parameters of those who would be qualified to serve the church in this matter.
They gave the multitude the “freedom/opportunity” to participate in the process and “trusted them” to choose the seven men who met those conditions. So, all were involved in coming out with the solution. All of them had ownership of the solution and therefore they could not again allege that there was partiality in the distribution of the food to the widows. How the multitude came to a consensus on the seven men who they proposed to the apostles was not revealed to us but whatever method they used, it was one that was agreed by the multitude – for in Acts 6:5, the Bible says: “the saying (or proposal by the apostles) pleased the whole multitude.” (Rom 15:1-3).
The apostles who were leaders of the early church did not run roughshod over the congregation – neither were they limited to “exercising authority by personal examples only”; for they exercised their God-given or God-entrusted inherent authority as apostles by specifying the “number of men” to be chosen, their “qualifications “and they reserved their “authority to appoint them” to serve in that ministry. Likewise, elders who have been charged to oversee the flock of God (Acts 20:28) would do well to follow in the footsteps of the apostles and those of Jesus Christ (I Pet 2:21).
4.“Men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3)
Were there no qualified Christian women among the multitude of believers capable of overseeing the serving food to the widows? Isn’t God’s calling without regard to genders (Gal 3:28)? This was not a case of women teaching a mixed audience in the church. Surely in those days there were Christian women who were eminently qualified to serve tables – there would be Christian women who were “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”. Then, why did the apostles specify that they be “men” only?
Right from the early days of the church, the Bible has shown us that God wants the “men” to be the leaders in serving Him as also articulated by the apostle Paul in 1 Tim 2:8-15: ”
I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.”
Paul also explained this in his epistle to the church at Corinth: ”
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God….For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man…Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. (1 Cor 11:2-4, 8-10, 34-35)
Brethren, when Paul said that the “head of Christ is God”, he did not devalue Jesus nor hold Him as less than equal with God (Phil 2:5-6); he merely revealed that such is the “order” that God has ordained. It has nothing to do with the value of the individual but everything to do with the respective roles and positions that God has so designed for man and woman. If we chose to rebel against the “God-ordained roles and order” and not be submissive to male leadership in the churches then we do so without His authority and at our own peril.
5. “Ministry of the Word” – the apostles refused to be side-tracked into leaving their primary ministry of preaching the Word so as to serve tables.
Some contend that Christianity is about “serving the people in need” and that Jesus fed the multitudes many times, and that therefore we should do likewise – implying that the ministry to the poor should be of equal importance or even of higher importance than the mere preaching of the Word.
The statement of the apostles in this instance is very instructive: “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” (Acts 6:2). This does not mean that they neglected “feeding the poor”; they ensured that the poor or needy would be fed but they themselves would not dissipate their energy or shift their focus away from the preaching of the Word which they hold to be primary importance. To be sure they remembered the poor: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35; Gal 2:10) But the paramount work or ministry is to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). Paul declared to the elders of the church at Ephesus: “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ….For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts20:20-21, 27)
6. “Many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7)
When the apostles together with the multitude of believers wisely and peacefully resolved the issue among the brethren, the Lord blessed them with even greater results in the ministry of the Word: “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.”(Acts 6:7). Although the “serving of tables” or distribution of food to the needy among the brethren was of less importance than the ministry of the Word, it still needed to be taken care of in the way that would glorify God as peace prevailed among the brethren, and the preaching of the Word was able to continue unhindered, resulting in Word of God spreading and disciples multiplying greatly and even those priests serving in Judaism being willing to change and leave their former religion to serve Christ. What a God-glorifying result when we do God’s Will in the way that God has guided us to do in accordance with His Word! We recall the words of our Lord in Matt 23:23: “These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Preach the Word; do remember the poor.
Are we focused on preaching the Word as commanded by our Lord? Or are we busy about many things in the church but neglecting the all-important work of preaching the Word? Jesus said in John 15:8: “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (NASB). It may be good for us to recall the account recorded in Luke 10:38-42:
“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Are we like Martha, concerned with the physical things of this life? Or, are we like Mary, who, according to Jesus, has “chosen the good part” of sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing His Word. Serving physical food is good but serving spiritual food or feeding the people with the bread of life is of greater importance as also emphasized by Jesus in Matt 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “What are we doing the bread of life? (John 6:48-51)