- Sermon Notes
Committed to Keeping the Unity
Read: Acts 6:1-7
Illus. Going the wrong way!
This morning we are going to study Acts chapter 6:1-7, and the focus, or through line I have found in this text, is the importance of our commitment to unity as a community of Jesus followers. In Matthew 16, Jesus spoke of the church with these words, “I will build my church.” Since He is the builder, since He is the planner, since it was His vision to begin with, and therefore it is essential that His heart for His people is not missed! One element that we see in Scripture, and we see it consistently, is Jesus’ desire for His church to be in unity.
So far, there are many aspects of this togetherness, this unity, that we have seen embodied in the church body in the first few chapters in the book of Acts. Acts 1:4, Jesus gathered them together, in Chapter one verse six, they came together; in chapter one verse 15, 120 believers are described as being, “together.” Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), they are all together in one place, and in one accord. In Acts 2:44, all the believers are together, with all things in common.
After Peter and John’s arrest, they went back to the church and began to pray, all of them together, with one mind (Acts 4:24), in chapter four verse 31, after they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness! Then in verse 32, The congregation of those who believed were of one heart, and soul; they had all things in common.
Chapter by chapter and verse by verse through the book of Acts up to this point, we have seen a theme for the church, they were together, they were united in purpose and united on purpose, they were committed to Jesus Christ and committed to keeping the unity. Unity is highly valued, and for the early church up to this point, it is the way things were, but in Acts chapter 6, we see a change of scenery.
In the beginning of the chapter, which we will see today, we suddenly come to a place in church history where the church is no longer in unity. It seems that rather than remaining committed to keeping the unity, rather than remaining united in pursuit, they are divided by a problem. The problem will be solved as the Apostles point the people back to the proper priorities, putting people in the position of participation, and directing all attention back to the mission.
It was imperative for the Apostle to get the people back on the same page. And a commitment amongst God people to pursue unity is also imperative today. It importance become clear as we draw near to Jesus, when we understand His desires, and when we surrender to His desires, no matter what transpires.
I. Understand What Division Will Do to a Mission
Acts 6:1, Now at this time, as the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint developed on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
• Verse one gives us insight into what was taking place at this point in the church and two things are mentioned: the growth of the church, and a grievance in the church.
• Let’s look first at the growth as there is some mathematics to it all.
• In Acts 1:15 we are told there are about 120 people gathered together, after Peter’s first sermon we see 3,000 people added to the church (2:41), then we are told (2:47) the “Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Peter gives another sermon and we see the number of believer in Acts 4:4 at around 5,000. So, we have some addition going on.
• In the beginning of Acts chapter 5, we see the first situation of subtraction from the church in the story of Ananias and Saphira.
• In Acts 5:14, we are told that large numbers of men and women were being added to the church. And here in Acts 6 chapter one, the New King James translation tells us that the number of disciples was not multiplying.
• So, we have addition, subtraction, and now multiplication. We do not know the total number, but multiplication gives us a good indication.
• The church is growing, here multiplying, but a problem arises. The light is turned on, the people on fire for Christ, but there is a problem that starts flying around the church.
• There is growth happening, the people are seeing amazing things, but we have already seen Satan begin trying to tear down and destroy these amazing scenes.
• In the beginning of Acts 4 we see Peter and John persecuted for preaching about Jesus, but rather than slow the movement, it would be used to grow the movement (4:4).
• Next, we see corruption from within the church as Ananias and Saphira agree to lie to the people and to God. But that does not work either, large numbers continued to come (5:14).
• Neither persecution, nor corruption had worked, so a third tactic is seen coming from the enemy; division within the church.
• We are told that a complaint arose from the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews. And it had to do with the daily distribution of food.
• The Jews who spoke Greek accused the Jews who spoke Hebrew of overlooking their widows in the food distribution.
• The “native Hebrews” were those who had been raised in or near Jerusalem, they spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. They maintained a “Jewish Culture” in their living.
Illus. Obvious differences.
• The tactic of Satan in the early church here, is division. And it seems that the reason why, is because division will surely destroy a mission.
John Stott – We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we don’t exhibit it in our love for others. Nothing is so damaging to the cause of Christ as a church that is torn apart by jealousy, rivalry, slander, and malice, or that is preoccupied with its own selfish concerns.
• To be divided means to be separate or separated. On the other end of the spectrum, the word “united” means made into or caused to act as a single entity. As a verb, it means “harmonious agreement.”
• Jesus anticipated that there would be problems with unity amongst His people, and it was that very subject that He prayed about in John 17.
John 17:20-21, “I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
• Jesus had prayed for His disciples, and then He prays for those who will come to believe in Him through their word. He is praying then about the Hellenists, the native Hebrews, for me and for you. He is praying for us…That we would be, “one.”
• There is something about the unity of God’s people that will allow the world to believe in Him currently.
• If unity and oneness can move people to be a part of a mission, division seems to be that which will bring destruction.
Mark 3:24-25, …If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
• The definition of unity is the state of being one, oneness. A whole or totality as combining all its parts into one.
• Throughout Jesus’ prayer in John 17, Jesus expresses His desire for oneness. In verse 11, “so that they may be one”; in verse 21, “that they may all be one”; verse 22, so that they may be one”; verse 23, “that they may be perfected in unity.”
• This is something seen throughout the Bible:
Psalm 133:1, How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
Galatians 3:28, …You are all one in Christ.
• When it comes to oneness and unity, it is important to understand what exactly is being referred to as we see the continued call to unity amongst those in Christ.
• In Scripture, the term “unity” is sameness, or oneness of purpose, not sameness of persons.
• In verses 11 and 22, Jesus, talking to God the Father says, “that they may be one, just as we are one.”
• Jesus points to His oneness with the Father. As we know Jesus was God incarnate. Our triune God.
• It is the powerful union between God the Son and God the Father that Jesus uses. They are united in perfect harmony, with unified purpose and desire.
• This is a powerful picture for us to strive for, to be so united in purpose and we are linked not only to God, but our unity reflects God.
• There is a uniqueness of persons, but a oneness of purpose. This means we are on aligned in purpose, and as I mentioned earlier, it is something we must remain committed to.
• Division will destroy a mission. The church here is conflicted in keeping the unity, rather than committed to keeping the unity.
II. Put the Proper Priorities in Place
Acts 6:2-4, So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Instead, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
• As the issue comes up, the Apostles don’t hide from the problem, avoid it, or push past it, instead, they point to the people first to priorities. They say, it is not desirable for us to neglect the Word of God to serve tables.
• The word for tables here refers to the counter of the money changers. It was the place where money and food were distributed to those in need.
• We looked recently at how the church was growing, people were coming from all over the place, and the church was coming together, many were giving extravagant gifts, laying them at the apostle’s feet, and the apostles were distributing resources.
• There were clearly some administrative needs, and the Apostles acknowledge the importance of the position, but they also acknowledge the administration of this need, sitting at the distribution table, was not the capacity they should serve in because in so doing, there were other things being neglected, specifically, the Word of God.
• They knew serving tables was needed, they weren’t above it, they weren’t unable to do it, it was not desirable, however.
• The Word desirable is “arestos,” it means reasonable, pleasing, desirable.
• They could not reasonably do all the things, they needed help. So they point the people to priorities.
• So, they say, we are going to put seven men from among you in place, so that they can participate in and make the distribution of food and funds for those in need a priority for them.
Matthew 28:19, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you…
• The Apostles were putting priorities in place and placing God’s Word as a top priority.
• There are many times and ways that a church can stray from the word of God in order to “serve tables.” But their must be a priority in place in the church of pointing people to God’s Word.
Illus. Back to it.
• In Acts 20:27, Paul gives a farewell speech to the elders of the Ephesian church. In it he says, “Therefore I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
• It was the whole counsel of God that had made Paul “innocent” of anyone’s choice to turn away from the truth. The “whole counsel of God” (ESV), “Whole will of God” (NIV), or “Whole purpose of God” (NASB) is what he spoke, it was the complete Gospel, the truth about salvation.
• In Chapter 5:20, we saw the Apostles released from prison and told by an angel to “go, stand, and speak the whole message of this life..”
• The whole counsel, the complete message of this life was a priority for Paul, a priority for the Apostles, and it should remain a priority for pastoral ministry presently.
Illus. I’ve never heard of that.
• There are many things that can get in the way or attempt to take our attention away. But we must keep the proper priorities in place.
• The disciples realized that others needed to rise up and help with the serving and leading of the daily tasks.
• This was like when Moses was leading the people of Israel in the desert and was trying to solve all the problems himself. His father-in-law, Jethro, suggested that 70 leaders be raised up.
Exodus 18:17-18, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”
• Jethro says, Moses, the thing that you’re doing– it’s not good. You will wear yourself out and you will wear out the people because he saw Moses, a one-man show, being the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive branch all rolled up into a one-man-show. He says, spread the load out, spread the load out. Get other people around you.
• As the Apostles call the people together 7 men are selected, we are reminded that proper priorities require positioned and commissioned people.
III. Get Positioned for Participation
• The 7 men selected for their share in the ministry were put in position because of their description verse 3 as those who had a “good reputation,” and were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.”
• The qualifications of those to be chosen were focused on character. Those who had these characteristics would be selected by the people and the Apostles would devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Acts 6;5-6, The announcement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And they brought these men before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.
• One interesting fact about the names of those listed, is that they are all Greek names. It was the Hellenists, the Greeks who brought the complaint, so seven Greek men were selected.
• Not only would they help with the Hellenists, but they would also be instrumental as the gospel would go out from Jerusalem and to the Greek world.
• The Apostles then laid hands on and prayed for those selected, they were all committed to keeping the unity.
• They started with a problem, oriented the church around priorities, and then took the position of participation. Everyone participated, and the whole congregation was pleased.
• Oh, that the problems of division churches face today would be met with the proper priorities, and a willingness for each individual part to position themselves for participation.
Ephesians 4:7, 11-12, To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gifts… And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…
• Paul likens the Church to a human body. And the human body is incredible. And the brain has incredible control over the incredible human body.
• What we think and feel, how we learn and remember, the way we move and talk. But also things like the beating of our hearts and the digestion of food.
• In your brain, there are approximately 86 billion neurons, nerve cells, all giving out information and taking in information, sending messages, receiving messages, regulating everything that you experience, see, hear, touch, controlling over 600 muscles in your body plus tendons, ligaments, organs. All so that your body can function as a unit.
• In the church, like the body, there is a head and many parts. The head is not the pastor, the head is Jesus.
Colossians 1:17-18, He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church…
• Jesus is the one who gives the orders, the Holy Spirit is like the nervous system, sending messages throughout the body, so that things can operate properly.
• But in order for the body to work properly, all of the body parts must be working.
1 Corinthians 12:15-18, If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
Illus. All Parts Needed.
IV. Choose Multiplication Over Division
Acts 6:7, 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.
• Things went from adding, to subtracting, to dividing, to multiplying!
• They didn’t just multiply, they multiplied greatly.
• There was division, a problem, but the problem was met with priorities, the proper positioning of God’s people, and we then see the power of God’s word going forth!
• Let us meet problems with proper priorities and get positioned for participation in unity, so that the world will see our unity, and know personally that Jesus was sent as the Savior of the world.
Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.