The First Gentile Christian

Studies in Acts

Lesson 18: The First Gentile Christian”

Acts 10:1-48

 

 

There are some things that can come into our lives that change things forever. After such an event, nothing will ever be the same again. It may be something wonderful – the day you meet the person who will one day be your spouse, or the birth of your children, for example. Or it may be something tragic – the death of a loved one, or losing a job or something like that. But the end result is the same: things are changed forever in your life. Such a time came into the life of the early church about 8 years after it began on the day of Pentecost. And even though it was something good, it did bring changes that were hard to accept at first. Here in Acts chapter 10 the scope of the church begins to widen – the first Gentiles enters the group. The Christian movement before this, even though it was based on faith in Christ, was distinctively Jewish. For example, Jesus Himself was Jewish. All of the apostles were Jewish. In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry, with only one exception, was carried out among Jews. Jesus went out of His way to refer to the Gentile woman who in Matthew 15:21 through 28 who was asking Him to cast demons out of her daughter. In verse 24 and again in verse 26 He told her that his ministry was limited to Israelites. (the story does go on to say that in His grace He did heal her daughter.) He told the Pharisees that He did not come to annul the law, but to fulfill it. After the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, most of the additions to the church were Jews. It is interesting to notice that even in this chapter, years after the day of Pentecost, Peter and the other Christians are still observing Jewish customs and habits – prayer at the sixth hour, etc. Now there had been some preparation for this in Philip’s preaching in Samaria and in the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8, but so far, no hard and fast Gentile had been admitted – the others had been almost accidental.

 

The first thing we see in the passage is the story of two different men in verses 1 through 23. First there is Cornelius, a Roman soldier, in verses 1 through 8. And then there is Peter, the consummate Jew in verses 9 through 23. But we will see them discover that they have much more in common than they ever dreamed!

 

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in saying to him Cornelius! (4) And when he observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it Lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.(6) “He is lodging with Simon, a tanner,  whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what to do. (7) And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continuously. (8) So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

 

At this point Cornelius was what the Jews called “a proselyte of the gate.” A full proselyte was a person who “converted” to Judaism – took up all the rituals and rites and observances. But “a proselyte of the gate “was a person a person who adopted the Jewish belief in one God, etc., but was still a gentile in the way he lived. At this point Cornelius was only “praying” and “giving alms” according to verse 2. But that verse also says he was “a devout man.” In fact, he was apparently so devout that his testimony affected those around him. According to verse 7 there was “a devout soldier among his personal servants. This tells us two things. Evidently was what today we might call “a good witness. And second it tells us that he was a highly-ranked soldier. Verse 1 says he was a centurion – in charge of 100 men. Cornelius is an example of what Paul refers to in Romans 1 – everyone has a basic knowledge of God. (John said the same thing in chapter 1 of his book. But at this point he wasn’t saved, – just “devout” – following  all the light that he had. Jesus said “you must be born again” not to a reprobate, but to Nicodemus, the best that Judaism could produce. Paul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” and, as touching the law, perfect. But because he was pursuing his “God consciousness” God gave him more light.

 

I said in the beginning of this lesson that this chapter is a story of two different men. Cornelius is one of them, and Peter is the other. His story is given in verses 9 through 23. We don’t need to go over it in detail, because up to this point the book has centered around him and his activities. We know about his life already, but let me just touch on a couple of other things. Like Paul, he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” but at this point he is beginning to see a wider view of God’s work in the world. At Pentecost, he had said that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh.” In the last verse of the previous chapter he had lodged with “Simon the tanner,” even though tanners were abhorrent to the Jews.

 

So, in contrast to Cornelius, who was walking in all the light that he had, Peter did not fully understand all the light that he had, but he fully enjoyed what he did understand.

 

The second subject of this chapter is two manifestations that these two men had. The first one was to Cornelius in verses 3 through 6.

 

(3) About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in saying to him Cornelius! (4) And when he observed him he was afraid and said, “What is it Lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (5) Now send men to Joppa and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.

 

In the last part of verse 4 God informs Cornelius that He is aware of his past religious activities (aren’t you glad that he is aware of those things?) And then in verses 5 and 6 he tells him what to do next. The fact that He specifically promises that “he will tell him what to do” shows that Cornelius may have been wondering what he should do. And this is evidence of the “God shaped vacuum” within all of us. – his prayers and alms evidently had not filled that void.

 

Then in verses 9 through 16 there is God’s manifestation of himself to Peter. Verse 9 shows the intermingling of time

 

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour

 

It is interesting to notice that while Cornelius’ men were on the way God was preparing Peter to receive them. Then verses 10 through 12 show the intermingling of circumstances

 

Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance (11) and saw heaven open and an object like a great sheet, bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth (12) in it were all kinds of four footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things and birds of the air.

 

Notice that it was while Peter was hungry and waiting for food that this vision occurred. And this reminds us again that God often uses the ordinary circumstances of life in communicating with us, or setting the stage for communication. And incidentally, Peter’s Jewishness is still showing. The sixth hour is one of the hours for prayer.

 

And then in verses 13 through 16 there is the interchange of ideas

 

 And a voice came to him, “arise, Peter, kill and eat.” (14) But Peter said, “Not so, Lord,” For I have never eaten anything common or unclean. (15) And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” (16) This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

 

First there is the command to eat these things that had always been off limits to Jews in verse 13. But immediately Peter refuses. This is typical of Peter – an oxymoron: “Not so, Lord,” How can you say “not so Lord” to someone you have just said “no” to? But of course, the disturbing thing about Peter is that he is so much like us! So, verses 15 and 16 say that the command was

Repeated two more times. So that was a total of three times, even though Peter was still calling him “Lord.”  It is interesting to know that the phrase “you must not call common” is “do not make common in the Greek text. IN other words , “it is no longer common in God’s sight. If it becomes common it will be because you have made it so. Now we need to think for a moment about the intention in this command. It was not just a matter of food specifically – these were primarily health laws, but they had become symbolic of Judaism as a whole. But the real issue was the breaking down of the exclusive nature of Judaism. And obviously, this was perplexing to Peter.

 

Now we have seen the two manifestations and the two men” who had received them. So, the third thing we have in the chapter is the two ministries in verses 17 through 48. First there is the invitation to minister in verses 17 through 22. It all begins with the introduction is in verse 17

 

Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, Behold the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate.

 

Notice the interaction again – “while Peter wondered . . .” Then in verses 19 through 22 we have the information  that Peter wants: First he gets some information from the Holy Spirit in verses 19 and 20.

 

While Peter thought about the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. (20) Arise therefore and go down and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them.”

 

Then he gets information from the visitors in verse 22:

 

And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.”

 

And so in verses 23 through 33 we see Peter’s involvement in the ministry Verses 23 and 24 tell how he traveled to Cornelius’ house. And then in verses 25 and 26 an interesting thing happens:

 

As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. (26)But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up, “I myself am also a man.”

 

This shows an even further break-down in Peter’s prejudice – he realizes that he is no different from this gentile.

 

Then in verses 27 through 33 we have a review of the circumstances that brought Peter and Cornelius together – almost word-for-word repetition of what we have seen up to this point. And then again in verses 34 through 43 we have the information which Peter gives to Cornelius and his friends. The truths we are going to look at here were probably just beginning to come together for Peter himself.

 

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said I perceive that God shows no partiality.” And the message is typical of all apostolic preaching – all about Israel, Jesus, the crucifixion, and resurrection. First, he talks about the universality of God’s love in verses 34 and 35

 

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said I perceive that God shows no partiality. (35)But in every nation God shows no partiality whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

 

Then in verses 36 and 37 he talks about God’s use of the Jewish nation

 

The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ, he is Lord of all” (37)”that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached.

 

Then in verses 38 through 41 he talks about the uniqueness of Jesus of Christ

 

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.(39) “ And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree (40) Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly (41)”not to all the people , but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

The first aspect of His uniqueness was His anointing. Notice again the consistency of Judaism with Christianity – the prophets witnessed this new truth in advance. Then His accomplishments are listed in verses 38b through 42. First His general good works are listed in verses 38b and 39a

But of course, the most important thing about Him was His crucifixion, detailed in verse 39b

And God validated that by His resurrection in verses 40 and 41

 

Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly (41)”not to all the people , but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

 

Now with all of that as background, in verses 42 and 43 he tells them about the unusual offer of God

 

And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge of the living and the dead (43)To him all the prophets  witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

 

Notice again the emphasis on the consistency of Judaism and Christianity – the prophets witnessed this new truth in advance verse 43 says. And the bottom line is that now salvation is offered to people of every nation and background. Finally, in verses 44 through 48 we see the interruption  of Peter’s ministry. (notice “while Peter was still speaking these words) First there is the activity of the Holy Spirit in verses 44 and 46

 

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word . . . (46) For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered

 

What happened here is that the Holy Spirit took the simple gospel message of Peter and made it  plain. Peter didn’t need to say any more. Notice that the gift of tongues occurred before baptism or the laying on of hands. And this reminds us of the deliberate lack of order in the reception of the Holy Spirit during this transitional period. At Pentecost there was no laying on of hands, but tongues and fire (chapter 2) In Samaria (chapter 8)there were no cloven tongues of fire or speaking in tongues, of fire, or speaking in tongues but laying on of hands. When we get to chapter 19 we will see no fire, but tongues and laying on of hands  (at Ephesus). Also notice the purpose of the tongues in verse 46 (not an unknown prayer language) So that is the activity of the Holy Spirit. But in verses 45 through 48, we see the activity of the believers:

 

The original believers who came with Peter were blessed – verse 45

 

And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

 

Notice the specific reason for their blessing –“because the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gentiles.” Also new believers were baptized in verses 47 and 48.

 

Then Peter answered (47)” can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they  asked him to stay a few days.

 

In conclusion, here is another example of the importance of obeying the Word of God, regardless of how it fits our traditions or assumptions. Of course, we need to remember that this is a transitional book, and therefore some previously acceptable attitudes were now done away with. But the principle is the same. It is summed up back in in verse 15:

 

What God has cleansed you must not call common.  

 

 

 

 

The Education of Saul

One of the things that scripture makes clear, (Studies in Acts

Lesson and we would know from experience even if it didn’t) is that we don’t know what the future holds. And one of the best examples of that in the history of the world is a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus, who, in the spring of the year A. D. 4 or 5 started off on a trip one day to a town by the name of Damascus. He did get where he was going, but by the time he got there his world had been turned completely upside down. And his life from that day forward would be radically different. And of course, the reason for that was here in Acts chapter 9 God finally chased him to the end of his rope. Saul, after years of fanatically attacking everyone and everything that had to do with Jesus Christ, said. “Lord, what will you have me to do?” And, as we saw in our last study, the Lord simply said, “Go into the next town.” But even though God didn’t tell Saul anything but that first step, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have anything but that first step planned. Because in verses 10 through 18 we are going to see the shepherding which is going to take place in his life.

 

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God doesn’t just leave his new children out in the cold? Just as He pursues us for salvation, He also makes “shepherding” available, so the babies can grow to maturity. Ephesians 4 tells us that this is the reason He has organized the church the way He has. And Second Timothy 2:2 puts it on an individual level:

 

The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

 

And in keeping with that, in verses 10 through 12 we see the calling of the shepherd.

 

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, Ananias,” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” (11) So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold he is praying (12) “And in a he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight.”

 

Now in what we have seen in the chapter so far, we might expect that God would continue to use the miraculous to bring Saul along. But as is usually the case, at this point in the narrative, He uses the ordinary, human means to accomplish His purpose. And this underscores the principle that although God is still capable of miracles and still sometimes uses them, He also (in fact usually) uses ordinary human means to accomplish His purposes. Here is another place where we are perhaps so familiar with the story that we overlook some of the important points. But think how these instructions must have sounded to Ananias!

 

Then ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem (14) And here has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name”

 

And notice that there is no correction for Ananias from the Lord for having felt this way. In fact, look at the comfort for the shepherd in verses 15 and 16

 

But the Lord said, Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (16)”For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

 

To Ananias Saul was nothing more than a murderer. But to God he was “a chosen vessel.” And this demonstrates again the difference in the way we look at people and the way the Lord looks at them. Like Ananias, we tend to look at people for what they are; but God looks at them for they will become under His direction. And so, in verses 17 and 18 we see the care by the shepherd.

 

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (18) Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

 

Ananias was one of those “indispensable nobodies” that we find from time to time in the scripture. This is the only place we hear of him in the scripture (although Paul mentions him in relating this same story in Acts 22) but think of what he accomplished here: nothing less than the foundational aspects of the faith of he great Apostle Paul himself. And his godliness and confidence in God’s word is shown in two little words in the middle of verse 17: “brother Saul.” Ananias had heard about the terrible things Saul had done to his brothers in the Lord (as in verse 13) But now, simply on the word of God he is a “brother “in the Lord! Now that is true faith in the word of God. And that also tells us something about our common bond in in Christ. If we use what my Dad used to call “our sanctified imagination” It is possible that through the years ahead Paul may have ministered to survivors of people that he himself had put to death. (maybe even Stephen’s wife and children)  And that is an example of the strength of our common bond in Christ – “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” And only the love of Christ could accomplish something like that!

 

Well, the scene changes in the next paragraph. Because in verses 10 through 31 we find the education of Saul.  Most schools these days begin with a period of orientation, where the students get acquainted with the curriculum and, and regulations, and so forth. And it was no different with Saul, as it is with any new believer. And in these “orientation” verses, we find one of the most important aspects of the Christian life and yet one that is often misunderstood in the Christian life. And that lack of understanding has caused countless Christians to miss much of God’s blessing in their lives.

 

Those first few weeks after his conversion must have been thrilling for Saul. Three factors in these verses contributed to his euphoria in this initial phase: First, he enjoyed close fellowship with believers in Damascus (the very ones he in some cases, people he had intended to persecute – verse 19b) This is a unique aspect of Christianity that has to be experienced to be understood. Being fully accepted by the Christians he felt affirmation and support. Because of that, he soon felt secure enough to openly preach the gospel in verse 20. And this proclamation was the second contributing factor to his joy as a new believer. It was thrilling to be able to serve his new master. The third factor in his orientation was acclamation – all those who heard him were amazed, Luke says in verse 21. Like many celebrities who convert to Christianity, Saul immediately stepped into the spotlight to give his testimony. People’s mouths dropped open as they crowded to hear him speak. “Could this be the same man who was persecuting us just a few weeks ago?” they said in verse 22. And it seemed like this was going to be the pattern of this new life for Saul. Look again at verse 22:

 

But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

 

But, true to form, Satan changes the scene in the next verse. “orientation” was over, and obstacles began to appear. These obstacles first took the form of hazards to his health. Look at verses 23 and 24

 

Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him (24) But their plot became known to Saul and they watched the gates day and night to kill him.

 

Now this wasn’t what he had bargained for. Was it? He was getting used to the acclaim and acceptance, but this didn’t fit that picture. But it gets worse. In verse 25 he faced the obstacle of humiliation

 

Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

 

Think about it! Here is the great Jewish scholar and expert in Old Testament law crawling into a basket in a back alley and being sneaked out of town like some common criminal! But the humiliation didn’t stop there. Luke doesn’t even refer to it here but by comparing the description of this period which Paul wrote to the Galatians we see where he probably went after he was over the wall. Look at Galatians 1:15-17a

 

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, (16)to reveal his son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, (17)nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (18) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

 

We don’t know exactly when this happened, but we know that it was soon after he was saved in  Acts 9:6, and before he went to Jerusalem, which happens in Acts 9:26. Acts 9:8 tells us that he did go to Damascus the day he was saved, and 9:19 says that he spent “some days” with the disciples there. So the most logical time for his move to Arabia is right here in Acts 9:25, when he goes over the wall. Whenever it happened this time in Arabia must have been a humbling experience. Here he was, fresh out of Judaism into the light, giving his testimony, having people “amazed” at what he had to say, and now suddenly restricted to “the middle of nowhere.”

 

But make no mistake about it, this, too, is an essential part of a new life in Christ. It is something that every Christian goes through in one form or another. Moses spent 40 years on the back side of the desert, working for his father- in law. Joseph served time as a servant in an Egyptian officer’s house and a term in prison before becoming prime minister of Egypt. Elijah and John the Baptist spent years out in the desert before becoming mighty prophets before God. Even the Lord Jesus had a period of time in his life that is very obscure – from age 8 until the age of 30 we have absolutely no details of His activities. And the same is true for many men and women of God who are recorded in secular records – H. A. Ironside, had been in the ministry for 25 years before he became pastor of Moody Memorial Church, the ministry for which he is famous. And the same is true for W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

 

Are you perhaps going through a time like that? Feel like you are just spinning your wheels spiritually, feeling less and less effective for Christ? This might go on even longer. But these “desert places” in the Christian life are indispensable for making us the servants that He wants us to be. Even after the humiliation, though, the humbling process didn’t stop. Verse 26 tells us that even after he came back from he still had problems:

 

And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

 

Here he faced the problem of ostracism Nobody wanted to do anything with him. Now from the human standpoint this was understandable. But it still hurt. Sometimes Christians today have painful things in their past that fellow believers have a hard time with – divorce, bankruptcy, or some other problem. There is a real opportunity for ministries for Christians who are willing to “run interference” for others for others who are in those kinds of situations. And that is exactly what happens in the next verses:

 

But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had spoken to him. and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem coming in and going out.

 

Finally with this help from Barnabas, Saul has the opportunity for acceptance he has been hoping for. And just as with Ananias earlier in the chapter here was a great ministry that had it not been written in the scripture, few people would have known about. But think what a contribution Barnabas made to the body of Christ by just being willing to lend his influence! There are so many Christians who need this this ministry of encouragement and “mentoring.”  And, just as in this situation, who knows what might come of it? But even with that kind of acceptance, Saul’s problems weren’t over. Look at verse 29:

 

And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed with the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

 

Why were these Jews so persistent? Because it was obvious that the truth had made a radical transformation in his life. Therefore they only had two choices: Admit that their lives needed to be changed too, or destroy the evidence. Donald Gray Barnhouse an influential teacher of a previous generation says that “every martyrdom that has ever taken place has been an attempt to destroy the evidence.” So to protect Saul, the believers had no choice but to get him out of there. Look at verse 30:

 

When the brethren found out they brought him to down to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus.

 

Surely Saul must have felt dejected as he boarded that ship. Was there no place of service for him? Would the hatred of the Jews keep him from ever being able to serve the Lord? It surely seemed that way. In fact Luke is quick to point out in verse 31 that after Saul left

 

Then the churches throughout all Judea, galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the holy spirit, they were multiplied.

 

What a disillusioning experience for Saul! He drops out of sight here and isn’t heard from again until we get to chapter 11. But it was during that period of time that Saul learned two principles which every one of us needs to learn: First, in our Christian growth, God does everything possible to stop the energy of the flesh. In those early days of his ministry, with all of his abilities Saul may have been tempted to depend on his own strength. He had to learn that that wouldn’t work. And the best way to teach him that was to put him in situations which he could not control. And God does the same thing for us. don’t chafe at His movements to curb those self-reliant instincts; try to find out what He is teaching you and seek to learn it as quickly as possible.

 

The second thing that Saul (and we) need to learn is that no one but Christ is indispensable. Throughout the rest of Saul’s life, the humility which God instilled in him through these difficulties safeguarded him against self destructive pride.  If you feel like Saul – facing obstacles or ostracism or off the stage, remember what eventually happened to Saul; he became God’s premier missionary, sailing the world with the gospel. God may not have exactly that same course in store for you, but he definitely has a ministry in store for you, but he has a ministry that only you can perform. And He loves you too much to let you go on without further training.

 

 

 

 

Winning Ways

Winning Ways

Acts 8:25-40

 

Let’s be honest: Most Christians would rather do almost anything than witness. There are a number of reasons for this feeling. One is ignorance –  we really don’t know how to go about it. Another is indifference. We have other things to think about, after all, and besides there are plenty of people with the gift of evangelism who can do the job better (we’re plenty willing to pick up the tab if they’ll just do the work.) Still another reason we’re reluctant is fear. Nobody likes being made a fool of, or being asked questions they can’t answer. And what if the response is hostile? The whole idea is just too scary. Also, some of us have an unpleasant memory of a bad experience when someone grabbed us by the collar and shoved the gospel down our throat. We remember that embarrassed, intruded upon pressured feeling and the last thing we want to do is to make someone else feel that way. We know we should share our faith, but we still feel awkward.

 

Yet God longs for us to get into the game. He has chosen us to be His voice, to introduce lost people to the most important message they will ever hear! And here in the last half of Acts chapter 8 we have an example of how He wants us to go about it. – and it is quite different than what most people would think.

In this passage we have 5 principles that are necessary to be a person whom God uses to get the gospel out. The focal point of this passage is Philip, one of the original 7 deacons chosen back in chapter 6. And the importance of that to most of us is that he was not a “professional” evangelist. Even though in the first part of the chapter he is doing many impressive things in the area of evangelism, he is still a “layman.” But suddenly, right in the midst of that, God changes Philips’s direction. Look at verse 26:

 

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is desert.

 

And Philip’s response to that command demonstrates the first guideline for God’s plan for evangelism: Attentiveness. Out of the blue God tells Philip to take off for the desert. No reason is given, and no arrangements are made for someone to take his place in Samaria. There’s just this command. How tempting it would have been to brush that still, small voice away like a gnat buzzing in his ear. Things were going so well; the Samaritans were open to the gospel; but Philip had walked with God long enough to know that He sometimes throws a curve. And when He does He always has His reasons. He knows that to be an effective witness he had to be “attentive” to God’s call. S. Lewis Johnson says that “attentiveness” has a Siamese twin by the name of “availability.” There is not much good in hearing God’s call if you’re not willing to follow it when it comes. Look at verses 27 and 28:

 

So He arose and went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, had come to Jerusalem to worship (28) was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.

 

Who would you have thought it?  Out in the middle of nowhere is a political leader, riding in his chariot and reading the word of God. No one but God could have known he was there, and how receptive he was going to be to the gospel. Philip didn’t know that this Ethiopian was the reason for his unexpected detour to the south. He simply was available to the Lord, who in his sovereign plan had caused their paths to cross. I wonder how many times God directs our steps – or wants to, across the path of someone whom He knows is ready to hear. We should look at every unexpected happening as a possible opportunity for evangelism. And sometimes those opportunities come to people who are not strangers to us, too.

 

The next principle is in verses 29 through 34, and it is alertness

 

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (30) So Philip ran to him, and he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said “Do you understand what you are reading?

 

First Philip was alert to the Spirit’s voice in verse 29. Remember, he didn’t know why the Spirit had told him to come out there, even when he saw the man riding in the chariot. And who would have even dream-ed of overtaking a moving chariot (which was probably being pulled by several horses)! But Philip was listening for further instructions. And again, I wonder how often we have missed opportunities to witness, – or some other kind of service – simply because we were not alert to the situation around us and attentive to the voice of the Lord.

 

There is a striking example back in the Old Testament. It occurs in Exodus chapter 3 as Moses was on the back side of the desert working for his father-in-law. As he is moving around in the desert he sees something unusual – a bush was burning. I grew up out in west Texas where the atmospheric conditions are almost identical to those of Israel in “the back side of the desert.” And it is not unheard of to see a bush burst into flame by spontaneous combustion in that area. But the thing that was significant in this case was the fact that even though the bush was burning it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. And so, in verse 3 Moses says:

 

I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed.”

 

Now we don’t know if Moses pondered this deliberately over every decision that he made, but look what the next verse says: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see God called to him from the midst of the bush and said “Moses, Moses and the implication seems clear that if Moses had not stopped to notice the unusual nature of the burning bush that God would not have spoken to him. Now listen carefully: it was in that conversation that God called him to be, from the human standpoint, the deliverer of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, the ministry in which he would be involved for the rest of his life. And the point is a simple but extremely important one. “Pay attention to what is going on around you.” The thing that the Lord wants you to see may not be a physical burning bush; it may be simply a person near you whom you can see by the look on his or her face that something is wrong in their life. It may be a painful tragedy or a struggle with sin – and when it is all said and done you wind up being able to have an eternal spiritual impact, perhaps on a whole family. The bottom line is that we as Christians need to be alert to what is going on around us.

 

Now going back to the book of Acts we have seen Philip’s alertness in listening to the voice of the Holy spirit, but there is something more. Look at Acts 8:30:

 

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “do you understand what you are reading?

 

Philip didn’t wait for the man to lean out of his chariot and say, “excuse me, but do you happen to know anything about the Old Testament? But at the same time, he didn’t run up to him and say, “say buddy, do you know the savior?” No! Philip was alert to the situation. He looked for an appropriate way to open the conversation. And verse 30 shows how he did it. He started simply by talking about what the man was interested in. He simply said, “do you understand what you are reading? And that simple question got a straightforward answer. Look at verse 31:

 

 And he said, “how can I, unless someone guides me? And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

 

Now Philip has established personal contact, but his alertness doesn’t stop there. Again, he lets the other man express himself. Look at verse 32 and following:

 

The place in the scripture which he read was “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (33) In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (34) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this? of Himself, or some other man?

 

By simply letting the other man go first, Philip opened the door to a perfect opportunity for the gospel.

And by the way, isn’t it “lucky “that he “happened” to be reading such a perfect passage!  – Don’t ever forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preparing another person’s heart for your ministry!

 

But Philip is an example to us of the right way to go about witnessing. He tactfully let the eunuch ask his questions and with accuracy he gave the answers. And that is the fourth guideline for witnessing. Look at verse 35:

 

Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning at this scripture, preached Jesus to him.

 

He began right where the man was – “at this scripture” and he went from there (in the Old Testament) to preach Jesus. It takes skill to continue with accuracy and keep from getting sidetracked when you are witnessing – Satan gives people an amazing ability to pull you off the subject and onto arguments about evolution or the latest church scandal. But Jesus is truly the only subject that matters.

 

Well, Philip’s strategy (and really it is the Lord’s strategy) is working. The gospel message penetrates the man’s heart to such an extent that in verse 36

 

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, here is water:what hinders me from being baptized?

 

At this point, Philip brings in the fifth guideline for witnessing. He speaks with authority to his disciple. You may soon turn your new convert over to someone whom you consider more able, but at first you will be that person’s only authority. And Philip wisely puts first things first, knowing that salvation comes through faith, not through baptism, he says decisively in verse 37:

 

If you believe with all your heart you may. And he answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”(38) So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him.

 

First there was a private acceptance of the message, then there was an outward demonstration of faith. And I think these verses demonstrate also that any Christian can officiate at the baptism. It doesn’t have to be a “Reverend” or a “Father.” And notice too that this had nothing to do with joining a local church There is nothing in the scripture that links baptism with joining a local church; it is simply based on tradition.

 

Normally in our witnessing the next step would be follow-up – spiritual guidance for the new believer. But in this situation something startling happens. Look at verses 39 and 40:

 

Now when they came up of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (40) But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.

 

Now as I say, this is not the norm. Usually a soul winner needs to be extremely careful to guide his new convert into some thorough follow-up, whether he does it himself or makes arrangements for someone else to do it for him. But this passage does demonstrate that true follow-up is really in God’s hands ultimately. His job was finished, but the court official’s was just beginning, because he carried the gospel back to the land of Ethiopia, and eventually the entire continent. This was such an important issue that it was prophesied in advance. Psalm 68:31 says:

 

Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God.”

 

The exciting thing about soul winning is that you never know how it will end up.You see, a whole nation eventually embraced the gospel because Philip was “attentive,” ”available” “alert” “accurate” and “authoritative.”

 

 

 

 

False Christianity

Chances are ,most of us will never know what it is to be persecuted. The worst kind of persecution we endure is a little mockery at school, a little sarcasm at the office, or a little trouble in the neighborhood. Yet even those kinds of things can rattle us for days, can’t they? It would be pretty revealing of our true character if the kind of persecution the early Christians endured suddenly came upon us. that’s when we’d move from theory to reality. At that moment our faith would either stand or fall, because persecution always separates the pure from the phony; and the authentic from the artificial. AS we come  to chapter 7 we’ve reached a turning point in the book of Acts. back in chapter 1, verse 8 we saw the outline for the book. Do you remember it?

But you shall receive power after you have received the Holy Spirit, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and in samaria, and to the end of the earth” 

We pointed out when we looked at that verse in the beginning that the first 7 chapters deal with the first part of the verse; “you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem.” And the next 5 chapters, chapters 8 through 12, cover the phrase “in all Judea and Samaria .” Then the last 16 chapters cover “the uttermost part of the world,” where the disciples move out into the territory around Jerusalem. And that movement is characterized by a change in atmosphere as well. Because he catalyst for all of that movement is the persecution of that begins in earnest in this chapter. Someone has said that “Acts 1:8 was fulfilled in Acts 8:1 and that is really true.

The chapter falls into two different parts:

In verses 1 through 3 we find the persecution of christians described Then in verses 4 through 40 we find the permeation of Christianity So let’s begin looking at the persecution of Christians that is described in verses 1 through 3 . And the first thing we find is the time of the persecution in verse 1a 

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem. And they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Now at first glance it would seem that the first line of verse 1 would logically go with the last verse of chapter 7 – and there is a sense in which it should. But actually, it fits the context better the way it is. Because the focal point I impriall of the persecution that we are going to see in the next chapters is this man Saul. Getting a little bit out of order in the verses, skip over verses 1b and 2 and look at verse 3 there we have information about the type of the persecution 

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

Saul was determined  to wipe out Christianity. And the context seems to indicate that the death of Stephen was what really got him fired up. Later, after he became “the apostle Paul”  Look at chapter this statement from chapter 22:4 persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

Then down in verse 19 he says . .  . in every synagogue I imprisoned  and beat those who believe in you. 

Then over in chapter 26 he says, in verses 9 through 11:

Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth(10) This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests and when they were put to death, I cast  my vote against them (11) And I punished them often in every synagogue an compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign  cities 

So the point is that this was no minor matter. It was real persecution. And we can also get the feel of it in verses 1b and 2. There we have the toll that it took

“. . . . And they were all scattered throughout the  regions of Samaria and Judea, except the apostles (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentations over him.

The mention of Stephen’s burial and the mourning that went with it reminds us how personal all this was.

Now we ought to digress a little at this point (although its not really a digression) and remind ourselves how God “worked all things together for good” in this situation.

Because not only did He use this terrible persecution to spread Christians out preaching the gospel, but He demonstrated His power in turning His most fanatical enemy into His greatest evangelist! And in this way He killed two birds with one stone. Only God could do that.

Well, as Paul persecuted the christians in verses 1 through 3 he discovered what we might call “the law of spiritual thermodynamics” – heat under pressure = expansion. Because in the remainder of the chapter, verses 4 through 40 we see the permeation of Christianity. 

The catalyst for the permeation is in verse 4:

Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word 

The suffering that we have been talking about sent many Christians into regions which they would have never thought they would have entered. And one such place was Samaria, where the next events take place. John tells us in chapter 4, verse 9 of his gospel that “the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (because they were half-breeds against whom the Jews discriminated) But God doesn’t discriminate. He is “not willing that any should perish” according to II Peter 3:9 (even though you and I might as soon would.) And so in verses 5 through 8 we see the characteristics of the permeation. then, in the remainder of the chapter (verses 9 through 40 we will see two case studies of the permeation. So let’s look first at the characteristics of the permeation in verses 5 through 8:

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. (6) And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things  spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did (7) for unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice came out of many who were paralyzed  and lame were healed (8) And there was great joy in that city. 

Remember that Philip was one of the seven deacons appointed in chapter 6 along with Stephen. Since then his ministry had extended beyond Jerusalem and he had become an evangelist. (Incidentally, this demonstrates that the “secular” nature of the work of deacons is not incompatible with spiritual gifts which involve “spiritual” ministry – sometimes  the office of deacon is good training for the office of elder or pastor . But also, in looking at Philip’s ministry described in these verses we can see three “characteristics” of true evangelism. First, true evangelism emphasizes the centrality of Jesus  – “Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ to them.” Philip didn’t draw attention to himself or to a “movement,” he focused on Christ.  Second true evangelism focuses on liberation  from sin and a change of life values and goals (as in verse 7) and third, true evangelism is characterized by  joy  (verse 8) If anyone has a right to be joyful, it is Christians  – think of all that we have in Christ and all that awaits us! but too often we get so weighted down with the cares of this life that we forget the basis of our joy. We need to make a practice of focusing on our true status in Christ at regular intervals. Now in verses 9 through 40 Luke presents two “case studies” to demonstrate the nature of the permeation of Christianity through the whole area.

The first case study is that of  “the flashy phony” in verses 9 through 24 and, by contrast, verses 9 through 24  we have the case of the sincere seeker 

Now this flashy phony  is introduced to us by means of his reputation  in verses 9 through 11. And the first sure sign of a phony ministry is in verse 9:

But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously had practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of  Samaria, claiming that he was someone great 

Philip proclaimed Christ;  Simon proclaimed himself. The primary characteristic of a phony faith is that it exalts a person rather than Christ. The second characteristic of Simon’s act was that he was drawing a following based on flashy attractions and impressions. Look at verse 10:

(10) To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “this man is the great power of God” 

You can almost hear the sideshow barkers calling “come and see the great power of God”Don’t be fooled just because a ministry talks about “ministry” and service to God – always look where the focus is, not where the talk is. then the third sign of a phony ministry is in verse 11:

And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

Here is something that a lot of sincere, well meaning Christians do not realize: Satan can empower supernatural works in  his efforts to foil people’s understanding of the truth! Probably the best example of this is Pharaoh’s “wise men” who duplicated Moses rod turning into a snake in Exodus when Moses first appeared before to demand the release of the Jewish slaves. And don’t be fooled hasn’t changed his tactics! The focus should never be on the  seemingly miraculous nature of a ministry, but on whether or not it is consistent with scripture.

So that is Simon’s reputation  But in verses 12 and 13 the scene changes. In those verses we see His reform

(12) But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized (13) Then  Simon himself was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs that were done.

Philip watched as people heard and responded to Philip’s message And he himself responded to to Philip’s message – at least temporarily. But the next verses are going to show us that this was not genuine belief. And therein we find a fourth characteristic of phony faith: going through religious motions with the wrong motives. The last line of verse 13 indicates that Simon was fascinated with the miracles that Philip was doing. (incidentally, this also demonstrates that God’s miracles are more impressive than Satan’s – Simon had been doing those already but was “amazed” at the response to the miracles Philip was performing. But the next verses are going to show us how it all came apart for him.  In verses 14 through 23  we see his revelation. This is not a revelation to Simon, but but a revelation of  him to us. The setting  for the revelation is in verses 14-17 

 

 

 

 

   

Division in the Ministry

Studies in Acts

Lesson 10: “Division in Ministry

Acts 6:1-7

 

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

 

Even though he said that in the context of politics, there is a real sense in which it applies to the ministry also. There are many people in the world and in the church, who just assume without thinking about it, that the pastor is the central figure in the church, and that he does any kind of ministry that needs to be done. And even though there have been many years of history to back up that idea, the scripture doesn’t back it up at all; in fact, it says just the opposite! And the place where that concept is introduced is the passage to which we now come in our study of the book of Acts. The chapter falls into two parts:

 

In verses 1 through 7 we see the appointment of servants And then in verses 8 through 15 we have the accusation of Stephen. Even though this may seem like a very simple chapter, it is actually the beginning of a turning point in the entire New Testament. It is a turning point in terms of the organization of the ministry, and there is a turning point in terms of the “cost” of the ministry.

 

So let’s look first at the appointment of servants as we find it in verses 1-8 And the first thing we see there is the setting of the whole incident in verse one:

 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists[Greeks] because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

 

Here is a situation which many churches would envy – “church growth” – we know that the church had grown to at least 5,000 within just a few months. This is probably the hottest topic among pastors and seminary students today. Countless books and articles and seminars have been given on the subject. But this passage shows that church growth is not without its problems – it is not always the perfect situation it is sometimes cracked up to be. But even in the midst of all that growth they were doing a lot of things right. And one of those things was a distribution of food to widows.

 

We know from chapter 3 that they were concerned with each other’s needs. And this may have been an outgrowth of the practices of the Jewish synagogue of that time. It may have included more than widows, but that is the problem focused on in this chapter arose. Women in general and widows in particular were an especially disadvantaged group in that society. First century customs and practices did not include the welfare of widows, and a widow who had no adult children was particularly in need. But its importance is shown in the fact that it was still a concern of Paul much later (near the end of his life) when he included it in his instructions to his protégé Timothy. And because it was included in the New Testament, it is still a valid concern today. Incidentally, this is another illustration of how the onset of Christianity improved the situation of many groups which had been the objects of discrimination or neglect in society in general.

 

Now the disagreement in this chapter arose in a “perceived” discrimination against the Gentile widows in favor of the Jewish widows. This at least implies that the Jews were administering the program. At this point in time there were more Jewish Christians than Gentiles. And it was the Gentiles who were complaining. There is no historical evidence that this was or was not true –  and that is really beside the point of the passage anyway. But just the “perception” of discrimination is at the root of many church problems even today.

 

So that is “the setting” out of which this situation arose, but in verses 2 through 7 we find the settlement at which the apostles arrived. The first factor in the settlement of the problem is the explanation which we find in verse 2:

 

(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.

 

The importance of this situation is demonstrated in the fact that they called the whole church together (“the multitude of the disciples”) The importance was not so much in terms of the subject that was being disputed, but in terms of the action they were about to take in settling the dispute was a whole new direction in ministry. And the principles involved in that new direction in ministry were important enough for all Christians to understand (although many don’t, even today.) So there was first this “explanation,” then the second part of the settlement of the dispute is in the organization that is described in verses 3 through 6:

 

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 the ministry of the Word.”

 

Here we have the first instance of “shared ministry” between the apostles and other Christians. And notice how the division is made: “business” – verse 3, and “’ministry of the word” – verse 4. And this is a division that is carried out throughout the New Testament.

 

Romans 12:3 through 12, one of the passages that deals with the doctrine of spiritual gifts, gives a good summary:

 

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (4)For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, being many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another (6) Having then gifts differing, according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them:if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8)he who exhorts in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads with diligence; he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”

 

Here we have the illustration of Christians working together like the various parts of the body do – all with different functions. And the distinction in the kinds of gifts is made in verse 7 – “ministry” and “teaching” (“prophecy” is no longer needed because of the completed canon of scripture.) Then he gives examples of each of the divisions. So obviously, God does not expect every Christian to be a pastor or a missionary. There are other valid, important, ways to serve the Lord. Another place where this distinction is taught in even more detail is I Corinthians chapters 12 through 14. Now something that is very important in understanding this new arrangement is to notice what the apostles were not saying: They were not saying “the feeding of widows is not important enough for us to fool with.” Neither were they saying “if peripheral programs cause problems we just won’t have them.” But they also were not saying this is so important that we will just have to give up our prayer and ministry time to take care of it.”

 

So what were they saying? They were saying, “this is an important issue that must be dealt with”

But there are other equally important things that must be dealt with.” Therefore, we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (even though it is largely overlooked.)

 

So what were they saying? They were saying “this is an important issue that must be dealt with. “But there are also equally important things that must be dealt with. “Therefore we will have a division of labor.” And this principle carries over into the church today (although it is largely overlooked.) The subconscious assumption of most people is that the pastor is supposed to do everything. But the real focus of the work of the pastor is given in Ephesians 4:11-15.

 

And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (12) for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ;(13) till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (14)that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.  (15) but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in Him in all things which is the head, even Christ.”

 

Verse 11 says that Christ gave to the church men who have the gift of pastor-teacher, and men with the gift of evangelism (apostles and prophets too at first) and His purpose was “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. “Now I can just hear someone thinking, listen to that, “preachers only work one day a week,” and now they want us to do the work of the ministry.” (just kidding) but actually there is a sense in which that is what these verses are saying.

 

And the result of that arrangement will be a stable maturity where Christians are not “tossed about with every wind of doctrine” according to verse 14, but who can counsel and teach each other as newcomers to the group. Let me give you what I believe to be a pastor’s order of priorities in the ministry, based on these various passages of scripture: First and foremost is the preparation and presentation of the teaching of the Word of God (8 hours of preparation per hour of teaching should be the norm.) This would include worship services, funerals and weddings, and bible studies (home or church).

A second priority would be activities that help with the application of the teaching. This would include such things as premarital counseling and working with families about funeral services. It would include such things as encouraging people with serious illnesses or injuries in the application of scripture to their situation. Only then does the pastor’s ministry involve general visitation, public relations, community activities, etc. It is my opinion (although probably none of my business) that the large majority of pastors and churches have these priorities exactly backwards.

 

Now we have seen “the explanation” of the situation, and “the organization” designed to facilitate it. But the third aspect of the situation is the ordination of these men that took place in verses 5 and 6

 

(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, Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (6) whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

 

We have a tendency to think that the pastors and Sunday School teachers have very spiritual work to do, but that other church workers (staff members and otherwise) are more of a secular nature. But look at these men. They were chosen for their godliness and set apart with a public prayer of dedication. Even though their work was not in the area of teaching and preaching, it was just as sacred as the work of the apostles. And that is demonstrated in the next point: because after the “explanation” and the “organization,” multiplication was a natural result. Look at verse 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.

 

We began our study in the context of “church growth” and now we come full circle back to it again. Do you see where church growth comes from? Not from putting on a catchy, entertaining program that will attract people who are disenchanted with the church they are going to, not by offering a class for every interest group in town, and not by having facilities that are on a par with the best shopping malls and office buildings. Those things may have their place under certain conditions, but real, biblical church growth comes from bringing people to Christ as a result of a spiritually centered, cooperating organization of spiritual gifts and abilities.

 

Although it might not appear so at first glance, what we have here in the beginning of chapter 6 is yet another attack of Satan. First he had attacked from outside – the Sanhedrin in chapter 4; then he attacked from within – Ananias and Saphira in chapter 5. But here is the most subtle attack of all: distraction from ministry by means of an argument of an argument about methods. Fortunately the apostles were able to “nip it in the bud” before it became a problem, but many ministries fall prey to this kind of thing, and it is hard to deal with because often “the good is the enemy of the best.” and it is hard to see beyond some good that is being done. And remember that this took place under the leadership of the apostles themselves! Good leadership in and of itself is not necessarily a preventative of problems. But God has His own designs for the way things should be done, and we ignore it to our peril!

 

The purpose of these studies is to draw you closer to Jesus Christ. If you do not know him, it is my prayer that they will help you understand that Romans 3:23 says that you, like all of us, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached at

Janicetemple@yahoo.com