Friday, 28 August 2015

Bible Reading: Acts 6v1-7

"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them  and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.  They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."

As we have thought about this passage over the last couple of days we've seen the twin threats growth posed to the early church.  Threats of division and distraction.  Now we see how the Apostles lead the church to deal decisively with danger.  They don't take their time, they don't convene lots of meetings for discussion, the problem is too serious and the danger too imminent to be left to fester.  

(2)The Apostles are quick to see the seriousness of the situation and lead the church to deal with it. They gather the church and make them aware of the issue bringing an end to the grumbling. And they lead the church in changing so that the gospel is unleash in word and action. There are two particular things they do, I just want to dwell on one here, we'll get to the second another time.

The first thing they do is to show the church that they must make the main thing the main thing(2,4). The Apostles recognise the danger of distraction from teaching the bible and move swiftly to remedy it.  It's worth noticing that they don’t deny the value of mercy ministry, as some today would do, they want to encourage it.  The gospel should always lead to practical love and care of those in need.  But it isn’t right for them, the Apostles, to being doing that rather than preaching and teaching.

Why? Because they have been called to witness to Jesus(1:8).  The church has grown through people hearing about Jesus and the churches unity is maintained by the gospel taught and applied and if they stop teaching the good news of Jesus then the church will struggle and mercy ministry will fizzle out and die.  The good news of God’s grace in Jesus, that he gave up everything to die condemned in our place to win for us a relationship with God is what fuels the church. Grace at work is what leads to salvation, unity and love for one another expressed practically. If they stop teaching the gospel, if they stop witnessing to Jesus, mercy ministry will dry up, the church will fracture, and the mission they were given by Jesus to be his Spirit empowered witnesses will fail.  So they have to make the main thing – preaching and prayer - the main thing.

The church grows in numbers and maturity as the word of God is taught. The church is united together as the love of God for us is taught and applied. The church grows in love for one another expressed practically as the grace of God fills and overflows our hearts.  And that overflow results in mercy ministry.

There are lots of good things we can and should do as churches.   But we have to make sure that preaching and prayer are guarded and remain central.  We need to make sure those who preach and teach be it in Sunday school, home group, in an Uncover group, at toddlers or on Sunday morning are not so overworked with other good things that they are distracted from teaching the Bible well.   We need to make sure they are not so busy that prayer gets squeezed into snatched minutes here and there, because to do so would invite disaster.

But as all of God's people we also need to ask to what extent do I reflect those priorities?  Do I prioritise hearing preaching, applying it, being changed by it?  To what extent do I encourage those who teach me to devote themselves to the word of God and prayer?  Because to do any less invites disaster.  How can we better encourage those who teach us God's word to teach us well (notice the word encourage, not berate or burden)?  How can we better facilitate their study and prayer?

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