Lesson 6 -- fourth quarter 2008
October 12, 2008
© Copyright 2008
Many Christians in our day seem to put the early church on a pedestal. So do I. We imagine the early church as being the epitome of what God had in mind for His people in the New Testament. We tend to think that if our congregation could be like the early church (at least in spirit), then we would have the almost-perfect church. We want to know the specifics of what they believed and practiced so that we might emulate that in our age. We have this disposition to believe that if the early church said so, it must be so. The early church was it, you know. After all, they were the closest historically and geographically to the Master and His Apostles. They had and lived the truth!
Please do not misunderstand. I am not mocking that view and neither am I belittling the maturity and significance of the early church. However, we must never forget that these believers had every bit as much humanity in them as we do. They lived in the flesh just as much as we do. Notice two excerpts from Acts 6.
"There arose a murmuring." How do you respond when something irritates, offends or otherwise bothers you? Murmuring, whispering, complaining and sniping came just as easily to humans in the early church as they come to humans in our churches today! And that manifestation of the flesh is wrong. Reject it in your life. Begin by dying to self. Then find positive, godly ways of dealing with the problem you see. Work directly with those you perceive to be causing the problem; you'll get to a solution much more quickly that way than talking behind their backs.
"Their widows were neglected." Some things just don't get done. There will be times when people who deserve it will not get the attention and assistance they need...because someone else is getting it. What assumptions we draw from such happenings reveal a lot of what we have in our hearts. In this particular case, it seems the Grecians assumed their widows were being deliberately neglected, perhaps even because of a bias in favor of the Jews. When things (seem to) go against you or yours, to whom do you give the benefit of the doubt? To what conclusions do you leap? How we need to die to self! How we need to grow in charity and brotherhood!
"Look ye out among you." God raises up leaders for His people from among His people. If a local body is unable to produce local leadership, something is dreadfully amiss. But the trend in the church at large has increasingly become the importation of church leaders. To resort to such measures is to acknowledge that the local group is too immature to look ye out among you. Beware of the Nebuchadnezzar syndrome (Daniel 1:3,4)!
Sometimes the problem is not an inability to look ye out among you so much as it is an unwillingness to do so. Who said familiarity has to breed contempt?! Must it also be true in the church "that a prophet hath no honour in his own country"? God forbid that we despise local leaders (or leadership potential) merely because they are local and because we know them so well. I no longer marvel at a "foreign" speaker's ability to draw out a Wednesday night crowd when a local speaker cannot. We seem unwilling to look ye out among you in this sense also. I thought we go to church to listen to God without regard to the brother who is the message bearer!
"And they chose." God and the Apostles trusted the judgment and discernment of the "laity." Even though this was a fledgling church, the power and grace of the Spirit in them was not to be despised. So they chose. Seven. From among thousands. How they did it without ending up with a lot more than the stipulated seven, I don't know. I do know that the Holy Spirit guided them. I also know that He can still accomplish that among us today. May God teach us to be as close to Him as they apparently were back then! At least!
Some congregations with their own cemeteries elect an official grave digger (except he is referred to as "the sexton"). Supposing you got in on such a vote -- how would you decide for whom to vote? I suspect most of us are inclined to think mostly (perhaps only) of strong backs and relatively open schedules. At least, that is how I have viewed the issue in the past. Today's lesson opens my eyes to my error. Look again.
These seven men were chosen to address certain needs and tasks. These men were to ensure that no one got "neglected in the daily ministration." That sounds quite important to me! But then when I read that the twelve said they shouldn't have to "serve tables" I get a different feeling. Serve tables! And for such a task they stipulated "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom"??!! That staggers my imagination and experience! I confess that I have never, ever voted for a sexton or a librarian on such a basis. It just never entered my mind to consider giving that kind of thought to any position "less than" ministerial-level leadership offices.
If my attitude reflects or is the product of church-wide perspectives on these matters, then we have a problem of monstrous proportions. Now please understand, I do not mean to imply that those I voted for did not meet these qualifications. Not at all! I just mean that the basis on which I chose them did not measure up to a high enough standard. The standard ought to be this: Those chosen to do God's work (at any level) must be proven to be brimming with God's Spirit and wisdom. To go by a lesser standard demeans and secularizes the work of God and the Church.
Oh, and when the church calls you to do something, do not despise it. Serving tables, preaching the Word -- both are critical to God's plan.
From the far-removed vantage point of the year 2008, I think it would have been a tremendous honor to have been one of those chosen seven. Imagine the Apostles saying, "Look ye out among you seven men" (Acts 6:3), and having a bunch of people think of you right away. Wow! But I wonder what I would think of being asked to be a server at one of our congregation's fellowship meals.
Actually, I don't wonder. I already know. The answer lies in the fact that I usually don't even think of going down to the kitchen or eating area to help out. I may not consciously think that I'm too something-or-other to serve tables, but I certainly live it. How about you?
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