If you’ve ever seen the John West tinned salmon ads on TV, you’ll know the SECRET of John West’s success.
The secret of making sure that only the best fish go in the John West tin, the secret that makes John West the best, it’s all summed up in a simple two-letter word. It’s all about knowing WHEN TO SAY “NO”.
Because, IT’S THE FISH JOHN WEST REJECTS. THAT MAKE JOHN WEST THE BEST.
Knowing when to say NO. It’s the key to keeping your PRIORITIES, isn’t it. The secret to keeping the MAIN THING the MAIN THING. It’s the key to not letting all kinds of GOOD THINGS. Get in the way of the BEST THING.
Which is something the APOSTLES are alert to here in the first few verses of Acts chapter 6. It’s a short passage. But one with an important point to make.
And it’s a passage we need to be careful we don’t OVER-GENERALISE. And make RULES from. Because what you see MOST OF ALL is a church that’s learning to be FLEXIBLE. And ADAPT to problems as they come up.
But at the same time there’s a clear demonstration of PRIORITIES. Of putting FIRST THINGS FIRST. And that’s something we need to make sure we notice.
So let’s take a look at what’s happening.
There’s been some time go by since the end of chapter 5. And, as we’ve seen, the church is GROWING. In leaps and bounds. From 70 people in Ch 1 to over 5000 in Ch 5.
And when things grow that quickly, there’s often GROWING PAINS. Teething problems.
Great problems to have. Because they’ve come about because there’s GROWTH in the church. People becoming Christians. But problems none-the-less.
And they need to be DEALT WITH. As the number of Christians is growing, you’ve got TWO FACTIONS in the Jerusalem church. And there’s GRUMBLING. That sort of rumble in the background where people are pointing the finger. Comparing. One faction against the other.
And the issue they’re complaining about is the way FOOD’S being shared around/ to the people in need.
There are the GREEK SPEAKING JEWS who have moved back to Jerusalem from up in the North. And there are the HEBREW SPEAKING JEWS. The stay-at-homes. The locals. They’ve all become Christians. Which means those other distinctions SHOULD be over and done with. BUT THEY’RE NOT.
And so you get the situation painted in chapter 6 verse 1.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”
The Greek Jews saying, hey listen, OUR WIDOWS aren’t getting MEALS ON WHEELS. It’s all going to you HEBREWS. Playing favourites.
But what’s changed? Why does it become an issue NOW? Remember, up to THIS point, you’ve had people bringing their gifts to THE APOSTLES; and THE APOSTLES were making sure it was shared around.
But now you’re talking about a group of 5000 people. And the job’s just got too big.
And so here’s an accusation, with tremendous potential for things to get really ugly: These apostles, they look after their own widows, and leave ours hungry. Someone’s cooking the books. They think their people are more important than ours just because we don’t speak HEBREW.
All the right ingredients for a great fight: and money & deceit & corruption. Imagine the headlines. APOSTLES STARVE LITTLE OLD LADIES.
At this point notice that the apostles are dealing with two dangers. And we’re going to see/ they deal with them both. The danger of DIVISION. Of the church splitting apart on racial grounds right from the start.
And the danger of DIVERSION. That satisfying the DEMANDS being made of them/ will take their attention away from the main game. And we’ll see how they deal with both.
The unfortunate truth is that it’s incredibly easy for churches to be divided. And it’s often about MINOR things.
I’ve heard a joke/ about a large denomination. That the only way they plant churches is when there’s a DIVISION. A disagreement. And half the church LEAVES to start another church.
Terrible reason to plant churches. Much better when a new church starts out of UNITY. Not DIVISION.
And this situation with the EARLY church/ had the potential to escalate into a similar way.
So how’s it handled? (This complaint that the Greek widows are overlooked in favour of the Hebrews). There are a of points to notice.
First of all, from verse 2, will you notice that the issue gets TALKED ABOUT OPENLY. By everyone. Seems to me that a lot of the time when there are issues to face, they never quite come out in the open. And so can never be dealt with.
The Youth Group leave the kitchen in a mess, so the ladies complain to everyone but the people they SHOULD be talking to.
People are dissatisfied with the preaching, or the Sunday school program, or the music. But, rather than bring things into the open and discuss them, they mumble and grumble. And become more and more bitter and frustrated. And end up leaving the church without ever having addressed the issue.
And they take that resentment and built-up tension to some OTHER poor church. (If they go back to church AT ALL!)
Please, as a leader here, if you have a problem. TALK to us about it. It’s the only way we can DEAL with it.
That’s what the apostles do. The complaint is made, the apostles hear about it. So they call EVERYONE TOGETHER. No misunderstandings. No escalation of the division. It affects EVERYONE, so EVERYONE gets a say.
Verse 2 says they gather all the disciples; all the Christians together. And set out the plan you can see in verse 3.
And the whole church is given the task of choosing SEVEN MEN. who’ll have the responsibility of dividing the food. The Apostles put forward the PLAN. And the PEOPLE choose the men.
Notice the BALANCE between LEADERSHIP, and GROUP decision-making. A good leader, a good SHEPHERD, LEADS – sets a direction. But he also leads as a SERVANT, with understanding, and compassion for his sheep.
And notice something else. The qualifications of the seven. It’s not that they’re GOOD BUSINESSMEN; or who’ve HAD EXPERIENCE IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY. Seven men who verse 3 says are known to be FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT and WISDOM.
This is no second rate job. It’s not as if there’s a DISTINCTION between the spiritual work and the physical work, and that somehow/ when you’re looking after peoples needs, and doing the administration, that the spiritual side doesn’t matter. It’s VITAL.
It will take wisdom and godliness to tread the fine line between favouritism, and equality. Between impartiality and generosity.
And it’s a good plan. And in verse 5 you can see it pleases the whole group. And they choose Stephen, and Philip and Procurus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolas. And they apostles commission them to get to work.
Now in terms of dealing with the possible division, there’s an interesting thing here. And it’s worth noticing. Because it’s very GRACIOUS. And it reflects well on the whole church. Because you’ll notice it’s the GREEK WIDOWS who feel they’re being hard done by. And will you notice that the people put in charge, these seven who are appointed, all of them have got GREEK NAMES. Not a Joshua or a Jacob among them.
Philip. Classic Greek name that means LOVER OF HORSES. Stephen. Nicanor. Every one of them; FROM THE GROUP THAT FELT HARD DONE BY. Given the responsibility to look after the whole task of distributing food fairly to everyone. No matter what their background.
Now I reckon that’s GRACIOUS. That’s saying, if there was a problem before, it wasn’t INTENTIONAL. Just a result of GROWING PAINS. People OVERLOOKED. Not SNUBBED.
If people from a GREEK BACKGROUND were uncomfortable, if they thought there was favouritism going on. let’s hand over the WHOLE THING. So it can be put right. Without any argument.
And that’s what they do.
Now like I said, there were two dangers. Division was the first. But the second one’s more subtle. And that’s DIVERSION. I mean, feeding hungry widows is IMPORTANT. In fact it’s essential. And in a group of 5000, there are plenty of people who need help. There’s lots to do.
Many country towns have roughly that population. And they have a social security office, and a hospital, and a Community health centre, and meals on wheels. And all of them employing people FULL TIME just to look after community needs.
It would be very easy for the apostles to get so tied up in that sort of stuff that it starts to be THE MAIN GAME.
And here’s where their real wisdom shows through, isn’t it. In identifying the MAIN GAME. It’s the FISH JOHN WEST REJECTS that make John West the best. It’s PICKING THE VERY BEST THING to be doing, and not letting the other GOOD STUFF be a distraction.
And you can see the way the apostles KNOW THEIR PRIORITIES if you look a bit closer at what they say in verse 2. The reason the apostles say ELECT SEVEN OTHERS is this. They say, “It wouldn’t be right for us to neglect the MINISTRY OF THE WORD OF GOD in order to wait on tables.”
Priority number 1 is THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD. The most important task in the leading of the church is PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS. Teaching the WORD OF GOD. And they go on to say the same in verse 4. They say Choose seven men full of the Spirit and wisdom. We’ll turn the responsibility of looking after the widows over to them. And we, verse 4, we’ll give our attention TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.”
There are all sorts of competing priorities for churches. And the people who lead them. In fact, there are all sorts of churches that go down all sorts of other tracks. and lose sight of the main game. Like the Salvation Army, who a few years back launched an ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN to remind people they were REALLY A CHURCH. And not just a social work organisation.
Peter Jensen, the Anglican archbishop of Sydney, was interviewed on the 7:30 report a while ago. And he was asked if HE’D ever be tempted to leave the job to take up the post of Governor General. Like Peter Hollingsworth did.
And he said this. He said “No I wouldn’t. Because as far as I’m concerned, there’s NO GREATER PRIVILEGE than being a PREACHER OF CHRIST.” There’s no higher OFFICE. Than that.
Which is what the apostles are saying here. Waiting on Tables is fine. We’ve got to look after our widows. We’ve got to make sure people are CARED FOR. But the MAIN THING has to remain THE MAIN THING. “It wouldn’t be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”
And so they appoint the seven. Spiritual men. Wise men. And the apostles focus on prayer and the ministry of the word. And I guess the seven do a great job of organising the care of the widows. And verse 7 says, because THE PRIORITIES are right, GREAT THINGS HAPPEN.
I reckon you still see that today. If you can harness the two together, you’ve got a great church. A church that’s keeping PRAYER AND TEACHING THE WORD right at the centre. And at the same time is pouring time and energy and wisdom and resources into PRACTICAL CARING. that’s a HEALTHY CHURCH.
And verse 7 says that’s what it was like. With some astounding results. That even JEWISH PRIESTS were being converted to the faith. The great opponents of the apostles. Being won over. I guess by hearing the word proclaimed. And seeing the way these Christians CARED FOR ONE ANOTHER. ” So the word of God ,” verse 7.
” The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Exciting times. Because DIVISION was avoided. And DIVERSION was avoided.
Maybe you can ask yourself how we’re going in those things.
I know it’s a challenge to ME as a leader. And I need to be encouraged all the time to be PRAYERFUL. And to be working hard at TEACHING THE WORD. And keeping that as a priority.
I’m grateful to the elders. To Gordon and Rob and Dean. Because they’re constantly asking me if I’m not getting TOO BUSY. Encouraging me to NOT say YES to too many things. So I can keep my focus on PRAYER, and TEACHING THE WORD.
And we’ve got a great group of people who can help in these other areas. People full of wisdom and the Spirit.
People to look after the money. Count it. Bank it. Plan for it. Budget it. To organise fellowship dinners, Church Camps. To set-up church. To put it away. To lead church, and lead singing. To mind the babies.
And each person who does something like that, is DIRECTLY helping those who are involved in ministering the WORD.
But what about YOU? Maybe you can see areas where the balance ISN’T right. Maybe you can see needs that AREN’T being met.
Then Acts 6 tells us we need to TALK ABOUT IT. Without division. And we need to work out ways of ADDRESSING THOSE NEEDS. In a way that counts. To re-dress the balance.
Let’s be OPEN. And FLEXIBLE. And UNITED. And SERVING each other.
All the time working hard to avoid DIVISION. And avoid DIVERSION. So that the main thing remains the main thing. And the ministry of the word of God stays right in the centre where it belongs.