How many of us are facing a problem in 2013 thats still there because we didnt address it in 2012? Its not a new problem, its an old problem that didnt go away. Most of us tend to avoid confronting issues hoping matters will resolve themselves with the passing of time, but if were honest with ourselves wed have to admit that seldom happens. Things that are broken dont fix themselves, projects dont move forward without someone investing time and effort, and suspicion and alienation certainly arent healed without someone taking deliberate steps to reconcile.
What we see in our lesson today is a problem being handled well. The rapid growth of the church had brought in people from different backgrounds, and it wasnt long before old cultural divisions sprang up. Charges had been leveled at the apostles that they had shown favoritism toward one group over another, and the situation had the potential to divide the church and ruin its witness. But it didnt. Instead, it became an opportunity for another miracle that stunned the community and caused even more people to want to become followers of Jesus. Instead of hurting the churchs growth, it accelerated it. So how the apostles handled that crisis is a marvelous example of how to handle problems in our own lives. And if we put these lessons into practice in 2013, 2014 should be a lot more stress-free.
What happened? (Ac 6:1-7)
DBS (Sun-Tues, Fri, Sat)
Now lets look more closely at this event to see what principles we can learn from the way the apostles handled this problem.
#1 Face problems quickly (vs 1, 2)
In view of the fact that the apostles themselves were the ones being charged with unfairness, it would be very natural to want to avoid the matter as long as possible. And though Luke doesnt tell us how long they waited, the way he narrates the flow of events implies that the issue was addressed as soon as it came up. They didnt deny the charges, they didnt become offended, they didnt blame others, and they didnt pull rank by reminding everyone that they were apostles. Even though they were the ones being accused, they didnt let it get personal, they addressed it right away.
Patience: waiting while something good matures
Procrastination: doing nothing while something bad continues
Caution: there are bad situations where we still choose to wait patiently for God to move on someones heart, we do this prayerfully and in hope because we love the person.
Dr. Henry Cloud, 9 Things a Leader Must Do, Thomas Nelson, 2006, pp 29-39
#2 Seek Gods guidance (vs 2, 3)
Notice Luke talks about the Twelve as if they were one person. When they stood in front of this enormous congregation they had already spent time together before the Lord and had come into agreement. Before taking any kind of action, they had gathered and listened for Gods guidance, as a team, not alone.
The hardest part of guidance is hearing Gods will for our own lives. Some of us tend to avoid any words of correction, others tend to dismiss any words of affirmation and promise (Oh, thats just me!). We need to learn to listen to God with others, people who are fully-surrendered to the Lord, who come with no agenda, who are able to listen to the Spirit, not just reason with the mind. And then we pray and discuss together until we sense that the Lord has spoken. The whole process is done collectively. It is not the same as asking a number of people to tell us what they think and then adding up votes.
Surprisingly, Gods answer is often very different from any of the options we considered initially. We might have thought the only possible choice was between A or B, but when God finally reveals His will the real answer turns out to be C, something we had not even thought about.
None of this is meant to remove an individuals responsibility to do what they believe the Lord has told them to do, regardless of what others say. But if submitted to humbly, this process will help prevent us from being locked into a position where we refuse to allow anyone to speak common sense to us, where the only voices were willing to hear are people who agree with us.
#3 Let God correct us first (v2)
When God shows us the situation from His perspective, usually everyone will experience some degree of correction. Surrendered hearts always ask, Lord, what did I do or not do in this? and its surprising how often well hear Him correct us first. In this case He doesnt chastise the apostles for overlooking widows, because undoubtedly nothing of the sort was intended, but He does tell the Twelve that the way they were using their time didnt please Him. They had drifted off track and didnt know it. What had started out as their assignment (Ac 4:34, 35) stopped being their assignment somewhere along the line and this was probably the real reason the problem arose. So the first thing they had to tell the congregation was that they had neglected their call to preach the Word by letting the demands of the benevolence ministry control them.
#4 Be willing to lead (v3)
Then they placed before the congregation the plan God gave them. They didnt ask for suggestions and they didnt take a vote, they simply said, Heres what God said to do.
There is a dying-to-self in being willing to lead. It exposes us to criticism, and people may grow emotionally distant. Many run from becoming leaders. They may say its because of humility, that they arent worthy but the real reason they resist is because they fear the pressure and responsibility. As a leader they will have to set standards, hold people accountable, discipline if necessary, and make the hard decisions no one else wants to make. The apostles werent proud, arbitrary or egotistical about their role, but they knew that it was first of all their job to seek the will of the Lord, and then when theyd heard from Him, to do what He said. In other words, to lead.
#5 Be willing to follow (vs 3-6)
The plan God showed them required the congregation to discern the will of God as well. The apostles had been shown a structure, but not the names of those who would fill the positions. Basically, the apostles told them, You pick seven, and well put them in charge. They set the standards as to what to look for, but then respected the congregations choice. I suppose if they had felt any one of the nominees wasnt suitable they would have said so, but after preparing themselves in prayer, they appointed all seven.
#6 Expect problems to become a source of strength (v7)
A well-resolved problem is as miraculous as a healing. Theres little doubt that word must have spread through the city that grumbling had arisen in the church and a split might emerge. The tension between Greek-speaking Jews and Hebrew-speaking Jews was a familiar cultural problem, and the enemies of the church must have been delighted at the prospect of a divisive fight, particularly if the grumbling was aimed at the apostles themselves. But the fight didnt come. It disappeared as fast as it had sprung up, and the two sides were suddenly moving forward in even greater unity than before. And that was a miracle as profound as the healing of the lame man (Ac 3:1-10). So the crisis ended up acting like a rocket-booster pushing the church to even greater growth.
And one group that may have been especially moved by the reconciliation they saw was the priests. After all, if there was anything they knew first hand it was the divisiveness of religion. They were immersed in a culture where there were many different groups angrily criticizing each other. So to watch a dividing line, that probably affected them as well, disappear and people resolve their issues peacefully must have been a powerful witness. This may be why Luke adds
and a great crowd of priests obeyed the faith (literal) (v7). Jesus said this would happen: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:35)
And He prayed for us:
that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (Jn 17:23)
So, as we enter the new year are there problems that you or I have avoided addressing directly? If there is one, or maybe several, then we have in front of us an example of how the apostles addressed their problems, and we would be wise to learn from them. If we do, then we too will:
1) Face problems quickly, not avoid them and hope theyll disappear.
2) Seek Gods guidance first of all. Well carefully avoid reacting in the flesh and, when needed, well gather with others to listen.
3) Humbly listen for His correction of us.
4) Be willing to lead, to act on what Hes told us to do, and endure criticism, if necessary.
5) Respect others ability to hear from God. We wont assume we are the only ones who can hear His voice.
6) Expect our problems to be healed, or at least handled well, and to become the source of even greater blessings.
A final promise
Who can read this passage and not think of Pauls promise to the Romans:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28)
God didnt just magically make their problem disappear. They had a clear part to play in the process. Their participation was required. But they did their part, and He did the rest
causing a dangerous development to become a glorious witness to the entire city. And Hell do the same for us
if well do our part.
1) Have you ever experienced collective decision-making, where you sat down with a few trusted family members or friends and sought Gods will together? If its not too personal, would you tell us about it?
2) Have you ever seen God transform a serious problem into a great blessing? What did He do, and what did you have to do?