READ – Acts 5:42-6:7
The first section of the book of Acts (Chapters 1-12) can be divided into two parts: Part one (Chapters 1-5) is mainly about the gospel going deep into the growing church in Jerusalem. In this first ever church there was a focus on learning, teaching and community life. They were all of “one heart and mind” and there wasn’t a needy person in the whole church. This is what it looks like when the gospel goes deep into a church. Part two (Chapters 6-12) is mainly about the gospel going out. The gospel begins to move out from this one church in Jerusalem into new places. This passage (Acts 5:42-6:1-7) is the transition story – it tells us how God kept the church from becoming ingrown. It shows us the kind of lessons a church needs to learn to keep from becoming ingrown and to go out with the gospel to the world.
1. THE PROBLEM
In addition to the external opposition facing the church from the Jewish religious leaders, the church now faced internal opposition. A “complaint arose” from the Greek speaking Jewish believers that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This was a very sensitive matter since it involved a difference in both language and culture.
Here is where we are shown lesson #1 – Complaints and conflict can make a church stronger. It’s true that complaints and conflict can greatly weaken and distract a church, but this story shows us this isn’t how it has to be. God can use complaints to strengthen a church and prepare a church for greater impact beyond itself. That’s what happened here.
The 12 apostles recognized (by God’s grace) an opportunity for the whole church to become stronger. The church learned to work ALL together through conflict - everyone was involved (see 6:2). Trust was deepened. The issue wasn’t avoided or ignored by the church or its leadership. Instead, overlooked people felt valued. The way the church handled internal conflict actually convinced their external opposition (the priests) to believe (6:7)!
This compliant/conflict was God’s way of preparing and training the church to go out – to become more uncomfortable, to reach across greater cultural divides to people who cared nothing and knew nothing about Judaism or Jesus. How would they love and serve people so different than them if they can’t love their own widows?
2. THE SOLUTION
To understand the urgency and sensitivity of finding a solution to this problem, we need to remember that Hellenistic Jewish widows in the first century were socially vulnerable and they were also a cultural and numeric minority in this young Aramaic speaking church community. This meant that they could be easily overlooked. But the apostles took this very seriously. The vulnerable and the overlooked in the world were NOT to be overlooked by the church or in the church. When it came down to prayer and the teaching of word and taking care of the needs of the vulnerable, especially the cultural and numeric minorities in the community, it was not an either-or. In fact, if they took the word of God and prayer seriously they had to take care for the vulnerable seriously (see Exodus 22:22-23, Dt 10:17, 18, 27:19 and Isa. 1:15). But they also realized they couldn’t do it all. They were called to prioritize the ministry of the word and prayer. Their solution was to share ministry with others.
Here is where God was teaching the church Lesson #2 – Ministry is not for the professional few. A healthy church inside - with more leaders, with more ownership, more teams and more people serving as ministers - will have greater impact outside. In context of the greater narrative in Acts – it’s only when the ministry of the word and prayer are not neglected, AND more people are serving-leading in the church, does the gospel go out from Jerusalem. It’s only when ministry isn’t seen as the calling of the few that a church is ready to go out.
3. THE RESULT
What was the result of the sharing of ministry, of a focus on the word and prayer and compassion and care? 6:7 tells us – the gospel went out. Many of those who were most opposed to the gospel became Christians! ”A large group of priests became obedient to the faith”. Why?
The priests were supposed to be the servant community. Their main roles were to serve people through sacrifices, teaching, prayer and care of the poor. They were called to bring the people in to God and bring God out to the people. They looked at the church and thought, “How is it that they are doing our job way better than us?”
The church could’ve become ingrown (like most of the religious leaders of Judaism had), but instead the spirit of service and ministry grew instead of a spirit of selfishness. Somehow the church had a whole culture from its leaders down to everyone, “Here’s what we do – we wait on tables! We are all ministers!” How did the church get this spirit of service?
Here’s Lesson #3 – To look outside of ourselves to serve, we must (continually) look to Jesus the Servant. Acts 5:42 says “every day” the church rehearsed the gospel (the good news) of who Jesus is. It was continually looking to the good news of who Jesus is that changed selfish hearts into servant hearts. In Luke 22:27, Jesus said, “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” In other words, Jesus said here’s how you are to think of God, “as one who waits on tables”. Jesus said this while he was reclining at the table with his disciples eating his last meal with them. It was his way of showing them what he was about to do - to serve them by his death in their place, so they could have a place at his table (Luke 22:29). Jesus, the One who deserves to recline, who deserves all our service, is the One who serves us.
This is what changes the heart of selfishness into a heart of service. It’s the astounding realization that God does not say to us, “Serve ME! Wait on me and I will bless you and only then will I let you sit at the table with me”. Instead, the gospel tells us, that although no one can earn or deserve a seat at his table, God becomes a servant to us in Jesus, so we can sit at the table with him.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Why is it so hard to see complaints and conflict as opportunities to become stronger (as churches and as people)? What can we learn from how the apostles/church handled this complaint? How can dealing with complaints and conflict be God’s way of helping us learn to serve people who are not like us?
3. When you are feeling overlooked (in a relationship, at work or at church) what might it look like to handle this in a way that serves the relationship, the company or the church as a whole?
4. The word used for “wait on tables” and the “ministry” of the word share the same root (the word where we get the word “deacon”). Both are equally “ministry”. How do you understand your own part and contribution to ministry in the church? What kinds of things do you think stand in the way for more people to be active in service at Trinity?
5. In the sermon it was mentioned that this passage challenges both consumerism and “celebrity-ism” in the church. How have you seen one or both of at work in the church or in your life? How does this passage address these things?
6. How does the gospel (the good news that Jesus is the Messiah) address our all too often selfish hearts? How does knowing God waits on us change us and empower us to wait on others (even when they are selfish and complain)?