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Chapter 5, the book of Acts.
At the end of the fourth chapter we have the second mention of the early pure communism that was practiced in the first church. Where those who had possessions sold them, and they shared. As we made note last Sunday night, financially it was disastrous. Spiritually it was a very beautiful gesture. That the wealthier Christians had such a great love for the Lord and for the body of Christ that they were willing to sell their possessions and put everything in a common kind of a purse. So that no one was in need in the early church. No one had to go without. But it did turn out to be a financial disaster to the extent that later on Paul had to take offerings from among the Gentile churches to support the poor brethren in Jerusalem. Because after the monies are expended, then what do you do?
There had been some advocating of the church community, in these days. There are certain churches that are attempting to reinstitute this practice in the original church. A famous vicar in London has recommended the Church Community Concept, Dr. John Stott. And he encouraged those of his congregation who had Mercedes and all to sell them, and they who had the large castles to sell them. To get a smaller economical car and to create a common kind of a purse for the church and for the church community. They called it the Church Community Concept. Not communal, but community. You each have your own houses and all, but yet there is the sharing of the wealth within the church. I don't believe that that is necessarily a pattern that God intended. Though they did in the church in Jerusalem, there's absolutely no mention of it being done by any of the other churches that were established. And as we pointed out, the results in Jerusalem were financial chaos. And there were other problems with it. We will get to those other problems as we move into the fifth chapter.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, but they kept back part of the price, his wife also being a party to it, and they brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power? why have you conceived this thing in your heart? for you have not lied to men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and a great fear came on all those that heard these things. And the young men arose, and bound him, and carried him out, and buried him. It was about the space of three hours after (Act 5:1-7),
Now, that's interesting they took him out and buried him and didn't even notify his wife.
And about the space of three hours after this, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. Peter asked her, Tell me whether you sold the land for so much? And she said, Yes, that's how much. And Peter said unto her, How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out. And then she fell down immediately at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. [And it doesn't really need to say this, but it does.] And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Act 5:7-11).
A couple of things that are important to note. Number one is that Peter is talking to Ananias. He said in effect, "Were you forced to sell your property?" The answer is "No." "As long as you had it, wasn't it yours?" "Yes, it was." "After you sold it, no one required you to bring the money in." That was a purely voluntary thing on the part of those in the early church who wanted to do it. It wasn't a requirement of the church. And I think that this is important to note, when there are those liberals today who try to point out that the early church practiced a form of communism, and thus are seeking to advocate communism as a good way to go. The communism of the early church was far different from that communism that we see today, where people are forced at gunpoint to relinquish their personal possessions. Their private properties. Confiscated then by the government. The church was not confiscating property. It was purely a voluntary freewill expression of the gratitude and the love that the people had for God. No one was forcing that issue. And thus, there can be no comparison with the communism of today, which is a forced issue.
The second thing, of course, to note is the sin for which they gave their lives. It was not the sin of holding back, not the sin of failure of giving everything, because God did not require them to give everything. Their sin was that of hypocrisy--pretending to give everything to God when in reality they were holding something back from God. And so we get an interesting view of God's opinion of the hypocrite, which would indeed cause fear and trembling to come upon all the church.
I am interested and attracted by the power in the early church. There was such a purity in the hearts of these people. There was such a power within the church that the hypocrites could not abide. The hypocrites coming into that environment were exposed and destroyed by the power of God. And that, to me, is extremely awesome. I have wondered that if that same kind of power and purity existed in the church today how many members would we still possess after singing the third verse of "Take My Life and Let It Be". For that third verse we sing, "Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withold." And we sing it very dutifully, but yet, all of us are witholding our mites and more. The curse of the church has been hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can manifest itself in many forms, but as the general rule, there is a desire in our flesh to be thought of by people to be more spiritual or more righteous than we truly are. I am so disgusted with my own flesh. Because I love to have people think that I am a deeply spiritual person...a very godly man. And isn't it horrible that your flesh would delight in such a connotation? Now because I want people to believe that I am a deeply spiritual godly man. In close communion with God. I often allow little subtle innuendos to slip from my lips that reveal how deeply spiritual I really am. "For this morning when I was waiting upon God..."Oh, doesn't that sound good? My!! "I heard the roosters crowing, and I knew it would be getting light pretty soon..." "Oh! He prays before the sun comes up. My, what a godly man." Wanting to appear good in the eyes of men. Wanting to appear holy so that people might look up to me with awe and wonder that they might say, "Oh, you're Chuck Smith aren't you?" "Well, yes, uh-huh." God help us!! Hypocrisy...in the early church God did not allow it.
Evidently, we see here the gift of discerning of spirits in operation once again. We will see it again in a couple of chapters as Simon the sorcerer comes to Peter and seeks to buy the power to lay hands on people that they might receive the Holy Spirit. And Peter begins to discern what's in the man's heart. But here when Ananias came in, Peter just flatly asked him why he was making a pretense of giving all when he was really holding something back...that he was lying to the Holy Spirit. And then he said, "For you have not lied to man, but to God." Making the Holy Spirit, God. "Why is it that you have conceived in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" And then, "While it remained, wasn't it yours when you sold it, wasn't it yours to do with? Why is it then that you have conceived this thing in your heart? For you have not lied to men, but you have lied to God." And so equating the two together, lying to the Holy Spirit is equivalent to lying to God, and this is one of the proof texts to show the deity of the Holy Spirit, that He is God. And it's a very strong and powerful argument.
When Sapphira came in, Peter cross-examined her and asked her straightly to see if she was a party to her husband's lying. "Did you sell your house for so much?' "Oh, yes, that's the price we got" And then he accused her of conspiracy with her husband in this attempt to deceive the early church. And her fate was the same as her husband's.
Now, from this purity there proceeded power. For the church now being purged from this hypocrisy. And Jesus said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy." Paul told the Corinthian church to "purge out the leaven therefore." Get rid of that hypocrisy within the church. And the effect of the purifying of the church was power. I do believe that the Book of Acts is a pattern. Not a once in the history of the church unique experience of the power of God. The initial thrust to get the church in orbit. And then that the church was to exist devoid of the power of God in the subsequent generations. I do not believe that the lack of power in the church is really God's fault.
We are so often ready to blame God for our own failings. It's a common trait of man. When God accosted Adam in the garden and said, "What have you done?" He said, "It's the woman that YOU gave to me to be my wife. It's your fault!! You're the one who put her here!" And he was trying to blame God for his sin. "The woman that YOU gave to me to be my wife. She did entice me and I did eat." And so man, it seems, is always ready to blame God for his own failures.
And so we look at the church in it's weak anemic state and we want to blame God. And we say that, "God has withdrawn the power of the Spirit." It was only given to the church to give the church it's first thrust. But once the church was capable of developing it's own programs, establishing it's own seminaries, and creating it's own organizational structures, we no longer needed the power of the Spirit, but we're now able by the genius of man to carry the Gospel into all the world.
History itself will testify to the folly of that concept. For the early church did carry the Gospel into all the world. As Paul wrote to the Colossians thirty years later, "And the Gospel as it has come to you as it is in all the world." And here we are in our modern day church seeing the Gospel reaching a less proportionate area of the world every year. In 1935 some thirty-two percent of the world knew of Jesus Christ. By 1945 it was only twenty-seven percent of the world knew of Jesus Christ. By 1955 it was only twenty-two percent of the world had heard of Jesus Christ. Today they estimate that only seventeen percent of the world had heard of Jesus Christ. And of the fifty million people being added to the earth's population every year, less than five percent of them are being reached or will be reached at our present rate with the Gospel. We are in a population explosion, but it's happening in the areas where the church is not effective. In fact, in many areas where the church has been ruled out. And much of the reason why the church had been put out of areas is because of the hypocrisy in the church.
When the church was purged and purified it became powerful. And so we read that,
By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. (Act 5:12)
This is the area where the lame man was healed. So the church continued to meet without a building, but just meeting on the public territory of the temple, there on Solomon's porch.
Now of the rest durst no man to join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Act 5:13).
So this was the end of the people selling their possessions and bringing them in. After that Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the power of God, no one dared after that to become a part of that tight community that was sharing everything in common, that ended that particular little experiment. But though they did not become a part of that tight community, they magnified them.
And the believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women;) (Act 5:14)
So there were many, many people believing. Becoming Christians but not becoming a part of that tight church community who were sharing everything in common.
In so much that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing might overshadow some of them (Act 5:15).
It doesn't say that Peter's shadow brought any healing benefits.
In that culture there was quite an interesting superstition about shadows. And they would be very careful not to get in the shadow of a evil man, because they had some kind of a superstition that if the shadow of a evil man fell on you that some curse was going to happen to you. And thus, in turning that around, the shadow of a good man they probably thought would bring benefits. I do believe, though it is not recorded, that many of them were healed as the shadow of Peter fell on them. Else the practice would've ceased in a hurry.
But I certain that many of them were healed, not because of any power in the shadow of Peter, but because of the principle of the releasing of faith--a point of contact where I am going to believe God to do a particular thing. When this happens, as the woman who had said, "I know if I can just touch the hem of His garment I will be made whole," and the moment that she touched the hem of the garment she released her faith. "Oh woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee even as you wish." The moment that she touched His garment, she released her faith. Because in her heart she said, "I know that the moment when that happens I'm going to be healed." And as she released her faith, she was healed. So the value of that point of contact to release my faith. "I know that God is going to do it when..." So this developed and, "I know that when Peter's shadow falls on me the Lord's going to heal me. Or the Lord's going to heal my father or my brother." And so you carry your brother out into the street and put him on the side that the shadow would fall. You look at the sun, and you put him on that side and wait for the shadow to fall. And the moment that it fell you say, "Aaaall right!" Faith released. And God responds to our faith. And so I'm certain that many were, no doubt, healed, though it does not say that they were, as the result of releasing their faith, because they had established that point where they would.
And there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one (Act 5:16).
So the purifying of the church by the purging of the hypocrisy and the resultant power that is manifested by the church. Multitudes are brought out of the cities and villages round about Jerusalem and they were being healed as the result of the power that was there in the early church.
Sometimes my heart yearns for that kind of power to exist in the church today. However, I seriously question whether the church today has the capability of handling that kind of power. It seems that in the church we're so ready to exploit anything. And I feel that it is indeed tragic to those who have had healing ministries and who have had that emphasis in their ministries. For the most part, as far as I can think in my mind, they have exploited it for their own personal benefit and gain. And I think that that is indeed tragic. But I don't know my own heart. I don't know what I would do. I really don't trust myself. If suddenly you had all the notoriety, the fame, the acclaim that would come from having that kind of power, I really don't know my own heart. If I would be capable of maintaining in my own spiritual walk. So I can't really judge these men for what they've done, because I don't know what I would do if in that same position.
My father used to always pray, "Lord, do not bless me with more than what I can contain my love for you. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Poverty that I would steal or riches that I would say, 'Who is God? I don't need Him.'" Several years ago, four or five, I was standing here, right where I am now, and we were in prayer together in an afterglow. Just waiting upon God. And there had been in that particular service a beautiful move of God's Spirit through the teaching of the Word. Many people had come to respond to the message and to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. And then, as we were all waiting upon the Lord, suddenly it was just as though it was just the Lord and I here alone together and no one else was here, and I began to talk to Him about how thrilled I was with Calvary Chapel and with what God had done and all of the blessings that God had bestowed upon us, just super abundant blessings of God. And I said, "Lord there seems to be only one thing lacking as I think of the church in Acts, and that is that dynamic power to minister to the needs of the people in a physical sense, the healings and the miracles that happened in Acts. And if You would raise up someone, Lord, perhaps within the fellowship with the gift of miracles or healing, then it would seem that we would have the church of Acts complete." And the Lord spoke to my heart in a very powerful way. He said, "I have given to you the more excellent way." And of course my mind immediately flashed on I Corinthians, chapter 12, where Paul, speaking of the gifts of healings and miracles and all, said, "Yet I will show you a more excellent way than even miracles, healings, whatever. For though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal." And God said, " I have given you the love within the fellowship." I said, "Thank You, Lord, for the more excellent way. Help us to walk in it." And I've never asked God again for those gifts of miracles or healing as far as my own personal life is concerned.
Now, there are miracles and healings that are happening here daily, but not to the extent that we find in the book of Acts. Nor do we wish to capitalize, or to emphasize those healings that are taking place, lest people would be drawn only for the physical benefits and not really drawn to Jesus Christ. I do feel that we do lack from the early church in this area. But God knows that, and why the lack exists I'm certain that it is in part or whole on our side. God's hand is not short that He cannot save. His ear is not heavy that He cannot hear. I'm certain that that environment in which these gifts should be properly exercised just does not yet exist.
I'm not interested in hyped-up experiences. I'm not interested in the circus environment that I observe so often within the healing meetings. I don't read these things happening in the book of Acts. And I don't feel that they are edifying or drawing attention to Jesus, but have a greater tendency to draw the attention to the man, to the instrument. God's man of the hour. The star of the fifth magnitude.
Now, as the result of the popularity, there came a jealousy among the priesthood.
And the high priest rose up, and all that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and they were filled with jealousy (Act 5:17),
The word indignation there is properly translated jealousy. Notice that the high priest was himself a part of the sect of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the materialists. They were the humanists. They did not believe in spirits; they did not believe in angels, and they did not believe in resurrection. And they were into the religious scene just for the bucks. And now the popularity of the disciples was a threat to them and they were jealous.
So they laid hands on the apostles, and they put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord that night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life (Act 5:18-20).
Go share with them this glorious that you have in the risen Christ. Go right back to where you were arrested. Go right back and do the very things that you were doing when you were arrested. Rather than, "Hey, now that you're free, escape, get out of Jerusalem. Head for Caesarea, get a boat and take off for Greece, escape the persecution." No. "Go right back into the temple and there speak to the people the words of this life."
So when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and they began to teach. But the high priest, and those who were with him, called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and they sent to the prison to have them brought forth. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and so they reported back to them, saying, The prison truly we found [secure, it was] shut with all [security] safety, and the guards were standing outside before the doors: but when we opened the doors, there was no one there (Act 5:21-23).
They've disappeared! Now the guards were still standing there; the place was still locked. And yet, when they opened the door to the inner prison, to their rooms, they were empty.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priest heard things (Act 5:24),
They began to wonder "Boy! What's going to come of this story now?"
Then one came in and told them saying, The men that you put in prison are standing in the temple, and they're teaching the people (Act 5:25).
God's got to have a sense of humor. Here's this joint meeting of the Senate and the House of Representatives called by the President. "Gotta deal with this problem." And so you send down to Leavenworth to have the prisoners brought, and they go inside and their cells are empty. And then here's this whole august assembly of the leaders ready to try these men, and someone says, "They're right back in the temple. They're over there teaching the people."
Then went the captain with the officers, and they brought them without violence: for the feared the people, lest they should be stoned (Act 5:26).
They're excitable people over there, and as Don was sharing with you, things haven't changed much. Don stayed out of that digging in order that he would not be stoned.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did we not command you that you should not teach in this name? and, behold, you have filled Jerusalem with doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood on us (Act 5:27-28).
You remember in the last chapter when they were standing before the counsel with the lame man, they were strictly charged not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus. And Peter responded, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." So they threatened them further and let them go.
Now he brings up this...he said, "Didn't we strictly charge you not to speak anymore in this name?" And then he makes an interesting admission, "You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine." Now that is a interesting testimony, not by the evangelist. You have to watch the testimonies of evangelists. Sometimes they are exaggerated. We used to have a term "evangelistically speaking". And it means that you blow up the figures significantly. "Well, how many were there?" "Oh, I suppose there were several hundred." At least twenty-five, evangelistically speaking.
So this was not their own report. This is the report of their enemy. "You have filled Jerusalem with this man's doctrine." Would to God that our enemies could testify against us and make that charge. Would to God they could say, "You have filled Orange County with this man's doctrine." Wouldn't that be glorious? If we could fill Orange County with the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that we could see such a move of God that everyone in the county would be cognizant of what God was doing. Instead, unfortunately, the church is gaining great notoriety in the county for other things than proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's rather tragic, isn't it? The church is gaining notoriety for the wrong things.
Secondly, "You intend to bring this man's blood upon us." Now if you remember when Pilate was trying Jesus and these men were manipulating the crowd to seek His crucifixion. Finally, when Pilate saw that he couldn't prevail, he ordered a basin brought, and he began to wash his hands in the basin in a symbolic gesture. He said, " I am innocent of this man's blood, see ye to it." And what did they respond? "His blood be upon us and upon our children." Now they're upset saying to Peter, "You're seeking to bring this man's blood on us!" And for certain, when Peter was standing before them, he said unto them, "If you want to know by what power and all that this lame man was healed, be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified . . . " And so he puts the blame right where it belongs. And yet now, they don't want to receive the accusation or the blame, yet it was their responsibility. Peter made mention of the fact that Pilate was wanting to let Him go, but they insisted on His death.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men (Act 5:29).
That word "ought" there, again, is not a totally accurate translation. The Greek word is "must". We must obey God rather than men. "Didn't we charge you not to speak anymore in this man's name?" Their answer is, "We must obey God rather then men. We must obey God." Oh, that we would experience and feel in our own hearts that divine imperative, "I must obey God." Unfortunately, we take so oftentimes a careless attitude in the area of obedience, "Well, yes, I should be obeying. Oh, I ought to obey God. Yes, I know that I should." But these men felt it much deeper. They said, "We must obey God rather than men." And I think that this is the rule. Should ever the time come, should we be living under the laws or jurisdictions created by man that would infringe upon my responsibilities to God, and the law of the land should be contrary to the laws of God, then I would have to take that very same position, "I must obey God rather man."
And then they went on to testify,
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree (Act 5:30).
They had just said, "You're trying to bring His blood on us," and Peter just throws the bucket on them. I mean he just lays it out. "Whom you slew and hanged on a tree." But notice again that he's preaching the resurrection, "God has raised Jesus". Secondly,
God has exalted him to his right hand to be the Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins (Act 5:31).
Paul said, "He was raised for our justification." "At the right hand of God to be the Prince, the Savior."
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him (Act 5:32).
And here we find that the Holy Spirit is given in obedience to those who obey, and that is: believing on Jesus Christ, repenting from your sins, believing on Jesus Christ, obedient to the command of God, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now when they heard that, they were cut to the heart, [talk about conviction] and they took counsel to slay them. Then there stood up one in the council, who was a Pharisee, his name was Gamaliel, he was a doctor of the law, he had a very high reputation among the people, and he asked that they put the apostles out of the room; and he said unto them, You men of Israel, now you be careful with what you intend to do in regards to these men. For in days before this there rose up Theudas, who was boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: and when he was slain; all of those, who were following him, were scattered, and the whole issue was brought to nothing. And after this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and he drew away many people after him: and he also perished; and all, even as many as were following him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or work is of men, it will come to nothing: but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it; because you will find yourself in the position of fighting against God (Act 5:33-39).
So this wise counsel by Gamaliel to these men who were plotting to kill the disciples. "Look, we got rid of the leader. These kind of things have arisen before, others have risen up, gathered followers around them, but it always just dissipated once the leader was killed. So let's just let it go." Now this is the argument from the position of weakness, not a position of strength. You usually don't just let things go to see how they're going to turn out. But it was the counsel of Gamaliel, and they accepted this counsel. Interestingly enough, this is the Gamaliel of which Paul was a prize student. In some of the early writings that were discovered, Gamaliel said of Paul that he only had one difficulty with Paul as a student. He said that he was an extremely zealous student. His only difficulty was providing him with enough books. He was a real bookworm. And Gamaliel had difficulty just providing him with sufficient numbers of books because of his tremendous thirst for knowledge. Now they agreed to Gamaliel's counsel, partly. He said, "Just let them alone." But they called the apostles back in and they beat them. They didn't just let them alone.
they beat them, and commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go (Act 5:40).
Now that's probably the end of it.
They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Act 5:41).
How do you stop men like that? The answer is, you don't. They're unstoppable.
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ (Act 5:42).
Notice both teaching and preaching. Preaching is the proclaiming of God's good news and should basically be done to the unconverted. Once a man has received Jesus Christ, his real need then is that of being taught. And this is where the church has made a grave mistake. Because the church continues to produce great preachers, but is not really producing teachers. And thus, the sheep are not getting strong. Because they're getting preached at Sunday after Sunday rather then being taught. Our preaching should be done on the street corners and our teaching should be done within the church. Preaching is a great Saturday night ministry when the young people are attracted by the groups that are playing and singing. Once they have received Christ, then the great need of being taught in the way of righteous and truth.
Now in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied (Act 6:1),
We found the Lord adding to the church and now He's multiplying. I love the Lord's mathematics.
there arose a murmuring (Act 6:1)
Now another problem with this community living that was practiced by the early church sharing everything. Another problem arises here in chapter 6.
there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration (Act 6:1).
Daily the people would come to receive their dole from the church. They had everything in common, so they had a commissary. And each day they would give out according to the needs of the people. Give them their food and all. The Grecians do not imply that they were Greeks. But they were Jews who had followed the Hellenist's culture. Many of the Jews had taken Greek names. And had become totally acculturated to the Grecian culture which was spread throughout the world by Alexander the Great. Greece brought culture to the ancient world. And even after Rome conquered over Greece, these pockets of Grecian culture remained and were strong in the ancient world. There were those who had adapted the Greek culture. There were those who were still living by a strict Hebrew culture. So when it speaks of the Grecians and the Hebrews, they were, all of them, Jews. But there were those who were of the Greek culture, the Hellenistic culture, those of the Hebrew culture.
Now those who had adopted the Hellenistic culture felt that there was favoritism when they were doling out the supplies and all. That there was favoritism being shown towards those who were of the Hebrew culture. The little old women who would come up in their Hebrew garb would get an extra dole. Where these ladies who would come in their Grecian fashions would get less. And they'd say, "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't right that these widows who are of the Hebrew culture are getting more then those of the Grecian culture." So they came to the disciples with this problem.
So the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them [they had a big gathering of the people], and they said, It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve at these tables (Act 6:2).
In other words, "We have more important things to do than to stand at the tables and to dole out the church's welfare. It isn't right. It isn't reasonable that we should have to take the responsibility of doling out the church's goods."
Wherefore, brethren, look out from among yourself seven men (Act 6:3)
And these are the traits and the characteristics they're to possess. One: they are to be,
men of honest report, [Two:] full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business (Act 6:3).
So it isn't right that we should leave the ministry that God has given unto us to take care of the tables, so let's appoint seven men, good reputations, filled with the Holy Spirit, having wisdom, and let them take charge over the church's commissary and,
We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the word (Act 6:4).
Now you remember when we were talking last Sunday about the men that God uses? They are men of prayer, and they are men of the Word. They're men who put this as the top priority in their lives. They do not allow other things to interfere with their prayer or with their study of the Word. They are men of the Word and men of prayer. And so here, this pressure to take an active role, to settle this dispute, they backed away from it. They said, "Let's just pick out seven men to do this in order that we might be able to give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word."
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch (Act 6:5);
An interesting thing appears here, and that is when they chose these seven men, look at their names: Nicolas, Parmenas, Nicanor--these are Greek names. So those of the Grecian culture felt that their women were getting a lesser dole, and so in wisdom, they chose men who obviously had come from a Grecian culture themselves to take charge of overseeing the church's welfare. It's a wise way to solve a difficult problem.
When we were growing up, I had two brothers. And my mom was a outstanding pie baker, among other things, and there was always that problem of the last piece of pie. And so often my brother and I would be vying for that last piece of pie. And that's a polite way of saying fighting. I've fought over more than one piece of pie. And it was an advantage of being the older brother, too. But when we would bring our dispute to my mom and we would both be claiming that piece of pie or desiring our portion of that piece of pie, she would always let one of us cut it in half and the other one got the first choice. Boy, I mean we got out the micrometers. It was just a good solution to a difficult problem. And so it is interesting to me that in picking these men, they picked men with Greek names. Indicating that they probably had themselves a Hellenist cultural background.
It would be easy for anyone with any kind of ambition to be going up the ladder in the church to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Why do you want me to wait on tables? I want to preach the Gospel." The qualifications by which they chose these men, they would've all been qualified ministers of the Gospel for sure. Yet, these are the men who were chosen. But to me it is interesting that as we move on in the book of Acts, the activities of the next person that we get to are none other than Stephen who was one of those chosen who was spoken of as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. We will see Stephen being used by God in things other than waiting on tables. But that's where he went to begin his ministry.
There are a lot of people who feel called to the ministry. When they attend Calvary Chapel and they see the marvelous work that God is doing here, it has a way of inspiring men to go into the ministry. It is interesting that during the first twenty years or so of my life, when we were scraping the bottom all of the time to get enough money to buy food and the necessities, and pastoring little churches, fifty, sixty, seventy people, at that time I seemed not to inspire anybody to go into the ministry. But the interesting thing about those today who are being inspired towards the ministry is that they want to begin with a full time pastorate of a church of five hundred or so. A church that is able to provide them with a nice parsonage and an adequate salary. And they seem to forget that the first twenty years of my ministry I worked in secular jobs to keep the family in food and clothes and shoes. "Oh, but I feel that God is calling me to the full time ministry." Romaine has a good way of dealing with these people. He gives them a mop and says, "Alright, you want to start your full time ministry? The men's room is back there. You might as well learn what the ministry is all about."
But, it is important that we start somewhere. But rarely does a person start at the top. God usually brings us through the ranks. Stephen started on waiting tables, and I'm certain that he was faithful in that area and then God moved him up. So many times people come up and say, "I feel called to the ministry". And I say, "Do you teach a Sunday school class?" "No." I say, "Well, that's where you start. Go over and volunteer to teach a Sunday school class. Are you on the prayer watch?" "No." "Then volunteer to take a prayer time." That's where you really start in the ministry. You start in those more insignificant places. When you are faithful in the little things, the Lord will then raise you up and give you bigger things. It is interesting to me that the next two people that we come across in the record are not apostles but are two of these men who were chosen to wait tables, Stephen and Phillip. And we see the marvelous work that God raises them to having begun waiting tables. It isn't long before God takes them from there. So they chose these seven men.
Who they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them (Act 6:6).
We have, it seems, developed a custom of laying hands on people and then praying. But from the book of Acts, it would seem that their pattern was praying and then laying their hands on people. We find this in a couple of places where they pray and then laid hands on them. I think we find that pattern also in about the thirteenth chapter when Paul and Barnabus were sent forth in their ministry. Verse three of chapter 13, "And when they had fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away." So the pattern was to pray and then lay hands on them. I don't know that there is anything to that, but it's just interesting to me that we have that other tendency of just laying hands on people then praying, where they did it the other way around.
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly (Act 6:7);
Again, we see the work of God adding to the church. A powerful community.
and a great company even of the priests were obedient to the faith (Act 6:7).
Now one of these seven men,
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue on the Libertines, and the Cyrenians, and the Alexandrians, and those of Cilicia and Asia, and they were disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist [or to counteract] the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake (Act 6:8-10).
Here they got into these arguments, but Stephen was just walking all over them. He spoke with such wisdom and such a Spirit that he was just putting them down.
So they suborned men [or paid off men], which said, We've heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, came upon him, and they caught him, and brought him to the council, and they set up the false witnesses, which said, This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law: for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us. And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel (Act 6:11-15).
Beautiful, isn't it? And so, because they could not overcome his argument, the wisdom, the Spirit by which he spoke, they went to devious methods to stop his witness, hiring these men to make these false accusations against him, accusing him of blasphemy. Accusing him of speaking against the temple and against the law of God.
Now, there probably was a certain element of truth, for it is quite possible that Stephen did tell them that this temple is going to be destroyed. Because Jesus had told the disciples that "not one stone was going to be left standing upon another" of that temple when they asked Him of the signs of His coming and the end of the age. They were there in the temple and they were looking at these huge stones, and Jesus said, "Not one stone is going to be left standing on another." So Stephen could have been telling them that, "Hey, this temple is going to be destroyed." And also he could have been telling them, "That having the law of Moses is not enough for salvation. You must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. That salvation cannot come by the law of Moses, but salvation comes through a living faith in Jesus Christ." And it could very possibly be that Stephen was saying these things, and they just twisted them slightly or reported only half of what he said.
And of course, that is one of the dangers of talking to any reporter is that they usually just quote less than half of what you say and then often quote it out of context so it sounds like you said something entirely different from what you said. Which almost amounts to a misquotation. Because they take it out of the context in which it was quoted. You begin to get very leery of interviews with reporters or T.V. commentators or whatever. We have a case right now where one of the famous commentators is being sued for the editing of a interview and all and seeking to bring an impression that perhaps not a reality, but though he is a very smooth man, they are not at all innocent of the charges that are being made. Because when they interviewed those scientists down at Creation Research Institute, they did the same thing. 60 Minutes did a hatchet job on Dr. Gish and on Dr. Morris in their editing and all. So it's possible to take the statements that a person makes out of context and to use them against the person. And this is no doubt what was being done to Stephen. There was a certain element of truth in what they were declaring, and yet, putting it in a different context and making it sound like something other than what he had actually said.
So as we move into chapter 7, we find here the story of the young man Stephen whose face shinning like an angel's stands up to make his defense before these people. And then on in to chapter 8, as the second of these, Phillip takes off for Samaria, and later on down to Gaza, and then to Azotus and did his marvelous work for God. Two men chosen to wait tables, promoted by God to powerful ministries within the early church. Faithful in the little things, being promoted to greater things. Shall we pray?
Father, we thank You again for the privilege of studying Your Word. For the joy, the blessing, the strength that Your Word brings to our lives. Help us, Lord, that we might grow through the knowledge of Your Word into a better understanding of Your plan and Your will for our lives. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
May the Lord be with you, keep His hand upon you, watch over and use you. Whatever it is that God has called you to do, be faithful. Give it your best, and then God will raise you to another task. And bring you through the ranks. So may you be used of God in a very special way.