Intro. The problem of distribution of the church's goods has hit a snag. The Jews who followed the Hellenist culture felt that their widows were not being given the same respect as those widows who followed the Hebrew culture. The problem was brought to the apostles who decided that seven men of good reputation, who were filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom to oversee the distribution of the churches' goods so that their ministry of the word and prayer would not be disrupted. The saying pleased everyone.
I. THE SEVEN MEN CHOSEN.
A. Stephen, a man described as full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
1. We will read a little more about Stephen shortly.
B. Philip, we will also learn more about him presently.
C. Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas. We will hear nothing more about them.
D. It is interesting that all seven have Greek names, not a Hebrew name among them which would indicate that they all were of the Helenist culture.
1. What a splendid way to solve the problem. The Helenists felt that their widows were not being treated equally, so put men of the Helenist culture over the whole project.
2. These men were then set before the apostles, and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
3. We find this same pattern followed in Chapter 13.
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away.
E. What is the purpose of the laying on of hands?
1. Jesus often laid His hands on people.
2. He said these signs will follow those that believe, "They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."
Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as you were coming, has sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3. Jesus has chosen to use our bodies to do His work, He wants to touch people with His love. He uses me as His instrument to do that. He uses our hands to touch those in need.
4. I would like to think that since Jesus no longer physically lays His hands on people, that as His representatives, He lays His hand on them through me.
a. He uses my voice to teach His truths.
b. He uses my hands to do His work.
5. Another possibility is that the laying on of hands gives to the individual upon whom the hands are being laid, to use that as a trigger point for the releasing of their faith.
II. THE RESULTS:
A. A division in the body of Christ has been averted. Everyone is now happy and satisfied.
B. The word of God increased.
1. The Apostles were free to pursue their primary calling of teaching the word.
C. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly.
1. There was real church growth.
2. I believe that true church growth comes from the clear expository teaching of God's word.
a. There are many churches that grow on the strength of the clever personality of the pastor.
b. There are many churches that grow by seeking to adapt a program to meet the needs of the community.
c. These things usually feed the flesh, but the word of God feeds the spirit of man.
d. Thus I see that the only true solid growth can come by the word.
D. A great number of priests became obedient to the faith.
1. What we fail to realize is that the early church was basically Jewish.
2. With these priests coming to the faith, they were no doubt bringing with them much of the traditional practices of the Jews.
a. Quite often when people come to Christ they bring with them a lot of the old way of life.
b. We are told that if any man be in Christ Jesus, He is a new creature, the old things are passed away and behold all things become new.
c. Unfortunately this is not always so, many times a person hangs on to some of the old things.
d. Traditions often have a greater hold on a person than truth.
3. Many in the church in Jerusalem still thought that salvation was for the Jews only, and to be saved it was necessary to become a Jew.
4. This ultimately brought a schism in the early church.
5. The church in Antioch was mainly made up of Gentile believers. Paul had been one of their main teachers. God had revealed to Paul the glorious gospel of grace.
a. Paul had written to the Romans that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes.
b. He had written to the Galatians:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
c. To the Philippians he wrote contrasting his old life as a Pharisee and his new life in Christ:
Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But those things were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ.
Yea I count all things as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as rubbish, that I may win Christ,
And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
d. Some of the Jews had heard of the teachings of Paul and were very upset with him. A group decided to go to Antioch and visit the Gentile believers to see if this was true. Paul speaks of their visit in his letter to the Galatians.
And because of false brethren who had come in unaware to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
To whom we did not submit, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
6. The church in Jerusalem was basically Jewish; they never went very far from their Jewish roots.
a. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Paul was not well received by the church in Jerusalem; in fact, in his last visit to Jerusalem when he had brought an offering from the Gentile churches, James called him in before the counsel.
And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
And the [day] following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
And when he had greeted them, he declared to them the things God was doing among the Gentiles by his ministry.
And when they heard [it], they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, You see, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
And they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise [their] children, neither to walk after the Jewish customs.
What is this? the multitude will be coming together: for they will hear that you are here.
Therefore we want you to do this. We have four men which have a vow on them;
Them take, and purify yourself with them, and take care of their expenses, that they may shave [their] heads: and then all will know that those things, that they were told concerning you, are nothing; but [that] you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law.
As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written [and] concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from [things] offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
b. Probably the reason he was received gladly was he was bringing a generous offering to them from the Gentile churches.
c. But they took him into conference the next morning to talk to him about the law.
d. Note how they told Paul that the Jewish believers were zealous for the law.
e. Word had come to them that Paul was even telling the Jews that they should forsake the Mosiac law, that they did not have to circumcise their children, and they did not have to follow the Jewish customs. It is ok to have a cheeseburger.
f. They asked Paul to sponsor four Jewish men who had taken the Nazarite vow, so they could tell the crowd that Paul was still a good Jewish boy.
g. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
For though I am free from all [men], yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some.
And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with [you].
h. This failure of the church in Jerusalem to totally break from Judaism ultimately created some problems that were addressed in the book of Hebrews. Some of them were even going back to the sacrificial offerings.
III. PAUL'S MESSAGE TO THE GENTILE CHURCH WAS CHRIST IN YOU IS YOUR HOPE OF GLORY.
Wherefore remember, that you were in past times Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
But now in Christ Jesus you who were onetime far off are made near by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition [between us];
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of of the two one new man, [so] making peace;
And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were near.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
A. Our righteous is imputed to us because of our faith in Christ, it is not something that can be attained by keeping the law.