Acts 6:1-7 sermon (and Walter Brueggemann video)

Here’s my Acts 6:1-7 sermon audio.

But this two and a half minute video from Walter Brueggemann says what my sermon says far better and more concisely.

My sermon text is below…

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

 Word Growth

Acts 6:7:  And the word of God continued to increase
Acts 12:24: But the word of God increased and multiplied.
Acts 13:49:  The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
Acts 19:20:  In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Here is Acts – the account of how the early church grew and spread.  Yet it doesn’t so much say that the church grew and spread.  It says that the word grew and spread and increased and multiplied and grew in power.  Isn’t that interesting?

There are hundreds of books and ministries devoted to church growth. They are full of answers to the question “How can my church grow?”  But isn’t it interesting that Acts says it’s the word that grows.  Every time you expect it to say the church grows, it says the word increases and multiplies.  It’s the word that has life, it’s the word that is fruitful and multiplies.  Isn’t that suggestive for how churches are meant to grow?

When we ask the question “How is the church to grow?” it’s crucial to know that the bible says the word grows.  It’s the word, the word, the word that has life.  As Jesus put it in Mark 4, the Word of God is seed.  Seed to be scattered.

And the church is a community of the word.  Acts 1:8 – witnesses.  We’ll be empowered by the Spirit for this witness.  And then, Acts 2, the Spirit comes, what happens?  They speak the word.  Acts 2:4 – they speak with other tongues, not to be obscure but to be plain.  This miraculous Pentecostal gift was so that these WITNESSES could make the word understood.  And the day of Pentecost was a day of preaching.  Peter stands and explains Pentecost by quoting three OT passages at length and preaching on them.  Verses 14-40 are all Peter’s preaching of the word.  And, v41, 3000 believe.  It’s a community formed by the word.  And verse 42 what is the first thing they devote themselves to?  The apostle’s teaching.  A community birthed by the word, devoted to the word.  And how does it spread?

Well chapter 3 is largely taken up with another sermon.  And again his sermon is taken up with large portions of OT Scripture which Peter preaches on.  Acts 4 shows us the fallout from that sermon.  Peter and John are arrested, told not to speak.  Look at chapter 4, verse 18:

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

And so what is the church’s response?  They pray, verse 29:

29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

 

In Acts 5 the Apostles are arrested, unsurprisingly.  They won’t shut up.  But an angel springs them from prison.  And what do you think they do the minute they’re released?  Verse 25, they go to the temple courts and teach the people.  So verse 28 the authorities say

28“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

How do the apostles respond?  They preach! V29-32 is another sermon!  And verse 42 sums up the whole thrust of what’s been happening:

42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Christianity is a movement of the word.  Christians are witnesses and witnesses have a story to tell.  If the story is not told Christianity shrivels and dies.  We are a community of the word.

Now what exactly is this word?  Acts can’t be talking strictly about the written Scriptures here because the written Scriptures don’t multiply and grow in power.  But according to Luke the author of Acts, the word is the life-giving proclamation of the gospel.  And Peter’s sermons in the first few chapters of Acts give us a good summary of that gospel.  Here’s the essence of the word:

Jesus has come.  He is the Righteous One prophesied in the Scriptures – the Christ.

You killed Him.  (Now literally the people Peter spoke to were the ones who two months earlier had cried our “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”  There was a very literal sense in which Peter’s audience crucified Jesus.  But it’s true for us too.  Don’t we sing that song about the cross, “How Deep the Father’s Love”.  And don’t we sing that line “It was my sin that held Him there.”  That’s true.  My sin demands blood.  My sin demands wrath and condemnation.  And Jesus stepped in to pay for my sin.  He’s dying for me.  It was my sin that held Him there.  As Peter points the finger and says “You killed Jesus” he’s pointing at me too.  But here’s where Peter’s sermons turn a corner, he says…  you killed Jesus…

But God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand where He reigns as Lord.  You were wrong to crucify that righteous man, the One you killed is in fact the Author of Life.

And at that stage you might think the gospel would go something like this.  Now that Jesus is in charge, He’s taken down all your names, you betrayers, and now that the revolution has come you’ll be first against the wall.  Jesus is going to repay you for your treason.

No, that’s not how the gospel goes.  The gospel says, the One you killed was raised and rules and rains down His Holy Spirit on anyone who’ll have Him.  It’s astonishing grace.  Jesus is raised up not to crush His enemies but to forgive them and offer them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Incredible.  Have a look at Acts 2 from verse 36, you’ll see the essence of “the word”, when it’s boiled down.

Acts 2 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

I cannot get over how wonderful this gospel is.  Here’s what our God is like.  We killed Jesus – there isn’t a worse crime in the universe.  But instead of punishment, there is forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

Imagine a judge who says “I know you’re guilty but I forgive you.”

Imagine you killed the judge’s son and he says “I know you’re guilty, I forgive you.”

Imagine he says “I forgive you, and I want to give you a gift”!

And imagine if the gift is, “Here have my daughter’s hand in marriage”!

Unheard of.  But that’s what God is like.  And this is the essence of the life-giving word.  The world has never heard news like this, except when it’s heard this word.  No other god is like this, no other philosophy is like this.  But here is this astonishing word from the living God.  “You have killed my Son.  I forgive you, here have my Spirit as well.”  You’ve killed one family Member, here have another.

Extraordinary.  That’s the word that’s preached.  And it convicts people of guilt – we are cut to the heart.  We are much worse than we ever imagined – we killed the Author of life.  But at the same time it offers incredible grace – forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.  We are more loved than we ever dreamed.

That’s the word that goes out.  The course Christianity Explored summarizes it like this: You are more wicked than you ever realized, but through Jesus you are more loved than you ever dreamed.  This word puts us to death and raises us up to new life.  And when it’s unleashed in all its gracious power, thousands flock to it.

Before the Day of Pentecost there were 120 believers.  On the Day of Pentecost they go from 120 to 3000.  The Spirit, working through this word, brings explosive fruitfulness.

But just imagine the logistical challenges!  3000 added in a day.  Especially given that, v46, they didn’t only meet publicly in the temple courts but also in homes.  Think about that.  Imagine if the original 120 were made up of 60 couples.  After the day of Pentecost, they’d have to have 60 home groups of 50 people just to manage.  And then within a matter of days, the numbers expand to 5000.  (Acts 4:4)  Suddenly you need 100 home groups of 50.  Or 250 home groups of 20.  Or some other combination.

That’s insanely exciting.  But it’s a logistical nightmare, isn’t it?

And at some point there was always going to be a flashpoint as this new movement grows explosively.  And Acts 6 tells us of a significant early challenge.  Read verse 1 with me:

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 OT repeatedly urges the people to look after the weak.  In particular, the Lord’s People must care for the fatherless (the orphans), the widows and the foreigners (the asylum seekers).  We should protect them, because that’s the compassion that God has.

We look after the Fatherless, because the Most High is our Father.

We care for Widows, because the Christ is our Husband.

We help foreigners, because the Spirit grants us our heavenly citizenship.

We care for these vulnerable people because we bring the love of the LORD to earth.  And so the early church cared for the widows among them.  They weren’t trying to feed the world or feed Jerusalem.  They were being family for their sisters in Christ.

But there was a problem.  The original 120 believers would almost certainly have been Hebrew speaking – Hebraic Jews.  The apostles were Hebraic Jews. They were in on the ground floor.  And now there’s thousands of new members, many of whom were Greek speaking and they found it difficult to get a leg up into this community.

They’re all from Jewish backgrounds.  They all share the same Scriptures but they are quite different culturally.  They wouldn’t naturally go to the same synagogues, and now they’re trying to live together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  And they’re struggling.

But if the early church can’t face this problem, it can never grow.  How can the church face a world of different nations and civilizations if it can’t handle two different cultures within Judaism!  This is a problem.  And it’s interesting how the 12 apostles handle it.  Verse 2:

2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

Here is a brilliant solution to the problem.  There is a disgruntled minority rising up.  What do the leadership do?  Do they silence all dissent?  No they actually empower and affirm the new group.  In verse 5 you’ll notice that none of these 7 deacons have particularly Hebrew sounding names.  Hebrew names are “Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hezekiah and Tumble Dryer”.  These names are Stephanos and Philippos, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.  These are Greek names. So it seems that the deacons who are appointed to oversee this issue are from the Greek speaking community.  That’s part of the master-stroke of the apostle’s solution here.  But the heart of the solution is this realization:

[SLIDE]

Not everyone should do everything.

Sounds simple doesn’t it.  But it’s not a lesson easily learned.  Those with power are used to wielding that power and it’s hard to let it go.  But the apostles are not obsessed with controlling the shape of the church.  What they want to do is unleash the word and God can take responsibility for the shape of it.  So that’s why they devote themselves to – v4 prayer and the ministry of the word.  While these 7 new leaders can devote themselves to this ministry of hospitality.

It’s interesting that in v2 and v4 the same underlying Greek word is used.  The Seven will minister on tables.  The Apostles will minister the word.  Both are ministry.  And there is incredible overlap – Stephen and Philip will prove themselves to be wonderful evangelists in their own right.  But not everyone should do everything.  And so there is a division of labour.

It’s something that Peter would say again in his First Letter.  1 Peter 4:10-11

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Some people are good with words, some people are good with hospitality.  Both in Acts 2 and 1 Peter the “serving” word has hospitality overtones.  Neither speaking or serving is superior to the other.  But they should get on with what they’ve been gifted to do and not be distracted by trying to do EVERYTHING.

And a church that gets this right.  What will it look like?

Well you’ll have some people really good at opening up their homes and their tables and being very hospitable and loving.  And you’ll have some that are gifted with speaking about Jesus.  What happens when these people are gripped by the same passion to see the gospel go out and multiply and grow?  What do you get?  You get the early church.  Communities of loving Christians caring for one another, devoted to the word, and growing in the Spirit’s power.

Do you know what your gifting is?  Are you a wordy person or a serving-at-table kind of person?  We’re all supposed to serve and we’re all supposed to put words to our faith but there are giftings.  What are yours?

It’s important we know how God has made us and gifted us and where He has put us.

There was once an evangelist called Gypsy Smith who preached the gospel all over the world for 70 years.  Once a woman wrote to him who had 20 children.  She was convinced that God wanted her to be a preacher like Gypsy was.  No doubt she had seen his gifting and wanted to be like him and so she asked him for advice.  Gypsy wrote back and said “Dear Madam, How glad you must be that God has not only called you to be a preacher but has also given you a congregation.”

We don’t need to be somebody else.  But we do need to give ourselves to the gifting that God has given us.

How do we do that?  Well let’s very briefly consider four temptations which the early church overcame in Acts 6 and see how they did it.

First was the temptation to superiority.  The apostles might have said, The Grecian Jews are the outsiders here.  And they need to learn Hebrew – it’s God’s language after all.  And they need to learn how we do things around here.  If they play by our rules then maybe they won’t find themselves overlooked.  That’s our natural human instinct.  Our natural instinct is towards superiority and exclusion. How do you overcome that?

Well think of the gospel.  We were the outsiders.  We’re the Christ-killers. And God hasn’t just accommodated us, He’s forgiven us and lavished us with the gift of His Spirit.  In Jesus, we’ve been raised from the pit to the throne and we don’t deserve it.  How can we feel superior to anyone else?

What about the temptation to control. How were the apostles able to let go and delegate authority to others?  We naturally cling on, we naturally want things done our way.  Are you involved in ministry at All Souls and you’re doing it all while others look on?  How do you overcome the temptation to try to do everything?

Well you recognize that you’re not the only one with the Holy Spirit.  That’s what they looked for in the Seven – v3: men full of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the qualification for ministry.  You want to serve in the church, even if it’s social care, waiting on tables, you’d should be evidently full of the Spirit.  It is interesting that the Seven were obviously full of the Spirit isn’t it?  But if they have the Spirit then they are qualified – not qualified for everything – that’s where the issue of gifting comes in.  And there do need to be leaders in the church who can say at times, “I’m not sure you are a preacher, you have turrets syndrome and a chronic stutter, maybe we need to rethink what your gifting is.”  But once we’ve sorted out gifting and roles and the needs that are in the church and we’ve prayed about that.  At some point leadership has to delegate and step back and say: if they have the Spirit then, it’s HIS church, it’s HIS word that HE is unleashing on the world.  HE knows how it’s going to grow.  I don’t.  I believe in the Holy Spirit.

You know, in a sense the apostles were not delegating authority to men here, they were recognizing the authority of the Spirit.  And if we’re too controlling and needing everyone to do things exactly the way we want them to be, maybe we need to let go and say “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

Third temptation.  Distraction.  How do you figure out what’s important?  There are a thousand claims on our time.  Mark, and the Wardens, and PCC, face many decisions and many potential distractions.  What’s vital?  The growth of the word.  That’s what’s underlying all these chapters.  As Paul puts it in Colossians 1:5 – All over the world the gospel is bearing fruit and growing.  That’s the important thing. And a thousand things will distract us from that.  And the worst distractions will be the good things.  But we need to identify the best thing. The vital thing is the word of Christ going out.  And whatever our gifting, we have a part to play in the spread of the word.

Fourth temptation: Abuse of Power. Both the Apostles and the Seven gave themselves to “service”.  The Apostles served in their prayer and preaching ministry.  The Seven served in their care-for-the-widows ministry.  But that’s how they used their power.  That’s how they used their gifting – to serve.

And that’s revolutionary.  Because do you know how we naturally use our giftings? To grumble.  If you’re gifted at something, guess what, you’re going to be very good at seeing when it’s done badly.  At that point you’ve got a choice.  Grumble.  Or serve.  Use your gifting to feel superior or use your gifting in the service of others.  How do we do that?

Well think of Jesus.  The Author of Life.  How did He use His power?  He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for us (Mark 10:45).  How can we use power to lord it over others and shrink back from our responsibilities.  No we use our power, we use our giftings, to serve.

The early church was birthed by the word and devoted itself to the word and spread the word.  Do you want to see growth in your own life?  It’s in your hands – life giving hope and help.  Give yourself to it.  Return daily to the gospel of Jesus.  Allow the bible, allow growth group, allow church to bring you this word – that you are more wicked than you ever realized, but in Jesus more loved than you ever dreamed.  And His word will be fruitful.  But not just in your life, in All Souls, in Eastbourne.  The hope for this church and this town is this Word.  Will we give ourselves to it?  And under the banner of spreading this word, will we serve using our own giftings in the cause of this gospel.

As Peter wrote:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted on by Glen in ministry, preaching, sermons, videos

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

One Response to Acts 6:1-7 sermon (and Walter Brueggemann video)

  1. Pastor yorba linda

    Love this post.I am totally agreed with the Christianity is a movement of the word.Its true because churches are the communities that are based on the word.This is the power to them.Churches have the sprite of the word that is why they arr played the most important role in increasing the Jesus….Really very nice post and thank you for sharing this with us.I ll read it in all the details when i have a long time….Looking forward for many posts from you…

    God Bless You always…

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