Corey Widmer on Acts 6:1-7
The Story Continues, Week 4:
Grace in Conflict
After the explosive growth that we see in the early chapters of the book of Acts, the next few chapters (4-6) show the struggles within the church that threatened to impede the gospel and even destroy this remarkable New Community. First we see Satan’s attempt to destroy the church through persecution (chapter 4), then we see him attempt to destroy the church from within through corruption (chapter 5), and now in Chapter 6 we see the adversary trying to destroy the church through internal division.
The first seven verses of this chapter describe a situation in which the Greek Hellenist widows were being neglected as the church grew in Jerusalem. These widows were foreign-born Jews who spoke Greek rather than Hebrew. They didn’t keep Kosher homes and were generally sneered at by the Hebrew Jews. Some of these Hellenists had become Christians and joined the church, but the Jewish Christians were either actively discriminating against them or at least just neglect their needs (the text doesn’t really say which). In any case, this state of affairs was causing serious conflict among these new followers of Jesus. The church was (and still is) made up of ordinary humans, so even the most seemingly "perfect" church will face all sorts of issues as people, traditions, cultures, preferences, and convictions rub up against one another. But again, this conflict was threatening the life and health of the church at its beginnings, and so also the spread of the gospel.
And yet, they worked through it. United by the Spirit, the Hebrew and Greek factions in the church found a way to resolve their differences and get on with being the community God wanted and doing the work they were (and we are) called to do.
As we consider how to translate this text to our current time and place, the big questions to ask are these: "How did the disciples deal with genuine conflict in order to prevent division and the destruction of the church?" and "How should we work through our conflict when it arises?" But we might begin by asking smaller and more personal questions about our own experiences:
- How do I, personally, respond to conflict: am I prone to "stuff it"? attack? avoid dealing with it altogether?
- Am I in any situation of conflict at the moment, especially with a Christian brother and sister, that God is calling me to approach differently? Who do I need to communicate with right now?
-In what ways have I dishonored the calling of others in the community?
Whom could I honor?
-Is there something I am not owning up to about myself? In what ways may God be calling me to give up power or preference or control for the sake of love?
With these things in mind, let's continue to be guided by the Spirit into more perfect community with each other and with our neighbors.
Acts 6: 1-7
1Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want
to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an
animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Why Study Acts Now?
Today, Third Church is entering into a completely new and exciting chapter of our long story, even as we are in continuity with all that has come before. We are in a new denomination, one that is eager to empower congregations for creative works of mission. We are in a metropolitan city that is growing and changing in dynamic ways, and one in which God is clearly at work to advance his Kingdom and to bring healing and reconciliation. We are in a cultural moment in which growing secularity is requiring the North American church to restore its original identity as a missionary community. Who knows what the next chapter will hold?
There is One who does. As we dream and envision what lies ahead together, we take our cues from the One who reigns and writes the story of history. We want to follow Him and His ways, not our own creative ideas.
For that reason we’ll be spending the first five weeks of the year studying some key passages together in the book of Acts. The book of Acts is not just an interesting narrative on the ancient church – it is our story, the story that we are a part of and that the Spirit of God continues to write for us today, both as a community and as individuals. We listen deeply to the story of the church so we know how to live as faithful followers of Jesus in this new time and place.