The Bible Centred Church - Acts 6:1-7
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
The Bible-centred Church
If you saw the movie Chariots of Fire, then maybe you remember the great runner Harold Abrahams. He had won so many races in his career and had so many achievements. One of the reasons for this is that his coach held him to such high discipline. However, he finally lost one of the races to another runner, Eric Liddell, because he decided to look to the side. Just as he was about to finish the race, he looked to see where Liddell was, and he ended up losing. His coach, after the race, said to him that look cost you the race.
Is distraction from the task at hand something that you experience? I think this can be something that happens easily as we try to focus on God's word? Maybe we've chosen the wrong time, perhaps we have checked our emails or messages just before opening the Bible, maybe we have chosen late at night when we are exhausted, or maybe you are just too busy to focus on God's word because your life is full of distractions. Distractions can take away from God's word, which is of much greater importance.
A church that gives attention to the word
Well, we're going to see today the importance of God's word and how the early church and our church today should be centred on it and focused on it and how it should change our lives and our thinking.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see the church's exponential growth as the word of God is preached, and people are being saved because of what they have heard about Jesus. The church is focused on the Spirit and the word.
and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
Giving attention to prayer and the word, as I mentioned, is causing growth in the Christian community; people are being saved, they are being changed, they are growing in their faith, and the church is being built. So there is a great desire for the word among the church, which is awesome.
In the past few weeks going through Acts, we have heard numbers like three thousand being added to their number, growing to five thousand. The response to the word of God is incredible, as they believe the truths that they are being told.
I wonder at Riverside what type of church are we and how should we relate to God, one another and the community around us? I think if I were to put any of you on the spot, you'd probably respond that we want to be a church focused on the word, and we are. However, we can examine our desires and see our devotion to the word of God and how it relates to the life of the church.
Well, as the word is proclaimed and people are wonderfully being saved, this, in turn, produces a community that wants to meet needs. In our verses here, the need is people being fed and sharing the food evenly.
A church that gives attention to Structure
That's where we see this first internal church conflict in the Jerusalem church, which involves the two groups of the Jews, those who use the Hebrew language and those who use the Greek language. The complaint came that the Greek-speaking widows were neglected when the food was distributed within the Christian community.
So we know that these Christians had a great desire for the word, and it also seemed a willingness for the needs of the people; however, the structures were not in place.
It could well have been that these widows were being mistakenly overlooked, but the truth is that as people were being drawn to God, there would still be certain stigmas and prejudices within the sinful lives of these new converts. I think that can easily be something that we fall into, making cultural prejudices, as we form opinions on others based on people's status, their age, disability, ethnicity, nationality, gender and education. Do we do that when someone walks into Christ Church Riverside?
The disciples knew that this attitude was wrong and counter to the gospel, which says everyone can come, no matter who they are or what they have done. However, they were conflicted as verses 2 and 3 say:
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. Brothers and sisters, 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.
The disciples had received the commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Acts 1:8 says:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The disciples knew the ministry of the word of God could not be neglected. This was not to say that they didn't get involved in other ministries, but they knew that if they were the ones who had to do the structural or organisational work, that could impact preaching and sharing the gospel.
So they chose seven people from the Christian community, not just random believers but those who were chosen because of faith. The verse says they were known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. These are characteristics of leaders, people who will be ready to get stuck in and distribute the food fairly to all.
A few years back, some of us in the church read the Vine Project, which was the follow on from another book called The Trellis and the Vine. I want to read a quote to you from that book:
All Christian ministry is a mixture of trellis and vine. There is vine work: the prayerful preaching and teaching of the word of God to see people converted and grow to maturity as disciples of Christ. Vine work is the Great Commission. And there is trellis work: creating and maintaining the physical and organisational structures and programs that support vine work and its growth.
I think one of the keywords within this quote is support. If the disciples did not bring in the support of the seven, the word of God would have been impacted, and they wanted to ensure that this was not the case.
The vine work or the preaching of the word of God is essential to the growth of the church and God's Kingdom as we see throughout Acts are people are being saved. We know that it is essential; we call ourselves here at Christ Church Riverside a Bible-centred church because the truths of God's word are so foundational to our faith. This banner to my left say, we preach Christ and him crucified, it is the gospel, it is what we believe and what we want to share with others.
Once we value the word of God deeply, we want to see it spread to all. That is why the work of the trellis, the crucial organisational and structural work is so integral to ensuring that God's word is preached without hindrance.
Preaching or teaching God's word is a huge commitment and a big responsibility; it is not easy. As verse 4 says, the disciples gave their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. It takes time, devotion, prayer and thought as we prepare to lead people to God. It is not a task that we take on lightly, so pray for your preachers, pray for those who teach God's word in various settings. And be prepared to serve in other important ministries to ensure that those who teach the word of God can focus on that.
The task of distributing the food was not just a task that was given lightly; it was an important ministry to ensure that there was unity within the body. There were qualifying criteria that the men be full of the Spirit and wisdom; these are key Christian leadership qualities. These men were chosen by the church and presented to the apostles, who affirmed and commissioned them by praying for them and laying their hands on them. They were clearly people who were already leading within the Christian community, and our verses say that one of the men, Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Leaders are not just picked on a whim; they must qualify and be affirmed into service. We did this a few weeks ago at Riverside, where Pete asked the church to consider all the leaders and to speak with him or one of the elders if you had any concerns, and then we were all affirmed again at our strategy service.
If you have a desire to be a leader, that's brilliant, keep devoting yourself to God and his people and get on with the task.
A church that grabs the attention of the world
So now the structures and leaders are in place to organise the ministries, unity continues, and the apostles can get back to preaching God's word. And as we have seen throughout the book of Acts, when the word is proclaimed, it does not come back void or empty, as Isaiah 55 says. The word of God is spreading, and the number of disciples is increasing rapidly! This is awesome news.
People know that this proclaimed word is the TRUTH. Do you know that in the year 2000, there were 50 books released on the topic of happiness, just seven years later, the year 2007 saw a 4000% increase on this as 2000 books were released on the same topic? Google Trends notes that over the last 15 years, there has been a steady rise in the number of Google searches about happiness which peaked in the middle of the pandemic last year. People are searching for happiness, but the word of God is far far better than the greatest book you can find on that topic. There are no books out there or any human wisdom that can ever provide that eternal joy and contentment.
The word of God can transform even the weakest and the worst of people. It doesn't matter how dark and desperate your situation, how proud and sinful you are. The truth is that Jesus Christ is all you need. God came down to this earth to be born as a baby; imagine that! The God who created and sustains the whole universe stooped so low to be born as a helpless baby. Held by his mother and supported by his father, all the while, he gives them life.
Jesus Christ, the God who created, came down to be a baby, also lived a perfect life and was crucified. The perfect, sinless sacrifice of Jesus on the cross paid for the sins of all, forever and given us his righteousness. Those who trust in Christ stand before God and are seen with the perfect righteousness of Jesus because he has taken our sin, so we can live for eternity with him.
Remarkably in the last few words of our verses today, we see that even the very priests who were involved in the old covenant's system, who were making the relentless sacrifices on behalf of the people, are actually beginning to get it. They are beginning to realise that Jesus is the promised Messiah; he is God! They see that those continued sacrifices point to a greater sacrifice and a new covenant. They point to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and they see that he is the once for all time sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God towards sinners. The message that the church is proclaiming is catching the attention of everyone, even the social elite. This really shows that even the proudest, those steeped in religion and those with the highest status in society, cannot resist the call of God.
What kind of church do we want to be in response to this:
We need to be a praying church. Keep praying for your friends, family, loved ones because they are not beyond God's reach. As we saw with the priests believing, even the ones we least expect can have their hearts softened to the gospel.
We must be a speaking church, we value God's word so dearly, and we put structures in place to ensure that it is proclaimed from the front, but it must also run through every of our church family. Speak about Jesus to one another, tell those you are prying for why they need a Saviour.
Finally, we must be a growing church. Spiritual growth is so key to our church family; for those of us who have heard and responded to the gospel, it doesn't stop there. We must desire to live holy lives that are to the glory of God. Just like the seven in our verses which were full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith, that should be our desire as Christians. Let's truly value God's word, read it, ponder it and pray about it and be ready to grow as the Holy Spirit changes us to be more like Jesus Christ day by day.
Let me finish with a story that helps us to understand true value.
I heard a story about an old miner who had lived the life of a hermit deep in the mountains of Colorado. When he died, some of his distant relatives came to collect his valuables.
They arrived to find a miner's shack with an outhouse behind it. Inside the shack, there was an old cooking pot, some mining equipment, and a cracked table with a three-legged chair that stood next to a tiny window. A well-used kerosene lamp stood as the centrepiece on the table.
As the relatives gathered up the miner's possessions, loaded them in a truck, and got ready to drive away, the miner's old friend came walking up. He called out to them, "Do y'all mind if I take what is left in that old shack?"
"Oh, no," they said. "Take it. We have all the valuable stuff. You can have whatever is there." The man thanked them, and off they went.
He walked over to his friend's shack, went in, and looked around for a little bit. Then he reached under the table and lifted up one of the floorboards. Little by little, he lifted out all of the gold his friend had discovered over the previous decades - millions of dollars worth of gold.
Apparently, the old miner had died with only his true friend knowing his actual worth.
In the Bible, we have the most precious possession; it is God's word to us, it tells us the good news of how we can know Jesus and his great rescue, and it is a guidebook on how we can daily live and walk with him.
Let's not hide these words away from others, as the miner did with his most precious possession. It resonated with me that it was only one of his close friends who knew about his treasure, not even his family. I don't want to hide away and waste the opportunities I have in speaking about the greatest treasure that I have received. Tell your friends, family and loved ones about Jesus and his great salvation because a short time of awkwardness for us is so much better than them missing out and ending up not knowing him.
God has graciously saved us, giving us the greatest treasure; let's proclaim it to everyone we know. Let's make sure that nothing gets in the way or distracts us from the task.
Let me pray
The Bible-Centred Church: Acts 6:1-7
Distractions: What causes us to lose focus?
A church that gives attention to the word
“…we will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” V3b-4
Gospel Focus = Church Growth
A church that gives attention to Structure
Conflicts cause distraction and can take away from the proclaiming of God’s word. The disciples knew this and put structures in place to ensure they could continue with the commission that they were given to preach the word.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
- Vine work: the prayerful preaching and teaching of the word of God to see people converted and grow to maturity as disciples of Christ. Vine work is the Great Commission.
- Trellis work: creating and maintaining the physical and organisational structures and programs that support vine work and its growth.
A church that grabs the attention of the world
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. v7
What should our church be like in response?
- Praying Church–
- Speaking Church–
- Growing Church–
What do we do with our greatest treasure?
Home Group Questions on Acts 6:1-7
1. Why did the disciples feel in verse 2, it was so important to ensure that God’s word was not neglected? How can we avoid neglecting God’s word in our own spiritual walk?
2. Why was it so important in verse 3 & 5, that the seven who were chosen to distribute the food were full of the Spirit, wisdom and faith? Do we have the desire to have these leadership qualities in our lives?
3. In verse 7 we see the results of the word of God being proclaimed and even a large number of priests becoming obedient to the faith. What truths are they beginning to see after years of relentless sacrifices in the temple? God’s word is irresistible to all who are called, who in your life do you want to see become obedient to the faith? Spend some time praying for these people.
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