The Church’s First Unity Test

The Church’s First Unity Test

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

One of the most chilling phrases to church leadership might be, “a complaint arose” (Acts 6:1). Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or feelings of unfairness all threaten distraction and difficulty among the body of believers. We can quickly break down this problem this way:

  • The quibble. The Hellenistic Jews were being overlooked in the daily serving of food in the Jerusalem church (1). 
  • The quandary. Who should take care of this problem? The apostles responded, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (2). The proposal ultimately allows them to do just that (4-7). 
  • The qualifications. The apostles recommend finding seven men from among them, “men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…” (3). The people chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas” (5). 
  • The quelling. “The statement found approval with the whole congregation” (5). The people were able to get back to the business of spreading the word and increasing the number of disciples (7). 

Every problem we face among us in congregations can be settled the same way today. Identify the problem, the biblical solution, and the right people to address it, then peace and success follow. Never again do we read about this problem arising within the Jerusalem church. 

It is interesting to see that the men who were chosen to deal with a physical or material problem were spiritual men. Stephen, one of the “table waiters,” is described as “full of grace and power” (8), a man “with the wisdom and the Spirit” (10), even a man described as having a “face like the face of an angel” (15). These opponents of Christianity are trying to undermine and put down the growth of Christianity (7), and they are willing to go to any lengths to do so (11-14). Yet, Stephen, who has already proven his worth by his compassionate, efficient handling of the Jerusalem church’s internal issue, is able to go on the offensive in sharing the Word.

Acts six does not call these men who wait tables “deacons,” but there are some strong parallels. They are both servants (6:2; 1 Tim. 3:8). They both needed to meet spiritual qualifications (6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-12). They both could “obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” by serving well (6:8ff; 1 Tim. 3:13). 

Who does God want to utilize to solve the practical dilemmas that threaten the church’s unity? Spiritual men, servant-hearted men, and skillful men! Men like Stephen and Philip, who are multitalented–humble enough to get their hands dirty and holy enough to get the gospel out to those in need of it. 

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