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. 

THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

THREE QUALITIES OF A FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

preachingatPBL

Neal Pollard

Two parables and an incident in Luke 18:1-17 reveal three attributes Jesus is looking for in His disciples. As you read through these verses, ask yourself if you struggle with one or more of these. The examples Jesus holds up are all lowly characters–a defenseless widow, a sinful tax collector, and babies and little children. They were all either financially, spiritually, or physically dependent on others, yet these are the ones Jesus tells us to imitate. What are the qualities?

PERSISTENCE (1-8). The parable of the widow and the unjust judge is delivered to his listeners for a specific reason, “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (1). A widow pleaded for legal protection from a judge who neither feared God or respected men (2). She wouldn’t stop coming to him and pleading her case until finally he relented and granted her request out of frustration and annoyance at her continual coming (3-5). Jesus’ point is that the perfect God will bring justice to His elect who faithfully pray to Him (7). He ties this persistence to faith (8). Jesus is giving us insight into God’s heart and desires. He wants to hear from us in prayer, and He is influenced by our prayers. Do we have faith in that? 

HUMILITY (9-14). Jesus launches into a second parable about prayer, to highlight another necessity in the practice of it. He focuses on an unlikely duo, a prominent religious leader and a contemptible tax collector. Both enter the temple, both for the purpose of prayer. Both prayers are recorded. Jesus evaluates them. The first prayer, uttered by the Pharisee, is self-directed (he prayed to himself), self-righteous (God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector), and self-promoting (I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get). He shows no recognition of or need for God. He’s pretty self-satisfied. The second prayer, uttered by the tax collector, is selfless, self-indicting, and self-emptying. Jesus notes his hesitance (standing some distance away), abjection (even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven), emotion (beating his breast), and honesty (his entire prayer is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner”). Jesus’ analysis? The second man was the one who went home justified, not the first. Jesus’ point is explicit: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (14). I may know more sophisticated ways to exhibit my pride and self-righteousness, but the response and result will be the same in heaven. Faithful followers humbly recognize their need of God’s favor. 

RECEPTIVITY (15-17). Parents were bringing their children to Jesus at this time so that He could touch them. We aren’t told why the disciples rebuke them for this, though it could be they were wrestled with pride of position or self-importance. Jesus corrects their course, telling them to let the children come to Him. In fact, He says, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (17). He tells them that the kingdom of God belongs to those like these little children. How so? They were dependent on others (15). They were apparently willing (16). They were open (17). Certainly, this is a great exhortation to us as parents, to bring our children to Jesus in the impressionable years of life. But beyond that, there is an admonition to each of us to keep child-like faith and recognize our need to come to Jesus in order to have a place in God’s kingdom.

Often, we think that being in the kingdom is about us daring and doing great things for God. But, doesn’t it begin with our having the lowliness of heart to come to Him, persistent, humble, and receptive? These three qualities put the focus on His attractiveness, ability, and power. If we allow ourselves to be tools in His hand and recognize that it’s about Him and because of Him, then we’ll be faithful followers. 

Giving To The Least, We Give The Most!

Giving To The Least, We Give The Most!

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

He was eight years old when his parents divorced, leaving his mom with a total of eight children to take care of. The family needed financial help, so his mother contacted the church in the small town where they lived. The church provided them some assistance, and to show gratitude the woman and the children attended a few services. Soon, she took her family back to the denomination they were members of, but she had heard enough gospel preaching in that short period of time to become dissatisfied with the teaching she was now hearing. The preacher and an elder from that benevolent body of believers studied with and baptized the lady. Since this woman could not drive, different families from church would come and pick this large family up. This continued on. The boy and his siblings, nurtured in such an environment, were all influenced by gospel teaching and preaching. Many of them would also obey the gospel through time.

Then, he was a young husband and father, working for the Post Office, when he decided he wanted to attend a school of preaching and train to share the good news with others. Now, some decades later, he has spent years as a gospel preacher, professional counselor, missionary, preacher trainer, and professor. Not long ago, there was a vacancy in the pulpit of the church where he learned the gospel. The elders reached out to him and asked if he would consider taking the job. He did. Now, he is in the community preaching and teaching the lost and building up that body. Every soul he was won, every soul the countless men he has trained have won, and every one he has encouraged who has brought others to Jesus are all fruit to their account (cf. Phil. 4:17). 

The moral of this story is not to shame congregations into practicing the reactive “benevolence” they are solicited to provide by those “frequent fliers” who professionally panhandle. It is a reminder, though, that we all know people in our community who suffer losses and are in genuine need. God has always expected His people to be benevolent, individually and collectively. He tells the church at Galatia, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). James praises Christians as practitioners of pure religion who help those in need (Js. 1:27). Not everyone helped will obey the gospel, but when God’s people share the love of Jesus things like I’ve described will happen. Who knows how many will wind up on the Lord’s right side at the Judgment because we showed kindness and met needs, which opened people’s hearts to the gospel? Let’s find out!