As you would expect, the passage is available here.
I’m an evangelical! That is, I believe the Bible to be the word of God and the final authority of belief and practice. We evangelicals believe in justification by faith and not by works. So there is nothing that I can do that will make me acceptable to God. My only hope is to place all of my trust in what Jesus has done for me on the cross. So many find this confusing and believe that if they do enough good things, they could somehow outweigh their sin and be right before God – they would have earned it after all. That line of thought is seriously mistaken, it has to be, or why would it be necessary for Jesus to give his life for sinners if they could earn salvation anyway? Justification is not by works (the things we do); it’s by faith in Christ.
We evangelicals have had these ideas sorted since the Reformation, sadly some of us (and here I have to include myself) have in the past, looked down on Christians who have tried to do good works. I’m ashamed to say, I used to call them ‘do-gooders’ (I have repented), as if doing good was a bad thing! My understanding was flawed and I needed to read the New Testament again, this time without my prejudices. We are not saved by our works, we are saved by grace through faith but it is true to say that we are saved for works;
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The early Church was committed to sharing the good news but as we shall see today, they were deeply concerned with the welfare of the least well off.
Teachers have training days where they attend school and receive training but the pupils have a day off. I have heard more than one teacher joke that school is so much easier without the children. Where there is life, there will be problems and churches where they do not have problems can often be ones that are dying. The early Church was certainly not dying, it was growing rapidly but this growth brought a problem.
There seems to have been two groups among the Jewish Christians; the Grecian Jews, who most commentators believe spoke only Greek, and the Hebraic Jews who spoke Aramaic. Perhaps there was tension between these groups before they had become Christians, there is evidence that the Grecian Jews had their own synagogues, but these tensions erupted over the issue of support for the Grecian widows.
There are a number of things to learn here;
- Although the Church was committed to the Gospel they were also committed to caring for the poor. When the problem arose, there was no consideration given to dropping the daily provision of food. We learn elsewhere in the New Testament just how important caring for the poor was to the apostles.
- The concerns of the Grecian Christians were not ignored or brushed under the carpet, they were addressed and there was no attempt to apportion blame.
- The apostles and the Church as a whole recognised the need for the leaders to give attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
- The solution was proposed by the apostles but carried out by the congregation. I’m not trying to highlight any particular form Church government but I would point out the need for both leadership and unity.
- The men had to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. One may have thought some experience in catering or famine relief would be more appropriate but the apostles were interested in people who were really following Jesus.
- All the men selected had Greek names. It was not unusual for Hebraic Jews to have Greek names but it seems likely that Grecian Jews were picked to deal with their own people.
- The solution pleased everyone. They had a desire to sort things out and move on. Sometimes we can be hung up over incidents that happened years ago, sort it and move on.
I used to work for a parcel delivery company and I remember they had a belief that problems could be opportunities. They would go to great lengths to put right any mistakes that had been made and customers would often view this in a positive way. For the early Church, what could have been a cause of division and bitterness became a source of greater unity and clear witness. Problems are inevitable but they can either be something that brings the Church into disrepute or something that speaks of the love of God at work in his people.
How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore. (Psalm 133)