Script for the June 22nd episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.
Welcome to the June 22nd episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis, and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.
Today’s reading is Esther 6-8 and Acts 6, but we will focus only on the New Testament in this podcast.
If you have questions about anything in the Old Testament or New Testament reading assignment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I may answer it on the next podcast.
The early church was doing very well. The Apostles were proclaiming the Word of God with boldness even though it could bring painful consequences such as a beating or jail time. The family of believers in and around Jerusalem was growing by leaps and bounds as people gave their hearts to the Lord.
But you can take it to the bank that bad things are just around the corner when things are going well. This isn’t to say that we should have a “glass-half-empty” view of life. We shouldn’t become pessimistic. We merely need to realize that wonderful times aren’t permanent. We live in a Genesis 3 world where sin (the sin principle in the world), self (our sinful propensities), and Satan seek to undermine anything good God is doing.
Let’s begin by reading how this principle played out in the early church.
Acts 6:1 (CSB): “In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.”
The problem in the Jerusalem congregation ballooned into an allegation of favoritism and racism. The Hellenistic Jews (Jews with Greek culture) accused the Hebraic Jews (Jews with Hebrew culture) of showing favoritism. They alleged that the Hellenistic Jewish widows were being overlooked in the church’s ministry of providing food.
Whether this allegation was true or not is left to the reader to decide. But the allegation was serious enough that it could not be ignored. It needed to be addressed and the problem resolved, or it would grow into an even bigger problem.
The pastors didn’t brush the matter under the rug. They dealt with it.
Acts 6:2 (CSB): “The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.”
“The Twelve” are the Apostles serving as the church’s pastors. Clearly, the church in Jerusalem doesn’t have one pastor. They have twelve pastors.
I believe that this is a great time to acknowledge that the way we do church government today isn’t the way it was done in the first century. It doesn’t mean that we are necessarily doing it wrong. The Bible has clear commands on all sorts of things, but it also gives us leverage to make some of our own decisions. But the “Senior Pastor” or “Lead Pastor” model isn’t to be found in Scripture.
As we read through the book of Acts and then listen to the New Testament letters, it seems clear that most, if not all, of the 1st-century churches had multiple pastors who essentially served as equals. So, as we read of the Jerusalem church’s response to this issue, we don’t read of the “Senior Pastor” addressing the matter and delegating tasks to his associate pastors. Those contemporary church positions didn’t exist. Instead, the united body of elders/pastors spoke up as a unified body.
While there are many benefits to pastors and churches who are led by elders, we realize that even in the problem of Acts 6, there was something they couldn’t do. Or wouldn’t do. They wouldn’t engage in acts of service to the church that would pull them away from their primary task. They led the congregation to form another group of men who would meet the need.
Acts 6:3 (CSB): “Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.”
The elders instructed the congregation to form a group to address the problem and meet the needs of the widows. I believe that even though the word “Deacon” isn’t used in this text, this is where the office of Deacon originated.
Notice that the elders instructed the church to choose seven men, giving them character qualities to determine who could serve. An observant eye will see that none of the qualities had to do with competency. Every one of the qualifications was character-based. In fact, if you look at the qualifications of pastors and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, we observe that virtually all of them focus on character, not competence.
The Bible values character and competence. Further, we enjoy it when those in leadership positions are reputable people who also know how to do their job. Yet, competency can often be taught; character often cannot. A close look at this topic in Scripture reveals that if we must decide on a pastor or deacon who has character or competence, choose the one with character.
Unfortunately, far too many churches have this backward. I have observed that a deacon, pastor, or staff member can do their job so well that the congregation is willing to turn a blind eye to obvious signs of character flaws.
Churches tend to value competency over character, the opposite of what Scripture values. This refusal to see things God’s way has caused many heartaches and even embarrassing and horribly painful times in a congregation’s life as they try to salvage what a leader with a character flaw messed up.
So, the elders of the church in Jerusalem instructed the congregation to select seven godly men to address the problem and serve the congregation. But they saw a teaching moment. They wanted to make it clear why they wouldn’t step in to fix the problem themselves.
Acts 6:4 (CSB): “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
While there are other biblical tasks that pastors must do, their primary task is prayer and the ministry of the Word, in that order.
Their activity of prayer is focused upon praying for themselves, the church as a whole, the individual needs within the congregation, for God’s direction for the church, and so much more.
The ministry of the Word is essentially the work of getting God’s Word into the minds and hearts of the people. This includes preaching, teaching, writing, counseling, defending the faith, and anything else that explains and applies the truth of Scripture to people’s lives.
Friends, let me tell you about a problem with the contemporary church. Simply put, the Bible isn’t valued, even among those who profess to be Christians. Their Bibles collect dust during the week, and they struggle to stay awake when they show up to church where the Bible is taught.
This spiritual apathy which is demonstrated in biblical obtuseness can cause the pastor to head in one of two directions:
First, while doing his other pastoral duties, he will primarily focus on prayer and creating more ways to get God’s Word into people’s minds and hearts. In my own experience, I preach 2-3 times a week, I try to find places to speak God’s Word into conversations, I do this podcast, I am starting an in-depth class at my church this August that will focus on what Christians believe, and so much more. My life is focused on getting into God’s Word and getting it into others.
But the second direction a pastor may take is to unintentionally marginalize the Word. They will spend less time in their studies and more time in meetings, visiting, and all sorts of other good activities that become distractions. Their preaching will suffer, and it won’t really feed the congregation. But the pastor is convinced that he can get more affirmation if he spends his time doing so much more than “prayer and the ministry of the Word.”
Friend, please help the people in your congregation to give the pastor the benefit of the doubt when he says “no” to things that some demand of him. There will be people in the congregation who will place unrealistic expectations on the pastor, and get upset at him for not doing what they think he should do. If he is lazy, then that is entirely another matter. But if he is saying “no” to a few things so that he can focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word,” then defend his decisions.
Realize that the church in Jerusalem didn’t bicker and argue when the elders didn’t step up to serve tables. Instead, they seemed to be happy with the decision.
Acts 6:5-6 (CSB): “This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.”
The congregation liked what they heard from their pastors. So, they chose seven men. But if you notice, all seven of the men had Greek names. The congregation was bending over backward to show that they wouldn’t tolerate favoritism and racism within their ranks. They chose seven Greek men to solve the problem to prove that they wouldn’t tolerate the Hellenized (Greek) Jewish widows to be mistreated. This is beautiful, and it is how church is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a little bit of Heaven on earth.
It seems that fixing this problem in a selfless way is exactly what was needed for the Spirit to begin moving among them again.
Acts 6:7 (CSB): “So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.”
There is no guarantee that our churches will explode in growth when we submit ourselves to the Lord and each other. Yet, we realize from this biblical example that when we follow the two greatest commandments, to love the Lord with everything we’ve got and love the people around us as we love ourselves, then we at least create the opportunity for God to move powerfully among us.
Now, the author of Acts directs our attention to one of the Deacons. Stephen was listed first as one of the men chosen in verse 5 to resolve the problem of serving the meals to the widows in the church. But we realize in the second half of this chapter and all of the next chapter that this man was a soul-winner. He knew the Bible and stood up for its truth even if he were to die for it.
So, let’s observe this man who would be the first Christian martyr.
Acts 6:8 (CSB): “Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
Once again, it’s worth noting that Deacon Stephen didn’t simply show up to the monthly Deacons’ meetings. Instead, he knew his Bible, loved his Lord, defended the faith, and shared the Gospel.
As someone in the early church, before the New Testament was completed, he also did signs and wonders. But, once again, realize that those are not normative. They were part of the early church’s experience until God’s Word was complete. Then, they generally ceased.
But as Stephen engaged in ministry, those who were against Christianity saw him as a target.
Acts 6:9-10 (CSB): “Opposition arose, however, from some members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, and they began to argue with Stephen. But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.”
This sounds like they may have had a discussion or even a formal debate. But Stephen appears to have won because his enemies “were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.”
But you almost certainly know that when someone loses an argument, they generally don’t take it with grace. Instead, they get upset and angry. Some might even try to exert power over the one who defeated them. That’s what the people did who could not stand against Stephen.
Acts 6:11-12 (CSB): “Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, seized him, and took him to the Sanhedrin.”
Those who could not stand against Stephen’s logic and application of God’s Word would work for revenge. They convinced some men to lie about Stephen, saying he had blasphemed Moses and the Lord. This charge was so egregious that there was no choice but to take him to the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin.
This provided the Sanhedrin with what it had been looking for. The Sanhedrin would win no popularity points by persecuting Christians so long as the populace respected them. But if the Christians could be accused of talking against the revered Moses or God Himself, that was entirely another matter. The Sanhedrin could sway the crowds away from a positive view of Christians.
Acts 6:13-14 (CSB): “They also presented false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops speaking against this holy place and the law. For we heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.’”
The Jews got even more “witnesses” to speak lies against Stephen. They were building their case for why Christians should be considered a threat to Judaism.
As the proverbial noose was tightening around Stephen’s neck, how was he handling it? What did they see when the people looked at him and his facial expressions?
Acts 6:15 (CSB): “And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
It seems that “his face was like the face of an angel” spoke of his innocence and purity. Many probably suspected that the allegations against him were trumped up. However, the current set of events and testimony from “witnesses” allowed the Sanhedrin to begin squashing Christianity’s movement with the people’s approval. So they shut down their consciences and would allow Stephen to speak – in tomorrow’s Bible reading.
Lord Jesus, we are blessed to live in a place and time where we can live out our faith without fear of persecution. Unfortunately, most Christians have not been so fortunate.
But, Lord, we also realize that with freedom comes the opportunity to grow weak in our faith. Just as a tree on a hill can grow strong because of the winds that blow against it, we can grow strong when life gets hard. But when life is easy, we tend to get spiritually lazy and weak.
So help us, Lord, to develop a strong faith even in the presence of our religious freedoms. As we observe the courage of those early saints who courageously stood up for You even in the face of death, help us to cultivate those kinds of hearts for You as well.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I hope today’s episode has helped you to understand and enjoy God’s Word so that you can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If looking over the script for this podcast would be beneficial to you, hop on over to my website at mattsmusings.net. I will provide a link in this episode’s show notes.
The “Enjoying the Bible” podcast is a ministry of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida. Check us out at fbcpolkcity.com. See you next time!