I was reading this morning once again the passage from Acts Chapter 6:1-7, which talks about a problem the Early Church encountered. Basically what happened this. On the Day of Pentecost, a lot of Jewish people from the Diaspora had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feasts, and they believed the gospel as Peter and others preached it. So they ended up staying in Jerusalem. These were the “Hellenists”. Amongst them were quite a few widows, ladies whose husbands had died and who had no visible means of support. There were also local Jewish believers who had widows. Apparently, whoever was in charge of this work of dealing out food to help the people had been showing favoritism to the local people.
It is only “natural” to use a position of power to benefit those who are close to you, whom you have ties to – be they of family, race or local culture. But we are not called to be “only natural”. We are called to be Spirit-filled, and to walk in divine love, wisdom and justice. This is one reason the apostles asked for men of good reputation, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Sometimes people preach that this is an indispensable quality for all who serve in the church. That’s all very well, but let us think about God’s reason for this requirement. It wasn’t because tongue-talking is essential to handing out food. It is because in the administration of money and resources you need to be a God-filled, God-fearing person who can tune into God’s mind to solve problems. Remember that in the Hebraic concept “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. These men that were to be appointed could not be “full of wisdom” unless they greatly feared the Lord. And the fear of the Lord in this case would lead them NOT to neglect the Hellenistic widows, just because they didn’t know them as well. The fear of the Lord will keep any kind of financial abuse out of church life.
Resentment and bitterness can creep into church life when there is no respect for justice and equity. It is all very well for pastors to preach on about “the bait of Satan” and the absolute necessity of forgiving and trusting your leaders, but Jesus had a lot to say in the gospels about “servants” who abuse those under them – and how such servants were going to end up in HELL (see Matthew 24:48-51). Therefore it is vital that any minister of the gospel who administrates MONEY have the fear of the Lord. All such need to realize that they are walking on sacred ground. We have a responsibility to love and care for people in the local church we don’t necessarily have a natural affinity to – when they genuinely need help and cannot help themselves. This was the case with these widows from the dispersion.
The apostles might have been tempted to step in this point and handle it themselves. They were more than capable I am sure. Many of them had run fishing businesses in the past – after all. But they did not go down this path. They realized that there was something even more important that they had to attend to. This was the ministry of prayer and the Word.
You can be sure that Satan was studying the early church and looking for holes. You can be sure that he was trying to bring in bitterness and strife. You can be sure he was looking for an open door to cause problems. He always is. That is why you are living like a fool if you think you can serve God and play around with sin at the same time, relying on “the grace of God” to unconditionally protect you. Satan is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he MAY devour (1 Peter 5:8). He can devour people who stray consistently enough into his territory through their disobedience to God. Don’t argue with me. Just don’t go there where you can get hurt.
A vital part of ministry then is to provide a prayer covering of sorts and to minister the right word at the right time. But since Satan is also attacking this kind of thing in whatever ways he can, especially by creating and promoting DISTRACTIONS, it is all the more vital to keep on praying, and keep giving attention to the Word, and to the Voice of the Lord.
The solution to this problem was not to abandon the spiritual side of ministry, but to release more people into ministry. That is why the apostles called for “deacons” if you will to join the ministry team. As stated before, these people had to be of good reputation, filled with the Spirit, and wisdom. They needed to be good administrators, good stewards. Deacons then, in the New Testament sense, are shown to be Christian ministers (servant-hearted people) who are practical problem solvers empowered by the Holy Spirit. They are also seen to be the ones in line for spiritual promotion – as is seen in the examples of Phlip the evangelist and Stephen, who were among the seven chosen.
Today we have a clamoring of Christian people wanting to be “apostles”, “prophets”, “big time evangelists”, “bishops” and so on. And at the same time we have a situation where financial scandals are common, and where a lot of these big name people are wasting the resources, TAKING from the widows and buying mansions and private jets which they consider to be suitable to their exalted station in life. We also have a lot of “Christian” people who cannot be trusted in business to do what they say, to not cheat you, or to give money to urgent needs. We have this cult of esteeming luxurious and selfish living going on – as if such living was an endorsement by God of one’s “faith”.
The early church wasn’t seeking to get as rich as possible, but they were seeking to do the right thing, and to see the Kingdom of God grow. The great thing is that after all these things happened it says that “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith”. Proper administration facilitates healthy and fast growth in the church. If the Body is not sick due to sin, if it is charged with God’s life, it will grow and the number of disciples – those who learn to obey God – will multiply.
If we TRULY want to return to the will of God for the church, we need to return to these foundational principles of justice, equity and the fear of the Lord. Things you will find mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs, oddly enough. We need to be people of WISDOM and GOOD REPUTATION. Before you can be someone entrusted with revelations from God, you need to be someone faithful in money matters, and you also need to be able to keep your sexual organs where they belong, while we are at it. Jesus said, “If you are not faithful with Unrighteous Mammon, who will trust you with the TRUE RICHES [read spiritual ministry]?”
At the same time, if we are going to see a restoration of apostolic power and ministry, we are going to need to devote ourselves to the Word and Prayer. Someone is going to have to do it. Hopefully many. Even if you are not called as an “apostle” per se, you can get as close to God as your time and heart attitude permits you. And surely the Lord will slot you in where you belong, even if it isn’t in one of the current mega-church “houses” that are becoming very influential at the moment. Wherever God calls you, you go there. Just give yourself to God, be filled with the Spirit, serve people in wisdom, and seek out the Word of God daily.
God bless you.