Thus far in Acts Luke has reported the conversion of thousands. Some time has passed. The number of believers is increasing. But a little matter of food distribution is threatening to divide the church. Acts 6:1–7, in describing the solution, sets the stage for one of the permanent offices in the church.
God calls you to serve. He expects you to be concerned about the practical affairs of life. Tensions arose in the church over perceptions of inequity between Grecian and Hebraic widows in the distribution of food. Yet the problem was an outgrowth of the church’s practical concerns for its members, and the solution points to a permanent way of dealing with the issue. God expects his people to be concerned about the poor, especially those of the household of faith (Deuteronomy 10:12–22; Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8; 9; James 1:27. This contradicts a false notion of spirituality” in the church. That rediscovery is part of the Reformation. Compassion needs to be guided by the Word of God. The tensions arose because of diversity in the church, but the diversity is part of God’s plan for his people. “These early Christians found, however, that the differences that threaten division can be God’s prod to look beyond oneself, beyond the circle of ‘our kind of people,’ to see the rich diversity of people ‘from every nation, tribe, people, and language,’ being woven together by the Spirit into a multicolored many-textured tapestry (Rev. 7:9–10). If we try to keep the peace by filtering out folks who are not ‘like-minded,’ or who will not or cannot adjust themselves to our comfort zone, then the artificial and superficial unity that results will rest on the shifting sands of culture, tradition, and familiarity. God has a way of unsettling this comfortable ‘fellowship,’ challenging us to pursue the real thing instead: ‘He himself is our peace, who made both [Jew and Gentile] become one, dismantling the dividing wall, the enmity, in his flesh… in order to create the two [Jew and Gentile] into one new man in himself, making peace, and to reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] to God in one body through the cross, by which he killed the enmity’ (Eph. 2:14–16).” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 88)
The state sponsored Reformed Church in the Netherlands had fallen on bad times. Open unbelief was tolerated. In the years following 1834 a group of “Seceders” began organizing for worship. But the state began enforcing a Napoleonic code which prohibited the assembly of more than 20 unauthorized people for worship. The faithful began meeting in the countryside and in barns. “The large barn of Jochem Van der Wege was filled to the rafters.” Dr. Cornelius Van der Meulen, one of the Seceder leaders, “stood on the farm wagon which served as pulpit. The service was just begun when two armed officers of the law approached the minister and said: ‘In the name of the king of the Netherlands we forbid your preaching to these people and command you to leave this place.’ Whereupon the preacher made answer: ‘You have done your duty in the name of the king of the Netherlands but now in the name of the King of kings, I tell you that I am under orders to preach the gospel to these people.’ Three times that day he preached, and, at the close of each service, deacons stood at the door to receive the offerings. The fines aggregated two hundred sixty guildens and the collections amounted to approximately the same.” (Jacob Van der Mulen, Hollanders, p. 24). Similar stories could be told of the Covenanters in Scotland, Huguenots in France, or believes in some African (and other) countries meeting for worship today. What do you do when you are pressured by men to disobey God? Look at Acts 5:29–32.
The people of Israel had finally entered the promised land. The presence of God with his people had been powerfully demonstrated as he brought the walls of Jericho crashing down. But in the midst of that triumph, Israel is laid low by sin in the camp. That sin has to be dealt with if God’s people are to live in fellowship with him. In Acts 4:32—5:16 the New Testament church encounters a similar crisis.
Live in the power of the resurrection. The gospel touches all of life. Unity, the unity for which Christ had prayed in John 17:22–23, marks the early church. It is more than an expressed concern. It affects the pocketbook. Believers shold property and shared with the needy. The sharing was voluntary, Acts 5:4. An outstanding example was Barnabas, called, “son of encouragement” by the believers. While there is no requirement in Scripture that all Christians hold their property in common, the attitude and motivation ought to continue.
“Luke’s definition of fellowship challenges our attitude toward, and use of private property. One tangible example of the Spirit’s renewal in the early Christians with their attitude of partnership, their bias toward sharing with needy Christians. Their instinctive expression of family love was to give over their own resources into the service of others; and this reaction displayed the grace that ‘was upon them all’ (Acts 4:33).”
Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, pages 77–78
How do you pray when you are under pressure? More often? More intensely? For relief from your problems? Listen to the early church pray in Acts 4:25–31 and learn from them.
Begin your prayer with praise. Praise God that he is sovereign. Note that the disciples pray to a personal God who hears prayer. The term they use to address God reflects the truth that he is the sovereign master of all. The corresponding term is servant, used by the believers of themselves later in the prayer. That sovereignty is evident in his creating all things and also, then, ruling over them. This sovereign God has spoken by the Holy Spirit (note the close relationship between the Spirit and the Word) by the mouth of David.
We live in an age of equality, in which everyone (supposedly) is equal to everyone else. That is true in religion as well, where the one offense seems to exclusivity. But Biblical Christianity does claim to be exclusive, though hopefully not in an arrogant way.
Salvation is found in no one else. The name of Jesus had brought healing. The commotion caused by the healing of the lame man and Peter’s sermon had caused the arrest of Peter and John. Now the Sanhedrin demands to know what authority or name lay behind their act, v.7. The way the question was asked was demeaning. “Men like you!” would be the force of it today. Peter responds with a bold affirmation that it is by the name of Jesus that this “act of kindness” had been done, v.9. (The words for healing and salvation are the same in Greek.) The name of Jesus had given a holy boldness to Peter, who had denied his Lord a few weeks earlier.