SERMON TITLE: Resisting Your Role
TEXT: Acts 6:1-7 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week 3 of our series in the book of Acts — which we’re calling Resistance as we’re seeing that for every gospel action there’s a reaction by our enemy. Now our enemy’s reaction is no match for us — not because we’re super awesome but — because of our faith in Jesus — we’ve been empowered with God’s Spirit to accomplish his perfect will — which the enemy cannot keep from being achieved. So things are looking good for those of us whose faith is in Jesus.
But the resistance by the enemy is real, it can be damaging, it’s often discouraging, and — as we’re seeing in this series — it can come from within the church just as easily as from outside the church. And that’s what we’re going to see again today — a problem will arise from within the church.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible, let’s turn with me to Acts chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 1-7.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Here are the words found in Acts chapter 6. Beginning in verse 1.
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1-7 ESV)
Does anyone remember the show Dirty Jobs? The show was hosted by Mike Rowe who would travel around and perform the most difficult, strange, disgusting, messy type jobs the producers could find for him to do with the people who normally do these dirty jobs. The show exposed us to — and hopefully helped us appreciate — the people who do these necessary but difficult jobs.
Now — it wouldn’t be as popular as Dirty Jobs — but a similar show could be done about the local church. In the church there are all kinds of jobs and roles and things that need to be done. The Bible describes the people of the church in many different ways.
We’re called a family with each individual Christian being a family member.
We’re called a temple where each person is like a brick of the building.
We’re called a body and each person is described as a part of the body — a hand, a foot, an arm, etc…
Now one of the points of these different descriptions of the church is to teach us that not all Christians are the same — we should believe the same things about the Bible, and God, and what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, and so on — but though we believe the same things — what each of us has been created by God to be and do is unique.
And one tactic of our enemy — one way he likes to try and cause division in the church — is to get us to not appreciate the unique contribution that each of us brings to the church. The enemy will tempt us to judge one another according to the gifts and talents God has given us and the unique way he’s called us to serve the church — all while ignoring the fact that God has given them a completely different set of gifts and called them to serve the church in a different way.
And what I appreciate about our story for today — is that it shows how the early church resisted this tactic of the enemy. We’ll find the church faced with a problem that could’ve easily caused division — yet the Christians find a solution that creates unity — a solution that resists the temptation to allow this problem to disrupt the work they were were doing for God. We’ll see a problem, their solution, and the results of their decision.
And my hope is that we’ll learn to recognize and appreciate the unique ways God has called each of us to love and serve one another instead of allowing the enemy to cause division among us — even if the division is simply a judgmental attitude of our heart — so that through our love and appreciation of how God has uniquely called each of us — we’ll grow closer together, resist the enemy, and see similar results to what we see in this story.
Let’s go back and discover the problem. Let’s begin in verse 1.
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1 ESV)
Now there’s an obvious and a not so obvious problem here. The obvious problem is that some widows are being neglected in the daily distribution. The church had begun a daily distribution of the goods we saw being collected a few weeks ago. Now this wasn’t a common practice of the day — this was something unique to the Christians because it was — if you remember — something birthed out of a belief that everything is a gift from God and is to be used for his glory and the good of others. So this daily distribution is an incredible picture of the life-changing, priority-shifting, value-influencing power of the gospel.
And throughout the New Testament, we see a priority in the church to take care of widows. Yet something that may surprise you, is that the Bible tells us which widows are the responsibility of the church and which aren’t — the Bible gives some specific qualifications about the widows the church is to care for.
For instance, Paul tells the young pastor — Timothy — “Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. 4 But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God. 5 Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. 6 But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives. 7 Give these instructions to the church so that no one will be open to criticism. 8 But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. 9 A widow who is put on the list for support must be a woman who is at least sixty years old and was faithful to her husband. 10 She must be well respected by everyone because of the good she has done. Has she brought up her children well? Has she been kind to strangers and served other believers humbly? Has she helped those who are in trouble? Has she always been ready to do good? 11 The younger widows should not be on the list, because their physical desires will overpower their devotion to Christ and they will want to remarry. 12 Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge. 13 And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t. 14 So I advise these younger widows to marry again, have children, and take care of their own homes. Then the enemy will not be able to say anything against them. 15 For I am afraid that some of them have already gone astray and now follow Satan. 16 If a woman who is a believer has relatives who are widows, she must take care of them and not put the responsibility on the church. Then the church can care for the widows who are truly alone.” (1 Timothy 5:3-16 NLT)
Now Paul’s instructions may be a shock to some of us — they may rub us the wrong way — how dare Paul categorize the widows like this. First, he says that care for a widow should be a priority for her family — her children and grandchildren. Paul makes a very direct statement when he says, “Those who don’t take care of the widows in their family have denied the faith.” And the reason for this is that there are some widows who have no family — and that’s who the church is to care for — the ones who have no one else to help them. And if the church is busy caring for widows who do have family around to help — well it may end up neglecting the widows who have no one to help them — and that’s not good. So Paul makes it clear that the church isn’t supposed to care for all widows.
Second, did you notice that there’s an official list of widows that are the responsibility of the church? We see that in verse 9 — “a widow who is put on the list for support…” — and there’s a set of requirements that must be met for a widow to be on the list. Now Paul’s letter to Timothy comes much later than our story in Acts — as time passes the church becomes more organized than what we see here in Acts. But — for now— the church is still figuring itself out — it’s not very organized — which leads us back to the not so obvious reason as to why some widows were being neglected.
What’s the not so obvious reason? Some think there’s some sort of prejudice happening between the Hebrews and the Hellenists — but I’m not sure that’s the case. Remember Luke’s been emphasizing the unity among the Christians. He’s described them as being of “one heart and soul” — so there’s a unity among them in spite of their ethnic differences — a unity because of their shared faith in Jesus. In fact, their solution will show that the problem isn’t one of prejudice.
So what’s a more likely reason for the problem? How about the explosive growth and size of the church? The church started off big to begin with — it had 2,000 members in Acts chapter 2 — and it’s only grown since. Now we’re talking thousands of people — the last number Luke mentioned was 5,000 men who believed — so this is a big group of people.
And do you know what happens when you’re part of a big church?
For starters, it’s more difficult to know everyone — can anyone relate?
Cliques can form based on common interests, or where your kids go to school, or where you work, or — for us — which campus you attend.
Misunderstandings become more frequent because there are more things being communicated — more voices sharing information that may not be 100% correct.
It becomes easier to misinterpret the motives of others, there’s constant change because of growth, you might not have access to things you’re used to — like your favorite spot to sit or that worship service time that worked best for your family or even access to the senior pastor because he’s broadcast via video from a different location.
Things get more organized and formalized as a church gets bigger which can be a pain. Like having to make a reservation way ahead of time in order to use our facilities or you pop in to meet with a staff person only to find out they’re already meeting with someone and have another appointment after that and another one after that.
Now there are a ton of benefits and blessings when you’re part of a large church, but we have to be careful that we don’t allow the challenges of being part of a large church to cause division among us.
And what I love — in this story from Acts chapter 6 — is how the early church refuses to allow something — that could’ve easily become a point of friction — to divide them. What am I talking about? Widows aren’t being fed, right? And the people have brought the problem to the attention of apostles.
And now we come to their solution. Let’s start in verse 2
“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:2-6 ESV)
Does their solution surprise you? What about the priorities of the apostles — who are acting as the pastors of the church? They gather the congregation — thousands of people — and essentially say, “You’ve brought to our attention a problem. But here’s the deal. Our priority — our role, our unique calling, what we must do — is devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word — we can’t lose our focus on prayer and preaching.”
Now I want us to pause here — they say more — but for now — I want us to pause and think about what they’ve just said and filter what we think should be the priorities of the leaders of Gateway. What are the elders — the pastors — of Gateway supposed to be devoted to? What should be on my — pastor Josh’s — job description?
If I had asked you — before we read this passage — what the job of a pastor is — what would you have said?
What would your answer be if we were faced with a problem — like the one here in Acts — where some people in the church are not being cared for?
Try and be honest with yourself, if we were having a church meeting and someone brought up that there were a bunch of widows — here at Gateway — who weren’t being taken care of — maybe no one was visiting them in the nursing home — or no one was helping them get groceries or get to their doctor’s appointment — and the issue was brought up before all of us in a church meeting — would our meeting have played out like what we’ve just read here in Acts?
A phenomenon in the church — and I’m talking about the church in our country — here in the US — for the last few decades — a view of what the role of the pastor is — what the pastor’s primary duties are — what a pastor’s job descriptions is — well it’s all gotten muddied up.
What do I mean? I went and looked at some job openings for pastors in our denomination — let me be clear — I wasn’t looking at the job openings to apply to them. I just wanted to see what churches say they’re looking for in a pastor — what’s their job description for a pastor. Here’s what I found:
“A Pastor to lead our congregation to a renewed and revitalized future thru strong leadership, sound Biblical preaching and teaching, and a passion for pastoral care.”
“We are seeking an individual that is committed to being a servant leader beyond reproach and be a partner as we become more and more like an Acts 2 church…”
“We are searching for a dynamic spiritual and administrative church leader to assume the pastoral role…Excellent preaching skills...Excellent written and verbal communication skills...Active listening skills.”
“Maintain and carry forward [our church’s] vision for ministry through a Christ-centered, collaborative team model which will include Biblical preaching and teaching (30%), leadership and discipleship (30%), administration (20%), and pastoral care (20%).”
Last example. “The next pastor of [our] church should be a lover of God and his Word. They will be expected to plan and lead weekly worship services and administer sacraments. We would expect them to visit members and friends of the church, perform weddings, funerals, as well as teach confirmation classes. They should also lead youth programs, bible studies, and elder training. It is very important in our small community that the pastor regularly participate in community activities and events. They are the moderator of the session and should attend a majority of the EPC presbytery meetings.”
OK. Did you notice something missing — and please know that I’m not trying to pick on these churches — because what’s missing is something that any of us could easily overlook. In fact, only 4 job descriptions — of the 20 I looked at — even mention what I hope you noticed was missing.
So what’s missing? Prayer! And I’m so thankful for First Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. I’d never heard of this 171 year old church before I did this research. So why am I thankful for this congregation of 48 people? They were the only church whose first two qualifications for their pastoral position were: 1) Teach and preach the Word and 2) Shows a strong prayer life.
Here in Acts chapter 6 the church leaders were like, “We’ve got two things on our job description that we have to do — prayer and preach the Word.” And — though all of the job descriptions I looked at mentioned preaching — only four mentioned prayer — and three of them were a single bullet point after things like “proficient at powerpoint” — almost like “Oh yeah, make sure you pray.”
Only First EPC of Cedar Grove seems to get this — at least based on the job description for their pastor. So here’s what we’re going to do — because — as I said — this is a smaller church. And when you’re small it’s easy to envy big churches like us. When you’re small it’s easy to think you must not be doing things right — otherwise we’d be big, right? And it can be easy for large churches to be so full of themselves that they refuse to learn from — and celebrate the faithfulness — of smaller churches.
So here’s what we’re going to do. At each of our campuses — out in your lobby — there are some blank cards. I want us to take time before we leave — and write First EPC of Cedar Grove a note of encouragement
Thank them for their faithfulness.
Thank them for being an example of a church that understands the role of the pastor.
Tell them that you love and that God loves them too.
Just encourage them because everyone can use some encouragement.
Look at their priorities compared to some of the other job descriptions I read. I mean has prayer — and I hope it hasn’t — but has prayer become something for US churches — that’s an “Oh yeah, pastor, make sure you pray sometime maybe” kind of thing? I hope it hasn’t.
So a couple of reactions to this.
The first being, “Yeah, but Jesus preached and prayed and was able to heal people and care for people — he didn’t have to split up these responsibilities.” If anyone thinks they can keep up with Jesus — cause I know I sure can’t — but if you think you can, please see me after the service and I’ll be sure to get you signed up to do — oh — say — everything around here.
How about this reaction? “But can’t the pastor pray any time? Does this really need to be part of what he’s paid to do?”
Someone else might be thinking, “I wonder how long it would take for Josh to pray for all of the people who come to Gateway — and pray for them with something more than a — ‘God I don’t know what’s going on in their life, but you do’ — kind of prayer?”
Or, “I wonder how many people at Gateway have no one who prays for them? Maybe they’re the only believer in their family, maybe they’re married to someone who isn’t a Christian, or they have parents who don’t support their faith? I wonder who’s praying for them?”
How much do we value prayer? Now I won’t talk much about preaching because — as I said — most churches still see this as a priority for the pastor. But what about all of the other things listed in the job descriptions? What about all of the things we were thinking of — when I asked — what’s the job of a pastor? Well here’s where we can learn something from the second part of the apostles’ statement to the congregation.
This second part was for the people of the church. The leaders told them to select seven men — men with a good reputation, who were full of the Holy Spirit, and who were wise — and the apostles would appoint these men to oversee the distribution of the goods — these men would make sure the widows were being taken care of. The apostles resisted the temptation to allow this problem to distract them from their unique role and responsibilities — they want the widows were taken care of — even though they can’t be the ones to care for the widows.
And — get this — the plan pleased the congregation. The widows are going to be taken care of and the church leaders are going to focus on prayer and preaching. The people choose seven men who meet the requirements set forth by the apostles — their names are in verse 5. These men serve the church by making sure an important task is done — the care of widows — so the apostles can focus on other important tasks — prayer and preaching.
And please hear me — both of these tasks are important — both of these roles are needed — what we’re seeing — though — is that one person — or one group — isn’t supposed to do everything. In fact, this decision got more people involved in the ministry of the church. This decision developed more leaders in the church — as we’ll see — in the coming weeks — from the stories of Stephen and Philip — two of the men chosen.
In fact, many see this solution as the beginning of a church role known as deacons — a group in the church who are the chief servants. I’ve heard it said this way. Elders — your pastors — lead the church with words — through prayer and preaching. Whereas deacons lead with their hands — they make sure the practical needs are of the people are taken care of. And in the New Testament we see this role of deacon become more formalized — Paul gives specific qualifications for deacons in First Timothy along with elder qualifications. In the book of Romans we see Paul call a woman — Phoebe — a deacon — as the role expands to include women.
And here at Gateway — we’re looking to develop this role of deacon. Because — just like these early Christians — as a church — we should all serve in the calling that God has for us — using the particular gifts he’s given us — for his glory and the good of our church. We shouldn’t expect a few to do everything — but we need everyone — using the gifts that God has given you — so that we become the church God intends us to be.
This is what Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus when he writes, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16 NLT)
Everyone has a role. Everyone has a job. Everyone has a necessary — “we won’t grow to our full potential unless you fulfill your calling” — kind of uniqueness. You’re such an important part of this church. What a purpose God has given you — something only you can do for us — something we need you to do.
That’s what the people in the early church understood. And look at the results of their solution.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7 ESV)
The word of God continues to increase — the gospel continues to spread as the apostles focus on their unique role while others fulfill their calling. The church continues to grow — the number of disciples — the followers of Jesus — multiplied greatly. And part of the growth included priests — Jewish priests — and that’s a big deal. If you remember from last week — there were people who were hesitant to join the Christians — but now — partly because of the congregation’s unity in finding a solution to this problem — in seeing Christians not resist their role or the role of their leaders — these priests join the church. And so do others. More and more people believe.
So what do we want to see God do in and through us?
Gateway — I love our story — I love our history — but I hope none of us are satisfied with thinking the best part of our story is in our past.
I hope we all long for — desire — are willing to step into — such unity as a church that the gospel will cause a multiplication of people to come to faith in Jesus.
That we would all step into our roles — not resist them — but flourish in the unique role God has created for each of us in this church.
That we wouldn’t judge one another because of what God has called them to do, but would encourage and be encouraged by one another.
That we would serve and be served by each other.
That we would be thankful for those who are called to lead with words and those who are called to lead with their hands.
For those who help to park cars and for those who lead preschoolers in worship.
For those who lead us in singing and those who set up tables and chairs.
For those who visit our widows and for those who lead us in prayer and by preaching God’s Word.
Gateway, I tell you every week that I love you — I hope you know I mean it. I’m thankful for all of you. For the gifts God has given you. For the unique way he’s made you. For the role he has for you. And for the gift that you are to this church. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for everyone who is part of Gateway Church. Father help us to understand — with great clarity — the role you have called us to in this congregation — to use the gifts you’ve given us for the benefit of those around us. Helps us to encourage one another and to be encouraged by one another. Help us to love and appreciate the uniqueness of everyone who is part of our faith family.
Jesus thank you — that through your death and resurrection — you have torn down the walls of division that we’re so keen on putting up. Thank you for giving us the power to resist judging others — because they’re different — and instead to know that what makes them different is exactly what we need to become the church you want us to be. Help us to rejoice in the fact you love us so much that you bring others into our church who will help us grow even more into your likeness.
Finally, Holy Spirit, thank you for using us — all of us. For giving us gifts and talents. Thank you for those you’ve gifted and called to lead with their hands and for those you’ve gifted and called to lead with their words. Unify us — so others see that you are at work in and among us. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: Desire clarity of your role at Gateway // DON’T FORGET TO WRITE A NOTE TO FIRST EPC CEDAR GROVE!)
May you go fulfilling the role God has created you for — while being thankful for each other and for the gifts God has blessed us with. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.