Spirit Filled: UNITED TO SERVE

Several years ago a Dallas church decided to split. Each faction filed a lawsuit to claim the church property. A judge finally referred the matter to the higher authorities in the particular denomination. A church court assembled to hear both sides of the case and awarded the church property to one of the two factions. The losers withdrew and formed another church in the area.

During the hearing, the church courts learned that the conflict had all begun at a church dinner when a certain elder received a smaller slice of ham than a child seated next to him. Sadly, this was reported in the newspaper for everyone to read. The church became the laughingstock of the community.

You may think that this is something rare but I only wish that were true. When people get together unless they are surrendered and under the control of the Holy Spirit there will be division.

This ugly spirit is something we have striven hard to not tolerate as a church for the last nine years. I am thankful to God for His protection from misguided people that stir up problems.

It didn’t take long in the early church for division to raise its ugly head. Wherever you have people you have the potential for problems. Every major company or organization has a Human Resource department for a reason.

In this story from the early church the leaders make some very important decisions that have been followed in one form or another ever since. It is critical that we have these kinds of discussions and teaching if the church is to thrive and excel in the ministry God calls us to.

The Danger of Division in the Church

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1 NLT


Let me be very clear that Satan will do his best to stir up trouble from within when it comes to churches. Those with any degree of effectiveness in carrying out the mission Christ gave the church to do are especially vulnerable and targets for this kind of behavior.

Many churches have been destroyed in this way. God pours out His blessing on a church or ministry, people come to know Christ, the church becomes effective in the community, the body of Christ or the church goes out into the community and makes a difference, and then someone can start complaining and feeling sorry for themselves and the next thing you know they have a little following of disgruntled folks.


Here’s what was happening in this story. Jerusalem had a large minority of Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews – Jews who, though the spoke no Hebrew because they had lived abroad for centuries, returned to Jerusalem because it was their holy city. Many of these Jews had returned so that they might spend their final days of life in Jerusalem.

As a result there was an abundance of Greek-speaking women who had outlived their husbands. Resentful, the native Aramaic-speaking Jews discriminated against the Hellenistic Jews, whom the Pharisees held in utter contempt, considering them second class Israelites.

It was into this world that Pentecost came and thousands of Aramaic-speaking Jews plus hundreds of Hellenistic Jews became on in Christ. Conversion, as wonderful as it was, did not erase all prejudice instantly. The Greek-speaking widows soon felt they were being shorted. When other widows received two loaves of bread, they only got one. At least that is the way they saw it. So they “complained” about it. “Our Hebrew speaking brothers are favoring their own people.” The offense may have been more imagined than actual, but that made no difference to those who felt overlooked. My guess is that there was neglect but it was unintentional. I think the early church leaders were overwhelmed by the rapid growth.

I can testify that in the last nine years of steady growth that it has at times been nearly impossible to keep up with the needs of people. I thank God everyday for those that willingly step up to help on a regular basis. Church conflict is one of the saddest and heartbreaking things to witness.

The disciples knew that this was serious. They knew that the corporate witness of the church was at stake because Jesus had left them with this thought:

“A new commandment I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you so you so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community.”

Ken Taylor in his Romans for the Family Hour relates this story:

One hot day a family traveling down the highway between Johnston and Jamestown stopped at Farmer Jones place to ask for a drink of water.

“Where you headed?” he asked them. “We are moving from Johnstown to Jamestown to live.” They told him. “Can you tell us what the people are like?” “Well what kind of people did you find where you lived before?” ask Farmer Jones.

“Oh they were the very worst kind!” the people said. “They were gossipy and unkind and indifferent. We are glad to be moving away.”

“Well, I am afraid you will find the same in Jamestown,” replied the farmer.

The next day another car stopped and the same conversation took place. These people were moving to Jamestown as well.

“What kind of neighbors will we have there?” “Well, what kind of neighbors did you have where you lived before?” “Oh they were the very best! They were so kind and considerate that it almost broke our hearts to have to move away.”

“Well, you will find exactly the same kind again,” Farmer Jones replied.

When believers are unhappy and being to murmur, the first place to look for the problem is in your own heart. Christians who were unhappy at their last church or town or job are probably unhappy where they are now. If there is a just cause for criticism they should express it o the right people in an appropriate way. According the Bible we are mandated to avoid gossiping and murmuring and must be willing to be part of the solution.

The Discernment of Duties in the Church

 2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. Acts 6:2 NLT

4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” Acts 6:4 NLT

Running a food program or waiting on tables would have left the apostles little time for anything or anyone else. The disciples would have dried up spiritually under the pressure of serving meals plus all the counseling and preaching, with little time for preparation and prayer.

If the apostle had agreed to personally run the food program, other might have hesitated to perform the slightest ministry without their direction and that would have fostered the overdependence we sometimes see today. One of the greatest moments in a pastor’s life and ministry is when someone will take a ministry and run with it. They will care about it and lead it and encourage others to join them in the journey. It is an incredible thing when you are surrounded by people that are willing to serve in the church.

There is a temptation in the heart of a pastor to think that you must do it all. No one wants to be seen as being above doing something. Obviously someone had suggested that the disciples do this ministry. If it were today it would go something like this: “Why don’t you guys do it after all, all you do is work one day a week.” “What? You’re not willing to wait on tables? Are you too good for that?” There is nothing more annoying to me than a lazy pastor and I know that there are times when I will try to compensate for what I think people are probably thinking.

I have heard and endured the smart-aleck remarks when you do try to help in some way and they are very revealing about what is going on in the person’s head making the remarks. Sometimes church people can be the cruelest people and I think it is most noticeable because it is so unlike the Christ they profess to serve.

It is to the disciple’s credit that they resisted the temptation to just take this need on. There was a reason they did not just jump into this serving role.

 2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. Acts 6:2 NLT

A healthy church will demand that their pastoral staff spend time doing these two things.

            A. Prayer

It is impossible to have effective ministry without spending a great deal of time in prayer. Andrew Bonar made these entries in his journal:

I see that unless I keep up short prayer every day throughout the whole day, at intervals, I lose the spirit of prayer.

Too much work without corresponding prayer.
Today setting myself to pray.

Was enabled to spend part of Thursday in my church praying. Have had great help in study since then.

Prayer is important because teaching is important.

            B. Teaching

Their prayers were accompanied by the “ministry of the word.” I don’t know how you think this happens every week but I can assure you that it takes preparation to be able to communicate effective and meaningful messages.

The early disciples were laboring. Some wrote portions of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They poured over the Old Testament, working hard to understand and communicate the spiritual truths of God’s word. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote:

“No man is ever going to be able to fill the pulpit adequately unless he spends thousands of hours year after year in the study of God’s word.” Phillips Brooks called preaching “truth mediated through personality.” The preacher prays over his message, personally absorbing every point. Then, with fear and trembling, God’s spokesman steps before the people.

Given the serious nature and demands of their own calling the disciple proposed a plan.

The Delegation and Dedication in the Church

3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. 4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”  5 Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). 6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.  Acts 6:3-6 NLT

Now I am not going to spend a great deal of time here but I want you to remember this part of the message more than anything else that has been said. For many of us we would look at this job as a no brainer position. I mean these guys are “just passing our food.”

I can think of a lot of positions around the church that would fall on the flow chart at about the same level. They are thankless positions that are critical yet non glamorous. Who sets out the refreshments on any given Sunday? Who makes sure that the chairs are in position and available for those coming to a service? Who flips light switches or runs the sound and PowerPoint slides? Who pulls the weeds in the flower beds or sets up display tables like the one in the foyer today? Who works in the food pantry and unloads the truck when deliveries are made? Who sets up and tears down chairs for events or hands out worship folders on a Sunday morning with a smile?

You might think these are unimportant positions and yet I want you to know first of all that I think the things I just mentioned are incredibly important and then I want you to notice the qualifications demanded by those who serve. 

            A. Well Respected

This is really another way of saying they should be people with a good reputation. The word used in the Greek has two meanings. It can mean a person of whom a good witness is given and also a person who is good in witnessing. Certainly the apostles wanted people of impeccable character, but character should be a witness to Christ in them and activate involvement in communicating His love to others.

            B. Full of the Holy Spirit

This would be the ultimate qualification. This was to be exemplified in all dimensions of their lives – intellectual and emotional.

We are looking this summer in this series for the effect and presence of the Holy Spirit in the early church. Here we find Him in the lives of these chosen to serve.

What a qualification! What a standard to hold people to that are serving. To be honest I don’t know of any denomination that even truly holds their pastors to this standard as far as really assessing the Spirits’ presence. And yet here it is right in front of us. The ultimate test of our effectiveness in the work we are called to do for Christ is being “full” of the Holy Spirit.

This means that we must embrace holiness instead of a tolerance for sin in our lives.

This means that we must stay away from unclean things that grieve the Holy Spirit away from indwelling us and filling us with His presence.

The test of the Holy Spirit’s presence would be the gift of wisdom.

            C. Full of Wisdom

This comes from the Holy Spirit and allows us to function in a way we could not if left to our own strengths and gifts.

Demonstration of Devotion to the Mission of the Church

 7 So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Acts 6:7 NLT

God’s word was spread. The number of disciples increased. Even Jewish priests became Christ followers. Why? Because they didn’t allow this to sidetrack them or get ugly. They just took care of it and went back to the business of the church.

It is focus on the mission that will keep us away from conflict. It is mission and focus that will keep us away from bickering, backbiting, pouting, stirring up trouble, being negative and allowing Satan to destroy what God is doing.

During the conflict in Sarajevo a reporter who was covering the conflict in the middle of Sarajevo saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil, and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes. He rushed to the man who was holding the child, and helped them both into his car. As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still alive." A moment or two later, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing." A moment later, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm." Finally, "Hurry. Oh, God, my child is getting cold."

When they got to the hospital, the little girl was dead. As the two men were in the lavatory, washing the blood off their hands and their clothes, the man turned to the reporter and said, "This is a terrible task for me. I must go tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken." The reporter was amazed. He looked at the grieving man and said, "I thought she was your child." The man looked back and said, "No, but aren't they all our children?" (D.C.Jim Wallis, Who Speaks For God?, New York: Delacorte Press, 1996, pp.72-73)

Our Father, we thank you for this account of how the Holy Spirit repulsed the inward attacks of our enemy. We pray God, that you would cause us to be a part of the answer, to examine our hearts, to take our criticism to those who can do something about it, to lead in a way you desire – being willing to delegate to and equip other. Lord, help us to be willing to have you fill us and us however you desire. May we be well respected, full of wisdom and full of Your Holy Spirit. Amen