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Study Notes:

Acts 6:1-15

The Man God Uses

Summary: As the church grows it needs additional leaders with specific qualifications and conduct who can thrive in the face of resistance.

For several weeks now we have been looking at a situation that unfolded as the early church experienced some growing pains. Increasing numbers meant more people to look after and some people were falling through the cracks – specifically, some widows who weren’t from the local area were getting left out of the assistance program.

We’ve spent time talking about how this relates to our lives – how we should respond when problems arise in the local church today.  We’ve spoken about the fact that sometimes our staff, ministry leaders, and I personally have dropped the ball or missed things as we respond to growth in our church.  And we’ve talked about specific needs and opportunities here at City Gates for you to get involved, or explore how God might want to use you personally – just like the people who were brought in to oversee ministry to the widows in the early church.

This morning we’re going to take one last look at the passage and then finish out the chapter.  This time we’re going to look at the people chosen to take on the new ministry roles – what were their qualifications and what kind of opposition did they face?

Along the way, I want to encourage you to remember something we saw last week: we’re all called to ministry.  We’re all part of the body of Christ.  We all have a role to play.  And when we do, other people benefit.  When the arms are strong and healthy, the body thrives.  When the eyes are bright and open, the body thrives.  When the feet are healthy and ready to go, the body thrives.

ALL of us have a role to play in helping others, because we have been so helped by God and that means we can all learn something from these men. 

Let’s read again:

Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

So, the first thing I want to address is there in verse 3 – the qualifications established for ministry.  There are three of them: these men needed to 1.) have good reputations, 2.) be full of the Holy Spirit, and 3.) have wisdom.  Notice, they were looking for men here, but there is nothing gender or age exclusive about those qualifications.  Here at City Gates we want to see a church full of men and women, youth, singles, retirees and everyone in between who meets these qualifications.  We want to be a church full of people with good reputations, filled with the Holy Spirit, and wisdom.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Who doesn’t want to be around those kind of people – people who remind you of Jesus?

So let’s talk about them – first, a good reputation.

Now, the thing about a good reputation is, it’s built on the past.  You can’t say “Well, this is what I’m trying for, this is what I hope to be like one day…”  No, you need a history.  You need a background. You need things people can point to.

A few years ago I was up for my first promotion in the Air Force that required a recommendation.  Your boss has to fill out a promotion recommendation form and say whether you should be promoted or not, and why.  And the only things they can put on that form are things that have already been documented – they can take information off of an award you received or your annual performance reports, but the recommendation can’t say anything new.

And I still remember how that struck me – there’s no space for you to say, “Oh, I really, want this opportunity. I want to grow. I want to stretch. I’m working on this or that or other thing and I’m going to be awesome one day –I promise!”  You can’t say any of that.  You can’t say what you’re trying to be, or what you want to be, there are other times and places for that – but when it comes to making your promotion recommendation the only things you can point to are things you’ve already done.

You could say it this way – when it comes time to make the decision about your promotion, the only thing you can point to is the reputation you’ve already established.

That’s why today is so important.  The things we do today soon become our yesterdays and shape the reputation we have tomorrow. 

Brothers and sisters, we want a good reputation, but it’s built over time with consistency as people are able to point back and say, I remember when you…

Remember when you what?  Looked like Jesus, or fell on your face?

Now, the truth of the matter is – we’re all going to fall on our face at times. Look, the apostles are trying to de-escalate a brewing conflict here – they feel responsible for the situation, and they’re trying to fix it.  If even the apostles hurt people at times, made poor choices at times, stumbled, and fell shouldn’t we expect to do the same thing?

This isn’t a call for perfection, that’s not realistic.  We will fall and fail at times, but it doesn’t have to destroy our reputation.  Our reputation is defined by what we do next, how we handle our failures.  And what the disciples did next was work to solve the problem.

God says:

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Nothing has to wreck us, nothing has to define us – it’s OK to have a reputation that includes the time you blew it but also includes the fact that you’re getting better. 

That’s more than a good reputation, that’s a gospel reputation, and it’s the story of every Christian at some level.  I’m not what I want to be, but by God’s grace I’m not what I used to be either.  There’s growth and maturity in your life and it forms and shapes your good reputation.

All of this is directly connected to the next qualification Peter outlined – look for seven men who have good reputations, who are full of the Holy Spirit – which, coincidentally, if you’re filled with the Spirit and yielding to His work in your life, you will begin to develop a good reputation and receive wisdom.  This qualification actually produces the other two.

And think about this, because it’s really important – these men needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit to do something you might categorize as purely administrative – to organize and oversee the distribution of food aid to widows. 

Now, I think we could understand if they were making hospital visits, or doing evangelism, or preaching, or something we might call ‘ministry’ sure, you can see the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit for that, but this is different.  This seems like you just need some data points and maybe a good app so people can check in on their phone when they show up and it pulls up their profile and keeps a log of their visits.  This is easy, right? Some of you are like – I could code that I could write that app.  Some of you are like, “I could build that spreadsheet” create a Google doc, or a sign-up Genius, and we’d be good, we’d have this thing solved.

And you probably could, but would you ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit in order to do it?

Would you dive right in and tackle it on your own, or would you pray about this administrative effort?  Would you depend on God to organize some administration and logistics?  Would you invite Him in to something so organizational, so ordinary?  Would you say, Father, would you please be the fuel that I run on today?  Would you please fill me with the Holy Spirit in what I’m going to take on today?

Christian, God wants to be involved in every part of your life, every single day.  This isn’t just for Sundays.  You can pray before a meeting you lead or participate in – God, please give me wisdom, help me hear things correctly, help me know what to say, give me insight.

You can pray before working on the cars or performing maintenance around the house or cooking dinner – Father, please help me do this well, bless this project so that it’s a blessing to my family.

You can pray before practice – Jesus, help me do this well, help me care about my teammates and the issues in their lives, help me perform well on the field and make good decisions that help our team.

Cultivate a posture of Holy Spirit dependency in everything you do.  Don’t walk through life alone.

This is one of greatest distinctives of the Christian faith.  All religions and systems of philosophy or ethics have a list of right and wrong – do this, don’t do that.  For Christians, it’s the Word of God – God tells us what is wrong, He calls it sin, and guides into what we should do instead.  You can summarize it all as: Love God and Love Others. But He also gives us lots of details on what that means, what it looks like day by day.

Most religions also have something you can do after you’ve done something wrong.  Maybe you make a sacrifice of money or an animal or something else valuable, or you do something hard, or something good, or say a certain prayer.  You’re down by a few points and now you need to make it up.  The problem is, I’ve never seen a scoreboard for my soul, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly where you stand – are you ahead, or behind, and how far? 

For Christians, the answer is: you’re so far behind you’re never going to catch up.  There is no combination of touchdowns, field goals, and extra points you could score that would ever pull you ahead – your soul is going to lose the SuperBowl of life.  That’s why God sent Jesus to win it for you, singlehandedly.  You just sit there on the bench, and He does the work.  He becomes our sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who bled and died on the cross, for our sins.  He gave everything, but didn’t owe anything.

And if only that were true, it would be amazing: God tells us right from wrong – He gives us guidance for life, and when we fail, He points us to Jesus as our source of all reconciliation and forgiveness.  That is good news.  That is gospel news!

But there’s more.  When we are saved by Christ, when we confess to God that we have sinned, we have broken His rules for life either intentionally or ignorantly, by doing things we shouldn’t have done, or by not doing things we should have done – when we confess that, and ask for forgiveness in Christ, ask His sacrifice to be counted as ours – the Holy Spirit comes and breathes new life into our souls – we are “born-again” to use a term Jesus used.  So that God now lives inside of you and will never leave you nor forsake you – it’s a guarantee found in His Word.

If you can trust anything about God, you can trust that this is true.

And yet there’s even more.  The Scriptures speak time and time again, not only of the Spirit being in us as Christians, but also empowering us in the things we do.  Sometimes it’s referred to as being filled with the Holy Spirit, sometimes it’s referred to as being empowered by the Spirit, sometimes it’s referred to as being baptized in the Spirit but the idea is always this: something extraordinary is happening in your life because it’s not just you working all by yourself, God is working through you. 

Now, there are some crazy things that have happened around some churches that have been attributed to the Holy Spirit and that makes some people nervous whenever you talk about this stuff – but I’m not talking about any kind of excess here, I’m not talking about anything that would give you a bad reputation or make you look silly. I’m talking about what we see over and over again in Scripture.

If you are not a Christian, the Holy Spirit may come to you – He’ll bring you a sense of conviction of what is right and wrong, give you a sense that something is happening in your life, make you a little unsettled about spiritual things – He’s getting your attention and trying to draw you to the gospel and to Jesus. 

When you receive the Gospel and are born-again, the Spirit comes inside you – that might be a spectacular moment or it might not – don’t judge it by your feelings, but it happens and it’s binary – either it has happened in response to your faith in Jesus or it hasn’t because you’re not saved.  Those are your only two options.

But then, there’s this third category where the Spirit that is in you also becomes the source of power, strength, and guidance for you.  You’re not running on your own fuel – you’re being empowered.

You see this all over the book of Acts:

  • The 120 disciples who were already born-again, were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Acts 2
  • Peter, who was there on Pentecost, was filled with the Spirit again while speaking to the Sanhedrin Acts 4:8
  • We’re told here about seven men who were filled with the Holy Spirit and we’ll see Stephen’s filling mentioned again in the next chapter 7:55
    • So let me ask – if being filled with the Spirit was a common experience for all Christians, why is it a necessary qualification for these men?  The answer is – while it is available to all Christians, not all Christians rely on it, depend on it, or have a reputation for it – but they could.  We’re told
  • The Spirit led Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch 8:29-39
  • And led Peter to Cornelius 10-11
  • Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit as He began his ministry 9:17
  • So was Barnabas 11:24
    • And then the Spirit calls and sends Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey 13:1-4 and Paul is repeatedly said to be led by the Holy Spirit 16:6-8, 19:21; 20:22
  • We’re told Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power at His baptism Acts 10:38

These are just a few of the many times we see people who were already born again, already had the Spirit inside of them, now being filled, empowered, baptized, led, whatever terminology you want to use – they experienced the Holy Spirit as a source of direction and power in their lives.  And that experience is categorically unique from all other religions. 

Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians that don’t live in dependence on, or in expectation of, the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

Some people have been driven away by the excesses we mentioned earlier – people think if they surrender themselves to God, if they ask to be led, if they ask to be used, things are going to get weird because they’ve seen or heard of people doing weird things. 

Well, I’ve seen people do weird things when it comes to evangelism too, and though I cringe it doesn’t make me say, well, we really shouldn’t get into that – it might lead to excess.

If I open up a pint of blackberries and find one that’s moldy I throw it out – but I don’t throw the whole carton away.  God wants us to rely on Him, make ourselves available to Him, and be filled by Him – don’t let one moldy weird Christian or even church or denomination make you say, “that’s not for me.”

God is not going to embarrass you, unless of course, you’re embarrassed of Him.

Some people also think, we’ll that’s great, it’s important for pastors, and missionaries, and prayer warriors, it’s great for people called to ministry, but it’s not for me.

But remember, we’re all called to ministry.  The early church was looking for seven men full of the Holy Spirit to oversee ministry to widows.  You might be called to serve on the worship team, or the counting team, the security team or at the welcome table, you might be serving at your workplace, or in the community, or at home.  But we’re all called to serve somewhere and that means we all need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

And when God is the one giving you guidance for life, giving you your identity, place, purpose and role, when God is present and active in your daily life, you start to build a good reputation and demonstrate wisdom in your decision making.

A few weeks ago in our Colossians study we talked about knowledge and wisdom and what makes them different.  I always describe it like this: knowledge is data, it’s facts.  Wisdom is knowledge applied; it’s knowing what to do with the facts.  You might say it’s the difference between information and intelligence.  Or, as Josiah explained to us – knowledge is knowing  that tomatoes are a fruit. 

Wisdom is knowing not to put them in your fruit salad.

The point is – the church needed men who could do something for the widows.  Men who could solve the problem not just study it.  And the church still needs leaders like that today – men and women who have proven character, who have wisdom and know how to solve problems and get things done while depending on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit every step of the way.

When you find people like that – good things happen, look with me again at:

Acts 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

7 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.

8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

Now, the ironic thing is – the people opposing him would also be considered Hellenists.  There were many synagogues in Jerusalem at this time, they were kind of equivalent to our churches today – and they had all sorts of flavors back then, just like we do today – you had different denominations – Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and then you had ethnic congregations too – and that’s what this one was.  A congregation of former Roman slaves who had lived and served around the Empire but now called Jerusalem home.

Phillip is trying to tell them about Jesus and the gospel – and they don’t like it.

Which is important for us to see – it’s important for us to know that even someone with a good reputation, someone who was filled with the Holy Spirit and had a reputation for wisdom was resisted when he tried to share Jesus. 

My friends, conversion is a miracle.  When someone hears the gospel and responds, when someone is born again, it’s not because you did such a great job witnessing or sharing your faith with them, it’s a miracle. An act of God. It’s not because you knew just want to say, or knew just what to do.   You can be there, you can do a part, but ultimately it’s not all on you.  When you share the good news of Jesus Christ with your kids, your parents, your cousins or your co-workers, and they respond positively, it is a supernatural miracle.

Resistance is common.

The Bible says that God loved the world and sent Jesus to save us and that whoever, WHOEVER would receive Him will not perish, but have eternal life. But John’s gospel says people resist this good news because:

John 3:19 … men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

Much of the time, people love their choices, their opinions, their preferences, their way of life, more than they love God and they just don’t want to change.

In Stephen’s case they were even ready to take serious action to get rid of the light.

Acts 6:11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”

They paid off some people to make false charges against Stephen and they even try to use religion against Him – think about how insane this is: they’re actively conspiring against him, telling lies about him, seeking to do violence to him and they’re justifying it by cloaking it in religion?  It’s crazy – which is another way of saying, it’s human – it’s the kind of thing we’ve always done as humanity.

They bring him before the council and make their charges against him.  In the next chapter, which we’ll see next week, he’ll preach the gospel clearly to them and they will ultimately respond by putting him to death in an act of mob violence.

But look at his reaction to it all – Stephen is standing there in the middle of an angry mob who are shouting and screaming, telling lies about him, making false charges:

Acts 6:15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.

The man has peace, composure, a quiet confidence and strength.  They’re going nuts, and he’s completely still and calm.  Why?  Because he knows his God.  God is filling him, empowering him with the Spirit and it shows.

Isaiah 26:3 You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

Do you trust God this morning?  Do you depend on God?  Is He building your reputation, and giving you wisdom?  He wants to.  I guarantee there is more that God wants to do with you – there are ministries He wants to give you, places where He wants to show up in your life – ways He wants to use you. 

It won’t always be pretty, in fact, it might get really ugly, like it does for Stephen, but if you are available, He will use you.  And He will keep you in perfect peace because He loves you and He is for you – He’s already you given His Word, His Son, and His Spirit to prove it.  Let Him have His way and he’ll build a good reputation for you, fill you with the Holy Spirit, and mark you with wisdom.

Let’s pray.

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