Study 9 MULTIPLICATION IN THE CHURCH – AND MURMURING!
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 4 – 7)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 6:1-7
The theme before us is suggested by the words in Acts 6:1. The Lord Jesus was (and is) on the throne and He is the builder of His Church. His agent in the world is the Holy Spirit who does His work through yielded Christians – look up and compare Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:19-20; Acts 2:4-7. In the opening verses of this chapter we have a vivid description of the Master-builder at work, or in other words, of the growth of the Church, and note these seven lessons:
1. God’s plan for His work is multiplication
It is God’s plan and purpose that His Church should be constantly increasing. These words indicate progress, growth, expansion. There was further expansion later on, as we learn from verse 7. From Pentecost onwards there were vast numbers of new believers, as we learn from Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14; and here in Acts 6:1 and 6:7. What accounted for such amazing reproduction and growth? The divine explanation is that the Holy Spirit was at work in and through God’s people. The human explanation is that those through whom the Holy Spirit was working were witnessing Christians. To our first parents the Lord’s word was “Multiply!” (KJV), or “Increase!” (Genesis 1:22); and this is His first word to us when we become Christians (Matthew 28:19).
2. Multiplication brings special dangers
From verse 1 we learn that as the Church grew there arose a murmuring, a disagreement. The Greek-speaking Jews complained that the Jerusalem Jews were being favoured, resulting in the widows being neglected. The fault, however, was not in the neglect, for this was quickly rectified; the fault was in the murmuring. Murmuring is always a dangerous thing in any church. Whenever God is working there are special dangers – the Devil sees to that! His plan is to spoil, disrupt and upset. But there are human reasons why a growing church has to face special dangers, one of which is that in a growing church there are new converts, babes in Christ, who are young and immature, and it is a natural thing for a baby to cry, to get upset and to want attention – to murmur! But murmuring is not the only danger: sometimes it is jealousy, pride, a worldly way of thinking, or prayerlessness. One thing is certain, however – murmuring and multiplying cannot remain together, so one or other must go!
3. God’s leaders must fearlessly guard His work for His glory
We learn from verse 2 that as soon as the complaint was made about the widows being neglected the apostles held a church meeting. This was not a case where discipline was needed, but adjustment and wise decision. As God’s representatives they were not going to allow the work to suffer. There are great temptations which face leaders such as popularity, prejudice or compromise. Sometimes leaders are stampeded by carnal Christians, so how important it is for those who have been entrusted with positions of leadership to recognise that the work is not theirs, but God’s, and that His work must be guarded carefully for His glory; wise and spiritual decisions must always be made if His name is to be honoured and His work is to grow.
4. God’s workers must stay at their God-appointed task
In verse 4 the apostles recognised that they had been called to a specific work, namely that of praying and preaching. The danger with some Christian workers is not that of laziness but of over-crowding with activity. It is wrong to have too many irons in the fire and important to be able to say “No!” A servant of the Lord should be able to say, “But one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). This danger of over-working refers to laymen as well as to those who are in full-time service for the Lord. For more work we must always have God’s fresh call. It is dangerously possible to be doing good work which is not God’s work, because God has not called us to do that particular work.
5. Care must be taken in appointing leaders
In verses 3 and 5 we read about the kind of men the Church were to appoint for the special tasks. This is God’s standard and must not be lowered. First, there were to be seven of them (the number of perfection!); they were to be men; they were to be selected men; then they were not to be chosen for their prominence, popularity, seniority, or even their ability; they were to be chosen for their spirituality, men full of faith, displaying heavenly wisdom and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is God’s pattern and we must seek to conform to it.
6. Here we see Romans 12:10 in action
Romans 12:10 reads, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.” Notice that the seven who were chosen to serve tables were Greek-speaking Jews; in other words, they were chosen from the party who had made the complaint. Here was the grace of God in action in the hearts and through the lives of God’s people. In choosing these seven men in this way, no principles were violated, but the love and grace of the Lord were released. And what was the result of all this?
7. When God’s servants act wisely and under His direction His work prospers
In verse 7 – a great verse – we see that Satan was defeated, the Church went on growing, and God was glorified.
If there is a breach in your church, pray earnestly that it may be repaired and that a spirit of love and fellowship will prevail among God’s people, so that the Holy Spirit may be able to do a mighty and lasting work. It was in such an atmosphere of emancipated ministry, co-operative service and glad fellowship that Stephen “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (verse 8). There is no problem too hard for the Lord to solve, and no church so ‘dead’ that He cannot revive it and flood it with new life and power.