SF 08- How the Early Church Empowered Both the Gospel & Good Deeds

We continue our conversation on the poor and needy among us with a quote from In The Shadow of Plenty:

“The church has largely failed her widows her orphans, her elderly, and her ill and informed. The church has largely failed to disciple young men to live lives of diligence, intensity, and productivity” (p98, ITSOP).

In other words, we ask the question: Are we holding the wrong hands?

James 1:27 tells us “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

As we’ve said in other episodes, this efforts tarts at home… and then grows through the church and then into the world.

The early church faced an issue of needy among them in Acts 6. The widows weren’t being fed. The disciples decided to empower 7 men to lead the effort- men full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. This would enable them to focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer- thereby insuring that BOTH spiritual needs and practical needs were met.

Notice what happened in Acts 6:1f… the church empowers new leaders and they begin growing exponentially.

Acts 4:34 tells us “there were no needy among them.”

And, remember, the first deacons were initially set apart for food distribution- it was an extremely practical need that, today, we would probably overlook. And, there are Greek names in the mix, meaning they broadened beyond Jewish circles in terms of their leadership (Pentecost achieved this on a “membership” level).

Both the “ministry of the Word and prayer” and feeding the people in need were so important that they made sure they delegated leaders for both.

The net effect of this= massive growth AND leadership development.

Look at the growth.

  • 120 are present in Acts 1:15
  • 3,000 added at Pentecost (Acts 2:47)
  • Up to 5,000 (4:4)
  • “More and more added” (5:14)
  • Now, Acts 6:7, the number multiplied

That is, EXPONENTIAL MULTIPLICATION happened as the church met spiritual AND physical needs…

In addition, leadership development occurred. Notice-

  • Phillip is one of the 7 set aside for ministry in Acts 6
  • Phillip is featured in Acts 8, the Samaritan revival. He's later known as Philip the Evangelist, and has two daughters who are prophetesses
  • Stephen is featured in Acts 7, has he longest recorded speech in the entire book of Acts

We’ve placed a premium on the weekend show and buildings… and relegated ministry to that, and to what serves those ends.

But, in the New Testament…

  •  Very little is mentioned about a building
  • Virtually nothing is said of church services, other than the communion meal (1 Corinthians 11), and that everyone brings something when the church meets (1 Corinthians 12-14)
  • Preaching in Acts most often happens OUTSIDE of the “church” (e.g., Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter and John on trial in Acts 3 & 4, Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17)

Verses to wrestle with…

  • “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 10:13).
  • 1 Timothy 3 tells us a man must take care of his own family, managing his own household well, in order to be qualified to lead. Why? Because the church is a collection of families.
  • “Do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
  • James says we do no good if we see someone in need (food or clothing), tell them to be blessed, but them send them on their way. This is in the context of a gathered church.
  • 1 John 3:18 says to love one another not merely in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 talks about giving… and does so in the context of supplying for the needs of the saints, not just ministry leader support.

As George asks in the book: “If the church could not take care of its own, then what was to be made of its claim of dominion over the whole earth?” (p90, ITSOP)

 


Links mentioned in this talk-

In the Shadow of Plenty book- https://amzn.to/2VhEMzz 

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