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Metamorphosis

Date: Jan. 12, 2014

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Acts 6:1-10

Key Verse: Acts 6:10

“But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.”

Welcome back to the book of Acts! If you remember, we haven’t been in the book of Acts since before Thanksgiving and here it is, the second Sunday of 2014. Can you believe that it is 2014 already? Things change fast. I remember the days before Wi-Fi, when we had to use a dial up modem to access the internet. There was the horrible screeching sound as it connected and the connection topped out at a whopping 54kpbs, now my phone’s cellular connection is around 20Mbps, about 500 times faster. When we started having worship service in the Godbox, I was a single grad student, and now, I am married to the greatest, most beautiful woman in the world and we have two of the cutest kids on the planet. That’s a big change. You see, life is a series of changes. We don’t stay in one state for all that long. We’re born and are newborns and our lives are pretty simple: eat, poop, sleep and get held by everybody. Then we become infants, which are bigger than newborns. We still eat, poop, sleep and get held by everybody, we also start discovering the world. My son, Lucas, is at that stage and he is fascinated by toys and shapes and sounds and textures and tastes. He grabs at things and holds on to them now. It is a new world. Then, we start moving and walking and become toddlers. We start to be able to communicate and understand much better than when we were babies. My daughter, Ella, is at that stage now. She’s talking and running all the time. I really mean that. There is a stream of consciousness that comes out of her mouth that only stops when she is running. Then we go to school, and learn and grow and play. We, then, hit puberty and our bodies just seem to explode with hormones and everything changes. Then comes college and we grow in our independence and learn to live as adults. Then we get a job, get married, have kids, and grow old. We might retire and, eventually, we die. We change so much, inside and out, throughout our lives. The same goes for companies. Apple and HP are huge companies, but they each started out with a couple of people working in a garage. They’ve changed and their corporate culture has changed over time, too. Churches are no different. Seven years and five days ago, we held our first worship service in the Godbox. Out of everybody that is here, only about nine of us were there for that first worship service. We’ve changed. People have come and people have left. Change is the natural flow of life, and the early church was exactly the same. They grew to a point that their structure couldn’t support the church, and things had to change. The church grew and adapted, and so did the people involved.

Before I get going, let’s do a little recap of Acts to catch up on things. The book of Acts, if you remember, is the story of the church right after Jesus ascended back into heaven. The book of Acts is the story of the spread of the gospel message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, and we’ve seen the church in and around Jerusalem. We’ve seen it from its inception to large growth periods. We’ve seen the leaders of the church brought to the Jewish leaders and told not to proclaim Jesus, but they just became bolder in their message. We’ve seen the church share belongings and take care of each other. However, this passage begins a transition in the church. We won’t see the transition today, but it introduces people that will bring forth a massive change in the church. The change that we will see today is merely the first pebbles that fall before the avalanche begins.

The change we see today comes because of a problem. The situation starts out, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (1) At this point in time, the church was entirely composed of Jews who came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Even then, however, there were two types of Jews in the church. There were Jews who were born and grew up in the Holy Land and spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. They were a part of the Hebraic culture: these are the Hebraic Jews. The other group, which might have been a minority, were Jews who were born elsewhere in the Roman world and lived and adopted Greek culture. They dressed like Greeks and spoke Greek, but they were still born Jews. Remember, during the time of Pentecost, there were Jews from all over the Mediterranean world. Many of those were these Hellenistic Jews. So there are cultural, ethnic and language differences between these groups. In their Jewish lives, these groups attended separate synagogues because people like to cluster with others that are similar to them. We hang out with people who speak the same language – just look at our lunches on Sundays.

At any rate, the Hellenistic Jews had a grievance with the Hebraic Jews. If you remember, if there were people in need in the church, someone would sell some property, whether it was a house or a field, and bring the proceeds from the sale to the apostles’ feet, where the money would be distributed accordingly. By this point in time, which may have been several years since Jesus’ ascension, the church had grown to the point where there were a significant number of widows in the congregation. In the time of the early church, a woman would rely entirely on their husband to support them. If her husband were to die, it would be up to the family to take care of the widow, but many times, there was no family to take care of the widow. She was on her own. It was Jewish tradition to take care of widows and orphans because they were the ones of greatest need. The early Christians also adopted the care of widows and orphans. The gospel message must have attracted many widows because of the promise of hope and everlasting life. The church would meet their physical and spiritual needs. Unfortunately, the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked during the time of distribution of food. I don’t think it was an intentional thing, but it was an oversight nonetheless.

It looks like the Hellenists brought the matter to the Apostles and really wanted them to solve the issue. Although the passage doesn’t actually say it, it looks like the people wanted the Apostles to stop what they were doing and intervene. They were the leaders; they had better do something. They had to stop their meditating and prayer and preaching and focus on the real matters. People were going hungry. They were just sitting there doing nothing, when they could be making a real difference, using the power of the church to take care of social concerns. However, the Apostles answered differently. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’” (2-4)

When you take a first look at their response to the problem, it kind of looks like they are brushing it off. It kind of looks like they are saying, “It’s not our problem. You guys figure it out. We have more important stuff to do.” It looks rude, right? They almost sound pompous by saying that intervening and getting their hands dirty is below them. But, take a closer look. The Twelve didn’t brush off the problem; they had a plan. The church was growing to the point where the twelve of them could not handle all the preaching and prayer and all the day-to-day operations. It was just too big and doing everything would take away their energy and effort from performing what was their primary mission. It’s a problem that I’ve heard that many pastors and preachers have. They are viewed as the leader and they have to have their hand in everything or nothing will happen. That’s really a horrible way of life and those pastors and preachers can get worn out. It is very important for the leaders of the church not to do everything. Look at Bob. He’s a father of four, a husband, works full time, is getting his Master’s degree, and is still the head of our little group here. He’s busy. He only has a limited amount of time to focus on the word of God. Yet, he does so much for this ministry and we have a tendency to demand even more from him. He used to bring the equipment for our worship service, but I am so happy that Gideon and Orlando are now in charge of the equipment.

The Apostles were doing everything. They set up the chairs for the worship service, brought the sound equipment and set it up, prepared the PowerPoint slides, shoveled the snow, cut the grass, prepared the food, cleaned the toilets, scrubbed the floors, shook hands, and preached the word. As the church matured, they couldn’t do all of it any more and they realized it, when a real problem arose, the Twelve recognized that they needed to focus on their primary mission and other people needed to step up and take responsibility for the church. They didn’t need to micromanage the decision. Instead, they told the others to choose them based on some criteria. The men to be chosen needed to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom. These criteria were important for the job at hand. Being filled with the Spirit showed that a person was truly a follower of Christ. A lot of people were coming to hear the gospel. A lot of people liked the gospel and the fruit that they saw. Many of these people felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and they lives were touched by it, but not all who are touched by the Spirit are transformed by the Spirit. Not all the people who come to church are true followers of Christ. Honestly, not all the people who preach the word of God are followers of Jesus. What matters is not church attendance, but a transformed life. We heard a few weeks ago that attending church a lot does not make you a Christian, just like going to the garage a lot does not make you a car. Being filled with the Spirit is God’s way to show people that a person had accepted Jesus as their Savior. Besides being filled with the Spirit, the people to be chosen needed to have wisdom. I’ll say it. Not everybody in the church has wisdom. There are some people who are about as smart as a bag of rocks and there are people who have a lot of knowledge and would do well on Jeopardy, but they have no idea how to apply that knowledge. Having wisdom would allow the people chosen to practically take care of the situation. The widows needed food and someone had to have a way to make sure it actually happened.

The congregation liked the idea of having seven men take care of the problem. The people chose Stephen, Philip, Procurus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas. (5) Based on their names, all the people who were chosen were from the Greek Jews. It was the widows of those Jews that were being neglected and it seemed like a good idea to put the Greek Jews in charge of the distribution of food. The men were brought to the Twelve and they laid their hands on them to pass on the responsibility to the seven men. The people made their choice and the Apostles confirmed it by laying their hands on them, probably to pray for them. There was a new type of leader in the church. A lot of people like to mark this as the beginning of the office of the deacon, which takes care of many of the practical needs of the church, but the word deacon does not appear here, and quite honestly, it looks like the seven men were charged with only the distribution of food. It was the only task that they had to perform.

The result of this change was nothing less than astounding. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (7) The first thing that Luke writes is that the word of God spread. He doesn’t mention that the church grew or that more people came, but that the word of God spread. The Apostle Peter wrote that the word of God was living and enduring (1 Peter 1:23). The word of God is alive and can grow and spread. The Twelve wanted to focus on the ministry of the word of God, and when they did the word of God spread. Not only that, but the number of disciples increased rapidly. This wasn’t just the number of people coming on Sundays, it was the number of people who were actively learning and growing in the Lord. On top of all that, Luke writes that a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. These probably weren’t a part of the Sadducean core, but were probably some of the nearly 8000 poor priests who had to support themselves, like Zechariah, John the Baptists father as mentioned in Luke 1.

The spread of the word into these unexpected areas happened because of the Twelve delegated responsibility to the seven men. It could be that the new leadership may have helped spread the word, we see that in the next part, but more likely, the Twelve were able to be more effective ministers of the word of God. When we get really busy with a lot of different things, we tend to not be very good and any of the things that we do. If we are able to focus on a few core tasks, we can flourish and excel. Today, we like to think that we can multitask. We can do multiple things at one time, and we think that we have to because life is moving so fast. To get everything done, we feel like we have to do everything all at once. There is no other time, but studies show that we really suck at multitasking. When we try to do many things simultaneously, our productivity actually goes down because we are not effective in the things that we are doing. It is no different when we are trying to serve God. One person cannot do everything. It will be a horrible experience.

Like I said earlier, we’ve been worshipping here for just over seven years and only nine of us are from the original team. There have been a lot of changes here. When we started, Bob was giving the sermon three times a row in a month; he brought the equipment; and led us generally. He currently finds the prayer servant for each week. We’re glad that Gideon and Orlando have taken over the equipment, and hopefully someone will step up and help with the prayer servants, so Bob can focus on the ministry of the word. Another recent change is that Monica has taken over as treasurer. It is a daunting task, but she stepped up to take the challenge. There are many ways in which someone can help share the burden. This is my person wish. I would love to see this place set up before whoever is giving the sermon shows up. Whoever stands up here sharing God’s word should be focused on God’s word and not worried about helping to set up chairs and equipment. The same thing goes for our music team. When they arrive, they shouldn’t have to worry about things not being set up. They need to prepare us to worship our Lord in song. Everything should be ready for them to do some final checks and practice before we start to worship.

These sound like some inglorious tasks, but they are necessary and even the smallest of tasks is noble in God’s sight. Many times when we come to this passage, we like to take verse 2 as a key verse, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” We want to be the ones ministering the word of God and we don’t want the mundane tasks, but honestly not everyone is a preacher or teacher. We are not all called to be that. The fact is that only a few people stand up here to preach. If we view preaching and teaching with high honor, then it is up to the rest of us to help those who teach and preach be able to do so more effectively. I’m not trying to push people down and make myself look loftier. It’s a little awkward for me to say this because I am the one up here preaching today, but the fact of the matter is that if someone wants to grow in their faith, they need to serve. If you are not sure what you can do, then just ask someone. Our music team is a little smaller; ask Mary or Viola what you can do. Or ask Mike, Bob or me if you really want to do something. We can help and you can grow.

I’ll tell you, what you might be asked to do might not be glamorous, none of what we do is. However, the change that happens in you will be astounding. Remember that Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to distribute the food. That sounds like a pretty mundane task, but by the time we get to verse 8, Stephen is looking a little different. “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” Stephen as simply tasked with one thing, to distribute the food, but in verse 8, he’s performing miracles, something that only the Apostles did previously. Stephen, himself, had changed. What in the world happened to him? I want to read the last two verses in this passage today, “Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (9-10) That last verse, verse 10, said that they Spirit gave Stephen wisdom. It was the Holy Spirit that changed him. Verse 5 says that Stephen was filled with the Spirit, and in 8 through 10, he is changed from a mere cafeteria worker to a man that in many ways is just like the Apostles, in his miraculous works and preaching.

We all want the places of honor, but if we try to grab them for ourselves, we won’t get them. Jesus told a story, “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11) All those who try to raise themselves up will be brought low, but those who are humble before God are raised up. That’s what happened to Stephen. He humbly accepted his cafeteria duties, but the Holy Spirit worked within him to make him a powerful man.

Our lives are full of changes, both physically and spiritually. We grow physically and we grow spiritually. We constantly grow. Our goal in our growth is to become more like Christ, and we can’t stop until we reach that goal. We start off in life like babies: eating, pooping, sleeping and being held by everybody. We also start our walks of faith like spiritual babies: eating, pooping, sleeping and being coddled by everyone. Although I have no idea what spiritual pooping is like, you might remember a time in your faith, where everyone was amazed at even the smallest thing that you did. That was when you were a baby or a child. As you matured, you received less praise, just like in your physical life. No one tells you that you did a great job and gives you a treat when you use the bathroom anymore. We grow and change and become more than what we were.

My life began to change about ten years ago this month. I had been studying the Bible for nearly two years at that point, but I finally felt the weight of my sins and realized how much I needed God. He prodded me and opened his arms to me and I went to him. I started to attend church and by summer, I made a decision to serve. I started to share God’s word, no matter how poorly I understood it. When people asked, I started to help take care of things, including dancing and acting, neither at which I am any good. When we started having worship here, I took care of a lot of the logistic issues, like reserving the Godbox and making sure the doors were open and setting up all the seats before anyone came. About five and a half years ago, I began to serve by standing up here and sharing his word. Through it all, I have changed and am still changing, because I have not met the goal of being like Jesus. I am far from it. My pride holds me back, but any humility that I have causes me to grow because it is through humility that the Spirit of God can work. In my pride, there is no room for God because I have made myself God, but when I see how small I actually am, there is infinite room for God to change me and grow me.

Take a look at yourself and ask yourself, have you been merely touched by the Spirit or have you been transformed by the Spirit? If you have been merely touched, there is no change in your life and quite honestly, you aren’t even a baby. You don’t have a spiritual life. As the Bible says, you are dead. But when you accept Jesus as your Savior for what he has done, and that is to save you from death by his death and resurrection, your life begins. When you are filled with the Spirit, you can grow by serving. The church grows and changes because of the people that decide to serve and they grow and change like Stephen did. It doesn’t take a special person. It takes God and his Spirit. I am not a special person. I may have intelligence and insight and the ability to learn quickly, but they are meaningless without God’s Spirit behind them. In his mercy, God chooses us. In his grace, God grows us. He gives us opportunity to become more though humble service, and with it, amazing results happen.

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