One of the hallmarks of the early church was their commitment to one another. Acts tells us early on that many in the church were selling what they had and splitting the proceeds with those who needed them. They held everything in common, each man and woman having access to the things that they needed by the grace of their brothers and sisters, who believed more in who they were as a people than who they were as persons.
This extended to widows and orphans, of course, and this is where we see one of the first troubles in the early church arise. The Greek believers got the sense that their widows were not receiving the same kind of love and assistance from the church as the Jewish widows. The Greek-speaking believers even went so far as to say that their widows were being neglected by the church. So they brought this dispute to the apostles.
The apostles decided to solve this problem by appointing a whole panel of men to oversee the distribution of charity and widows' benefits. Appointing a committee would introduce a system of checks and balances, where no single man's interests could run away with him, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Now, look at who they appointed:
Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, 'who had converted to Judaism in the city of Antioch' (Acts 6:5).
The one thing that jumps out right away from this list is this: some of those are Greek names. And in case you're prone to miss that little fact, the Scriptures tell us as much about the last guy - Nicolaus. He was a convert to Judaism from a Greek-speaking city.
The apostles' response to a seeming imbalance of power was to balance the power. It was to appoint a group of men that included a number of men from the group that felt outcast by the other.
We can't afford to miss this. We can't afford to read right by this. We can't afford to overlook this. Because so often when we believe that our ministry is missing the mark, when we find out that we're not having the impact that we want to be having or that we thought we were having in our community, our response is to appoint a bunch of experts from within our own walls. We turn to our own to try to solve the problem of the other, that problem that there is still an 'other' at all. We want 'us' to be the ones who do it better, and so we turn to our own kind as our best resource.
The apostles could have turned to the Jews. They could have turned to those who had invested the most in the history of the grace of God. They could have believed that if they just found the most faithful men, the men who had spent their lives living the generosity of Moses' Teachings and Jewish hospitality, then this problem would be resolved. They could have gone to their own synagogues and found the guys who had spent the most time studying the Scriptures, the most time praying the prayers, the most time offering the sacrifices. But the faith of the apostles didn't work that way.
The faith of the apostles recognized something more than the investment someone had made in the faith; it recognized the role of the Holy Spirit. And as soon as the Holy Spirit came upon a new believer, he was just as much a full-fledged member of the community as any man who had invested his life in the scholarship of the Scriptures. In appointing these particular men, the apostles made very clear that in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek; there are only brothers. And that if there is a problem in the church, it's not up to the Jews to fix it; it's up to the brothers to fix it. It's up to all of us to come together, whether we're the in-group or the out-group. Whether we're the fourth-generation members or the guy who just showed up last week to check things out for awhile.
There's a tremendous lesson here for all of us, and that lesson is simple: when problems arise in our churches or in our communities or in our lives, we don't need a bunch of experts to fix them. We need a bunch of brothers (and sisters). We don't need to make the problem worse by trying to figure out who's worthy to be part of the solution, but we need to jump right in and realize that we are all part of the solution. When there seems to be an out-group, the absolute best thing we can do is to make them part of the in-group.
If the Greek-speaking believers among us believe they aren't getting a fair shake, well, then, by golly, let's put a bunch of them on our team and make sure they get a say in how things are going.
It's so simple. It makes so much sense. And yet, it's not what most of us tend to think of first.
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