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ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD

Acts 6:1-6:15
Key Verse: 6:4

In the previous passage we could hear God’s direction through an angel to the apostles who were put in the jail, “Go, stand in the temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life.” The apostles obeyed the direction wholeheartedly. The direction was well kept and the end of chapter 5, verse 42 says “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Christ.” The church was going in a right direction. But in today’s passage this direction is at risk through other demanding work. In a person’s life or any organization direction is very important, particularly at a crucial time. It is much more true with a church. Let’s see how the early church set the right direction anew and how it impacted the church. In this we can think about what it means to us.

Look at verse 1. “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” We remember what the Jerusalem church was like. “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common.” It is written in 1:42-44. Again, 4:32-34 says, “All the members were one in heart and mind and they shared everything they had. The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them. There were no needy persons among them.” It was a beautiful, perfect church. It overcame persecution by the religious authorities and stood firm. The corruption of hypocrisy was cut off and so the church was purified.

Look at verse 1 again. Another subtle problem arose from the inside of the church. It was the time of God’s great blessing with the increase of the number of disciples. We see that in the church there were two kinds of people, the Grecian Jews who were once Diaspora speaking Greek and absorbed in Greek culture and the Hebraic Jews, Natives of Palestine and spoke Aramaic and soaked in Jewish culture. Apparently, the Hebraic Jews were a majority and the mainstream of the church and they did the job of food-distribution. The Grecians Jews, when they saw that their widows were being overlooked in daily distribution food, could not bear it. They complained against the Hebraic Jews. When the church grew bigger and bigger, such a problem arose. According to the flow of the passage, at this stage the problem was not like an ethnic problem or their complaining spirit was that serious. It seemed to an administration problem. However, if such a problem were developed, the tension between the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews could grow until it would be considered as discrimination. In the worst case it could cause even a division in the church.

Then how did the church deal with this problem? Look at verse 2. “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.’” Here we see that the Twelve did not try to solve the daily food-distribution problem first that were on the surface. Of course, they did not ignore it. They could see beyond the problem of waiting on tables. They could see that there would be much possibility for them to neglect the ministry of the word of God, while trying not to neglect the ministry of waiting on tables. This would not be right before God.

In Acts we saw that the church was born through the coming of the Holy Spirit and the apostles’ preaching the word of God. At Pentecost Peter preached the words of Joel as the explanation of the meaning of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring upon them: “In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (2:17; Joel 2:28). He testified to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then three thousand repented and the Jerusalem church was born. Also the church grew through the apostles’ constant preaching and teaching the word of God. And the church had to grow until the ministry of God’s word would reach to the ends of the earth. This was God’s direction and purpose for them. And the origin and purpose of the church was there. The apostles realized that the ministry of the word of God had not to be neglected at any reason.

Then with the direction, what was the apostles’ proposal for the matter of the distribution of food? Look at verses 3 and 4. “Brothers, 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.” Certainly, the apostles did not neglect waiting on tables as well as the ministry of the word of God. For this work, seven men would be chosen and this responsibility would be turned over to them. Transferring the responsibility to the seven, the apostles confirmed their direction. In order not to neglect the ministry of the word of God they would give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. They should not be distracted by any other work, even any good service, to pay their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

Through the confirmation the importance of this direction was emphasized. At first the apostles spoke it in a negative form, “not right to neglect the ministry of the word of God.” And then they spoke it in a positive form, “give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Here prayer was added. It is because prayer and the ministry of the word cannot be separated. The ministry of the words needs much prayer. God gives us his words, when we pray humbly and earnestly. Also, through prayer the apostles would support all other works.

As the apostles mentioned their decision repeatedly and the author wrote it again, the importance of the direction of focusing on the word of God in a church cannot be overemphasized. Suppose the early church neglected the ministry of the world of God in order to wait on the tables. It could have been turned out to be just a welfare organization. If the apostles had not given their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word, the early Christianity would have not been able to fight against false teachers and various kinds of heresy that came from misinterpretation and even distortion of the Bible. When Peter wrote 2 Peter, he was about to depart from this world. In that epistle he warned against false teachers, who would secretly introduce destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1). St. Paul also said the same thing to the elders in Ephesus in his farewell speech to them: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). When the apostles gave their attention to the ministry of the word, they could discern and prevent the church from such influence. With the apostles’ attention to the ministry of the word, God’s flock of sheep would learn sound faith based on sound doctrine through correct knowledge of the Scriptures. The church is to be the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). It is possible through giving attention to the word of God.

Even Jesus needed to renew this direction. Jesus healed many sick people and drove out many demons in a town one whole evening. The next day early in the morning Jesus left the house where he stayed and went off to a solitary place and prayed there. Then Simon Peter and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you.” They were excited to see that many people came to them from the early in the morning, after experiencing Jesus’ powerful healing and exorcism in the previous night. In that situation Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mk 1:35-36). Jesus must have renewed this direction of preaching after his early morning prayer to God. After resurrection Jesus gave his disciples a clear direction, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Only the words of God lead men to salvation. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:23, “…you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” And he said in 2:2, “Like new born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” St. Paul also said in 2 Timothy 3:15,16, “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The ministry of the word of God should have the top priority in a church. The words of God should gain power among the congregation of the church. When God’s words cannot gain power, human struggle and human power increase. Then the power of Satan rules. In church history Reformation took place when the ministry of the word of God was neglected for a long time and so the power and authority of the words of the Bible were under the authority of human words. There is a book called “Christianity in Crisis 21st century” by Hank Hanegraaff. One of the things the book points out is that Christianity is distorted and in crisis when the church tries to entertain people and satisfy their desire, healthy and wealthy and prosperous life in this world, not leading them to repentance and transformation through the words of God. The gospel of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection seems to be disappearing. The book concludes that church should go back to the Bible and the basics of Christianity. Nowadays religious smorgasbord seems to be popular. It is religious buffet, trying to pick up seemingly good things from each religion and mix them. They say that there are many roads to God and various kinds of teachings, even the teachings of other religions, are taught in the church. Church tries to satisfy people’s ears and feelings, not leading them to commit to the truth of God’s word. , All these stem from neglecting the ministry of the word of God with no attention to prayer and to the words of the Bible.

As a whole a church needs this direction. Also, each individual needs this direction in his or her Christian life. It is because many things in life can distract us from the words of God. It does not mean that on an individual level we should give attention only to prayer and the word of God. Because we should do many other things, it is so easy to be distracted and disturbed turning away from the words of God unless we intentionally seek this direction at each time. We remember Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We can remain in Jesus when we remain in his words. We should really listen to Jesus. Jesus also said in Matthew 4:4, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We should truly believe and remain in his words of promise: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33). Bible reflection writing and sharing in our Friday meeting is an important part of the ministry of the word of God along with 1:1 and Sunday worship service.

Then what kinds of people were chosen to wait on tables? In verse 3, the Twelve had said, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Now look at verses 5-7. “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.” Spiritual men full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and wisdom were chosen, not men with human ability and administration skills. Although they were called to take responsibility of serving tables, spiritual qualities were there. Later we see that Stephen was an excellent Bible teacher and Philip was an evangelist. We pray for raising lay Bible teachers, which is essential to the ministry of God’s word.

Then what is the impact of this direction on the church? Look at verse 7. “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.” What a powerful work of God done through the ministry of the word of God! We believe that the seven well served tables without any food distribution problem. But that was not written. What is written here is the spreading of the word of God, rapid increasing of the disciples and a large number of priests’ obedience to the faith. Certainly, these were the result of not neglecting the ministry of the word of God and the apostles’ giving their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

In verses 8-15, opposition arose from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen. But they could not defeat Stephen, who was full of wisdom through the words of God. Church could stand the opposition through the ministry of the word of God. It is noticeable that Acts ends with Paul’s preaching and teaching in a rented house: “Boldly and without hindrances he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31).

Thank God for helping us to realize the importance of the direction to give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. May we keep this direction church-wise and personally in our time of diversity so that we can be used by God as Bible teachers for the saving of perishing souls and raising disciples of Jesus.

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