We are skipping a chunk of Acts because it teaches some of what we have already learned about the Church.  The focus of this post is on Acts 9:26-31.  This is the story of Saul coming to Jerusalem and the church being leery to welcome him.  They were leery of him with good reason because Saul had persecuted the church heavily; with intense hate.  However, something extraordinary happens here.  Barnabas brings Saul before the apostles and vouched for Saul's conversion and it is upon Barnabas' testimony that the apostles accept Saul.  This is amazing because Saul was a part of stoning Stephen who was a highly respected man in the church.  For the apostles to accept Saul they would have had to forgive Saul.  Later the Hellenists where wanting to kill Saul.  When the church learned of this they sent him to Tarsus.

What we glean from this is that the church listened and accepted the recommendation of Barnabas, a respected leader in the church.  This shows respect towards those who are worthy of respect.  It also shows support and encouragement for the brethren.

There is one more thing to note in this section.  In verse 31 we see that there is a time of peace for the church.  In addition, the church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  A result of their walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit was that it multiplied.  When the church walks in the fear of the Lord and relies on the Holy Spirit it will always multiply.  Thus we, the Church, must take care of each other, fear God and rest in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Today I am looking at Acts chapter 6. Until now we have only seen unity in the church. We see that they had everything in common and they were in agreement over everything. Now we come to chapter 6 and we see a little disunity. The Hellenist widows were missing out on the daily distribution and some of the Hellenists made exception to this. So the Apostles called a meeting of all the Christians. This would have been no small task. Remember in Acts 2 that there were three thousand added to the church on the day of Pentecost.  By the time we come to this story in Acts 6 there had been multitudes added to the church. So there would have been a gathering of thousands, possibly even tens of thousands. As a result this would have been a grand assembly. The Apostles instructed the Church to choose seven men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom and then the apostles would appoint them to oversee the daily distribution (v3). The reason for this is that the apostles said that they needed to be devoted to prayer and ministry of the Word (v4). Then the apostles laid their hands on the seven men to set them apart for this responsibility.

Now we see the start of the forming of leadership in the church. However, this is not the elders or the pastors/apostles of the church. These seven men were the deacons. We do not see the term used here but that is what they are. In 1 Timothy 3 we see the word deacon used. The Greek word behind deacon is diakonos and is defined as one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master, a servant, attendant, minister 1a) the servant of a king 1b) a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use 1c) a waiter, one who serves food and drink.  So the position of deacon is a position of serving and fulfilling the directions of the church leadership (elders/pastor), not a role of directional leadership.  It is important for the Church today to understand that deacons do not set policy or direction for the church, that is for the elders (including the pastor) to do.  There is still a definitive standard for a deacon and it starts here in Acts with the apostles saying these deacons must be of good reputation and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.  That is because it was still an important role that still needed Godly wisdom in order to fulfill the role.  These deacons had to depend upon God for fairness and correct distribution.  It is also important to note that there is not indication of a church vote for choosing the seven men.  They were instructed by the Church as to the qualities of the deacons and the Church recommended these seven men.  The apostles had the final say as they commissioned them to their role.  It is important that the deacons and leadership of the church to be appointed so that it is Godly men who are listening to God and obeying His direction for the Church.  This saves the church from having divisive and destructive people in the deacon and church leadership roles.

As a result of the wisdom the Apostles used in handling the situation we see two things happen.  The apostles are released to continue to pray and to the ministry of the Word through teaching the Church and preaching the gospel.  It freed the apostles to do the role that God had given them for the building of the church.  The second thing that happened was it brought unity back to the church.  This passage is a great example of keeping proper boundaries around the roles in the Church as well as dealing with conflict in the church.  It is sad that not all conflict in the church is handled in this way in many cases today.  Most conflicts in the church ends up being about personality and power rather than what God wants to happen.  The Church needs to wake up and be diligent to handle conflict and various roles just as we see handled here in Acts 6:1-7.  May we as the Church seek to be unified in all matters so that we can be focused on the work God has called us to do.

There are three things that happen in chapter five. The first is the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were caught lying and because of it were struck down dead by the Holy Spirit. This story is a reminder that as the Church we need to be holy because God is Holy and we are His ambassadors. The world is watching us to see if we will do what we say we believe. There are times that we may sin unintentionally, but we should not be sinning intentionally.

The second thing that happens in Acts 5 is that there were many signs and wonders done by the apostles. There were three results of this; the people who did not join them held the Christians in high esteem (13). Secondly, there were multitudes of people added to the church (14). Thirdly, all the sick and afflicted with unclean spirits were healed (16).

The third thing that happens is the apostles are arrested and thrown in jail. In verses 19-21 we see that an angel frees the apostles and tells them to go to the temple and preach the gospel (words of life). When the religious leaders called to bring the apostles to court they found the apostles were not there, but then found out that the apostles were in the temple preaching. The religious leaders arrest the apostles again. In the end the apostles are beaten, instructed not to teach about Jesus and sent on their way. It is very interesting to note the apostles reaction. Verse 41 says, "Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name." (ESV) They considered it a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus. In this situation the apostles found joy. Their focus was on Jesus and continuing to follow Him.

Here is what we learn from these three stories in regards to the church. First, the church is to be holy; to be spotless for the day that Jesus comes to take His Bride home to heaven. Second, we learn that the Church has great power, from God, to do great things which will direct people toward God. This also points again back to the character that the Christians had and need to have: holiness. Thirdly, we learn that the Church will be persecuted, but we must remain focused on Jesus and what He has called us to do. Through this we will find joy to know that we are treated no differently that Jesus was. What a great reminder for us as the church to continue to be like Jesus.

Before we continue our study on Acts lets review what we have learned about the early church in Acts. We learned that the church waits on God which involves praying together, being devoted to study of the scriptures, obedience of the scriptures and leaving the answer up to God. We also have learned that the early church obeyed Jesus and submitted to the Holy Spirit by preached the gospel, fellow-shipping and caring for the brethren.

In Acts chapter four we see that the religious leaders were upset that Peter and John were preaching about Jesus in the Temple (is there any surprise as they were a part of crucifying Jesus?). After speaking to Peter and John and having some time of deliberation the religious leaders orders them not to speak of Jesus anymore. Here is Peter and John's response: "...Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard(Acts 4:19-20, ESV)." In other words Peter and John are committed to obeying what Jesus commanded them to do which was to make disciples which included the preaching of the gospel. The church was already being persecuted when the religious leaders threatened Peter and John we. These are the first to things we learn in chapter four: to obey God not matter what man says and secondly the church will be persecuted.

The next things we learn come form the verses 23-31 section. The ESV appropriately subtitles this section "The Believers Pray for Boldness". "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus (Acts 4:29-30, ESV)." The reaction to the disciples upon hearing about Peter and John's encounter with the religious leaders was to pray and to pray specifically for more boldness to preach the gospel while healing and signs of wonder occur through Christ's power. Something really cool happens next. The place shook and "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.(Acts 4:31)." So the reprimand the religious leaders gave did not have the effect they had wished. We learn that in all things the church is to pray, to talk to God about all matters and again to wait on His answer and direction.  Verses 32-37 is a great picture of the early church, one that the church must make close attention to. In verse 32 it says: "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common (Acts 4:32, ESV)." The full number of believers was about 5,000 men (Acts 4:4), which means there were over 5,000 believers AND they were all of one heart and soul. That is, they were in complete unity. This was as verse 32 says "they had everything in common." Today in the church if there are 60 people there are 61 opinions, but at this date in time the church of over 5,000 were in complete unity. This is amazing and shows the unity that God brings. The church today would do well to pay attention to this and listen to God so that the Church would be in complete unity.

The second lesson in Verses 32-33 is that of the care for the brethren. In verse 34-35 says: "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-33, ESV)."  No one had need because everyone in the church shared and made sure that no one was in need. People were even selling property to give to those in need. Today, there are Christians in need and yet many Christians have second properties or extras that aren't necessary. Why don't we do a better job of caring for the needs of the people in the church to the extent that happened in this passage?  When we see a brother or sister in Christ in need, we need to have compassion for them and help them so that they are not in need.

What a great chapter of discovery into the life of the early church. In this chapter we have learned that in every situation we are to go to God in prayer including asking Him for boldness to preach the gospel, to expect persecution, to seek to be unified and to care for the needs of all the brethern.