by Bobby L. Graham
Sentry Magazine, September 2003
Jerusalem: A Church with Problems
While it is true that Corinth is probably the church that most often comes to mind in connection with problems, it is also correct that Jerusalem was the first church with problems. The chief difference is that Corinth was a "problem church," where problems were not soon addressed, while Jerusalem apparently took care of her problems quickly.
Early in her history Jerusalem had the problem of caring for the physical needs of the saints staying there for further instruction and training (Acts 2, 4), and the problem of some lying members also arose in connection with the solution of the earlier problem (Acts 5). Another problem, one of neglecting certain ones in this physical relief, arose in Acts 6, and to it, we shall give special attention in this study. We might learn a lesson from this consideration, namely, that problems do not need to become a blight on a church. In the case of Corinth, the problems did become a blight, to the extent that the apostle Paul needed to write a letter based much on her problems; but in the case of Jerusalem, the people took care of the problems with more attention to the existing needs.
The Problem of Neglect of Certain Widows
The number of disciples was then multiplying (Acts 6:1). During the endeavor to relieve the physical needs of some widows, possibly a part of the larger effort to care for needy ones in general in the Jerusalem church, there arose a complaint. The complaint was voiced by the Greek-speaking Jews, otherwise called Hellenists, because their widows were being neglected in the daily meeting of physical needs. The Hebrew speaking widows, whom we might refer to as the natives of the area, were receiving the relief. It is clear that there was discrimination based on ethnic identity, whether intended or not. As a consequence, there was a natural division of the people into two groups. There very well could have been an explosion in the congregation, but wise men spoke and acted to "defuse the powder keg."
Two lessons stand out in this area. First, problems often arise when growth in numbers is taking place. Sometimes the sheer presence of more people contributes to problems, though it is often their spiritual immaturity or diverse backgrounds that bring the problems. Whatever the cause, it is a time for special attention to be given to the conditions that can cause such problems, to make sure that the problems not arise.
Second, it is wise to investigate complaints. While some might be constant complainers, it is better to be sure and to prevent problems that have the potential to destroy a church. It is for this very work that elders are qualified and needed.
Solving the Problem
That the problem did not grow or cause an explosion in the Jerusalem church is explained by the care that was given to solving it. Such an accomplishment is no accident, but the result of dedicated followers of Christ acting as they ought to act in relation to the Lord s will and to each other. The brethren involved in this local church situation were not content to let matters slide. Why do brethren sometimes do nothing, either out of fear of problems, ignorance of what to do, or apathy about the Lord's work? Brethren, prepare yourself to serve and then serve the Lord! Know that problems will arise, but they are not usually unsolvable.
It is interesting and edifying to note what happened in the solution to this problem.
- The problem was not allowed to hinder the work of Christ being done by the church (Acts 6: 2). The apostles understood and wisely advised concerning the need for them to continue what they were doing over the work of relief, which could be done by others in the congregation. Problems can loom so large that they stop all work being done, but this must not happen!
- This problem was solved under apostolic direction (Acts 6:2-4). We can never do any better in our problems than to turn to what the apostles have written. We enjoy the same apostolic guidance that the first century Christians had. The ideas of men, even those presented in the self-help books or those of exalted brethren, can never rival what the apostles have said on behalf of Christ.
- The church was involved in the solution of the problem (Acts 6:3, 5-6). Apostles guided to this end, and all had an opportunity to participate in the selection of qualified men for the task.
- The solution outlined by the apostles depended upon seven men of good report, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3). Such men are crucial to the welfare of any local church, especially to overcoming problems that arise.
- The willingness of the members of the church to yield to apostolic direction was also essential (Acts 6: 5). However excellent the Lord s plan in any particular area, it works only when people of faith trust the Lord sway to be best and submit to it.
- The plan apparently included a deliberate attempt to include men from the group with the complaint (Acts 6:5). Such a move, indicated by the Greek names of several of them, helped to assure the acceptance and success of the plan. When it is possible to obey God and also to placate offended brethren, wisdom dictates such a course. Brotherly kindness is still in style with the Lord (II Peter 1:7). Let us never forget, however, to obey God rather than men.
- The Christians then sought the Lord s help in prayer (Acts 6:6). Nothing good can ever be accomplished without the blessing and help of God. Why do we not more often seek Him in our times of problems?
- The men installed in the special role of servants in this distribution of food enjoyed the confidence of the church (Acts 6:6). The kind of endorsement seen here showed their acceptance by all involved in this matter. Workers in a local church will more likely succeed in their work when the entire church has participated in their selection and approval.
Luke also speaks of the progress of the gospel continuing, after the problem had been solved (Acts 6: 7). It ought not to surprise us that progress followed on the heels of this problem, especially its solution. The Lord designed His word to accomplish good, even in its application to problems. It is when problems continue, without sincere efforts to overcome them, that the progress wrought by the gospel stops.
Sometimes brethren fear that correcting wrongs in a congregation will bring problems, more specifically that using corrective discipline taught in the New Testament will cause problems, in the form of hurt feelings, broken relationships, and loss of members in a church. All must recall that such thinking betrays a lack of trust in God s way. When this kind of thinking rules, problems linger, fester, and grow larger because the apostolic direction is not being followed. Is it not far better to follow God s will and remove the problem, thus eliminating the hindrance to progress? When we solve church problems with the use of God s plan, we make progress possible by removing the barriers to it.