God’s Power for God’s Purpose


Dr. Jim Denison

Acts 6:1-7

The date was Monday, March 11, 1991, and the president of the United States was desperately trying to prove that he was somebody. President Bush was visiting Anthony Henderson’s school, and sat down beside Anthony to read him a book. Suddenly Anthony asked, “Are you really the president?”

Mr. Bush was surprised by the question. “You mean you didn’t know that? How can I prove it to you?” He showed him his driver’s license, but the boy wasn’t convinced. He showed him his American Express card, then a picture of his grandson playing baseball, then pointed to the black limousine outside. But nothing worked.

The picture in USA Today told the whole story: Anthony sitting with a puzzled president, examining his American Express card. Wondering if he’s really somebody or not. We all want to be somebody special.

Jesus taught us how: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15). We are special to the degree that we are servants—to the degree that we serve our Lord and his children.

When Dr. Herbert Howard came to Park Cities in view of a call to be pastor in 1948, he preached a sermon entitled Everybody’s Somebody. It became famous. The church asked him to preach it each year. I have listened to it with great gratitude and profit.

This week we’ll learn how to preach it ourselves.

Find a need (Acts 6:1)

Today we travel back in time to A.D. 35 and the greatest crisis which would confront the first Christian congregation: “the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (v. 1). What was the problem?

Some in the first congregation were from Palestine, and spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. Others were from the Hellenistic world, so they spoke Greek. Many of these had become Christians at Pentecost, and stayed in the city. Others of them had moved to Jerusalem to retire.

The Jewish people had long cared for their widows, since they had no one else to help them. When a woman married, her father no longer bore responsibility for her support; if her husband died, his family was no longer responsible for her. And employment options for first-century women were extremely limited, as you might guess. So the Jewish people took a daily collection for their needs, called the Tamhui or Table, and a weekly collection every Friday as well, called the Kuppah or Basket.

If someone left Judaism for Christianity, he or she forfeited this support system. So the apostles took it over. However, the church had outgrown the care the apostles could provide. And these families not from Palestine became convinced that their widows were being discriminated against. They “complained”—the Greek word means to “murmur” or “grumble.”

This was a very serious state of affairs. Not only could widows starve to death if the church didn’t act, but the fragile racial coalition which was early Christianity was in danger of failing. And this splintering of the Christian movement would doom it.

Service begins with a need, something we can do, a person we can help. Ask the Lord to break your heart with what breaks his. Ask him to make you aware of those around you and their needs, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. And he will.

Meet the need in the Spirit (vs. 2-6)

The apostles were the leaders of the church, so that responsibility for meeting this crisis fell to them. They quickly “gathered all the disciples together” (v. 2), not just the 120 or the larger leadership of the church. Here we find early evidence for congregational governance, and indication of the seriousness of the situation. How would they resolve the challenge?

Know your gifts and calling

The apostles began with what they knew: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (v. 2). Their statement in no sense minimized the severity of the situation. “Wait on tables” conjures in our minds the picture of a restaurant waiter or waitress. But their words were literally “serve the tables.” “Tables” were the means by which they distributed the daily food offerings. The word is plural, indicating that several distribution centers were used. This fact may explain the need for “seven men” (v. 3).

The apostles knew their calling in the Spirit was to the “ministry of the word of God.” And they knew they could not serve the word and serve the tables both. They must choose. So must we. God will call us to meet those needs which are within our gifts and ministry. If you find a need which does not match your calling, find someone whose calling it does match. A dear friend once helped me with this statement: “Their need does not constitute your call.” Our call is first to be obedient to God and his larger purpose for us, then to meet needs as a means of answering that call.

If you do something which is not within God’s calling for you, you cannot fulfill the purpose he does intend for your life. And you prevent the person who is called to that task from answering the word and will of God. So know your gifts and calling, and match them to the needs which you find.

Respond in the direction and wisdom of the Spirit

The apostles knew they were not called to this particular ministry, so they knew God would call others who were: “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” (vs. 3-4).