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Solving Problems in the Power of the Spirit (e)

Acts 6:1-7

Jim Davis

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.

So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu."

People are different. We are different in color, race, language, dialect, beliefs, habits and personality. These things along with a zillion other idiosyncrasies make each of us distinct individuals. Too often, it is our uniqueness that separates us. Others often think each person should give up their natural and acquired traits to become one of them. We are expected to camouflage ourselves by changing the way we walk, talk, look or act to blend in. If we refuse, we are ignored or harassed.

Voltaire said this kind of thinking is "An opinion without judgment." Leon Aikman said it is "Weighing the facts with your thumb on the scales." William Hazlitt said it is the "The child of ignorance." (Quoted from Roget's Super Thesaurus, pg. 445.) First century Christianity challenged believers to make a righteous judgment and not  judge by appearances. (John 7:24) Christians are challenged to take their thumbs off the scales.

Larry D. Wright wrote, "Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes into which we've relegated them."

"Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about. Traveling alone in a truck with camper in tow, she launched out. One afternoon rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento in rush-hour traffic, a water pump blew on her truck. She was tired, exasperated, scared, and alone. In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping.

"Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, 'Please God, send me an angel . . . preferably one with mechanical experience.' Within four minutes, a huge Harley drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard and tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck. Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.

"The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: 'Hell's Angels -- California'. As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, 'Thanks so much,' and carry on a brief conversation. Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, 'Don't judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you're talking to.' With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared." (http://www.bible.org Ilustrations)

The nature and design of Christianity is to allow Christ's teaching to unite God's people by overcoming these distinctive barriers. Jesus demonstrated how the basic truths of the gospel should unite us as God empowers us to overcome these man made barriers. He seemed to preach almost exclusively to those held back by the barriers of his culture. He did this as he went to saint and sinner.

Recognizing the Problem

No better example exists of how the church handled the problem of barriers than we find in the following verses.

Acts 6:1-7
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 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. 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." 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. 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. (NIV)
These verses tell us little about church organization, but they speak volumes about solving real problems. Today our problems seem so minute compared to this problem. Churches today have signs saying "come as you are." I guess this is opposed to "come as you aren't." Other signs give a time for traditional worship and a time for contemporary worship. We all know what these signs mean: "We have designed a service specifically for you, so you want have to cross any of the barriers others or yourself have erected."

As you think about it, the signs point up the same problem that we see in Acts 6. It makes little difference whether it is doctrine or opinion, likes or dislikes, taste or distaste. It is basically the same problem. It is the problem of barriers separating God's people. So we shop for a church of our choice, a group we feel comfortable with, while deliberately overlooking those who are different or have made different choices.

Acts 6:1
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
A very important facet of Judaism had carried over into the church. It was the care and concern for the needy. The Jews of Judaism sent two collectors around to private houses every Friday morning to make a collection for the needy. Those who were temporarily in need would receive enough to carry on from the collection. The permanently disabled would receive enough money for fourteen meals. That was enough for one week until the collection was made the next week. It is clear the church had taken up this custom.

Not only was the concern for the needy carried over from Judaism but also the contempt between Jews who spoke different languages. The consequence was that the Aramaic-speaking Jews looked down on and despised the foreign Jews. This contempt found its way into the decisions being made to take care of the needy.

Nothing is worse than being overlooked. There are different types of overlooking. Inadvertently, people are overlooked, unthinkingly others are overlooked, but the worse kind of overlooked is deliberated, premeditated and planned. Those overlooked always know the difference. It was Grecian Jews vs. Hebraic Jews. The deliberation is certain.

Dealing With the Cause Rather than the Effects

Our world thrives on living with the effects of problems without affecting the cause. So much personal counseling falls on deaf ears because those counseled desire to deal with the effects of their problems rather than the cause. To begin life anew, we must discover Christian principles designed to remove the cause, not just the effects.

The barriers we seek to remove are not external. They are barriers erected within our own hearts and minds. The external evidence that exists is just as real as Hebraic Jews vs. Grecian Jews, formal vs. informal, traditional vs. contemporary, doctrine vs. opinion. All the evidence points to the same problem. The problem of striving to live with the results of our problems without dealing with the basic cause of our problems. This dilemma is as old as creation and as real as the present. It is refusing to recognize the real problem. We had rather deal with the effects than the problem. With the slyness of a fox it always manifest itself differently but the problem is as ageless as the ages; it is the problem of sin, which seeks to divide and conquer.

Living in denial that a problem is real won't solve it. The first century church faced their problem head on. They didn't see the problem as superficial or artificial. There is no cosmetic treatment to remove the effects of the problem without dealing with the cause. They didn't opt to form a Greek speaking church and a Hebrew speaking church. The message of Christ aimed at recognizing and solving the problem. For Christianity to truly work, the gospel message must be allowed to remove the barriers. How else can we become one in Christ?

The concern of the first church was to put its Christianity into practical action. Florence Alshorn, the great missionary teacher, once said, "An ideal is not yours until it comes out of your finger tips." As the gospel spread throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area, the disciples began to encounter the problems always confronting growth. That is, the practical application of the gospel message. The growth of the church compelled them to confront the debilitating barriers.

The book of Acts depicts the gospel spreading through the first century world removing the man-made barriers of race, circumcision, animosity, hatred and strife to bring all together in Christ.

Ephesians 2:10-22

Receiving the Spirit for Guidance

The first church was convicted of its need of God's help to rise above the barriers threatening to halt and stifle the spread of the gospel. Their willingness to allow the apostles to lay their hands upon them evidenced their conviction.

Acts 6:5-6
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.
They understood their need to be filled with the Spirit. It wasn't an option but a necessity. Being filled with the Spirit was more real than an emotional response. We love excitement but what we need is wisdom to recognize our problems and God's power to solve them.

Herbert Vander Lugt writes: "I heard about a man who, in a rousing service, prayed, 'Lord, come down through the roof. I'll pay for the shingles.' When I was a boy, I liked that story because I wished that the church services I attended could have been more exciting. As I grew older, however, I realized that genuine Pentecostal power produces something deeper than mere excitement. Great things happened on that Sunday when the disciples were 'filled with the Holy Spirit.' God desires that all Christians be filled with the Spirit. It's not an option. It should be the norm for every member of Christ's body."
 

Ephesians 5:18-20
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)


Many of our studies in the above verses have gone into how to sing and what should accompany the singing, but the emphasizes is on why we are singing. We sing because we are filled with the Spirit. Spirit filled Christians find answers to problems. Problems such as being drunk on spirits vs. being filled with the Spirit of God. When God's Spirit guides us to find solutions to our problems, then we really have something to speak to one another about in song!

Receiving God's Wisdom for Solving Problems

Acts 6:2-5a
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. 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." This proposal pleased the whole group.
God is not willing to instruct us in the Word without giving us the wisdom of the Spirit to use it skillfully and discerningly. James reminds us to pray for wisdom when we lack it. (James 1:5) Real problem solving occurs when those full of the Spirit of God and those desiring to be Spirit filled seek the wisdom of God to discover a solution. The problem wasn't left in the hands of those ministering the word. It was left in the hands of those filled by the ministry of the Word. Those filling hearts with the Word are enabling those being filled with the Spirit's message and the Spirit's life to find real solutions to their problems. It is sad when those ministering the Word are left to solve the problems themselves. A knowledge of the Scriptures without  God's wisdom to use it skillfully is debilitating.

Farmer Johnson smiled as he proudly strolled out of the hardware store with a brand-new chainsaw that was guaranteed to cut five big oak trees an hour. Twenty-four hours later, however, his smile was gone. With obvious frustration, Johnson was back at the store complaining that the saw would never cut five trees an hour. "Why, it only cut five trees all day long!" he said. Somewhat puzzled, the storeowner stepped outside with the saw, gave the cord a rip, and fired up the steel-toothed beast. The deafening roar of the saw startled Johnson so badly that he stumbled trying to get away. "What's that noise?" he gasped.

Johnson's mistake in cutting down trees without starting up the chainsaw is similar to our foolishness when we try to follow Christ in our own strength devoid of the wisdom of the Spirit. We get frustrated and spiritually exhausted when we try to make life work on our terms. Only Spirit-guided wisdom makes the Word effective in the problem solving area.

Problems Manifest the Potential for Growth

The prime cause of problems is solutions. Often, we fail to see the potential in our difficulties. The apostle's defenseless response demonstrate the potential they saw in the problem. It was an opportunity for the Spirit's teaching to become practical in a real life experience. Wisdom is discovered through the problems encountered. It was a golden opportunity for the Spirit to manifest God's power and wisdom to overcome the barriers erected by Satan.

"Every problem is an opportunity to prove God's power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems." (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, C. Swindoll, Page 35)

"If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song." --Carl Perkins, Loose Talk (Quick Fox) (C. Swindoll, Growing Strong, p. 84-5)

"Most of life's problems are like cloverleaf exchanges on the highways. It may not seem like it at first, but there is a way out." Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992

Notice the result of meeting and solving problems in the power of the Spirit.

Acts 6:7
 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. (NIV)
When Spirit guided Christians of the first century faced their problems; they were able to discover the way out, around and over threatening difficulties. Why should it be any different today?

Conclusion:

For centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong. Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects; one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589, Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant.

The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to say Aristotle was right. -- Bits & Pieces, January 9, 1992, pp. 22,23.

Let us make sure that we don't overlook our problems because we are bent on overlooking the solution.
 
 

 

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