ACTS 6:1-7
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

As we read the book of Acts, and begin to compare churches there and then with churches here and now, the contrast is startling. Most churches today hold little resemblance to the exciting churches in Acts. What happened to us?

We need to recapture the vibrancy that characterized the early churches. Maybe a close examination of what made the early church tick will help us pinpoint and reactivate qualities lacking in churches today. What traits made the early churches a powerhouse in advancing God’s kingdom?

First, persecution did not dampen their love for Christ. “After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the name” (Acts 5:40-41 Holman).

The early believers were sold-out lovers of God. Their hearts were white hot for Jesus. This is the ultimate passion of our church staff. By life and lip, we want to lead people to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. We want to help our church family love Jesus, whatever the cost.

Only deep love for Jesus can give us courage enough to cast off the fear of others. The early churches teach us loud and clear, if we shed the “fear of men,” we will be set free to serve God with reckless abandon, with nothing held back.

John Wesley struggled with the embarrassment he knew he would feel if he humbled himself, and preached outside a church building. This was never done, and considered taboo, but Wesley felt he had to do it.

Once Wesley made his decision to break all rules of church decorum and lower his dignity to preach in the fields, a friend pleaded for him to have some respect for his good family name. Wesley replied, “When I gave my all to God, I did not withhold my reputation.”

Since we gave our lives to Jesus, have we withheld anything? Do we fear what others will think of us? Do we long to be on the edge of the religious bubble we live in, on the front line of God’s work, where the action is, or would we rather retreat and quietly disappear into the rabble?

As we decide to choose victory or mediocrity, remember the unanswerable question. Why should God bless mediocrity? We must stop slithering in shadows, and step into the light. Let us boldly proclaim for all to hear, “We love Jesus!”

I applaud all who are willing to suffer loss for Jesus. To those not ready to make a full commitment, I offer the challenge of F. B. Meyer. “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?”

Second, the early church showed unwavering adherence to obeying the Great Commission. This is the lesson in our text, Acts 6:1-7. The early believers refused to let go their laser-beam focus on lostness. Nothing could deter them.

I fear this points us to the biggest professional error we pastors face. We find it almost impossible to keep ourselves and our churches on track.

Many voices cry out for a church’s focus and attention. Every age group in the church is clamoring for its rights and privileges. Who speaks for the lost?

The Devil’s most productive assault against us is launched on this beachhead. His attacks against evangelism are relentless, but usually very subtle.

He quietly pulverizes us here. Rather than use head-on assaults, he works through a Fifth Column, tempting us to do good things instead of the best thing.

Satan tempts us to turn God’s blessings on a local church into its main diversions. A church can do so well in many areas that it begins to neglect the main area.

The cozy holy huddle is always a danger, especially when the “doing-church” game is going well. Success in many areas does not prove obedience. Doing all God commands, including keeping the main thing the main thing, is the valid test.

When I signed up 38 years ago, at age 15, for full-time duty in God’s army, I enlisted having the right main thing, God’s main thing, as my main thing. I was determined to win unbelievers to Jesus.

I carried in my shirt pocket a little New Testament. It looked like a pack of cigarettes. That was appropriate because I had memorized the Roman Road evangelism method and could recite it as fast as a smoker could roll and light a cigarette.

I think our staff would say they also started out focused on lostness. We are in some ways re-tracing the steps of Jacob. He had his first life-changing experience with God at Bethel (Genesis 28:19), but it did not stick.

After years of deceit, lying, backsliding, and running from God, the Lord commanded Jacob, “Get up! Go to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau. So Jacob said to his family and all who were with him, Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. We must get up and go to Bethel” (Genesis 35:1b-3a).

We, your staff, are heading back to our personal Bethels. We sense an inner nudging to re-visit our original focus on lostness. Having gone full circle in pursuit of many wonderful emphases, we find ourselves returning to where we started.

An oft quoted definition of successful Christian living is, a long obedience in the same direction. This is what great churches in Acts and the USA do with regard to lostness.

For lengthy periods of time, they let God keep them between the lines. They know the boundaries. They have other things to do, but the laser-beam focus stays long on lostness.

Our USA history has a precious multi-generational example of maintaining lostness as a long obedience in the same direction. In 1641 Thomas Mayhew became governor of a colony on the islands south of Massachusetts.

His son, a pastor, began evangelizing local native Americans. This family carried on the ministry to the fifth generation, until the death of Zechariah Mayhew in 1806. A long obedience in the same direction by one family resulted in thousands being converted.

One Bible example of a long obedience in the same direction is Paul the Apostle. In 34 A.D., at his conversion, he was told he would carry Jesus’ name before Gentiles (Acts 9:15). From the first, Paul was to give himself primarily to winning souls, especially Gentiles.

In 46 A.D. the Antioch church sent him out on his first missionary journey. During this trip, when things did not go well in the synagogue, Paul said, “We now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46 Holman).

In 49 A.D., still sticking true to his calling, he could claim, “I preach among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2 Holman).

In 57A.D. he wrote, “I am speaking to you Gentiles. . . .I am an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13 Holman).

In 60 A.D. Paul testified in court about his steadfast adherence to his original call. “King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19 Holman). Paul was still on task. Are we?

In 63 A.D. Paul rejoiced in jail, “This saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles” (Acts 28:28 Holman). Paul stayed on track. Have we?

In 67 A.D., in his last written paragraphs, the Apostle mentioned he was still being faithful to the Gentile mission (II Timothy 4:17). Paul never got sidetracked. Have we?

Lest we take Paul’s resolve for granted, I remind us 99.5% of us probably would not be here in worship today had it not been for Paul’s long obedience in the same direction. For us Gentile unbelievers, he unwaveringly faced lostness. Let’s do the same for others.