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Obedient to the Faith
May we tarry a while to study The Business Side of Church Life.
Our text (Acts 6:3 ) says that there are three requirements: (1) Honest report; (2) Full of the Holy Ghost; (3) Wisdom. Let us take these up one at a time.
1. Men of honest report, Grace never condones crookedness anywhere, at any time. Men who serve in Heavenly things must provide things honest in the sight of all men. They must be men who have established themselves in the minds of those without, as genuinely sincere and wholly trustworthy.
We see in this, that God weighs the "outside" and world-contacts of those whom He would have chosen to do His work. If a man is not faithful in his conduct in the realm of world-business, how can he be counted on as faithful in the realm of the Divine?
Daniel was a man true and tried, He was a man capable of being entrusted with Divine things, because, in the things relating to his premiership under varied kings, he had been found faultless.
Upon two things then, the church should insist first that the men she chooses to attend to her business should not be novices, unestablished in the confidences of those without; and, secondly, that they should be men who have a record of honor and honesty behind them in the daily business contacts which they have with their fellow men.
2. Men filled with the Holy Ghost. If, in every place of business trust, churches and denominational boards were careful to follow God's orders, they would be saved much of sore travail. A man may be ever so capable, and ever so honest in his reputation without being right in his heart. There are honest men, men of unquestioned integrity in their every dealing with their fellow men, who are not panoplied for Divine service.
We may think that spiritual life and power is needed alone in the ministry of the Word and in prayer; God thinks that it is needed in attending to "this business."
Why should men filled "with the Holy Ghost" be needed to man the business side of church life? For this reason that only such men can do the work, as God wants it done. The Lord should rule in every phase of church life. He is the Head of the "Building Committee" and the "Church Finance Committee" and the "Committee on the care of the poor," just as He is the Head of the pulpit.
3. Men filled with wisdom. Wisdom, as this verse proclaims it, is not a wisdom of the world; but a wisdom that God giveth. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." What kind of wisdom is that which God gives? It is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be in-treated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."
Here is the wisdom that the church needs in those placed over her business. There is a wisdom that is not from above. It is "earthly, sensual, devilish." It tends to "envying and strife." It fathers "confusion and every evil work." God deliver us from such wisdom.
God give us men with the wisdom from above, for this wisdom makes the wisdom of this world no more than foolishness. God will "destroy the wisdom of the wise," and He will "bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Paul knew how to speak with wisdom, but not the wisdom of this world. His wisdom was the wisdom which God ordained.
I. THE WONDERFUL INCREASE IN THE FAITH (Acts 6:7 )
"And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
One would think that this blessed increase in the number of the disciples was due to the Church's action in setting aside the seven. If this be true, we can easily trace the reason for its truth.
The cause of the increase in disciples:
1. The Apostles had opportunity to give themselves to prayer. Perhaps some of us can here trace the failure in our own work. We have done many things, but prayed little. Our Lord prayed. He spent whole nights in prayer to God. He prayed before He chose Him the twelve whom He named Apostles. He prayed before He wrought many of His greatest works. He prayed before He even came to the tomb of Lazarus, because He said, as He stood by the sepulcher, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me ."
We fail to go into our closets and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret, therefore we have no reward when we openly preach in His Name.
2. The Apostles had opportunity to give themselves afresh to the ministry of the Word. They could make prayer and preaching everything, not two, out of many things. Through prayer they became efficient in the ministry of the Word. They learned that the Word was the seed that produced a fruitful harvest. They learned that the Word was the power of God that wrought in regeneration.
Here is a second reason for much of our failure. We preach many things, but we preach not the Word. We take a text, but we fail to proclaim the context. We use the Scripture as a basis for talk, instead of making the Scripture our whole fabric of talk. Let us preach the Word.
3. Another cause for the increase in disciples must have lain in the earnest work of the seven in their serving of tables. The care of the saints for the widows; the daily ministrations of money for the needy, put a seal of genuineness to the work of the Church that deeply impressed the populace. They felt that the Church was so different from the Judaism that they had always known.
Judaism had created a group of priests that bound heavy burdens upon men, burdens hard to be borne; Christianity, as espoused by the Church, lifted those burdens. Judaism was harsh in its dealings with the populace, the Church was kind, considerate, and ready to supply the need of the infirm and aged.
II. OBEDIENCE TO THE FAITH (Acts 6:7 )
We do not care particularly to press the fact that the priests, in large numbers, were among the converts not that. Here are the words that grip us, the priests were "obedient to the faith."
Several things are paramount:
1. The Apostles preached doctrine. The expression "the faith," does not mean that the priests had faith in Christ; it means that they accepted an array of facts concerning Christ. These facts were included in a "credo" (creed), called "the faith."
There is altogether too much tear-extracting story telling in the evangelism of today. There is too much of calling upon hearts stirred by a good story to accept Jesus as a Saviour, We wish to ask, How can people believe in Him of whom they have not heard? Faith must be builded upon "the faith."
"Obedience to the faith" on the part of the priests, is proof sufficient that the Apostles preached "the faith." They preached that Christ was the eternal Logos; they preached that Christ, according to the flesh was of the seed of David, Holy Ghost begotten, and virgin born; they preached that Christ was, in life, sinless, holy, and undefiled, God manifest in flesh; they preached that Christ died a substitutionary and vicarious death, the Just for the unjust; they preached that Christ had ascended, and was seated at the right hand of the Father, exalted a Prince and a Saviour, ever living to intercede for His people; they preached that Christ was the coming Messiah, destined to return in the clouds, and to reign on David's throne, reigning over the restored and re-united twelve tribes of Israel.
This, with other great fundamentals of doctrine was the sum of the Apostolic message.
2. The priests were "obedient to the faith." We mean the priests were obedient to the Apostles' doctrine, that is, they were obedient to the concept of Christ proclaimed by the Apostles. What did this obedience involve?
(1) It involved separation from Judaism. It was no small matter for the priests to accept Christ. Their whole system of religious dogma had to be set aside when they accepted Christ. Their whole means of livelihood had to be forsaken when they accepted Christ.
Obedience to the faith implied their break with Judaism, the system that had been, in the past, their very religious heart throbs.
It was no small matter for these priests to step down and out. They had never been trained to work in the marts of trade. They had lived on the tithes of the people. They had feathered their nests, financially, by placing upon the common herd burdens hard to be borne.
It was no small matter to step down and out. In so doing they were bringing upon their heads the anathemas of a religious hierarchy that had overshadowed them for a lifetime. The hisses and the curses of the High Priest and his colleagues were not easy to bear. Clouds of persecution swept along by winds of religious wrath, and fanaticism, loomed above the heads of the great number of priests, as they became "obedient to the faith."
(2) It involved the confession of a new and vital conviction. Surely some great conviction must have settled down upon these priests. They had been convinced of their sin, on the one hand; and of Christ's claims on the other hand. Their convictions were so deep and so strong that they were ready to sell all that they had to follow their new found light. They counted their lives as nothing that they might win Christ. They counted all else but refuse after they had seen in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Saviour.
A deep and an abiding faith in a mighty Christ is what gives birth to the spirit of the martyrs. When Jesus Christ is known in all the fullness of His Godhead, men and women are willing to go anywhere and to suffer anything for His sake.
Obedience to the faith carried with it a definite and public renunciation of their old contentions, with an open alignment to new convictions fixed in Christ.
Paul did this same thing, when, forgetting the things which were behind, he pressed toward the things which were before.
III. MARVELOUS MANIFESTATIONS OF FAITH (Acts 6:8-10 )
Several things are set before us about Stephen:
1. Stephen was a man full of faith. The faith of Stephen was distinct from the obedience to the faith, manifested in the priests. To be sure Stephen was obedient to the faith, but in addition to that, he exercised faith. He held the faith, and he contended for the faith once delivered, but he also knew the mighty power of faith. He had faith in the One who was the very essence of the faith. He had faith in its operating aspect. He stood side by side with those in olden days, "who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."
2. Stephen was a man of power, because faith is power. Christ said, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
Faith believes God, magnifies God, accepts God as the omnipotent One. Unbelief limits the Holy One of Israel. Unbelief makes great works impossible.
Faith is dynamic. Faith is power. Faith is operative where only the eternal God can operate. Faith turns on the current of Heaven. Stephen by faith wrought wonders and miracles among the people.
3. Stephen was a man full of wisdom. The people could not resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. Stephen's wisdom was not the kind that he had received in the schools of men. He was taught of God. He was instructed in the school of Christ. He had asked God, and God had spoken to his soul. He preached with a warmth of conviction that stirred his hearers. He did more, he spoke with a wisdom of statement, that confounded them.
Stephen could say something in a way that convinced the gainsayers. His words reached home. His words were plain and pointed; they carried an undisputable meaning with them.
Alas, there is much of preaching today that is altogether out of the reach of the people. Pulpiters seem to delight in great swelling words. They delight in scattering star dust, and meaningless phraseologies. They say much every way, but their words have no vital message; no bite, no point.
The Word of God is sharp and living . It is a sword that cutteth asunder. Sermons are, too often, the most lifeless and dull commodities that are panned off on the people. Congregations think of the church as a safe retreat from anything that will awaken their consciences, or disturb their slumbers.
Stephen preached with wisdom, and with spirit; his words were a scythe that cut down the grass.
It was so with Peter. As Peter preached the people were cut to the heart and they cried, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
It was so with Paul. As Paul spoke even kings said, "Much learning doth make thee mad"; and one of them trembled, but said, "Go thy way for this time."
It should be so with us. If our sermons do not cause men to cry out; if they do not slay sin, and set up life, something is the matter with us. Thank God for Stephen.
4. Stephen's face shone like that of an angel. He had faith and power; he had wisdom and spirit; he had a face radiant with the glory of God. This is as it should be. How can any man preach the wonderful things of God with a countenance as dead as a corpse. The lifeless and listless messenger carries no weight with his words. We do not care for ranting and an excess of human gymnastics in preaching; we do care for a spirit afire for God, and a face filled with glory.
When Christ is all, and in all to us; when we are overwhelmed with His glory and power; when we believe thoroughly in the mighty Gospel which we preach, we cannot but be enthusiastic in our message; we cannot but carry a face lighted with joy.
We saw recently a big and beautiful building with these words engraved on the tablet, "Come ye, rest and worship." That is just the concern of the average church.
The devil never uses such words on the tablets of his theaters. He may seek to quiet the troubled heart, convicted with sin; he may seek to keep his sons in peace of mind, but he does not advertise it.
Certainly Christ gives rest to the troubled soul, however, His Word is not an anesthetic for souls hastening to hell.
God give us preachers filled with the light of life. God give us ministers with tongues touched with live coals from off the altar. God give us preachers with faces lighted up with the Heavenly beauty.
We read that Jesus Christ, on the mount of transfiguration, had a face that shone as the sun. Moses when he came down from the mount wist not that his face shone. If we dwell with Him and walk with Him and talk with Him, will not our faces shine?
IV. MAD OPPOSITION TO THE FAITH (Acts 6:9 ; Acts 6:11-14 )
Let us now read several verses in the closing section of this 6th chapter of Acts. These verses describe the madness of the men who set themselves against Stephen.
When Stephen's persecutors saw that they could not resist the wisdom of His words they subborned men who made false statements, saying, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God."
There is no length to which evil men will go to discount the children of God. Even religionists of today, sadly lend themselves to Satan to speak against the ministers of Christ, Let a man, Stephen like, dare to stand outside the regular church ecclesiasticism, and everywhere "the leaders" will malign him, and misrepresent him; reporting things that are entirely contrary to what is truly said, or done.
These false statements stir up the people. Against Stephen the elders and the scribes came, and caught him, and brought him before the council, adding further falsities to what they themselves had been told. They went so far as to say that Stephen had spoken against the Law.
Let no man think that he who lives godly in Christ Jesus shall escape some such conflict as that which met Stephen. The man who has no opposition, is the man who is suave and oily-tongued; the man who stands in with those who are walking contrary to the Word of God.
Judaism was the dominant religion among the Jews. The man who dared to stand without its portals and preach Christ was immediately a target for the darts of Jewish jealousy and hatred.
Ecclesiastical systems are fast becoming so corrupted in their leadership, and so unscriptural in their contentions, that true saints will soon be compelled to withdraw from co-operation in their programs. When these saints, led of God, step aside and begin, in an aggressive way, their proclamation of Truth, then old-time persecutions will again come to the fore.
Even now, "machine Christianity" is making the pathway of many a faithful preacher most difficult to pursue. Lies and libels abound against real men of God who, willing to pay the price, have refused to fellowship with error. Thus it was in the days of the early Church. The Church was hated and persecuted by an ecclesiastical system that had made void the Word of God by their traditions. So shall it be, and so it is in these last days.
Shall the Stephens of today succumb? Or, shall they face the ones who oppose them? Let them stand forth clothed in the wisdom of God, and endued with the power of God.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 6". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29