Overcoming Growing Pains: Acts Series #12
There are always pessimists, who see a difficulty in every opportunity. Yet, a Bible Christian sees an opportunity in every difficulty. Every difficulty that came to the early Church was used of God as a springboard, just to cause them to grow all the more for the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Acts 6:1-7, we read, “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 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.”
What was the problem? The problem was growing pains. Do you know what growing pains are? You remember when you were a child, and you grew up trying to learn how to walk and trying to please your parents, and when you got to be a teenager you got so awkward—you had two left feet, you had pimples, you had buck teeth, you couldn’t get your hair to do right, your voice was changing, and you just felt terrible. You were in a process of maturing and growing. We call that “growing pains.”
And, as a Christian, when you try to grow in the Lord, you think, at first, that you have been saved and it’s just so wonderful, and that you’ll never have another problem. But then, the Bible says: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). You learn that you have those same kinds of growing pains in the spiritual world that you had in the physical world. Any new Christian knows what it is to have growing pains—to stumble, to hurt, and to have spiritual indigestion.
Families that are growing know that a growing family has growing pains. Also, a growing church has growing pains. Now, that’s what happened to this early Church. There was great growth and, as a result, there were some problems. I desire to give you four basic leadership facts that can apply to almost anything.
Where There Is Spiritual Life There Is Great Growth
In Acts 6:1 we read, “And in those days…” What were those days? They were days of revival; they were days of life. “And in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied.” Now, there was growth; there was a multiplication. In the early book of Acts, the Bible says: “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” but no longer is it addition—now it is multiplication (Acts 2:47). They are growing by quantum leaps. They are growing by thousands. I believe that every church that’s surrounded by lost people ought to be a growing church. Don’t you?
There’s nothing wrong with a small church, and there’s nothing so necessarily great about a big church. There is something wrong with a church, big or small, that’s not growing if it’s surrounded by lost people. Because our mandate—our mission—is to reach souls for the Lord Jesus Christ. If we’re not reaching them, then we’re not doing what we’re told to do.
I heard of an artist who was commissioned to paint a portrait, or paint a picture, of a dead church. They thought that he would show a church with the roof sagging and with weeds in the yard. They thought he would show a church with the upholstery tattered and the carpet raveled, but he didn’t. He showed a gorgeous building—fresh paint, sparkling windows, wonderful carpet, elegant-looking, moderate-size crowd. They looked so well fed, so well healed, and everything was just right. And the person said, “Why, that doesn’t look like a dead church to me.” He said, “Look closer at the picture.” And, he looked more closely, and he could see cobwebs in the baptistery. That is the portrait of a dead church—a church that is not multiplying. A church will glow and grow or it will dry and die. It will evangelize or it will fossilize, but it will not stand still. I want to be a part of a growing church.
Growth is not easy; growth is not automatic. You have to plan for it; you have to pray for it; you have to work for it; and you have to cultivate and water something if you want it to grow. However, God must give the increase. Spiritual growth is the product of spiritual life, and numerical growth is the product of spiritual growth. I also believe that God’s plan for this church—for any church—is to be fruitful and multiply. In these days, you know, there are people who are so spiritual, and they say, “I just don’t believe in numbers.” Well, God is interested in numbers. In Acts 6: 1, we read, “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied…” Where there is healthy life there’s growth.
Where There Is Great Growth There Are Growing Pains
Where there is growth there are problems. We read again in Acts 6:1, again; “And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring…” Murmuring following multiplication. Murmuring is a terrible thing. What were these people murmuring about?
Well, what had happened is this: there were some who felt neglected in the church and, indeed, may have been neglected. There were two categories of widows in the church: there were Grecian widows and Hebrew widows. Now, the Grecian widows were Hebrews; they were what we called Hellenist Jews—they were Jews who spoke the Greek language. There were also the Hebrew Jews, there in the church. The people who were Greek-speaking Jews felt that they had been overlooked and thought that they had been neglected. They were being taken care of by the church, and there was no other way to take care of them. Unless the church took care of them, they wouldn’t be taken care of. However, they had their feelings hurt. Now, there was nothing wrong with them seeking to have their needs met, and it is not to say that there may not have been a general problem. I don’t believe that it was a planned problem. I believe that it happened by just the fact that it got so busy—they were growing so fast and so forth—it just happened. The problem was real, but the way they went about handling the problem was terrible. They began to murmur.
When God sets out to multiply, the devil sets out to divide. The devil, when he sees a growing church, will try to divide that church any way he can. He began to try to divide the church through murmuring.
I want to give you one word of advice about murmuring. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” Murmurings lead to disputings, and disputings lead to division. Murmuring is a horrible sin. If you murmur, then you’re really speaking against God, because the Bible says that in everything we are to give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Now, you can’t murmur and give thanks at the same time. The Bible says that His praise is to be continually on our lips (Hebrews 13:15). Murmurers and praisers are not made of the same thing.
What is “murmuring” anyway? Murmuring is a half-uttered, half-concealed complaint—not that a person comes out and says to the right person, at the right time, in the right spirit, for the right reason, that something needs to be done. Well, that’s always acceptable, and that’s always good—when a person comes in the right spirit, at the right time, to the right person, and for the right motive. Yet, when a person murmurs, they really are murmuring against God.
In Exodus 16:8 we learn that the people had been murmuring in Moses’ time. Moses says, “…for that the LORD heareth your murmurings…” Well, that ought to be enough to scare us to death, right there. “The LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.”
When children murmur against their parents, then they really are murmuring against God. When people murmur against their employees, then they are murmuring against God. If students murmur against their teachers, then they are murmuring against God. If you murmur against your pastor, then you’re murmuring against God. Murmuring is never a way to address a problem. It is the devil’s way, and the Bible says: “Do all things without murmurings…” Just don’t do it.
In 1 Corinthians 10:7–10, we learn that God ranks murmuring with idolatry, fornication, and tempting God. The Scripture states, “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” Now, here are the big four with God. Idolatry. You say, “Well, I wouldn’t be an idolater.” Fornication. “Well,” you say, “I wouldn’t do that.” Tempting God. You say, “I wouldn’t dare!” Murmuring. In the same context. The Bible says that God destroyed them for murmuring. That’s not to say that these people might not have had a legitimate complaint, but oh my soul, how the devil used them to try to do a right thing in the wrong way. Just don’t murmur. “Do all things without murmurings…”
Where there is growth there are problems. When you put people and progress together, you’re going to have problems. Now, the problem here wasn’t doctrinal; it was functional. It wasn’t primary; it was over a petty thing—not that it wasn’t important, but it wasn’t one of those basic important things, no. You’re going to find out that the devil can get us divided, sometimes, more over incidentals than fundamental things. And so, here it was—just over who was getting served the best and the first, and all of that: who’s being neglected and who wasn’t.
All right, so, point number one…are you listening? Where there is healthy life there is growth. Point number two: where there is growth there are problems. Anything that moves makes friction, and anything that grows has pains. No pain, no gain. Okay? Where there’s growth there are problems. Now, that’s all right, brother. I’ll tell you what, I’d rather be a part of a growing church with problems than a dead church that has no problems.
Where There Are Growing Pains There Are God-Given Solutions
We need to remember this: It doesn’t mean that, because we have problems, we just fold up. God always has a solution for every problem. In verses 2 and 3 we read, “Then the twelve called the multitudes of disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason”—just underscore the word “reason”—“that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
Now, I want to say that the solution was a reasonable solution. You don’t have to check your brains at the door to be a Christian. As a matter of fact, you’re going to find out that a man or woman who is a real good Christian is going to be two things: he’s going to be deeply spiritual and intensely practical. Here were very spiritual men who said, “Hey, this doesn’t make sense—the way that we’ve been doing this.”
Now, up until this time, I believe, the Apostles had been spending time ministering to these widows, waiting on these tables, and distributing the food and all that, and they said, “Hey, this doesn’t make sense.” We’re getting behind in our Bible study. We’re getting behind in our sermon preparation. We’re getting behind in our prayer life. We’re getting behind in our soul winning. We’re getting behind in the ministry of the Word of God, and we’re standing up sometimes, trying to preach, and we’re not even ready to preach, because we’ve been so busy doing good things that we’ve neglected the best thing.
The plan was to get better organized. A lack of organization and disorder is carnality. Paul told the Corinthian church: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). The reason why there was disorder in that Corinthian church was because of their carnality. When you see the Holy Spirit of God move, you’re going to see things function with order. As a matter of fact, the first time that you see the Holy Spirit in the Bible, what’s He doing? He’s moving upon the face of the deep, and He’s bringing order out of disorder. He’s turning chaos into a cosmos. The Holy Spirit of God is the one who engineers the church machinery, and He’s the one who oils the church machinery.
In Acts 6, the Holy Spirit of God had just told them something reasonable to do, and it was two-fold. First, there was to be a scriptural ministry. Second, there was to be practical ministry. What was the scriptural ministry? In verse 2: “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” It wasn’t that they wanted to be freed from work; they wanted to be free to work. And so, notice in verse 4: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
Some wise man said, a long time ago, that a preacher who’s always available isn’t worth much when he is available. I agree—that a person has to be alone with God in the Word of God, studying and pouring out his/her heart to God in prayer for his/her people. I know that there are ministers, who have all kinds of programs, and their people are doing all of these things, but they’re not being free.
Activity is no substitute for the Word of God. The minister has to feed people. Now, there were people over here, talking about physical food and the widows being neglected, but the Apostles said, “We’re going to give ourselves continually to the ministry of the Word of God. We’re going to be serving square meals from the pulpit. If a church is to be strong, it will be strong to the degree that it maximizes and emphasizes the ministry of the Word of God—not only from the pulpit, but in our classrooms and in our homes.
Not only was there the scriptural ministry of feeding the Word, but there was also the practical ministry of feeding the widows. Thus, they had to get a plan of how to feed the widows. They chose some men to do this. I want you to notice that the job was to wait on tables. What’s the requirement needed to wait on tables for Jesus? What are the qualifications that it takes to wait on tables? In Acts 6:3 we read: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
You know what it took to wait on tables? First, they had to be men of honest report. That is, they had to have an impeccable character. As the Bible says, in another place, deacons are to be blameless (1 Timothy 3). The word “ministry” is used over and over again in this passage. The Greek word is diakonia. These may have been the very first deacons. We don’t know for certain that they were, but certainly, they were men of service. Now, they didn’t choose just anyone; they didn’t say, “Oh, well, we can get just anybody to do this.” Not inferior men, but superior men were needed to wait on tables.
Not only were these men to have impeccable character, but they were to be filled with the Holy Spirit. “Well,” you may say, “I believe that a preacher ought to be filled with the Holy Ghost when he preaches.” I do too. You may say, “Well I believe that a song leader ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when he or she directs worship.” I do too. You say, “I believe that musicians ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when they sing.” I do too. I want to tell you something else: You ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when you work in the kitchen. You ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when you work in the sound booth. You ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when you stand at the door and hand out bulletins. You ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit when you do anything for Jesus.
Jesus said: “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The problem is that we have so many people who are thinking, This job is so small that I can do it by myself. I don’t need the Holy Spirit of God in me to do it. Whether you’re typing a letter, whether you are delivering a parcel, whether you are vacuuming a floor, whether you are teaching a class—I don’t care what you do—you do it in the power of the Spirit of God.
These first deacons had to be also full of wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge. Sometimes, when people look for deacons, they say, “Well, let’s get a deacon who’s a doctor, a deacon who’s a lawyer, a deacon who’s a banker, a deacon who’s a financier, or a deacon who’s an entrepreneur. He’ll make a good deacon; he’ll show us how to run the church.” Yet, he might show us how to ruin the church. He might try to administrate the church as he would a business, and say, “Well, after all, this is business.” But, it’s God’s business, and it’s different from any other business. He may be a deacon and be filled with wisdom; he may be a banker and be filled with wisdom; he may be a lawyer and be filled with wisdom, but if he’s not, he’ll do more damage than good.
There’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge from God’s point of view. Knowledge may be proud that it knows so much, but wisdom is humble that it knows no more. Everybody may not have knowledge, but everybody can have wisdom. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5–8).
Our text was not just a standard for these men. It’s a standard for all servants. You want to serve the Lord? Listen: have an impeccable character, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and have wisdom. When you look in verse 5, among those that they chose were two people. One was named Stephen and another was named Philip. And later, we’re going to study in the Book of Acts about Stephen. Stephen preached one of the greatest sermons ever heard in the Bible. He was the kind of a man that they got to wait on tables. He was a miracle worker, and yet he was waiting on tables.
They also chose Philip. Philip was that man that won the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ and opened up all North Africa to the Gospel. Of these deacons—if they were deacons—the first one was the first martyr, and the second one was the first missionary. They were chosen to wait on tables—the first Christian martyr and the first Christian missionary. Think about it.
Do you think there’s something too small for you to do? Do you think that you are so important that you couldn’t wait on tables? Do you think that you’re so important that you could not serve on a committee? Then, you’re too big for God to use. Thank God that God took some high-powered men—and these men showed that they were like the Lord Jesus Christ, because they were willing to minister in the small things and in the mundane things.
You can understand why this church went on for the Lord Jesus Christ—because, there was the spiritual ministry to feed the Word and the practical ministry to feed the widows. Everybody did what God had called them to do, and it wasn’t that some were inferior and others were superior. It wasn’t that some were too good to do what the other would not do, but each did what God assigned him to do. The church began to grow, and the murmuring stopped.
Where There Are God-Given Solutions There Is Even Greater Growth
In Acts 6:7, we read: “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” In verse 1, Luke says that they were multiplied. Now, Luke says that they were multiplied greatly. Do you know what that means? They’re growing faster. They’re growing even greater than they grew before. Why? Because, they met a problem, and they solved that problem in the name of Jesus. The problem was caused by growth, but when it was solved, there was even greater growth. This is the reason for what I told you—that problems are opportunities in reverse.
King David said, in Psalm 4:1: “thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress…” Do you want to be enlarged? Do you want to grow? Then, you’re going to be in distress. God’s going to stretch you. There’s no easy growth, but that’s all right. Every problem that is met in the name of Jesus and solved in the power of God causes you to grow.
I’ve met problems, and I’ve had to carry them to the Lord. I’ve had to obey the Lord, and sometimes, I’ve had to learn; sometimes, I’ve had to repent; sometimes, I’ve had to adjust; but every time I’ve grown, I’ve thanked God for the problems. If I never had a problem, then I wouldn’t know that He could solve them. When problems come, we meet those problems in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This principle will be true in your family, your spiritual life and in your personal life. It doesn’t matter where it is when those problems come. Since you are a growing Christian, carry it to the Lord—get His solution, and while you’re in distress, God is going to cause you to grow. Don’t be pessimistic. Don’t let problems cause you to cave in.
I heard of a man who was driving through North Carolina, and he came to a sign in front of a little town there. It said, “We have heard that there is going to be a recession, and we have decided not to participate.” We have decided not to participate. I challenge you not to allow these problems to cause you to cave in.
Thomas Alva Edison was a great man. One of the great things about him was his attitude—his attitude. When he was almost eighty years old, he had a tremendous fire in his plant in New Jersey. I mean, it caused everything to burn down. It was uninsured, and he lost two million dollars in 1914. That’s when two million dollars were two million dollars!
He lost all of his experiments and everything in there. He lost all of his research. His son Charles was twenty-four years of age, and Edison was an old man. “But,” his son said, “I hated to come out there to see my dad, because I knew what was all in that factory.” He said, “It just broke my heart. I went out there, and my Dad was out there with the wind blowing in his white hair, and his face was all red from watching the fire; it was just glowing.”
Mr. Edison said to Charles, “Son, go get your mother. She’s never seen anything like this.” So, Charles went and got his mother to see the fire. Then Thomas Edison said to send the next day, “You know, there’s something wonderful about a fire like this. It just seems to wipe out all our mistakes and give us a fresh start.” Three months later, his company presented to the world the first phonograph. Here was a man who was not defeated by problems, but just simply used them as a springboard. I’m using that just on the human level. How much more for those of us who know the Lord!
Do you know why this early church bounded and grew as it did? Because every time the devil attacked, they went to God and God counter-attacked. Their problems became a springboard for greater growth. Hell can’t stop a church that’ll keep its eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.