A Church on a Mission: A Clear and Present Danger

by | Dec 11, 2022 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 5:17-42

As we live more and more in a post-Christian culture we must learn the lessons of the early church as they faced persecution for their faith in Jesus.  Acts 5:17-42 tells us of the eternal threats and personal suffering that our spiritual forefathers faced for their witness of the Gospel.  Come and find not only the knowledge and tools to face persecution, but the unexpected joy that God’s grace pours out to those who are persecuted.


Heavenly Father we thank you for your word will you come now by the power of your Holy Spirit open our hearts in our minds that we have receive your words for us this morning lead us to your throne of grace that we might find help and mercy and this our time of need and Jesus we pray this in your mighty name amen you may be seated now I know we have some folks who were visiting with us uh for the first time this morning uh we’re in the middle of a uh well not even in the middle we’re still towards the beginning of a sermon series uh preaching through the whole book of Acts uh and so we have made it this morning up to Acts chapter six but uh but I do hope and pray that uh just because it’s part of a greater series I’m sure you’ll be able to to pull something from this even though you’ve uh missed the the rest of it um it’s one of the blessings and the curses to doing a whole uh series through a long book like this that uh when folks just step into it uh it can be a little bit harder to follow along but over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at uh in Acts the major threats to the the early church faced in in their mission of the Gospel is they continued the work uh that Jesus had begun in his Earthly Ministry Jesus came into this world ushering the kingdom of God and advent’s all about looking forward to when Jesus is going to come again and bring his kingdom into his fullness but as we’re living in the in between time that that in between time of Jesus’s first Advent his first coming uh and his second Advent some call that this time the already but the not yet uh in this in between time we’re called as followers of Christ to continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to Proclaim it in word and to Proclaim it indeed because it’s God’s desire that none should perish but that all should reach repentance I think you’ve heard that passage before right that that God does not desire that any one should perish but uh that comes from second Peter chapter three but the very next verse that follows that also gives us a sobering reality but the day of the Lord will come like a thief and then the heavens will pass away with a Roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed the time is now and that time is of the essence we’ve got work to do we have a mission that we’ve been called to to live into the good news to spread and it is truly a mission with life and death consequences the early church knew it and they were busy living it every day and we’ve been looking at that uh up through now and we will continue to look at it and because the mission of the Gospel is the hope of the world it should not be a surprise to any of us that that mission was under threat lives are at stake souls are hanging in the balance therefore Satan and his spiritual forces of evil who were opposed to God and his plan for the Salvation of the world have been hard at work threatening that mission to discourage the body of Christ to do all they can to to render it weak and useless in the world for that reason Satan put into the hearts we looked at a few weeks ago ananias and Sapphire a desire a desire to be important a desire to be respected a desire to be honored among the the disciples as members of the church while truthfully they were just lying to God and holding back proceeds of their own land for themselves and then last week we saw an external threat from the Jewish authorities or who persecuted the apostles uh had them beaten and ordered them to keep quiet about Jesus not to teach and to preach or to do any of these Miracles anymore in the name of Jesus well this morning in Acts chapter 6 1-7 yet another threat to the mission of the Gospel creeps up into the body of Christ and I know this is one that all of us can relate to in fact we might have experienced it uh in previous churches certainly not this one uh and that threat uh is a threat of division you know next to the hypocrisy that we saw in ananias and Sapphire division within the body of Christ has the potential of absolutely destroying the witness of the church you see the gospel it’s all about unity and Jesus came to heal the divisions of Our Lives that are the result of our own sin and Rebellion Jesus unites us with God he unites us to one another he unites us to the the creation itself and when the body of Christ is Rife with division the division undermines the grace of God and people especially unbelievers take notice and and don’t want anything to do with that the message that we Proclaim you know acts 6 1-7 tells us all about the cause of the division that’s found its way into the church and now the church handled that division in such a way that it allowed the word of God to continue to increase and the number of disciples to grow and the division it describes as something we can all relate to every one of us at the very heart of the division was a strong sense of self-righteousness entitlement

that reared its ugly head in the form of grumbling and complaining and make no mistake self-righteousness will destroy the mission of the church because self-righteousness undermines the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so I want to work through these verses together uh this morning and the next few minutes so I invite you to either open your bulletins and turn to acts 6 1-7 or if you brought your Bibles you can open those up as we work through this together this is what we’re told in verse 1. now in these days when the disciples were increasing a number a complaint by the hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution you know before we dive into the division itself we learned something important about the Gospel Mission of the church here The Gospel Mission of the church is not uh just about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Word with people the proclamation of the Gospel is and it always has been in word and indeed the two go together hand in hand one without the other is not the gospel at all and here we see how the body of Christ was living out the mission by caring for those who were in need namely hear the widows those who were without means of support on their own the law of God made it very clear that widows were to be cared for by their families but there were those who had no families and those who needed help and support in the body of Christ used the money that had been given to the apostles to help make sure the widows had the food they needed to survive what a powerful witness to the rest of the the community around them about the love of God and his son Jesus Christ that God cares about it cares for us not only spiritually but he cares for us physically as well the gospel it truly is holistic it was such a powerful witness that it’s not surprising that Satan certainly took opportunity to spoil it now while this passage today doesn’t specifically tell us that uh Satan was involved uh uh I can tell you that there’s little doubt that Satan and his minions are at work in this because they use the tactics that they always use and that is that they simply appeal to our own sinful Natures to try to bring division into the church everything was going great in the Gospel Mission for this early church yes they had dealt with persecution we talked about it last week but the number of disciples it was increasing people were hearing the good news they were repenting of their sins and they’re finding forgiveness they’re finding new life in Christ you know history is proved it over and over again that the gospel it thrives under persecution external threats uh and persecution the church continues to grow it isn’t hindered but they’re in the midst of so much growth and success boom it happens a complaint is lodged now I know that you’re shocked right how could there ever be any complaining in church uh there isn’t no one ever complains everyone’s always happy and content right with the style of the music with the the hair length of the acolytes the uh the temperature and the sanctuary the color of the rugs everybody’s always happy and content nobody ever has an opinion uh you know there’s a reason we don’t have a suggestion box in the back of the sanctuary because it would always be full

yeah but the the truthfully the complaining that’s happening in Acts six was a bit more than just some sort of legitimate opinion or complaint uh the word that’s translated here literally means grumbling uh and what it means that there was a secret debate going on there was a secret debate going on a secret displeasure was being whispered behind other people’s backs uh and this was no joking matter in fact it was absolutely toxic it was toxic because it threatened the unity of the church and therefore it threatened the witness of the Gospel but what was it about complaining that made it so toxic and what’s it what is it about complaining now that makes it it’s so toxic in our lives and to the mission that we’re called to because the truth is we all do it we all complain either loudly for others to hear or we certainly complain in our own Hearts quietly you know in Philippians 2 4 tells us do all things without grumbling or disputing but we all do it so why is it so bad yeah why why is it so destructive to the gospel well the reason is because complaining actually reveals something about ourselves something that goes much deeper something that’s toxic about the human heart and completely undermines the gospel of grace you know I’ll give you an example pointing at myself of course you know I come home after a long day at the church dealing with problems making lots of difficult decisions having uh difficult conversations and when I get home what do I find the kids fighting and so I snap and I’m complaining to them about how I’ve had to deal with all this stuff all day long and now I come home and I have to deal with this now whether I actually say it out loud or not I’m definitely thinking it I’m thinking it in my head and in my heart and in the process in my heart of hearts uh what’s really happening is I want them to feel guilty about how they’ve bothered their old man uh and interrupted my peace and my comfort but you know that really actually reveals about me that in my heart of hearts I feel like I am too important to be bothered with their problems it reveals what I value most is peace and comfort more than in that moment I value them add it all to all together reveals my own self-righteousness you know because I really think I deserve peace and comfort you know I deserve more respect than I’m getting from them all the complaining did was just reveal the true state of my own heart my self-righteous heart I deserve better and I deserve better because I’m good I’m important and people should respect me friends self-righteousness is absolutely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ it spits in the face of the god of Grace the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality that my righteousness it isn’t my own it’s the righteousness of Christ that’s been freely given to me by the grace of God through faith in Jesus’s finished work on my behalf when I complain and it really just exposes me in my own heart that I’m still acting like my righteousness before God is something that I’ve earned on my own and therefore it is something that I deserve I have a right to it and how dare anyone get in my way of what I deserve what a Wretched Man that I am when I really examine it to quote Romans and the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 to deny the grace of Christ and to try to claim it as my own and as Paul said who will deliver me from this body of death to this complaining actually is revealing about me that’s what’s happening in the church in Acts 6 they were secretly grumbling and complaining about an injustice that had been had revealed itself in the church you see the church at the time was made up of converts from primarily two different cultural groups of Jewish people they were the hellenists and the Hebrews both were Jewish but they came from different cultures the hellenists had come from Greek speaking towns and cities outside of Israel they were part of the diaspora they primarily spoke Greek and they were certain aspects of Greek culture that they had they had embraced and the Hebrews though they they came from Israel they were they primarily spoke Aramaic and each side of this the Hellenist and the Hebrews had a long history uh of looking down on each other and now in the church the hellenists complained that their widows were being neglected in the distribution of food you know they weren’t being served fairly out of the provisions that the apostles had provided and the money that had been given to them now we don’t know if this was a fair assessment of the situation or not uh what we do know is that it was a secret complaint that they had that was happening behind the backs of all those around including the apostles and for that reason we know that it was coming from a place of self-righteousness and a self-righteous indignation the hellenists were outraged at how they were being treated they thought they deserved better they could have very openly made their case before the apostles they could have pointed out what was happening that this wasn’t fair that this was unjust but that’s not how they handled it instead they complained they grumbled behind everyone else’s back stirring up discontent stirring up seeds of division and it was all fueled by the sense of of self-righteous indignation because they deserve better they should not have been treated this way and so in their own Hearts they felt completely Justified to complain this way that kind of self-righteousness in the church as I’ve said it divides it destroys the witness of the gospel because it undermines the gospel of grace God’s Gift of forgiveness and righteousness to undeserving sinners

this had to be addressed and address it the apostles did you know when the apostles got wind of this complaining uh that was secretly happening and was uh was sowing seeds of discontent and division they gathered all of the disciples together now think about it for a minute at this point that’s no small task where we are right now in Acts at this point uh the numbers of the disciples are in the thousands this Gathering was not uh just held and one of the Apostles backyards next to the pool I mean this was uh this was a major undertaking to gather all the disciples together we don’t know how they met we don’t know where they met but this Wildfire of self-righteousness that Satan had stoked in the hearts of the people was so destructive that it had to be dealt with and it had to be dealt with immediately and deal with it they did it prompted a new level of organization and delegation in the church the church had grown so much so quickly that now there was the need for some structure to make sure everybody was taken care of the apostles were called to prayer into the preaching uh the word of God and now also to oversee administrative needs it was just too much for them that they couldn’t handle it they said it wasn’t right so they instructed the disciples to choose seven men of good uh repute full of spirit and wisdom to oversee the the important proclamation of the Gospel indeed remember as I said earlier the gospel Proclamation is always in word and indeed and so the good works of caring for the the physical well-being of the people it was incredibly important in fact it was essential to the witness of the Gospel of the church uh it was too important to be neglected and so this structure that was inaugurated in Acts chapter 6 is the structure of the diaconate Ministry that we continue to recognize today in the church Deacon the Deacon’s primary role is the proclamation of the Gospel indeed caring for the physical needs of the community of God and this new structure in this new organization it was effective uh because we’re told in verse 7 that the word of God continued to increase and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith these same Folks by the way these priests who operated in the temple were part of the whole uh they were part of that whole um you know what the the Apostle or what the apostles faced last week uh that we looked at in the Sanhedrin but for us this morning the structure is great the structure is important we need to reference it when we understand the church and how we operate but it’s not the heart of the issue of this passage especially not for us this morning the real issue is the complaining and the grumbling the real issue is is the self-righteousness that that complaining and that grumbling exposes in Us and how that self-righteousness completely undermines the gospel of grace of Grace that has been given to us and yet we all do it We complain I complain either out loud or in our hearts and it exposes in us just how proud we really are we think that we deserve better to be treated with proper respect to get the things that we really deserve our complaining just shows that we have this victim mentality deep within us we think in our heart of hearts that we are just innocent victims all the time and everyone else is just taking advantage of us or mistreating Us in some way now make no mistake sometimes we are innocent victims of abuse then that abuse has to be dealt with and Justice does need to be served But ultimately are complaining it just exposes us and at the bottom of it all it exposes our own unbelief our own unbelief we struggle to really believe that God is our loving father and that he is actually in control of all things that he’s our protector and he’s the one who is our provider when we before when we complain it shows that we think that we know better than God and that if we were in control everything would certainly uh be better right we could do a much better job of it are complaining it exposes our own spiritual Pride that in our heart of hearts we think that we’re right and we think that everybody else is wrong and it’s the pride and self-righteousness of our own hearts that threatens the mission of the Gospel in this world much more than persecution ever could the church thrives under external threats persecution leads to unprecedented growth of those who are being saved but the internal threat of Pride and of self-righteousness that has to be rooted out it has to be dealt with for the gospel of grace to flourish and for the gospel of grace to grow and so how exactly does the gospel of grace root out our pride and our self-righteousness at least if you’re a complainer and I know you are

because what happens is the gospel reveals that we do not get what we deserve Jesus the son of God the King of Kings the Lord of lords he got what we deserve but we deserve for our pride and our self-righteousness is death the Apostle Paul he said it in Romans 6 23 for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ Our Lord friends the righteousness that we have is a righteousness that is received by faith it’s not a righteousness that any of us have earned Jesus died and rose again so that by faith in him we might receive the gift the free gift of his righteousness before God the kind of righteousness that never complained about personal Injustice Jesus suffered and Jesus died never grumbling about it no he only loved throughout it he willingly suffered and he died because he loves you and because he loves me

the only thing that has the power to root out the pride and the self-righteousness that our complaining just exposes on us as the undeserved and unconditional love of God for us and his son Jesus Christ friends in this Advent season this third Sunday as we prepare our hearts for Jesus’s return receive today is undeserved and his unconditional love for you by putting your faith in him know the free gift of his grace and his righteousness for you and may the Holy Spirit take our complaining hearts of prideful self-righteous indignation and give us hearts that truly love God and love one another amen

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