Craig Smith - The Peril of Our Preferences
Well, hey, welcome to Mission Hills. We are starting a new message series today called “Unleashed.” And actually, I just wanna go and dive right into God’s Word because I actually think what God says here at the passage we’re gonna look at is probably the clearest introduction to what this series is gonna be about. So, if you want to grab a Bible, and join me, we’re gonna be in the Book of Acts chapter 6. Acts chapter 6. And while you’re making your way there, if you’re not familiar with the word “acts,” the name of the Book is Acts. And the reason it’s called Acts is because it’s the Acts of the Apostles, those 12 guys who were closest to Jesus, or it’s the acts of the early churches as it was getting started. And the first five chapters of the Book of Acts really are kind of about the earliest days of the church. Acts chapter 6, where we’re gonna jump in for this series really begins to describe a pivotal period in the church’s history, a moment where the church faced a series of challenges, which really would determine whether or not they were going to either just become another religious organization or be unleashed into the world as an agent of transformation in God’s glory.
And the very first obstacle they faced is right here in Acts chapter 6 starts in verse 1 says, “In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing.” I’m actually just gonna stop there for a second. In those days when the number of disciples was increasing. Now, if you don’t know what a disciple is, a disciple is someone who follows Jesus, okay, that’s all a disciple is. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus. Now, there’s a difference between following Jesus and being a fan of Jesus. Can we be honest with each other about that? And I think we live in a culture, especially in the West, we live in a culture where you have a lot of people who are fans of Jesus. And what that means is, they like Jesus, they’re on board with Jesus, they kind of like what he taught, they like some of the things he was about. And as long as his agenda lines up with their agenda, they’re happy to wave the Jesus flag. But the moment that their agenda and his agenda come into conflict, they’re not necessarily gonna follow Jesus’s agenda, they’re gonna follow theirs. And then that’s an indicator that they’re a fan. They’re not necessarily a follower.
Followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, follow Jesus. And what that means is, the disciples are always asking the question, “What’s my next step of obedience?” Make sense? That’s the key question for followers of Jesus, for disciples. We’re always asking, what’s the next step of obedience? And by the way, if you’re kind of looking back on your life and do a little reflection right now and going, “It’s been a while since I took a next step of obedience,” you might be more of a fan than a follower. You might not be the disciple. But what Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, says here is that, in this season, the number of disciples, the number of followers, not just fans, but followers of Jesus was increasing. Okay? And what that means is, the church was growing, more and more people were taking their first step, they were putting their faith in Jesus, that was their first step. And they were taking their constant next steps of being obedient to Jesus and his call on their lives, okay. So, the church was growing, basically. And what that really means is, it means that the church was working, okay, it means the church was working, because a healthy church should be a growing church.
Because as we talked about here, the mission of the church is to storm the gates of death with the message of life, this thing we call the Gospel. It’s to share with the world that doesn’t know that God loves them and has made a way for them to be restored to relationship with him. His Son died for their sins so they can be forgiven, he rose from the dead, and he gives us the chance to be brought into relationship with God by following Jesus, by faith in Jesus. And so our job is to share that message with a world who doesn’t know that. And so a church that’s acting as the church, a church that’s healthy really is a growing church. But it’s interesting. The first words of chapter 6 are this, “In those days,” pay attention to that, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing.” And that’s an interesting thing to say. Because we use the phrase in those days to talk about something that used to be true, that kind of isn’t so much right now, right? Like I could say, in those days when I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet. That makes sense because we do have the internet now, right? But I don’t say, you know, in those days when I was growing up, we didn’t have dinosaurs, right? That’d be a dumb thing to say because it’s not like we have dinosaurs now. I mean, that’s all…it’s been those days for a long time, right?
In those days means it used to be true, but it’s not so much true right now. And so what that means is that, as Luke is writing the Book of Acts, and this was probably written sometime in the ’60s AD. The church had been around for a couple of decades now. He was saying, “Hey, back in the beginning of the church, one of the things that was true was the church was growing rapidly, more and more people were following Jesus, making their decision to put their faith in Jesus.” But as he was writing it, he’s saying, “That’s not so much true right now.” What that meant is the church hit kind of a plateau, the church had a period in its history, where it wasn’t doing really what it was supposed to be doing. And what we’re gonna see really, for the next several weeks in this series is, we’re gonna see a series of challenges the church faced, that was keeping it from being the church that God intended it to be. And these are challenges that we all face. And so we’re gonna learn from their challenges and how they dealt with them, what we need to do to be the church that God’s intended us to be, to be the people of God that God’s intended to be.
So, here’s what we really know, we know that if the church wasn’t growing, the church wasn’t going. The church wasn’t growing, it wasn’t going. It wasn’t going out as the church. People might have been coming to church, but they weren’t going out and living as the church because the church, as we say all the time here, it’s not a building we come to, it’s not a program we participate in. The church is a mission we choose to be part of. It’s the people of God living on mission with Jesus out in the world. So, if the church wasn’t growing, it’s because the church wasn’t going. They were just kind of going to church and doing their church thing, but they weren’t living as a church out there. And by the way, that’s exactly what the devil wants. Do you know that? Everybody tells me things like this. They’re like, “The devil is trying to destroy the church.” And my response is always “No, he’s not.” The devil is not dumb. The devil knows he can’t destroy the church. The devil also knows he doesn’t have to destroy the church because a lot of times the church will put itself on such a short leash, that it’s not gonna do in the world what God intended it to do. And the devil knows that if he can get us on a short leash then we’ll keep ourselves there.
Let me tell you something that… I don’t know if you know this. I find a lot of Christians don’t know this about themselves. Do you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, you are the devil’s worst nightmare? Do you know that? You’re the devil’s worst nightmare. Why? Because first off, you’ve been forgiven of your sin, he can’t hold that against you anymore. You’ve been forgiven of your sin. You’ve been adopted into the family of God, you’ve been irrevocably adopted into the family of God, that is who you are now, and he cannot do anything to change that. You’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s come into your life, he is changing from the inside out, and he’s giving you the ability to live on mission with Jesus in the world like Jesus intended. And God has unleashed you into the world, to be an agent of transformation for his glory. Those are all things that are true of you, as followers of Jesus together, making up the church, those are all things that are true of us. And the devil knows that he cannot keep us from being or meant to be, but he doesn’t have to if he can just keep us on a short leash that honestly, we put on ourselves. Because we put ourselves on short leashes all the time.
What we’re gonna see over the next few weeks is the kind of leashes that as followers of Jesus we’re likely to put ourselves on, and the devil goes, “That’s all I need. Yeah. You just stay right there, and I don’t have to worry about you.” Here’s the first leash that they struggled because they could have easily put themselves on. He says, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” He says, basically, there was a church split brewing. There were some people in the church that were looking at some other people in the church and going, “I’m mad at them. I’m upset with those people. I’m upset with what they’re doing, or they’re not doing.” And those people are like, “Well, I don’t know what your problem is.” And so there was a split growing in the church, there was a division growing in the church. Now, what was the source of this? Well, it was some differences. Okay. And Luke tells us the big difference was that they had Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews, okay.
Now, if those are unfamiliar terms, a Hellenistic Jew basically meant a Jewish follower of Jesus because all of these people are followers of Jesus, and all of the early followers of Jesus were Jewish, okay? A Hellenistic Jew was a Jewish follower of Jesus, who grew up outside of Israel and mainly spoke Greek. Hellenistic means Greek, okay? So, that was their native tongue. They mostly spoke Greek. Now, a Hebraic Jew was a follower of Jesus who grew up in Israel and mainly spoke Hebrew. Okay. And what’s happening is the Hellenistic, the Greek-speaking Jews are complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews because their widows, he says, were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. And what that means is that, you know, there was a need in the church. There were some women whose husbands had died and that put women in the first century in an incredibly vulnerable position. And so the church said, “Hey, we need to take care of these people.” And so they were doing a collection of food, and they were passing it out. But apparently, it seems like the Hebraic Jews, the ones from Israel, were the ones doing the passing out and the food was only getting to their widows. The Hellenistic Jews weren’t getting the food, they were being overlooked, they were being passed over.
Now, why would that happen? Well, it’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? It’s because there were some differences. There were some differences between the Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews. They had some differences of language, they had some social differences, they had some cultural differences. And the reality is, can we just be honest about this, differences often give rise to prejudice, right? Because we prefer people who are like us, we prefer people who talk like us, we prefer people who have similar backgrounds and histories. It’s just easier to connect with them, and we prefer to be with people who are like us. And often what happens is that preference turns into a prejudice, and that prejudice then really turns into, not just differences, but disgust, right? There’s a separation that grows because it’s not just that we’re different, they were like, “I’m kind of disgusted by them,” which I gotta be honest with you, is kind of a problem that the Jewish people had struggled with for a long time. See, thousands of years before this, God had called the first Jewish person, his name was Abraham. And God gave Abraham and he gave his descendants after him a series of commandments. And the goal of the commandments was that the Jewish people would be different, they’d be different than the rest of world, they’d be different than the Gentiles.
Now, there was a reason for the differences. The reason was so that the Jewish people would stand out, they would be obviously different than the rest of the world. And that would cause the rest of the world to go, “Why are you guys so different?” and that would give them an opportunity to speak the truth about how God loved them and had called them into a relationship with him. And so it was an opportunity to testify to the reality of God’s love for the rest of the world. God told Abraham, “I’m gonna bless you, and you will be a blessing to all the nations.” And so the differences of the Jewish people were supposed to lead to an opportunity to speak love into the rest of the world. But the reality is that, over time, the differences became a source of disgust for many of the Jewish people, they looked at the Gentiles and they were disgusted by them. It was prejudice. It kept them from being on mission with God. Now, here’s the thing, the Hellenistic Jews weren’t Gentiles, okay? They were Jews. Yes, there were differences, that they spoke a different language, primarily, they had some cultural differences, they had some social differences and practice, things like that. But they had a lot more in common than they had in conflict. They had so much more in common than conflict, right? I mean, they were descended from the same man, they were descended from Abraham, they worshipped the same God, they read the same Bible, they follow the same Jesus, they had the same mission as the church. But that’s not what they were focusing on. That’s not what the Hebraic Jews were focusing on.
They weren’t focusing on what they had in common, they were focusing on what they had in conflict. That was the problem. That was why their differences became a division. Differences don’t have to be a division. Differences can be a really powerful thing. If we’re all the same, we’re not gonna be able to reach all the people that we’re called to reach. And so differences in the church are a really good thing. Division’s not a good thing. The differences didn’t have to be division. But listen to me, differences become divisions, when what happens? When we focus more on what we have in conflict than what we have in common. Happens in the church all the time. All the time. And here’s the problem. Here’s the problem with differences becoming divisions. Division kills mission. Kills it. The moment we allow differences to become division, it kills the mission of the church, because all of our energy gets focused on dealing with the division. We don’t have any leftover for doing the mission. When we get focused on the division, we forget about the mission.
But we’re really good at dividing, aren’t we? Let’s take a little survey online. I’d love to hear your answers as well. How many of us have been at a church that went through a church split? Yeah, that’s a depressingly large number of people weighing in. And I’m not really surprised by it, I mean, I’ve seen it. Years ago, I was driving through and I was in a town in Kentucky. I was on my way to a speaking engagement. And I saw the first Baptist Church of this town. I’ve seen that before. Not a big deal. A little bit later, I saw the second Baptist Church. I was like, “Well, that’s interesting.” A little bit later, same town, third Baptist Church. Before I got out of the town, I also saw the fourth Baptist Church. Now, I would love to think that the reason there are four Baptist Churches in the town is because the first Baptist Church got so full of people who were taking their first step of following Jesus, and so full of people taking their next step of following Jesus. They’re like, “We got to have more room and we can’t reach any more people. We got to build the second Baptist Church. That would be awesome.” I guarantee you, that’s not what happened. Somebody in the first Baptist Church got mad at somebody else in the first Baptist Church, and they got a bunch of other people, and they started focusing more on what they had in conflict than what they had in common. And pretty soon they’re like, “We’re leaving. We need a new church.” And all that division happened. And then it happened again, and it happened again, it happens over and over and over again.
And listen, sometimes churches divide over theology, sometimes they divide over real biblical issues. I get that, that sometimes happen, but that’s not the norm. What churches mostly divide over…honestly stupid stuff. Now, one of the number one reasons that churches go through divisions over the last 30 years has been worship style, style of music that’s gonna be played. And I get that too. I remember playing our church once, probably the first time that church had ever had a band with a drummer in it. And I was leading that song and I felt that went so well. And afterwards, a guy came up to me, and he goes, “Man, that song really made me want to dance.” And I was like, “Yes, score.” And then he goes, “Yeah, if it makes you want to dance, it’s from the devil.”
All right. All right. I am sorry. I just, like, there is no way the devil should be the only one dropping dope beats. That’s ridiculous. Okay? That’s ridiculous. But that’s one of the main reasons that churches split, is over stuff like that. Or they split over preaching style. You know, is it expository teaching? Is it topical teaching? And I don’t know why we get… I mean, listen, I’m an expository teacher, but sometimes I get people that’re like, “Well, yeah. But, you know, you’re not going all the way through whole books all the time.” Yeah, it’s not taught in the Bible that we have to do it that way. It’s not even modeled in the Bible that we have to do the way. I do prefer expository going through a passage, but I don’t see any biblical reason why we have to always do all books. But some people are like, “Well, that’s the only biblical way.” “How can you say that?” I’ll tell you how you say it is because what happens so often, and this happens for topical preachers, it happens for expository teachers. We get more in love with the way we do it than with the Word of God itself. It happens all the time. And the problem is that division kills mission.
Listen, as churches and as the people who make up those churches…because the church is you, it’s us, right. If you want to live on a short leash, all you got to do is focus more on what you have in conflict than what you have in common. But if you want to live unleashed, start focusing more on what you have in common than what you have in conflict. See if it doesn’t change your life. I spent this past week with a group of pastors in California, it’s a group of guys that we have the same mentor. And once a year, we get together with that mentor in a house in California, and we just spend the week kind of talking about stuff and being encouraged by and learning from each other. And I learned some great stuff. Over the years, I’ve actually learned some really powerful things. But what’s interesting is the group of guys that I meet with, they’re really different. We got a lot of differences. Some of them are Assemblies of God, they’re very, very charismatic. Even on the Pentecostal side of things, speaking in tongues and all that. I’m not all that charismatic. I mean, if you see me in the back, sometimes in worship, I’ll have my hand up. If the spirit it’s really going crazy in my life, I might get the second one up there, but… Like, I’m just not a real charismatic guy. I don’t speak in tongues, but these guys speak in tongues. There’s a guy in the group who, he’s Reformed Church, he baptizes babies. And I was like, “How do you make sure they don’t drown? That’s…” He’s like, “We just sprinkle them.” And I’m like, “Everything about that it’s wrong.”
Now, we do believers baptism by immersion, and I disagree with him on that. Absolutely do. But you know what? One of the things that God’s been teaching me over the years is how important it is that I start drawing bigger circles and focus more on what we have in common than we have in conflict. And so this group of guys, you know they’re really different but I have learned so much. I’ve grown so much from being in that group with them. It’s been such a powerful thing in my life. If you want to live unleashed, especially as you think about other Christians, start focusing more on what you have in common, what you have in common. They read the same Bible, in common. They follow the same Jesus, in common. They have the same mission to extend the Gospel into the world, in common. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything there is to agree with, but maybe we need to start drawing a little bit bigger circles. And maybe that would be good for us, not only as the church but as all the people who make up the church. This division had the potential to kill the mission of the church. And there’s no mention of the devil. The devil is not doing it because he doesn’t have to. He’s like, “AlI I got to do is let the church put itself on a very short leash. And I’m good.”
So, the Twelve, “They gathered all the disciples together, and they said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, 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 we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ Now this proposal pleased the whole group that 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. And they presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them. And 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.” Now, what the disciples did here was brilliant. It was so good, and it worked. We know it worked because remember, in those days, the number of disciples have been increasing, but then they kind of hit a moment like, “Is that gonna continue to happen? Is church still going to be a mission?” End result, how does it close out? “The number of disciples increased rapidly.” And even Jewish priests were beginning to say, yes to following Jesus. It’s a powerful thing, right. So, it worked. What they did was brilliant.
And here’s what they did, it’s helpful to pay attention to it because it’s really useful in our personal lives. First thing they did is they acknowledged the problem, and they developed strategy to address it, right. They didn’t ignore it. They didn’t go what you and I do, or maybe not you, you’re probably fine. I do this all the time, “This will probably go away.” How many of us have ever faced a problem? Come on. Ever face any kind of problem in your life? How many of you ever faced a problem and ignored it? All right. All hands. How many of us ever faced a problem, ignored it and it just went away? Yeah, it doesn’t happen, but we keep trying it, right. Listen, hope is not a strategy, right. It’s not. Listen, if you want to live all leashed up, kept on a short tether so you don’t live the life that God intended for you, all you’ve got to do is ignore the problems in your life. But if you want to live unleashed, if you want to live unleashed, you need to start acknowledging your problems and developing strategies to address them.
And I say this because I know for a fact that there are some people joining us today, some people listening to this message that that’s the Word of God to you. That’s what you’re here to hear. You’ve got a problem in your life, you’ve got a problem in your marriage, you’ve got a problem with your kids, you’ve got a problem at work, you’ve got a problem, you know, in your neighborhood, you’ve got a problem on a team, you’ve got a problem in school, you have a problem in your thought life, you have a problem in your active life, you’re doing some things you know you shouldn’t be, you’ve got a problem. Maybe it’s in your finances. And your strategy, at this point, is this will probably just get better on its own. Now, that’s a recipe for staying on a very short leash in life. If you want to live unleashed you need to start acknowledging the problem and developing strategies to address it.
Now, the disciples use a really good strategy. What it says is basically they picked the right people to address the problem. That was their big strategy. Get the right people on the problem, which is really good leadership advice, by the way. They put the right people in the problem, and they said basically, there’s three things that allow us to know these the right people. Number one, they’re full of the Spirit. What does that mean? Well, it means they were full of the fruit of the Spirit. It means that they showed evidence that they were people who listened to the Spirit, were led by the Spirit. So, the Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit, that the fruit of Spirit brings out of us as followers of Jesus is it’s love, it’s joy, it’s peace, it’s patience, it’s kindness, it’s gentleness, it’s generosity, it’s faithfulness, it’s self-control. All those things indicate that the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives, that’s the fruit of the Spirit. And so they said, basically, we want people who are full of the Spirit, meaning full of the fruit of the Spirit. They show evidence they’ve been listening being led by the Spirit.
Second, they said they want people who are full of wisdom. And if you’re not sure what wisdom is, wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. And to be full of wisdom, means they have a track record of making good decisions. Wisdom is different than information. It’s different than knowledge. Knowledge is just info, right? It’s information. But wisdom is its application, it’s the ability to take what we know and to move that into decisions that glorify God and move us forward in life. They said, “We want people who have a track record of making good decisions, they’re full of wisdom.”
And third thing is they pick people who cared about the problem. They picked people who cared about the problem. We know, they care about the problem because every name that’s on this list is a Greek name. It’s a Hellenistic name. So, basically, they chose Hellenistic Jews to take care of the Hellenistic widows because they cared about them and their people, right? They picked people who cared about the problem. One of the things I learned years ago in leadership was, if you want to keep a problem, a problem, put somebody in charge of fixing it who doesn’t care about it. If you want to fix the problem, put somebody in charge of it who cares about it a lot. That’s what they did. That was their strategy. It was a good strategy. It worked. The church was back on track, the church was back on mission, the number of disciples was growing rapidly. Even priests were becoming… “Oh, that’s fantastic. They did that so well.” But I believe they did one thing wrong. I believe the apostles made one significant mistake. And it’s not so much what they did, it’s what they said. It’s the way they talked about what they were doing. Because the way they talked about it revealed something that actually is gonna become a much bigger problem in the next few chapters. We’re gonna see it over the next few weeks. We see the seed of it planted here in what they said. Well, what did they say? What’s the problem with what they said? What did they say?
Let’s go back to verse 2. “So, the Twelve gathered all the disciples together, and they said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.'” See anything wrong there? Let me read it again. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.” Anything jumping out at you there? Yeah, it’s that phrase at the end, right? It’s wait on tables. What’s wrong with that? It’s just weird. It’s a weird thing to say. I mean, nobody asked you to wait tables, they asked you to serve widows, which, by the way, is a big deal to God. Do you know that? God has a special place in his heart for people who are in vulnerable positions. And God constantly throughout his Word, he commands his people to demonstrate that they’re his people by taking care of people in need. It’s all throughout the Old Testament. It’s so powerful that, by the time we get to the New Testament Book of James, we’re told this, James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.” Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, it’s to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Taking care of widows is a big deal. You know, waiting on tables just doesn’t quite capture that heart. It just seems to downplay it a little bit, seems to maybe even diminish its significance just a little bit. And what’s really interesting is that this isn’t the first time that the disciples have been asked to feed people.
If you want to flip to the left, flip back to the Book of Luke. Luke chapter 9, verse 12, there was a time in his ministry, Jesus was teaching a large crowd of people more than 5,000, we’re told it’s 5,000 men, actually. So, between women and kids, it might have been double that or more. He’d been teaching them and Luke 9:12 says this, “Late in the afternoon, the Twelve…” same phrase used in Acts 6, by the way, “The Twelve came to him, and they said, hey, ‘Send the crowd away so that they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging because we are in a remote place here.'” They said these people need some food. Now, I personally don’t believe that they figured that out themselves. I think somebody came to them and said, “Hey, the people need food.” And so they went to Jesus and said, “Hey, people need food.” And Jesus replied, “Okay. You, why don’t you give them something to eat? Feed them.” And the answer is, “Well, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” And that’s an interesting phrase there too, isn’t it? Unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.
Years and years and years, I’ve read that, and I’ve always kind of thought, I mean, they were saying they didn’t have enough food. But for the first time this past week, as I was reading that, I realized that’s not what it says. It didn’t say they didn’t have the money to buy the food, right? If they didn’t have the money, they would have just said we can’t afford that. Jesus, the bank account is kind of running low, and we don’t have the ability, we don’t have any credit with the local bakeries. I don’t think we’re gonna be able to pull that off. That’s not what they just said. They just said, “We don’t have enough food unless we go and buy it, but surely, you don’t want us to do that.” They had the money. That’s not what they preferred to do with it. That’s not how they wanted to spend it. And they couldn’t imagine that Jesus really wanted them to use their hard-won funds. They’d probably been donated and collected from people that help support their ministry. And they couldn’t believe that Jesus would want them to use that money to do that. It’s not they didn’t have the money, they just didn’t prefer to use it for that. Which is so interesting. Because if you go back to Acts, I don’t do this very often. But I want to read Acts 2 from a different version, a different translation.
This is from the CLT, that’s the Craig’s Literal Translation. It is a very literal rendering of the original Greek here. They said, “It is not preferable,” very literal, “It is not preferable for us to leave the Word of God to serve tables.” See the problem there? It’s not that what they did was wrong, they did the right thing. But in the way they talked about it, they betray a way of thinking that’s going to become a problem later on. I mean, part of it is that they’re kind of creating a hierarchy of ministry. The Word of God, that’s the really important stuff. And we’re important people so that’s what we need to be doing. Feeding people. Anybody can do that. It’s not that big a deal, right? They kind of created a hierarchy of ministry, and that’s part of the problem. But the bigger problem is just that they’re betraying an issue that they’re gonna continue to wrestle with. Throughout the next several chapters, we’re gonna see it over and over again. Basically what they were doing is this, they were letting their preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. Do you hear me church? They’re letting their preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. It’s gonna become a bigger and bigger issue, as the Book of Acts continues.
Part of the reason I know it’s a problem is because the apostles actually disappear from the story for the next several chapters. They’re not the main players anymore. I mean, they’re supposed to be focusing on teaching the Word, but we don’t see them doing that for next few chapters. In fact, what we see in the next few chapters are about the waiters. They’re about the servers. They’re about men like Stephen and Philip, it’s their story. And what’s interesting is that we never see Stephen, we never see Philip wait on a table. I’m sure they did, but that’s not what God highlights. What God highlights is that they preach the Word. They preached the Gospel, and the Kingdom expanded. That’s the work of the apostles. And Gods says, “No, it’s not.” That’s the work of every member of my church. That’s the work of every member of my church. The apostles were struggling because they were allowing their preferences to crowd out Jesus’s priorities. And they’re struggling to come to grips with a truth that we can so easily forget, which is simply that our preferences aren’t a reliable guide to Jesus’s priorities. Our preferences are not a reliable guide to Jesus’s priorities.
We kind of think they are. We do what the apostles did, not only do we have the preferences but they didn’t have the sanctify him. Whatever, I prefer, surely that’s what God wants. God wants me to be happy, right? Now, listen, I mean, God does want you to be happy, but you know what he wants more than your happiness? He wants your holiness. And sometimes getting holy means that we have to be unhappy for a little bit. Surely, God wants me to be comfortable. No, I actually don’t think that one’s right at all. I’ve never seen anybody live an unleashed life that was entirely comfortable. We sanctify those preferences. And then we think that our preferences must be God’s priorities, but they’re not. They’re just not a reliable guide. A couple weeks ago, I said, you know, we were told all the time you got to follow your passions. The problem with that is that many of your passions are stupid. Look, I love you. Do you love me back? Can you give me some grace today? I know, I know, it’s a problem. I know many of our pastors too because many of mine are stupid.
I remember it was…gosh, it’s been almost 30 years. I was in college, and I was in college ministry. And I was told, hey, by my Bible study, “Hey, we got an expansion campus over there, that campus and I need you this next Thursday, and I need you to go and I need you to do a message. I need you to teach a Bible message.” I was like, “Why I don’t really do that. I do music. I’m a musician. I’ll go and play some songs.” And he’s like, “Well, I really need you to do a teaching from the Bible.” I was like, “Well, I really prefer to do music. That’s my thing. That’s my preference.” He’s like, “I need you to do a message.” I was like, “Well, okay.” So, I went, and I mostly did music, to be honest with you because that’s what I preferred. And then I gave a short little message at the end, I shared a couple thoughts on a Bible passage. And afterwards, so encouraging, so many people came up to me and told me how God had used me in their lives that day, and how God had challenged them. But it was so frustrating. I was so mad about this. Not a single one mentioned my songs. Not a single one said they’d been challenged by my music. Every single one said that God had used my message. And that was really the first inkling that I began to have that maybe my preferences weren’t a great guide to God’s priorities for my life, let alone for his church. Our preferences are not a reliable guide to God’s priorities.
Listen, if you want to live a leashed life, if you want to be kept on a very short leash, if you want to keep yourself on a short leash, it’s pretty simple. Just assume that your preferences are God’s priorities, and let your preferences crowd out God’s priorities. If you want to live unleashed, if you want to live unleashed, you got to stop letting your preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. It’s so easy to do, right? It’s so easy to do. Do it individually. I just told you a story in my own life how I would have missed out on God’s priority from my life. I would have started living a much leashed, more leashed life if I didn’t stop letting my preferences crowd out God’s priorities. And it happens for the church as a whole too.
One of my mentors years ago told me this story. He was a young preacher in the Deep South, and he had a passion for doing church in a way that was gonna unleash people to live on a mission with Jesus because that’s what we are. We’re the people of God, we’re the church of God. That was his passion, and he was encouraged because the church was beginning to grow, the pews were starting to fill up. He was a little discouraged because they didn’t have a lot of people coming that they weren’t followers of Jesus yet, they weren’t seen a lot of people get saved, make their first decision to follow Jesus, but they were seeing a lot of people coming from other churches. And so that was kind of cool.
But one day he was preaching and a guy showed up in the back, and he looked really different than everybody else in church. Everybody else in church, again, it’s the Deep South. They had suits and ties and dresses and hats. And this guy didn’t have any of that. He had ripped jeans, he had a T-shirt, he had long greasy hair. And apparently, he didn’t just look different, apparently, he smelled different. My friend said he was a combination of BO and weed, intoxicating. And this guy came in, and immediately caused a stir. Everybody saw him and…you know, and there hadn’t been a lot of space in the seats, but the moment they saw who was looking for a seat, suddenly there was no space. Everybody sort of like filled in the space. And so he’s sort of walking down the aisle, and there was nowhere to stop. It was really disrupted.
The pastor basically had quit preaching at this point and was watching the poor guy kind of got towards the front of the church and just sort of froze. He’s like, “What do I do now? Where do I sit?” There’s a long uncomfortable silence. And then in the back, an older gentleman stood up. And he was dressed to the nines, suit, tie vest, little pocket watch on a chain, cane, and he walked his way down that aisle with that guy, and he looked mad. And he got up to this poor guy that was standing there, lost and confused. And everybody went, “Finally, someone’s gonna deal with this guy.” And the old man got to him and he put his arm on his shoulder and he pushed him to the very front of the church, to the floor in front of the pulpit. And the old man very stiffly, and painfully got down on the floor. And he invited the guy to sit with him, and they both sat there. He looked at the pastor and the old man went, “Go on.”
And that dude was living unleashed. That was a guy who knew something about not letting your preferences crowd out God’s priorities. If we want to be unleashed as a church, if we want to be unleashed as people, as men and women of God, to live the lives that God called us to, you have to stop letting our preferences crowd out God’s priorities. So, I just want you to wrestle with this truth this week, and I want you to ask yourself this question. Which of God’s priorities has been crowded out by my preferences? Or maybe you can even flip that one around. Maybe that one’s not an easy question to answer. If it’s a question you can easily identify, okay. Great. Deal with that. Maybe you flip it around, and maybe go which of my preferences might very well be crowding out God’s priorities? And what are you gonna do about it? What are we gonna do about it?
God, we ask for your forgiveness. That’s the first thing we do about it. I asked for your forgiveness because I’ve seen it over and over again in my life. I have let my preferences crowd out your priorities and I asked for your forgiveness. And I received it gratefully. Holy Spirit, we invite you to move in us. Show us those places where our Father’s priorities, where our Savior’s priorities are being crowded out by our preferences. Or maybe just show us those places where our preferences are in danger of crowding out your priorities. We ask for clarity, Lord, in those places, and we asked for the courage to do something about it, to take the leash off and to go forth unleashed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.