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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Jeffress » Robert Jeffress - How To Avoid A Church Fight

Robert Jeffress - How To Avoid A Church Fight

Robert Jeffress - How To Avoid A Church Fight
TOPICS: Unstoppable Power, Strife

Hi I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway To Victory". Have you noticed how polarized our country has become in recent years? These days, opposing sides can barely have a civil conversation, and tragically, this same sense of hostility and bitterness has started creeping into the church as well. Today I'm going to outline the biblical response to disagreements among believers. My message is titled, "How To Avoid A Church Fight" on today's edition of "Pathway To Victory".

New York Yankees player, and catcher, and Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, remember him? He was noted not only for his skill on the baseball diamond, but also for his humorous mantling of the English language. In fact, some of his expressions have become known as "Yogisms". I bet you've heard a few of them through the years. Things like, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it". Or one of my favorites, "If you don't go to other people's funerals, they won't come to yours". But perhaps the one that he is most noted for occurred in the 1960 baseball season, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back to back home runs in two different games. And when Yogi Berra saw that the second time he blurted out, "It's Déjà vu, all over again".

You know, I thought of that expression when I was reading our passage for today in Acts chapter 6, when you read the account of what happened to the early church, it's like it's like "Déjà vu," all over again. We've been there before. Remember in Acts chapter 5, the church was facing two threats. When the church was prospering and being effective for Christ, Satan was trying to attack the church in two different ways, internally and externally. There was that internal problem of sin and God dealt with it by removing Ananias and Sapphira. But then the church faced outside threats, persecution, we had the apostles being beaten and threatened in the name of Jesus to quit proclaiming the name of Jesus. And neither tactic worked in silencing the church.

You know I have found that Satan is not very original, there's nothing creative about Satan at all, he doesn't have to be the same old tricks work year after year, millennia after millennia. And that's true when it comes to Acts 6, we find him using the same tactics to try to silence the church, internal problems and then external threats. And today, when we come to Acts chapter 6, we're gonna look at the internal problem. In fact, it's the first controversy in the history of the church that the church faced, and then next time we're going to look at the external threat, the killing of the first Christian martyr. Let's look first of all at Acts chapter 6:1, where the internal problem that threatened the church is explained.

Remember, the church is a few years old now and it is growing furiously. I mean, on Pentecost, the Day of Pentecost, you saw 3,000 men who were saved. They didn't count the women and the children, don't ask me why they just didn't. But then there were 3,000 men. Then when you get to Acts chapter 4 and you find Peter and John preaching and healing, there's another 5,000 men added to the church. When we get to Acts 6, there's probably 30,000 members of the church now, men, women, and children. People say, "You know, your church is too big. I just don't think we can worship God in a big church". We're nowhere near the size of the first church in Jerusalem. It was growing, in fact it was growing so fast that Luke quit counting. He said, "The disciples were increasing in number" when we get to verse 1 of chapter 6.

But remember where there's growth, there're gonna be problems. There's a famous proverb, Proverbs 14:4, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean". In other words, if you wanna have a clean stable, just get rid of the animals. But that doesn't do you any good if you get rid of all the animals. You wanna have a church without any problems, just get rid of all the people. But that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Where you have people, you're going to have problems. And that's what happened in this growing church. Now look at verse 1 in which the problem is explained. "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food".

Now, in the early church, it was mainly Jews in the early church, but there were two categories of Jews. There were the Hellenistic Jews, these were the Jews who lived outside of Israel. They lived in Gentile, Greek countries, and they had been transplanted to Jerusalem. Because of that, they had adopted some of the customs of the gentile nations. They didn't speak Hebrew and Aramaic like the Native Jews, they spoke Greek. So you've got these transplants, these Hellenistic Jews. And then you've got what Luke calls the native Hebrews. These are people who were born and bred as we say, in the land of Israel, they spoke Hebrew. And so there were some cultural differences between these two groups and yet the miracle of the church is because of the Holy Spirit, they were united together, they loved one another.

But there were some divisions that were beginning to appear. And one of those divisions was over how the widows were being dealt with. The Hellenistic Jews, the transported Jews said, "Hey, our widows are being overlooked in the daily serving of food". In Jewish society, widows were on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. They represented people who by and large were forsaken, they had nobody to support them. There were no government assistant programs to speak of from the Romans, they had need of food, and so in the Jewish temple, they provided weekly meals for those widows in need. And for those in desperate need, there were daily meals provided for them.

Well, the church took over that responsibility. It continued that tradition of taking care of the widows and the Hellenists were saying, "Our widows are being overlooked in the daily serving of food". That that was the problem, the overlooking of the widows. In verses 2 and 3, you find the solution to that problem proposed by the apostles. Remember, the apostles were the leaders of the church and the job of a leader is to solve problems. And so verse 2, "The twelve". That is the apostles, "Summoned the congregation" that is the church and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables". In other words, we can't do what we're supposed to do if we get ourselves involved in serving the widows.

Now that word serve is interesting, it's the Greek word "Diakonein". We get our word deacon from it as we'll see in just a moment. But they said, we can't do what we're supposed to do and serve tables. Now, they weren't saying that there is something inferior about ministering to widows or that it was unimportant, not at all. In fact, remember in James 1:27, James would say "True religion is caring for the orphans and the widows". It's important to care for the widows, it's very, very important, but what the apostles were saying is, we can't deal with our primary responsibility of preaching the Word of God, if we get involved in taking care of the practical needs.

Therefore here's their solution verse 3. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task". Verse 4, "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and the ministry of the Word". This is the first instance of an organization of the church. It started out with apostles but now we're adding a second group in the church the outlines of the office of deacon.

Now let me stop here and say something about the book of Acts that will keep you from misunderstanding and misapplying the book of Acts. Acts is a book of transitions, transitions. Not everything, not every change happened automatically. There is a transition between Judaism and Christianity. And we'll see the debates ahead about what parts of Judaism ought to be held over for Christianity and what parts ought to be discarded. But there was a transition from Judaism to Christianity, from temple to the church. And you also see a transition in the organization of the church. For example, on the day of Pentecost, the birth of the church, the only office in the church was that of an apostle, the 12 apostles, the people Jesus had selected, minus Judas and plus Mathias, but they were the leaders, the 12 leaders and Peter was the leader of them.

Now you have a second office, the deacon, the ones who would serve the widows. This isn't fully developed yet, this is an outline of what would become the office of deacons. And then the church progresses. The apostles begin to get old and they are close to dying, and not only that, the church is spreading throughout the Roman empire. Who's gonna look over those churches? You can't leave it up to the 12 apostles, they're too few of them and the ones that are there are dying. So the office of apostle evolves into pastor.

Now the pastor's not an apostle, there are no more apostles today, but the office of pastor evolves out of the apostles. And only when you get to the epistles and the New Testament like Philippians, Titus, 1 Timothy, do you have the two offices of the church fully developed, which we have today. And those two offices are on your outline. In Philippians 1:1, one of the prison epistles, Paul wrote to the pastors and the deacons. Two offices, pastor and deacon. In 1 Timothy chapter 3, the qualifications for the two offices, pastor and deacon. There's not one office in the church, they're not three or four, there are two, the pastor and the deacon.

Now on your outline, let's look at each one of those for just a moment. First of all, the office of the pastor, office of the pastor. There are three terms that the New Testament uses to describe the pastor. Sometimes he is called the overseer, the "Episkopes," we get Episcopalian from that. The word overseer means ruler or bishop. It's the word used in 1 Timothy 3:1. "If any man aspires to the office of an overseer," an "Episkopes," "It is a good work he desires to do". This refers to his responsibility in leading the church. The pastor is the leader, but 1 Peter 5 is very clear. The pastor isn't to be a little Hitler running around demanding everybody follow him. "He's not load it over those under his charge" Peter said, but he is the leader nevertheless.

Then there's a second term elder, that word "Presbuteros" elder. It refers not to the pastor's chronological age, but to the dignity and the spiritual maturity of the office. And then the third word is the word shepherd a "Poimen" pastor. This refers to the pastor's responsibility to care for the sheep under his charge. He is to feed them with the Word of God, he is to protect them from error, he is to minister to them, he is the shepherd. And by the way, the flock doesn't belong to him. No church belongs to its pastor, it belongs to the chief shepherd, Jesus Christ. We are the under-shepherd, the one who's been left in charge for a little while, while the chief shepherd is away. But one day he's going to return and he's going to ask every under-shepherd, every pastor to give an account for how he has cared for the flock.

Now what's interesting is, all three of these terms, overseer, elder, and shepherd, are used interchangeably in 1 Peter 5 to describe the same office. People get mixed up on this about is it elders, and pastor, I mean, what's the difference? Look at 1 Peter 5 beginning with verse 1. Peter said, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you". There's that word "Presbuteros". "As your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ". Verse 2, "Shepherd the flock of God among you". There's that second term "Poimen," pastor, shepherd. And then the third phrase. "Exercising oversight and not under compulsion". Exercising, oversight, there's the third term "Episkopes". Do you see that? All three terms refer to the same person, the pastor, the overseer, the elder of the church. But there is a second office in the church and that is the office of Deacon.

Again, we have the outlines of it here in Act 6. "Diakonein," serving, ministering to, and when we get to the epistles, we find them fully developed in 1 Timothy 3 verses 8 through 13, you find the qualifications for the deacon. They do a multitude of things to take care of the practical needs of the church. So, here's the question, you've got these two offices, pastor and deacon; now who's the boss? Who makes the final decision? I remember talking to my mentor Howard Hendricks years ago I said, "Prof, what's the biggest issue in the church today"? He said, "It's what it's always been. Who's gonna be the bus driver, who's gonna run the show"? Major issue in every church. Is it the pastor? Is it the deacon? It's not the pastor, it's not the deacons.

You know who has the final say? You do. The congregation of the church. And that's what we see beginning in verses 5 and 6. The idea, the solution to the problem was proposed by the apostles, they recommended that that was their job as a leader to come up with the solution, it was proposed to the congregation. And look at Acts 6 verse 5. "And the statement about having deacons found approval with the whole congregation". The congregation had the final say. The New Testament church ladies and gentlemen, is a congregational church. It's always been that way, always has been that way from the beginning.

Now there are people who tried to change that, they think they have a better way of handling things. They say, "We can't trust that congregation to make the right decisions, they're filled with immoral people and immature Christians. We can't have the congregation, we can't let the deacons do it. Well 250 of them, how could they ever agree on anything? We can't depend on the deacons. What we will do is, we'll get a little group of super deacons, we'll call them elders. Highly spiritual men, and we'll let that little group take charge. Or we'll have a trustee board, just like some college or a secular institution. We'll have trustees oversee the church".

Did you know there are churches right now that even say, "Here's how we're gonna organize, we're gonna have an outside board of directors made up of pastors who are experts in church growth, who aren't members of this church, we're gonna let them make the decision". None of those are biblical models and whenever you deter from what God has said, you're gonna have problems. Let me give you an example of that. There is a well-known church, thousands and thousands of members. The pastor had been there for nearly 30 years, he founded the church. And one day he got the idea to change the church government and by-laws. He said, "We're gonna move away from being a congregational church, to being an elder run church. We're gonna have a little group of men who make all the decisions for the church".

The church went along with it. They instituted that elder board, and one day the elders decided they were tired of that pastor. So they voted among themselves to get rid of him, he was gone. Well obviously, he was upset about it, so he called for a meeting of the congregation. They packed the church on a Sunday night, he presented his case and then he asked for a vote of confidence. "Those who wanted to retain him as pastor stand up". Nearly the whole congregation stood up. Case settled, right? Nope.

Next week he got a certified letter from the elders saying that was all fine and good Sunday night, but it has no authority whatsoever, because we changed the by-laws. And the by-laws say, we are the ones who make the decision, not the congregation. And today that church has virtually ceased to exist, all because they went away from God's pattern of how to organize a church. Adrian Rogers said it best when he said, "The New Testament church is pastor led, deacon served and congregationally approved". And that's what we see here in this early church in Acts chapter 6. And so the whole congregation approved the idea of having deacons and they appointed the deacons. And so we find these seven who were chosen in verse 5. They were Stephen, he'll be instrumental as the first martyr will see next time.

Philip who became the first evangelist, the only one who was ever called an evangelist in all the Bible. And then Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenasare are all mentioned as well as Nicholas. Verse 6 says, "And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them". This is the first ordination in the Bible. What is the purpose of an ordination? When we ordain somebody, we're not calling them to their office of service. No church has the power to call somebody to be a deacon, to call somebody to be a pastor, only God calls us to service. Ordination is a human recognition of a heavenly reality. When we ordain people, lay hands on them, we are recognizing that God has already set these people apart for a place of service. Now, what was the result of solving this problem God's way?

Look how the church is blessed beginning in verse 7. "And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith". What started out as a problem that could have split the church, ended up uniting the church and making it more effective so that people even unbelieving Jewish priests, were coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. Now you may be asking, what in the world does this have to do with me? What does this have to do with us? I wanna suggest to you in closing today, three timeless essentials for keeping peace in any church. That's why I titled the message "How To Avoid A Church Fight".

Number one, write this down. Responsibility in the church should be divided. It should be divided. We have a saying here in our church, "No one can do everything in the church, but everyone ought to be doing something in the church". No one person ought to be in charge of everything, we ought to divide responsibility. Remember the story in Exodus 18 about Moses? He was getting worn out from trying to lead those Israelites, 3 million of them around in the desert. And his father-in-law, Jethro saw that he was about to crater, and Jethro gave this suggestion, he said, "Moses, why don't you divide the people up into manageable groups instead of trying to take care of them yourself? They'll be happier and you'll live longer if you do that".
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