“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.” Acts 6:1
It is not difficult to see the spiritual battle that was going on as the church at Jerusalem sought to carry out the commission of her Lord in the early chapters of Acts. Before going back to Heaven, He had told them, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both is Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). So after the coming of the Spirit in the second chapter, we see them evangelizing the city of Jerusalem, with phenomenal success. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” (Acts 2:47). This work continues through chapter 3, with the Holy Spirit providing the power to convert many as the members of the church spread the Word.
Then, in chapter 4, we encounter the first evidence of satanic opposition. It took the form of persecution. The official council of Jerusalem had Peter and John arrested and decreed that the followers of Jesus not, "Speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” (4:18). When the apostles refused to promise to end the evangelization of the city, the council threatened them and let them go. The church then met the challenge by calling a prayer meeting and asking God to grant them boldness to preach. As far as we can tell, they did not ask for protection from the persecution; they asked that they would not lose their nerve to continue the evangelism in the face of persecution! The Lord answered by filling them anew with His Spirit, and thereby granting them the boldness they had sought.
In chapter 5, we discover the next kind of opposition the enemy mounted against the evangelistic efforts of the church. This attack was not from the outside as the persecution was; it was from the inside. The devil sought to destroy the power of the church at Jerusalem by ruining its purity. The attempt to demobilize the church through defilement was met by discipline and purging, and the record shows that what happened resulted in renewed respect for the holiness of God and the purity of His church. His power was preserved among them, and the evangelistic thrust went forward with even greater effect. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (5:14).
Then, in chapter 6, we meet the attempt of Satan to stop the church through discord, another attack from the inside. This attack was met by divinely-given wisdom and love, and also by another season of prayer (verses 1 through 6). Again Scripture records the renewed continuation of evangelization after the winning of this battle. “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly . . .” (verse 7). Again and again we see the spiritual battle rage as the disciples of the Lord seek to fulfill His command to spread the Gospel throughout the city, and eventually throughout the world. Again and again they meet the devil’s attacks successfully, then continue to triumph over evil in preaching the Word and winning the lost. The pattern we saw in the attacks from the outside by persecution as well as the attacks from the inside by defilement and discord continue in the next chapters, again met successfully by spiritual means. It is evident in the book of Acts that the enemy is continually fighting to demobilize the church when it is engaging him in battle through the work of Spirit-empowered evangelism.
Acts 6 gives us a special opportunity to see one avenue in which the enemy has been most successful in demobilizing churches in our time. Let us look again at the attack that came in verse 1, and let us view it in the light of the last verse of chapter 5. Acts 5:42 says: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
Then, chapter 6 begins by telling how, “There arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” The devil was encouraging an important shift in the direction of the church. It was:
1. A shift from the Spirit to the flesh.
The church had been spiritual, led and dominated by the Spirit of God, but the dissention moved a large segment of them to be carnal. We know that they had become flesh-dominated because of what they were doing. They were murmuring, an awful sin, condemned in both the Old Testament scriptures and in the New (note Numbers 14 and I Corinthians 10:10). They were also dividing against each other, a sure proof of carnality (see I Corinthians 3). Beware when a distressing situation tempts you to yield to the flesh. It’s bad enough when an individual Christian shifts from spirituality to carnality, but it is worse when a church makes that shift. And it is abundantly evident that many churches are habitually driven by the sinful influences of the flesh in this day.
2. A shift from the world to the widows.
Without question, the church is to meet the needs of its members. The gifts given to the various members are ministries to supply the needs of the rest (see this in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). The church is the Body of Christ, with each member ministering to the others (see this in Ephesians 4:11-16 as well). But the focus of the church is not to be inward, but rather outward. Our gifts are directed to helping our brethren, but beyond the ministry gifts we all have a command to be witnesses to the world. When men are won to Christ through evangelism, they are brought into the body to have their needs met. However, the emphasis of the body is not the meeting of our own needs, but rather meeting the need of the world for Christ! Many churches have been demobilized by shifting their focus from evangelism to concerns within the membership. Keeping everybody happy has become the big thing, more important than pleasing the Lord. With the shift of emphasis has come a change in the job-descriptions of the leaders. Pastors are expected to be good at public relations and organizational skills rather than given, “To prayer, and to the ministry of the word,” (see Acts 6:2-4). Deacons are expected to keep the pastors in line and active in addressing everybody’s complaints, instead of pitching in to help the pastors as ministry partners (see this also in Acts 6). Many churches are perceived as “doing fine” because the budget is being met, new building projects are on schedule, the congregation is content, and a respectable amount of numerical growth is being experienced. Yet the commission of the Lord Jesus to tell the Gospel to every person in the town, throughout the region, and around the world is largely ignored and neglected. They have been demobilized.
The subtle (and often not-so-subtle) demobilization of the army of God can, thankfully, be remedied, and Acts 6 shows us how (read it again). We must appoint to leadership men who are full of God’s Spirit and committed to God’s plan (verses 3-5). We must call for a prayer meeting to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and His renewed blessing (verse 6). We must put the church back on the track of divinely-empowered evangelism (verse 7). As long as we treat the church as “our church,” we will never know the victory Jesus promised His people; but when we remember that He called it “My church,” and let Him be the real Head of the body and Captain of the army, we will see the promise fulfilled that, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Has the church where you are a member become demobilized by the devil? Somebody has said that it is a bad sign when the people at prayer meeting pray more about keeping saints out of Heaven than about keeping sinners out of Hell! Let us remobilize Christ’s church, and fulfill His desire that all men may know of His love.