There is something about a faithful dog. In January 2013, the Daily Mail reported a story about a faithful dog whose owner had died two months before. This dog is missing his owner so much that he is attending services at the Italian church where her owner’s funeral was held patiently waiting for her to return. Tommy, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, belonged to Maria Lochi, 57, and was her faithful companion after she adopted him when she found him abandoned in fields close to her home.
Specifically, I want to ask “What is a faithful church?” It is important for a church to be successful, but the church must first of all concentrate on being faithful to the work that God gives us. Acts 6:1-7 gives some characteristics about a faithful church which also is successful. There is a close connection with the church’s leaders such as we have recognized today.
I. First, let’s look at some problems of a growing church.
Let’s note first that the early church was indeed successful, but such growth brought challenges. Who will teach these new Christians about their new faith? Who will teach these new Christians how to live a consistent Christian lifestyle? When a church is growing and successful, there are potential problems as a result. This early church had one such problem: there were two rather distinct groups of Christians. There were first of all, the Grecian Jews. They were the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who were from places outside of Judea. They left or were forced out of Judea during the time between the Old and New Testaments. By this time in the book of Acts, they had returned to Jerusalem to settle, but they were considered to be the “riffraff” in Jewish culture. The second group was the Hebraic Jews. They spoke Aramaic or Hebrew and the very strict ones refused to speak the Greek language. These were the Jews who had remained in or around Jerusalem. There had been tensions between these two groups for almost 200 years. They worshiped separately and had little to do with each other. The tensions persisted now in spite of the common bond of Christ.
II. Solution One was to change the structure.
They called a special congregational meeting and told the believers to appoint 7 men to take care of the food distribution. These seven, by the way, are not the first “deacons” as we define deacons, but general leaders of the Greek-speaking church. Once these were chosen, the Apostles commissioned them by laying on their hands. They symbolically transferred their authority to these seven. Now why was that such a good solution? First, the Apostles stressed the importance of choosing spiritual men. These men had to be full of wisdom so they could be sensitive to the needs of the poor. They had to be full of the Holy Spirit so that they would realize that their power would come only from the Spirit. Second, the Apostles gave the seven full responsibility. They entrusted the program and all of its duties to them. Finally, they approved seven Greek men to help with the Grecian Jews. The fact that they were Greek men is known from their names. Since the complaint was that the Hebraic Jews were not caring enough, they chose some of their own, thus making it a good decision socially.
Luke reports in verse 7 that as a result of this restructuring the Word of God spread. Since the Apostles were now free to preach, the Gospel message could more readily get out. And once again, the number of disciples increased rapidly. However, notice that the church was successful because it was being faithful. The church was being faithful in the use of their gifts. The Apostles chose men who had gifts of administration and mercy. The Apostles used their gift of discernment and administration. The church was also being faithful to their task or their mission. They could have made some excuses about the problem. But they saw a need within the church and they were willing to take the risk to deal with it. They were faithful and God blessed them with success.
III. Solution Two was to pray and they did this in two rather distinct ways.
First, they prayed for these seven men. That is something that we should not overlook either. They symbolically gave them authority to act when they laid their hands on them. But the real power for doing what they were to do comes when they were prayed for. We need to be praying earnestly for Faith Church and praying for our leaders. There are many challenges and trials that we are being called to deal with as a small church. We need to be falling on our knees earnestly praying that God will show us what His will is and lead us in the right direction. It is your prayers that will provide the strength to face the challenges that are before us. Prayer was part and parcel of the way that the early church did things.
IV. Combining prayer and ministry
Does the priority reflected in the early church describe our church today? Are we faithful in learning God’s Word? I believe that we are developing more and more of a hunger for God’s Word. This is an area that we need to continue to emphasize and work on more and more. A praying church is a faithful church and so let’s remain faithful in prayer.
- "During that first therapy session 20 years ago he listened to me as no one had ever listened before. I told my story, the one I had rehearsed, but he heard the truth anyway. Near the end of the session, he said gently, “You are spiritually hungry.” I began to cry. Me, a grown 31-year-old man. Because somewhere, deep inside, I knew he was right. For the next two years, under the guise of psychotherapy, I was taught how to care for and feed my soul. The psychologist gave me the skills I needed to build a life of passion and depth. Today, as a clinical psychologist and university professor, I share this wisdom with clients and students because I believe that spirituality is essential to human happiness and mental health.
- Contemplation, meditation, prayer, rituals and other spiritual practices have the power to release the life force in the deepest levels of the human psyche, levels that SECULAR interventions cannot reach. Indeed, new evidence shows that religious and spiritual interventions can help when everything else has failed.”
Prayer is required and prayer is effective!
And let’s also remain faithful in using the gifts for ministry that God gives us. I urge each one of us to ask ourselves: “Am I being faithful with the gifts God has given me, as well as the opportunities that God gives me to use them?” Regardless of what gift you may have, God expects you to be faithful. Let’s remember that God isn’t asking us to be successful. Rather, he demands faithfulness to His command to be holy, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Think of the parable Jesus told of the three servants and the talents. When the master comes back and hears the report from the third servant, who hid his talent, he rebukes him and for not being faithful in the things that he was given. He was afraid of doing anything and so just kept things safe. Jesus is not looking for those who will just keep things safe. He is looking for those who will be faithful with what has been given them. That is why he tells the first two servants, “Well done, good and faithful servants!” Jesus does not say, “Well done, good and successful servants.” He rewards them for being faithful with all he has given them.