THE WORD OF GOD PROSPERED
“They went ahead and chose — Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a convert from Antioch. Then they presented them to the apostles. Praying, the apostles laid on hands and commissioned them for their work.
“The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.” Acts 6:5b-7 (The Message).
The church…what was it? An organization, or an organism? It must have begun as an organism. Jesus didn’t start with a committee or a council — He began with twelve followers and taught and imparted to them everything He could about the way God runs things in His universe so that they would come under His rule themselves and bring others who would believe in Him under His authority.
When He returned to the Father, having reconciled alienated sons to the Father through His death, He gave them the same Person who directed and empowered Him throughout His earthly life to live in them and perpetuate His life through them.
Like any human family, the infant church needed fathers to protect, lead and teach them and mothers to nurture them. As the needs arose so the apostles guided the people along the growth process. Sometimes, like any immature child, they needed discipline. All the while, the church was growing numerically and spiritually.
The evidence of God’s favour on His church was the unusual spurts of increase whenever a new phase was successfully negotiated. Every problem, sparked by the old human nature rearing its head, for example greed, as with Ananias and Sapphira, and racism, as happened with the distribution of food to the widows, became an opportunity to bring God’s way of doing things into the situation.
The church submitted to the leadership of the apostles who wisely consulted with the people but, at the same time, exercised their authority and issued the instructions which the people carried out. They were recognized and honoured as their legitimate leaders and no-one rebelled against them by setting up rival leadership.
Why did the early church function so well? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church gives us a clue. There were problems in the church. Paul put his finger on the root cause. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV).
Why were there cracks in this group of believers? “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (NIV).
When a leader wittingly or unwittingly connects people to himself instead of to Jesus, he sets up the potential for competition in the Body which will inevitably lead to the fracturing of unity which is exactly what the devil wants. Destroy the unity and you destroy the power of the church’s witness.
The answer? Jesus said, ‘Follow me,’ not anyone else. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2a (NIV).