Overcoming Hindrances to Church Growth

MEMORY VERSE: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” —James 1:27

ACTS 5:1-4

WHILE the dedicated people of God have a responsibility in connection with their activity in preaching the Gospel and in building one another up in the most holy faith, we are not to suppose that the growth of the church in numbers is particularly our responsibility. It is an erroneous viewpoint that the Lord expects the church to continue growing and expanding until the peoples of the whole earth are brought into it.

This is not the age in the divine plan for the conversion of the world, but rather the period when God is calling out from the world those whom he will honor in the resurrection with the great privilege of living and reigning with Christ a thousand years. It will be then that the world as a whole will really learn of the true God, and when all shall know him from the least unto the greatest.

As we noted in the lesson for last week, everything did not go smoothly in connection with the communal arrangement of the brethren in the days of the Early Church. One of the regrettable episodes was in connection with a man named Ananias and whose wife was Sapphira. This couple sold a possession and kept back part of the price, bringing only a portion of the proceeds to the apostles.

Peter, by the power of the Holy Spirit, discerned this act of deception and said to Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God”

It would seem from the full account that Ananias and Sapphira would have been quite within their rights not to sell their property at all. The record is not definite, but it might be that those participating in the communal arrangement did not necessarily include their property. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira seemed to be in the fact that they were professing to be more faithful to the Lord and the Gospel than they really were, and as Peter explained, this constituted lying to God. Naturally the apostles could not condone a deception of this kind, for doing so would have brought disrepute upon the entire group.

ACTS 6:1-7

Another disrupting influence in those early days of the church was brought about by the “murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” If the church was to maintain a growth in numbers and to be spiritually vigorous, this situation would need to be rectified.

So the apostles took immediate action. They seemed to sense that there was some merit to the murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, and that probably one reason for this was that not a sufficient number was participating in this daily ministration. It would seem that up until this time the apostles themselves were taking care of essentially all the work that was involved in the distribution of the common funds. So the apostles “called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

This suggestion pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch. It is interesting to note the confidence the Hebrews had in their other brethren for none of these names are Hebrew. Among these brethren, two later are brought to our attention in the Book of Acts: Stephen became the first Christian martyr, and Philip was the one whom the Lord used to explain the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch. As a result of this new arrangement “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”—vs. 7

We are not to suppose, from our memory verse, that pure religion consists merely of visiting orphans and widows. The thought here seems to be, rather, that this work is emblematic of an unselfish desire to be a blessing to those in need.—James 1:27

Dawn Bible Students Association
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