Acts 6:1-7, The Seven.

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.  2] The the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.  3] Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4] but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

5] And the saying pleased the whole multitude.  And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6] whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

7] Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.  (NKJV)

This is the last reference to the communal sharing of the early church.  Though things may have changed since then, there are still several references in the NT outlining the responsibility of Christians to show compassion and charity, cf. Acts 11:27-30.  At the same time, there is no Scriptural support the idea that the communalism of the early church is to be the pattern for the churches.  It did not work, as we see in our text.  Cultural differences had not been erased and we are not sure they are supposed to be.  The purpose of preaching is not to impose Western culture on other peoples, but to bring them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.  One of the earliest missionaries, Hudson Taylor, was greatly criticized because he understood this.  He adopted the dress and the customs of the Chinese among whom he served, even to the pigtail the men wore.

There were two groups in the early church, the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists.”  The Hellenists were Jews who had, to varying degrees, adopted Greek customs and the Greek language.  The Hebrews were Jews who refused all such doings and who steadfastly clung to their own traditions and heritage.  Naturally, there were tensions between the two groups, which crept, perhaps unconsciously, into the church.

The Apostles’ responsibilities were great and they could not personally take care of the situation, 6:2-4.  So, seven men were chosen who would be able to oversee the fair  distribution of aid to those who needed it.  Too many preachers are involved in secondary matters in their churches.  Perhaps this can’t be avoided in smaller churches, but the preparation of sermons and lessons, and of the preacher himself, is a matter of great, even eternal, importance.  If at all possible, nothing should be allowed to interfere with that.

There is some discussion as to whether these seven were “deacons.”  Perhaps they were, but they are not so named.  The Greek word itself is one of several which mean, “servant.”  There is no evidence that these men were given any authority anywhere else, or even in this matter.  The phrase, “whom we [that is, the apostles] may appoint over this,” seems to indicate this.  Certainly, there was no authority over the church itself, much less over the apostles.  Whatever they were, some of the seven later rose to greater usefulness, as Stephen and Philip.

Whether these men were deacons or not, to be a deacon is a good thing, 1 Timothy 3:13.  Sadly, the diaconate has been greatly corrupted and perverted by men like Diotrephes, 3 John 9, who like and seek preeminence in the assembly.  By no means is this to say that all deacons are “bad,” nor all elders “good,” but “office” in the assembly is not a place of superiority, the phrase, “to rule” notwithstanding, but of service to it.

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Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

2 Years.

Two years ago today, I joined WordPress and published my first post.  I had no idea what to expect.  Since then –

196 posts, counting this one.

6700+ views, though I’d like to know how many actual “visits” that includes.

Folks from 64 countries have dropped by at least once.   Several countries have only one visit.  Some of them, like Qatar or Oman, I’d love to know who visited, and what brought them here.

Numerous comments, likes and such.  Some folks have been kind enough to “reblog” one of my posts on their blog.  If you’re one of them, or have commented, thank you so much.  Even if you haven’t done that, thanks for taking the time just to drop by for a visit.  All of you have been a great blessing to me.

Compared to some of the blogs I follow or visit, this is pretty small potatoes.  Still, God has put each one of us in the body as it pleased Him.  I’m thankful to be used of Him at all.  But who knows, short of eternity, what He might be pleased to do with something I write.

There was a Scottish preacher who was led to preach on the text, “Unto you, O men, I call.”  The problem was, in this seaside town, there had arisen an emergency and all the men of the church were out helping, and there were only women in attendance!  Nevertheless, he felt he must preach it, and so he did.  Unknown to him, in an out-of-the-way place in the church, there was a young lad listening.  God touched this young man’s heart through the message, and he later became a missionary.  It’s been a long time since I heard this incident, and I don’t remember the name of the missionary.  I don’t know if that preacher ever realized the fruit borne by what he must have felt was a failure.

On a hot August afternoon at a Bible college in the Ozarks in the US, a student was walking down a dormitory hallway and saw another student through an open door in one of the rooms.  He stopped by and began to chat with this student.  He began to open the Scriptures to him, notably Ephesians 1, and here we are, 51 years later, telling that story and thanking God for His grace and that student willing to walk through an open door.  I doubt that student, who became a lifelong friend, had any inkling of what that casual visit would start, or the ministry he himself would go on to have.

So, this blog has gone through open doors, as it were, all over this world.  Only eternity will reveal how God has glorified Himself through it, and what He might have been pleased to do with it.  Soli Deo Gloria!

If you’ve had a part in this blog, and you have just by reading this post, thank you.  God’s best to you.

Grateful for grace!

Incidentally, this is our daughter’s 18th wedding anniversary, as well.  Happy anniversary, kids!