Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 14 February 19:
Acts 6:4 – “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Disputes among Christians and church divisions can be huge distractions from the Gospel and can greatly hinder the work of the church.
Jesus’ will for the church is revealed to us in His prayer before the Cross in John 17 – “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23) Unity in Christ is the mark of a godly church.
Recall that in Acts 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit reversed the Tower of Babel division among the people — “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved…. devout men from every nation under heaven…. the multitude came together.” (Acts 2:5–6) However, in today’s readings, as “the disciples were increasing in number,” cultural differences appear to have fueled perceptions (valid or invalid) of favoritism and neglect, causing conflict that threatened to divide the body of believers and hinder the preaching of the Gospel. This problem required direct, immediate attention by leaders who could be trusted reconcilers.
Seven ‘deacons’ were selected based on their reputation, their faith, their wisdom, and their fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Stephen was one of them. Though Stephen “full of grace and power, [did] great wonders and signs among the people,” still some “rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Despite Stephen’s grace, wisdom and power, he couldn’t reason with the agitators who eventually falsely accused Stephen of blasphemy. Why couldn’t Stephen reconcile with these people? The Bible explains, “It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” (Jude 1:19) “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” (Galatians 5:17)
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Divisions among God’s people detract from the witness of the church. Paul says, divisions and public disputes among God’s people “defeat” the work of the church – “Brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-9) The Bible makes clear, “Now the works of the flesh are evident… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy… and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatian 5:19-26)
The Bible teaches us how to protect the church from divisions:
1) Romans 12:9-21 – Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
2) Titus 3:10, 11 — As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 14 Feb 19: Today, practice Romans 12:9-21.