Category Archives: Dysfuncational

Endangered World Evangelism

E. Endangered world evangelism:

The behavior of Diotrephes was evil because his behavior would lead to the loss of many souls. On the other hand, Gaius was doing well in supporting those who came his way and left to evangelize other areas. Gaius was living the gospel. Diotrephes was discouraging Gaius from his gospel living. Diotrephes’ behavior, therefore, was contrary to the gospel.

If evangelists were not supported, then many people would never have an opportunity to hear and obey the gospel. Those who live the gospel know this. Diotrephes’ behavior, however, was disrupting the evangelistic function of the body of Christ because he was threatening Gaius and others who supported the preaching of the gospel. In contrast to living the gospel, he was doing evil by obstructing the evangelistic function of the body of Christ.

We must look beyond Diotrephes when interpreting the “evil” that was encouraged by this one individual. The problem went far beyond both Gaius and Diotrephes. If Diotrephes’ example and influence were continued into the next generation of leaders after him, then the preaching of the gospel to a great extent would terminate before the close of the first century. It was for this reason, therefore, that the Holy Spirit deemed it critical that this very short letter be included in the cannon of Scriptures for the church for centuries to come.

The church must be warned about allowing any leader to capture the church to the detriment of evangelizing the world. If Diotrephes’ behavior of church leadership were passed on to those who followed him, then his cancer of opposition to the gospel would have been catastrophic. Thousands of souls would have been lost.

But in order to satisfy the immediate frustrations of Gaius, John advised Gaius to receive Demetrius (3 Jn 12). Gaius must put himself in the fellowship of those who have a good reputation (3 Jn 12). We thus assume that Demetrius had the reputation of living the gospel that must be preached throughout the world. Demetrius may have been a messenger sent by John with John’s letter in hand. Whether he lived in close proximity to Gaius, or was one of John’s fellow evangelists, John encouraged Gaius to receive and fellowship him as a source of good.

Because Diotrephes’ influence could possibly spread throughout the church at the time, the Christ-sent apostle John determined that he should personally show up at the door of Diotrephes’ house. If John had in mind his responsibility to exercise the duty of a Christ-sent apostle, then the ring of Diotrephes’ doorbell would not be pleasant.

By this time in the history of the church, Diotrephes had surely heard that disciples dropped dead before Christ-sent apostles in the early beginnings of the church (At 5:1-11). Some were delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that they might be taught gospel behavior (1 Co 5:4,5). Some were struck blind by a Christ-sent apostle (At 13:11). If John were coming with the same rod of discipline that Paul was prepared to use with some arrogant leaders in Corinth (1 Co 4:21), then Diotrephes was in trouble. John’s coming to Diotrephes would be as Paul’s coming to some arrogant leaders in Corinth:

“For I fear, that perhaps when I come, I will not find you as I wish, and that I will be found by you to be as you do not wish … lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I will mourn over many who have already sinned, and have not repented …” (2 Co 12:20,21).

We must mention the preceding because we wonder why John decided not to write a lengthy letter about the problem. “I had many things to write to you, but I will not with ink and pen write them to you” (3 Jn 13). John did not write a lengthy list of instructions because he possibly felt that this situation was so serious that it needed the direct intervention of God through a Christ-sent apostle. Therefore, John wrote, “I hope to see you shortly” (3 Jn 14).

When we are faced with problems among the disciples in the church, it is best to first determine if the problems directly affect the underlying principles of the gospel and our responsibility to preach the gospel to the world. There will always be personality problems among disciples. Such was the case with Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Ph 4:2,3). But when problems affect the God-defined organic purpose of the body of Christ to preach the gospel to the world, then it is time to take action. This was the case where Gaius lived, for the evangelistic function of the body was under threat. The mission function of the body to preach the gospel to the world was being curtailed.

This particular case involved a local dysfunction of the mission outreach of the church. But the problem could have gone further, and subsequently, affected the immediate area in which the participants lived. It would be worth mentioning in this context the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas when Paul determined that it was time to continue their mission into Asia (At 15:36).

There was a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in reference to giving John Mark a second chance, for he had turned back on the first journey (At 13:13). When it came time to go on the second journey, Paul did not believe that Mark was mature enough to go into the difficult areas to which he planned to go. Paul and Barnabas divided over the level of Mark’s spiritual maturity, but both evangelists did not allow their disagreement to detour them from doing that which they must do, that is, preach the gospel to the world. Paul simply took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and all four men carried on in their mission to preach the gospel to the world (At 15:40,41).

Nothing should ever become an obstacle to the preaching of the gospel to the lost. If we allow dysfunctional problems in the local church to hinder the preaching of the gospel to the world, then we know that we are wrong. We are wrong because we are allowing personal squabbles to lead to the loss of souls.

It is not possible for most individuals as Gaius to quit their jobs and go into all the world as evangelists. If Gaius gave up his means of support, then there would be no support to give in order to send others into all the world. God’s system of world evangelism involves senders and those sent. Paul explained, “And how will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rm 10:15).

The point is that if a sender is discouraged in his responsibility to send, then there is a problem. God’s system of world evangelist breaks down. If another individual covets the money of the willing sender, then evil has entered the heart of the covetous person. This may have been the problem with Diotrephes. He may have simply coveted Gaius’ support money for himself. Such is evil.

We must never forget that the eternal soul of a person is far more precious than any personal disagreements we may have with one another, or any love of money (See 1 Tm 6:12). Diotrephes was standing in the way of the preaching of the gospel to the world. For this reason, the Christ-sent apostle John was on his way to deal with him personally in order to either bring him to repentance, or move him out of the way. In either case, the gospel mission of the organic body of Christ had to go on.

[End of series.]

Endangered by Evil

In ancient Greek times, the name “Diotrephes” was given to individuals of influence. It was not a name given to those of low estate. We note this because we wonder why Diotrephes rose to the position of power that was allowed by those over whom he dominated. We might conclude that those who are successful and influential in the world may not be the best leaders among a flock of slaves. Unless a leader truly lives the gospel of the incarnate Son of God, he cannot lead those who are living incarnationally (See Ph 2:5-8).

It is difficult for those who are leaders in the world and successful businessmen to live incarnationally among the disciples. The best advice to give to a leader of the world, or a successful businessman who is converted to the Lord, would be, “But what things were gain to me [in the world], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). If a successful person in the world cannot live this statement, then it would be very unwise for the slaves of Christ to designate him to be a leader among the disciples. Diotrephes took advantage of the innocence of the sheep, and in some way became dominant among the sheep because of his influence that he had before he became a Christian.

It is noteworthy that John did not judge the sheep for allowing Diotrephes to capture them through his autocratic behavior. John judged the cause of the problem, the one who was the opportunist who lorded over the innocent sheep. Embedded in John’s reply is his assurance of Gaius that individuals as Diotrephes will eventually take ownership for their own behavior in the final judgment because they seized an opportunity to steal the flock of God. Until then, James reminded all leaders with the following caution: “Let not many of you become teachers [leaders], knowing that we will receive the stricter judgment” (Js 3:1).

Because lordship leaders will be held accountable for lording over the flock, they must understand that it is evil to substitute their lordship in the place of the one Lord to whom we must all give our allegiance. So John exhorted Gaius, “Beloved, do not follow what is evil” (3 Jn 11).

The character and behavior of Diotrephes was evil. He sought to establish an autonomous group of disciples under his own lordship, and thus, steal the sheep from their true Lord. The Holy Spirit defined this behavior as evil. If we would make a general list from 3 John of what God considers evil among those who would lord over His sheep, it could be the following:

  1. It is evil to crave to be the leader of the flock for the purpose of either notoriety, lordship, or financial gain. (We must not confuse this with the desire to shepherd the flock about which Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1. That about which Paul spoke was in reference to desiring ministry, not notoriety or authority.)
  2. It is evil to separate a group of disciples under the banner of one’s own personality and command.
  3. It is evil not to support those who are traveling about in order to preach the gospel to the lost.
  4. It is evil to disrupt the mission support of the church.
  5. It is evil to discourage any individual member from supporting the preaching of the gospel to the lost.
  6. It is evil to slanderously damage the reputation of an evangelist who seeks to preach the gospel to the lost, for in so slandering an evangelist, supporters would be reluctant to preach the gospel through him.
  7. It is evil for a church leader to hinder the mission purpose of the church.
  8. It is evil to threaten disfellowship from the disciples those with whom one would disagree in reference to receiving and supporting preachers of the gospel.

[Next in series: January 9]

Endangered Missions

Gaius was justifiably concerned about the disruptive influence of Diotrephes. He was concerned because Diotrephes’ behavior was affecting him personally where he lived. He was being discouraged in fulfilling his personal ministry to support missions. Diotrephes was not only behaving with a sectarian spirit, he was disrupting the mission function of the universal body of Christ. While Gaius sought to live the gospel by supporting the preaching of the gospel, he was being threatened by Diotrephes who sought to discourage others from supporting traveling evangelists.

We must notice carefully how John established the foundation upon which he would eventually judge Diotrephes’ behavior to be both divisive, disruptive and evil. John made the following statement in order to encourage Gaius, as well as identify the organic function of the body: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you” (3 Jn 3).

There were traveling evangelists moving among the early disciples in their ministry to preach the gospel to the unbelievers. Those who had visited Gaius eventually made their way to John. They reported to John that Gaius gave them accommodation, as well as supported them financially to go on to the next point of preaching. Therefore, John wanted to encourage Gaius with the following introductory comment: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren [evangelists] and especially for strangers” (3 Jn 5).

John’s introduction in the letter was directed specifically to encourage Gaius in the midst of his turmoil with Diotrephes. He wanted to encourage Gaius to continue with his personal responsibility to evangelize the world through those whom he supported.

The reason for this encouragement was obvious. Since the evangelists went forth (1) for the sake of preaching the name of Jesus, (2) while they took up no contributions from those to whom they preached, it was necessary that (3) local brethren partner with them financially in order that they continue to preach the gospel (3 Jn 7,8). John encouraged Gaius to continue “doing well” in supporting these evangelists. Diotrephes, however, was disrupting the flow of traveling evangelists among the disciples. He was trying to stop the supply line of finances to support missions.

In order to identify the disruptive efforts of Diotrephes, the Holy Spirit gives us a list of characteristics that identify the personality and behavior of the one who would seek to call disciples after themselves, and thus hinder the preaching of the gospel (At 20:30). This would be the leader who would disrupt God’s system of the function of the organic body to reach throughout the world with the message of the gospel. From 3 John 9,10, the following is a summation of both the character and behavior of Diotrephes to disrupt the mission responsibilities of the body:

  1. Diotrephes loved to be first among the disciples. He craved notoriety.
  2. Diotrephes did not receive (support) the apostles or anyone who might challenge his position of authority. He was so locally focused on his ministry that he could not see lost souls beyond his locality.
  3. The deeds of Diotrephes were contrary to the purpose of the church because his efforts resulted in the loss of souls, for he discouraged both the missionaries and those, as Gaius, who would support them (3 Jn 11).
  4. In order to convince others not to receive and support the traveling evangelists (missionaries), Diotrephes slandered those who would threaten his lordship over those whom he dominated. Through slander he hoped to recruit a group of oppositionists who would stand with him in opposing any transient evangelist who might be passing through their area.
  5. Diotrephes did not receive (support) the brethren who were traveling about preaching the gospel, and thus he discouraged others from doing so.
  6. Diotrephes intimidated any person of the group over which he lorded in order that they also not receive (support) any apostle or evangelist whom he could not dominate.
  7. Diotrephes lorded over those whom he seized control by threatening them with excommunication from his group.

[Next in series: January 6]

Endangered Slaves

Since Diotrephes was behaving autonomously by exercising lordship over his sect (group) of disciples, he was disrupting the evangelistic function of the body as a whole. Since there was to be no such thing as autonomous groups of disciples functioning separate from one another in the universal body, what Diotrephes was doing as an individual was making it difficult for the traveling evangelists to go from one group of disciples to another in order to be encouraged and supported to continue their ministry of preaching the gospel to the world. If we understand correctly the instructions in the context of this function of the evangelists of the early church, then we can better understand the instructions that John wrote to Gaius.

Since the letter of John is a late letter of the Holy Spirit, then we must assume that what was transpiring in the area of Gaius and Diotrephes had developed over a period of about two decades. Therefore, we must go back a few years in order to lay the foundation for what had become dysfunctional by the time John wrote.

About twenty years before, and while Paul was among the leaders of the church in Ephesus, he warned the Ephesian elders, “Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (At 20:30). About fifteen years after Paul’s meeting with the elders of Ephesus in Miletus, Peter wrote to the disciples throughout the provinces of Pontos, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Pt 1:1). To the leaders of the church in these provinces, he specifically admonished the elders with the following words: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, serving as overseers, not under compulsion … nor as being lords …” (1 Pt 5:2,3). This admonition was based squarely on Jesus’ mandate that there be no lords of authority among His disciples (See Mk 10:35-45).

That about which Paul had warned the elders in Ephesus, was coming true only about fifteen years later among some of the elders throughout the provinces of Pontos, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. At least one very important lesson is learned from Paul’s warning, and evidently Peter’s identification of lords among the sheep. By the time Peter wrote, there were some leaders already at the point of drawing away disciples after themselves through lordship behavior. When John wrote to Gaius, Diotrephes was behaving in a lordship manner about which both Paul and Peter wrote. The important lesson to learn is that among leaders there is always the temptation for them to function autonomously in order to exercise lordship over a particular group of disciples. It does not take much time for such a disorder to develop among disciples.

It is believed that in the latter years of the apostle John, John resided in some area of the aforementioned provinces. At least in his latter days he was in exile on the island of Patmos off the West coast of Asia, and subsequently directed the letter of Revelation “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rv 1:4,9). We could assume, therefore, that some of the leaders of the church in the five provinces identified by Peter did not listen to the Holy Spirit’s instructions through Jesus, Paul, Peter, and now John. The apostasy of church autonomy based on lordship authority had already set in as individual leaders assumed lordship over separated groups of disciples. In doing this they were doing as Diotrephes who drew away disciples into his own autonomous group in order to exercise lordship over them. The outline that John gives us in 3 John are instructions on how such leaders become lords of autonomous groups of the flock of God in order to stymie the mission outreach of the disciples.

[Next in series: January 3]

Endangered Relationships

The historical scenario upon which the problem developed was centered around the common social relationships that the disciples had with one another as members of the universal body of Christ. Though the problem certainly spilled over into the assemblies of the disciples, we must not assume that the problem was specifically centered around the church as a whole.

This was a problem in the organic body in a particular region that resulted from the dysfunctional relationships that certain individuals had with one another. It was a problem that originated from the influence of one particular leader who affected the evangelistic function of another member of the body.

In reference to the assemblies of the disciples, we must approach this text with the understanding that the identified members of the body in the region were meeting in the homes of the disciples. This is significant in order to understand the Holy Spirit’s instructions to solve the problem. It is important to understand the home assemblies of the early church lest we read into the letter our modern-day institutional behavior of large single-assembly churches. This is important lest we also read into the text a behavioral practice of assembly that was not relevant to the situation that prevailed in the first century.

The historical scenario was not a problem within a particular assembly of disciples. The problem was that one particular individual took advantage of some disciples who were living in the area where the problem was created. We must keep in mind that the problem centered around individuals, not assemblies.

This point is significant. If we believe that the problem developed within a single-assembly of members in a particular region, then we might misunderstand both the instructions of John, as well as what was actually transpiring in the development of the problem. For example, if we interpret the text from the viewpoint that the problem developed within a particular group of disciples in a region who were meeting in one assembly, then we might erroneously conclude that there was “division in the church.” We might conclude that Diotrephes was drawing away from one particular assembly a group the disciples over whom he sought to exercise lordship authority. His group of followers, therefore, would not be showing up at the general assembly of the saints. They would be meeting on their own apart from the greater gathering of the disciples. Diotrephes was certainly exercising lordship authority, but we would question his exercising of such authority in order to divide a group of disciples.

John does not deal with the problem that prevailed as if it were a problem of division within a particular single-assembly church. The problem was not division of a church, but the erroneous beliefs and behavior of a particular individual who was disrupting the mission responsibility of each member of the church. Diotrephes was dominating an entire group of people, and thus threatening with disfellowship those over whom he lorded.

Though the application of the instructions of John would have a secondary application to division among members of a single-assembly church, such an application would be slightly misapplied. It is imperative, therefore, that we understand the text from the historical fact that the early disciples were assembling in many different homes throughout a particular region. Diotrephes’ influence was over a particular group of disciples with whom he had a lordship relationship.

John gave no instructions for Gaius to start another assembly of the saints with someone else in order to correct the problem that he had with Diotrephes. The problem was not in reference to a particular church group as a whole, but with individuals. It is important to make this distinction in reference to John’s instructions lest we twist his instructions to be advice to pit one assembly of disciples against another.

Though the preceding scenario could have been happening among those who were customarily meeting at the same house, we would conclude that John was advising Gaius to separate himself from the control of an individual, not from an entire assembly of good people who had been captured by an autocratic leader. We do not believe that it was the intent of John’s instructions to encourage any member to disfellowship himself from the whole in order to avoid the one. At least in this context, John advised Gaius as an individual to associate with the good that came from brother Demetrius, and thus shun the influence and behavior of Diotrephes (3 Jn 11,12).

Regardless of our lack of information concerning assemblies in the text, we find it difficult to believe that John advised Gaius to start another assembly in order to correct the problem. Correction of any leadership problem as that which is identified in this brief letter indicates that we must directly approach an individual who is causing the problem. In this case, the apostle John was personally going to approach the source of the problem. In the meantime, he instructed Gaius on what to do until he showed up at the scene.

It would be closer to the truth of the historical house assemblies of the early church to believe that there were several ongoing assemblies in houses throughout the region where Gaius and Diotrephes lived. The sin of Diotrephes was that he was teaching and practicing the autonomy of his group over whom he exercised dominance. Since all the saints were meeting in many different houses in the region, Diotrephes took advantage of the situation by drawing away those under his influence from the rest of the saints in the area. His love to be first moved him to take control of his own group.

[Next in series: January 1]

Endangered Purpose

3 John is one of those brief New Testament letters that is often ignored by Bible students. However, it is one that is directly focused on dysfunctional relationships that often occurs among leaders of the body. In fact, the dysfunction about which John wrote was so great in this particular situation that it endangered the organic function of the body to evangelize the world. Souls were or would be lost if the dysfunction in relationships continued. For this reason, the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary to write a specific document (letter) to correct the problem. If necessary, the Spirit sought to send a Christ-sent apostle to the location of the dysfunction in order to sort out the individual who was the source of the trouble.

There were four personalities (disciples) involved in the dysfunctional scenario that is addressed in 3 John. There was the Christ-sent apostle, John, who wrote the letter. There was Gaius, the informant, to whom the letter was written. There was Diotrephes, the instigator of the problem. And then there was on the sidelines a disciple name Demetrius. All four individuals played a significant role in the problem and solution.

The letter does not deal specifically with the church as a whole, but with individuals. In this case, the focus of the letter was directed to a businessman for whom John prayed would become more successful in his prosperity and health, just as he was spiritually prospering (3 Jn 2). Gaius had assumed the responsibility of living the gospel, and in living the gospel, he took personal ownership of making sure the gospel was preached through his support of traveling evangelists. He did not shun his personal responsibility to preach the gospel. He did not off-load his responsibility on a “church budget.” He was directly involved in mission support.

The Holy Spirit, therefore, urged John to write of his personal prayers for this individual: “I pray that in all things you may prosper” (3 Jn 2). Nowhere else in the New Testament is there such a prayer offered for the material prosperity of an individual. We must conclude that if such a prayer were offered for ourselves, then certainly we should be doing with our material prosperity that which Gaius was doing with his. In his case, the more Gaius prospered, the more money he had at his disposal to support those evangelists who were passing through his house on their way to preach the gospel to unevangelized regions.

But there was a serious problem. The problem was so troubling that Gaius was moved to inform John, and then ask for help from the aged apostle. John’s instructions in the letter, therefore, are significant in reference to our personal responsibility to preach the gospel through others. When the preaching of the gospel to the lost is threatened, then it is time to take action. We can be patient with personality disputes among brothers and sisters. However, when the disputes endanger the preaching of the gospel to the lost, then we are in danger of forgetting who we are as disciples of Jesus. If the church does not step up and sort out any problem that causes any member to be discouraged from supporting the preaching of the gospel, then we individually lose our purpose for being disciples of Jesus.

[Next in series: December 29]

Apartheid Christianity

A few years ago we were somewhat shocked as we looked upon a picture of the attendees of are particular lectureship of brethren in America. There were over one hundred preachers and church leaders pictured in this annual preacher’s lectureship. We looked closely at the picture. We look at every face. The picture was in one of the “brotherhood” newspapers of the church, but what we saw took our minds back to the apartheid years in Jerusalem. Everyone who was pictured in the newspaper were African-Americans. No other cultural group was represented in the picture.

After the “apartheid” function among the Christians in Jerusalem was revealed through the lack of administration of food to the Grecian widows, we might assume that the problem of discrimination among the Christians that was based on cultural barriers, was overcome. In reference to the distribution among the Grecian Jewish Christians, the problem was immediately solved. But this may not have been the end of discrimination among the members of the body. When Christians started to reach out evangelistically to cultures beyond Jerusalem, there were still some cultural differences that lingered. Jesus’ mandate that the gospel go beyond the city limits of Jerusalem ran into some cultural obstacles as it did in Jerusalem.

When Peter went to the house of a Gentile, Cornelius, the cultural barriers between Jews and Gentiles was revealed in the actions of those to whom he returned when he came home to Jerusalem.

A.  Apartheid in Jerusalem:

It took a special vision from God to convince Peter, an ardent Jew by culture, to get out of his cultural cocoon (At 10).   In the special vision that was sent to him by God about ten years after the establishment of the church in Jerusalem, he even complained when asked in the vision to eat those things that Jews were not, according to the Sinai law, allowed to eat. So he complained, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (At 10:14).

Peter was an obedient Jew in reference to the Sinai law. Though that law was dead, and God had subsequently declared all meats to be clean, Peter still refrained from eating certain meats. What Peter and other Jews had difficulty practicing was the fact that what was unlawful to eat under the Sinai law had now become only the customs of the Jews.   Nevertheless, Paul excused himself of any Jewish food restrictions with the statement, “I [Paul] know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself. But to him [Peter] who regards anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (Rm 14:14). So we will excuse Peter for the moment for not considering all foods clean. But he and all Jews had to understand that what was once law when they were under the Sinai law, was no longer law in reference to foods. Eating of all meats was simply determined by the custom one might feel in reference to eating certain foods.

Now when the Holy Spirit eventually came upon the household of Cornelius, God signalled to Peter and the Jews who had accompanied Peter to the house of Cornelius, that the gospel must go to the Gentiles. When the household of Cornelius was empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in other languages, they realized that God was signalling that the Gentiles must hear the gospel (At 10:44-48).   And if the gospel must be preached to the Gentiles in order that they obey the gospel, then the unity of the gospel must do away with any cultural barriers between Jews and Gentiles.

Because of his experience with the Holy Spirit coming upon the household of Cornelius, Peter finally understood the teaching of the vision. He thus stated to Cornelius and all those who were present, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him (At 10:34,35). Hold this thought.

After Cornelius and his household were baptized, Peter and company returned to Jerusalem. But when he reached the city limits, “those who were of the circumcision disputed with him, saying, ‘You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (At 11:2,3). We would assume that those of the “circumcision” were fellow Jewish brethren.   At least this is a good assumption.   If they were, then the cultural barrier between Jews and Gentiles in the city of Jerusalem reached into the fellowship of the church. This was probably the case since the culture of Jerusalem was strictly Jewish. This was later revealed when Paul came to the city many years later and the elders of the church encouraged him to observe some Jewish customs in reference to the temple (See At 21:17-25).

If indeed these were fellow Jews and fellow Christians who came out to contend with Peter, then the Christians in Jerusalem continued to be intimidated by the apartheid of the Jews in Jerusalem in reference to the Gentiles. The apartheid (separateness) between Jews and Gentiles may have greatly influenced the behavior of Jewish Christians in the early years of the church. This may have been the source of the “neglect problem” that led to the oversight of the Grecian widows. Because it took a special vision of God to one of the Christ-sent apostles, cultural barriers continued to hinder the missions of the Jerusalem church until about ten years after the beginning of the church in Acts 2.   (We assume that Peter’s trip to the house of Cornelius was approximately ten years after the Pentecost of Acts 2.)

B.  Apartheid in Antioch:

“After fourteen years [from Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem when he returned from Arabia], I [Paul] went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me” (Gl 2:1). Titus was a Greek. But when the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem confronted him about not being circumcised, Paul identified those who confronted Titus as “false brethren” (Gl 2:4). From this identification, therefore, we would assume that if someone would make a cultural practice a matter of salvation, then he or she is a false brother (See At 15:1). But this was not the end of the story in reference to apartheid in the church of Jerusalem. These false brethren sought to take their “Jewish cultural Christianity” far beyond the city limits of Jerusalem.

Paul later wrote in the letter to the Galatians, “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned (Gl 2:11). After reading this statement, we wonder what Peter, the apostle whom God sent to the house of Cornelius, did to bring himself into a state of condemnation.   This was the same Peter to whom were given the “keys of the kingdom” (Mt 16:18,19). Peter certainly preached the truth according to the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit did not force him to conform to the truth of the gospel that he preached. And because any direct control of his behavior was not a work of the Spirit, Peter stood condemned because he was responsible for his behavior on this occasion.

While in Antioch, and before the arrival of the Jewish delegation from Jerusalem, Peter “ate with the Gentiles,” just as he had done with the household of Cornelius (Gl 2:12). However, when “certain men” came from Jerusalem, “he withdrew and separated [apartheid] himself [from the Gentile brethren] (Gl 2:12). But it was not Peter alone who practiced this apartheid behavior in the fellowship of the disciples. Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians in Antioch also withdrew themselves from the Gentile brethren (Gl 2:12,13). If a picture were taken after the arrival of the Jerusalem brethren, it would probably have been a picture of Jews only.

What Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians did was place themselves in a state of condemnation because “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gl 2:14). Their behavior was contrary to the gospel of Jesus who gave up His cultural environment of heaven with God in order to be transformed into the flesh of man (See Ph 2:5-8). It is often difficult for people to understand that they must never allow any cultural barriers to stand between them and the preaching of the gospel.

Many suggestions have been made as to why Peter allowed himself to be intimidated into living contrary to the gospel in Antioch.   We would assume that the Jewish culture was still so strong in him and in Jerusalem that those who were still in the bondage of such, followed the preaching of the gospel to other areas.   In this case, the cultural bondage made its way even to the church in the Gentile city of Antioch.

We must never underestimate the bondage of cultural religiosity. When Christians believe that certain rites of their culture are necessary in order to be saved, then they seek to bring the brethren under the bondage of such behavior. Sometimes the intimidation of those who teach “cultural Christianity” was so strong in the first century that even a Christ-sent apostle succumbed to those who preached such bondage. We must never forget what Paul wrote in order to encourage the Galatian Christians never to succumb to “cultural Christianity: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gl 5:1).

And just in case his readers did not understand the seriousness of this matter, in the context of the “circumcision Christianity” that some Jewish brethren were teaching, Paul wrote, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised [in order to be saved], Christ will profit you nothing” (Gl 5:2; see At 15:1).

Solving Dysfunctions (2)

D.  Qualified by reputation:

The seven men of necessity already had a good reputation of having dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints.   This is the character of leaders as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:15,16:

“You [in all Achaia] know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints, that you submit yourselves to such, and to everyone who works with us and labors.”

This is the commentary passage on the situation in Jerusalem in Acts 6. Achaia was a Roman province. Because of the dedication of brother and sister Stephanas and their household, they had a great reputation for ministry among all the disciples throughout the province of Achaia. Because the seven men who were to be selected in Jerusalem were already involved in ministry throughout the city, it would be easy for the church to identify them because they already knew of their ministry. The whole church of Jerusalem, therefore, simply had to select which seven ministering saints of the city they wanted to be designated by the apostles to focus on the administration of food to the widows.   They would have to agree to work in this ministry until the problem was solved. The point is that the seven were already in the work of ministry to the saints before they were selected by the church. Once they were selected, they were then designated by the apostles. This was done in order to make sure that the whole church knew those to whom to go in reference to distribution needs.

God opens doors of ministry for those who are already in ministry. Therefore, instead of praying to find a ministry, one should get busy on his own initiative and start ministering. Once God sees that one is dedicated to the ministry of the saints, then He will open doors for greater ministry for that person. The one who sits idly by waiting for a ministry will see no open doors for ministry. Because he is not able to find something to do is an indication that he will do nothing though a ministry is staring him in the face.

What is also significant about the apostles’ suggestion is that it “pleased the whole multitude” (At 6:5). All the saints in Jerusalem were on board for a solution because the apostles did not form a board of authority to run the show.   There were no power struggles and debates. We see no business meetings or ambitious populous candidates stepping forward to be voted into office.   The church went forth to make their own selection. Candidates did not come forward for a populous vote.

The names of those who were chosen indicate that there were both Greeks and Jews in the group of seven, for the list of names included both Grecian names and Hebrew names (At 6:5). Nicolas was a Gentile proselyte who had immigrated from Antioch to Jerusalem. In order to culturally reach all the widows of all the language/cultural groups, those who were chosen represented men from all linguistic and cultural house groups of Jerusalem. The whole church thus revealed great wisdom in the men that they chose for this work of ministering to the widows.

E.  Functional growth:

It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit began the historical section of the neglect of the Grecian widows with the statement, “When the number of the disciples was multiplying” (At 6:1).   When the solution was implemented by the church, the Holy Spirit concluded with the statement, “So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (At 6:7).

When the church does that which is right according to gospel motivation, then growth happens. Whenever there is a dysfunction in the body of Christ, growth is always hindered. When the members’ minds are so focused on the problems that disrupt the body, they cannot focus totally on the preaching of the gospel to the lost. For this reason, Satan seeks to disrupt the body, and by so disrupting the body he disrupts the preaching of the gospel.   It is for this reason that gospel-obedient disciples must always keep their minds focused on those things that are above (Cl 3:1). They must be alert to areas of function in the body wherein problems may develop.

It seems that in the three to four years of growth since Pentecost, the church in Jerusalem was functioning without any “committee” to feed the widows. The committee of seven was designated only when a dysfunctional problem arose.   Committees, therefore, were not a common organizational structure of the early church, even among the possibly 20,000 people in the church of Jerusalem who were meeting in possibly 800 homes throughout the city. Therefore, when a committee was formed to solve a problem, it was not permanent.   This does not mean that perpetual committees are wrong. It only means that when gospel-obedient people are motivated in their daily living by the gospel, there is little need for cooperate organizational structures in the body life.

This point is brought out in reference to the lives of two of those who were on the first committee. One of the committee members, Stephen, was full of grace and power of the Holy Spirit (At 6:8). However, his total commitment to preach the gospel eventually led to his death (At 7:54-60).

It is significant to note that though Stephen was part of the committee of seven to serve tables, he still reached out in preaching the gospel. It may be worth nothing, therefore, that the church knew him as a leading person among the disciples because he was formerly preaching the gospel in Jerusalem prior to his selection by the church to be on the committee of seven (See At 15:22).   It may be that by the time of his death, the problem of the neglecting of the widows had been solved and the committee terminated. At least Stephen’s part on the committee was terminated when he went on to glory.

Philip, another person of the committee, was a married man with possibly four young children at the time. Many years later we find Philip as an evangelist. When the great persecution eventually arose in Jerusalem, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (At 8:5). He then was led to the desert to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (At 8:26).   And then he and his family moved on to Caesarea (At 21:8,9).

The problem of the neglect of the widows had long been solved by the time of the death of Stephen and Philip’s move to Ceasarea. Committees are intended to solve dysfunctions in the organic function of the body. But when the problem is solved, there should be no need for gospel living people to be organized into committees to do good to all men, “especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gl 6:10). Those who are living the gospel fulfill the needs that arise among those of the family of God as soon as they encounter needs. This is the meaning of being “organic” as the body of Christ. When disciples are meeting in their homes, it is difficult to ignore a need that is sitting across the living room table.

It is as John exhorted, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). If one needs a committee person to come by and remind him of his responsibility to care for his brother, then his relationship with the brethren as a whole is not close enough to discover the needs of his brethren.   If he knows legitimate needs, but does not respond, then the heart of God does not dwell in him through the gospel.   Therefore, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

[Next in series, October 3]


Solving Dysfunctions (1)

When a dysfunction of the body is identified, leaders who are both equipped in creating solutions for the function of body life, as well as taking the initiative to do what is right, will move into action. In the case of the Acts 6 problem that was presented to the apostles, the apostles moved into action with solutions that revealed great wisdom on their part.

A.  Consideration of the whole:

This was not a situation where mandates were made behind closed doors and handed down a chain of command to the church.   We see no boards of authority in the early church. The apostles did not behave in this manner, and neither should we. As the accepted leaders at the time, the first thing the apostles did was to call “the multitude of the disciples” (At 6:2).   This move on the part of the apostles called on the entire church to get involved in the solution. Boards of authority seek to steal away from the whole church the opportunity for the church to find solutions for dysfunctions that affect the whole church. The actions of the apostles teaches that it is always the responsibility of the whole church to identify and solve its own problems.

The lesson here is that when a problem affects the whole church, then the whole church must be involved in the solution.   All leadership does is to create the opportunity for all the members to work together as one united body in order to find solutions for problems. Therefore, the church cannot give over to any board of authority that which the whole church should do.

B.  Work of the organic body:

In the case of distribution to the widows, the apostles threw the responsibility for solving the problem back to all the members of the body in Jerusalem. They said, “Look out from among you seven men” who will take care of this business (At 6:3). There seems to be no significance to the number “seven” other than the fact that to the Jews the number was symbolic of perfection. In the selection process, this is the only decision we see the apostles making. When the seven were selected by the church, all the apostles did was announce the selection. Nothing was said about the apostles giving their approval of the seven. In other words, we see no effort by the apostles to disqualify any one of the seven.   When the church put their stamp of approval on the seven men, the apostles submitted to the decision of the church.

What is significant is the fact that the 20,000 plus members of the body that we suppose were in Jerusalem at this time had to work together as one body in order to find and set forth the seven men.   Boards of authority seek to usurp the opportunity of all the members who should work together as the organic body of Christ. The members of boards assume that they must guarantee the function of the church by handing down dictates to the church.

But in this case, this process was reversed.   The church handed to the apostles their decision. The apostles suggested the simple guidelines for selection. But it was the church that made the final decision as to who would serve in the ministry. We assume that more than seven men fulfilled the spiritual guidelines set forth by the apostles. But it was the decision of the church to make the final selection of seven men. After they made their selection of seven men, the whole church then presented these men to the apostles for the simple task of making a public designation of who would be the seven servants.

C.  Qualified administrators:

The apostles gave some general spiritual qualifications that should be characteristic of those who would be chosen.   The chosen should be men who would work among all the house fellowships. They would take the lead in making decisions concerning the distribution to the widows (At 6:3). The very nature of the ministry of distribution would assume the responsibility of making decisions concerning distribution. Such would conform to the Spirit’s instructions through Paul who wrote, “I do not allow a woman … to be dominant over a man” (1 Tm 2:12).   This would not restrict women from working with their husbands in the ministry, but the principle of male leadership should not be violated in reference to the leadership of the men in the distribution.

Those who were to be chosen should be of “honest report” (At 6:3). Since the men would be handling a great deal of money, this was a practical qualification in reference to the character of the men. It was a qualification that was certainly known among all the saints in Jerusalem.

Men “full of the Holy Spirit” would suggest that they formerly had hands laid on them by the apostles to receive one of the miraculous gifts of the time (See At 8:18,19). We could assume that one of these gifts was the gift of administration (See 1 Co 12:28). However, in the selection process we assume that the church would recognize those who had a natural gift of administration.

The “full of … wisdom” qualification would be the foundation upon which decisions were made in the distribution. This qualification would suggest that these men not be novice Christians, neither those who were young. Since the men would be working among all cultural groups in Jerusalem, they needed to be men who were known for their integrity and ability to make the right decisions.

The church initially went to the apostles for a possible revelation from the Holy Spirit on this matter. But this was a matter that needed no revelation from God.   It was a function of the body that required only wisdom to solve. Wise Christians who are moved by the gospel can use wisdom in order to carry out the mandate of James 1:27, that the church is responsible for the widows and orphans among them. The Spirit did later give information concerning the care of widows (See 1 Tm 5:1-16). However, in this case of distribution to widows in a large metropolitan area, only wisdom was needed in order to solve the problem.   God does not do for us those things we can do for ourselves if we would just use some common sense (wisdom).

[Next in series, October 1]



Connecting Gifts And Needs

Sometimes it is wrong to do right. When speaking of living the gospel, this statement may seem quite odd. Nevertheless, in the organic function of the body of Christ, it is sometimes wrong for those who are gifted with special ministries to work in an area where they may not be gifted, or in reference to a need that should be passed on to another.   This was the case in reference to the disciples in Jerusalem finding a solution for the dysfunction concerning the neglected widows in Acts 6.

Since the apostles were still in Jerusalem at the time a functional problem developed in Acts 6, they, as the accepted leaders, were faced with a functional problem among the disciples. There is a great lesson to be learned from how the apostles handled the problem concerning the care that the whole church in Jerusalem should render to the widows.

We are not told by Luke who brought the problem of the neglected widows before the apostles. We assume that the apostles were busy with their work of prayer and ministry of the word of God (At 6:4). Since prayer should be a ministry of all the disciples, in this case the apostles did not want their prayers to be overshadowed by the administration of what others could do. But specifically, it was their Christ-ordained ministry to deliver the inspired word of God to the early church (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). This was especially important because of those who continued to come and stay in Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost feast.   The apostles continued to teach those who journeyed to Jerusalem (At 2:42).

The last Passover/Pentecost feast that Luke mentioned was in Acts 2. However, since the event of Acts 6 probably took place from three to four years after the Passover/Pentecost of Acts 2, we must assume that the apostles were diligently teaching those who obeyed the gospel during each Passover/Pentecost feast (See At 2:42). It was their mission to go into all the world and preach the gospel through those who were baptized during the Passover/Pentecost feasts. Therefore, when the dysfunctional organic problem of the feeding of the widows in Jerusalem was made known to them, they replied, It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables (At 6:2). This one statement opens a great door for understanding the ministry of the apostles in reference to the organic function of the early church.

In view of the necessity that the apostles not be diverted from their ministry of the inspired instruction of the church and world evangelism, it would not have been right for them to forsake these Christ-appointed ministries in order to serve tables. In this case, it would have been wrong for them to do a good thing.   The apostles simply stated, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (At 6:4). In reference to the ministry of prayer, we would assume that these were special prayer sessions for those who were returning home to other lands after being taught by the apostles.

We are sure that the apostles were confident that they fulfill their destiny. They felt no guilt about saying “no” to a good thing of serving tables. Neither did they allow others to make them feel guilty about not caring for the widows (See Js 1:27). When one is focused on doing what he or she believes is his or her God-given ministry, others should not make them feel guilty if they do not participate in their own God-given ministry. After all, in another context and situation, Paul wrote,

 “Now there are many kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are many kinds of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are many kinds of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all (1 Co 12:4-6).

Paul concluded 1 Corinthians 12 with the admonition that the organic function of the body of Christ is based on the fact that gifted individuals work together as one body, regardless of the diversity of their gifts (1 Co 12:28).

In the list of different ministries that God has designated in the body, “administrations” was one of those gifts.   On the occasion of Acts 6, the apostles helped the early disciples to understand that “administration” was a special gift that was necessary to be recognized in order that the organic body function properly. So for this reason the apostles said, “Look out from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may designate over this business” (At 6:3). In other words, it was not the business of the apostles to leave their gifted ministry of special prayers and teaching in order to administer the distribution of food to the widows. It was not according to the God-defined function of the body that they leave their ministry in order to do the ministry of someone who was specifically gifted in administration.

Those who are zealous in their particular ministry must not make others feel guilty if they are not likewise involved in their own ministry. The light of the gospel shines differently through different members of the body.   A healthy body is the result of all the organs of the body functioning according to their purpose in order to maintain the function of the whole body. When any one part of the body says that he has no need of any other part of the body, then that part of the body that wants to stand alone becomes dysfunctional. Therefore, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Co 12:21).

Neither should one’s ministry be exalted above the ministry of another member. “On the contrary, more indeed, those members of the body who seem to be more feeble are necessary” (1 Co 12:22). Exaltation of one ministry over another is detrimental to the organic function of the whole body. Minimizing the “less honorable” members in their function is senseless.

“And those members of the body whom we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable parts have more abundant presentation” (1 Co 12:23).

Paul’s point to the Corinthians was in the fact that “if one member suffers [in his or her ministry], all the members suffer with it. Or, if one member is honored [in his or her ministry], all the members rejoice with it” (1 Co 12:26). Members in their ministries must function in cohesion with one another.

This is exactly what the apostles taught on the occasion of the bodily dysfunction of Acts 6. There was a dysfunction in the distribution of food to the Grecian widows, for only the Hebraic widows were benefitting from the existing distribution. The solution was not that the apostles leave their ministry in order to assume the task of others who had the gift of administration. The solution was in the fact that the whole church should look out among themselves in order to identity those who were gifted with administration in order to correct the organic dysfunction of the church at the time.

[Next in series, September 28]