By Acts 6, the Jerusalem church so far has become known primarily for two things: proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, and being a source of radical generosity. As we’ve already seen, people like Barnabas are selling everything they own, liquidating all their assets, and bringing it to the church, trusting that that money will end up exactly where God wants it. And until chapter 6, it’s kind of looked like this was being done perfectly.
But now, a new group of people is speaking up. As food and goods are being distributed by the church, a certain group of people finally speaks up to declare that the generosity hasn’t been flowing in their direction. Luke calls them the Hellenists, which probably means Greek-speaking Jews living in Judea. Apparently, there’s some kind of divide here between Greek-speaking Jews in Israel and Aramaic-speaking ones. The truth is, the language we speak has a giant effect on everything about us, including the kinds of people with which we surround ourselves. We naturally gravitate to people, cultures, and locations where communication happens most easily. More often than not, where there is a difference in language, people start to segregate, even if it’s not on purpose.
The church of the apostles is guilty of just that. As people line up to receive help from the church, those who speak Greek seem to always be stuck at the back of the line. We’re finding out that the apostles’ main focus really is the proclamation of the resurrection, and apparently they’re doing such a good job of it that some other tasks of the church, especially the distribution of food, aren’t getting the attention they deserve.
So when this church is confronted with their shortcomings, they don’t overreact. The apostles don’t put up a fight. They don’t make excuses. They make a plan. They choose seven people from the church who will begin to oversee this feeding ministry, but they also know exactly what cannot afford to change: prayer and proclamation. First and foremost, this is a community built on prayer and on the good news that Jesus rose from the dead.
The church is to be the community of prayer and service, contemplation and action, neither one in competition with the other, neither one being neglected. To be the church is to know how to sprint into action with Jesus and how to sit completely still with Jesus. If either one of these is missing, the church is no longer the church. Without the ministry of caring for people’s physical needs, then we’re just a weekly prayer meeting that somehow forgot how to love the good earth that God made along with the people who fill it. If we meet people’s physical needs but stop praying, then we’re just a charity (which is great, it’s just not the church).
They’re need to be a couple of kinds of questions a church is always asking of itself. First, are we serving our community in the ways we’re being called to? Are we paying attention to the people and populations to whom the Spirit is directing us? Second, are we praying enough, deeply enough? Are we being still and quiet enough, thereby creating a space for good news to arise from our lips?
The world is watching and ready to challenge us (rightly) on our shortcomings. I hope what they’ll see is a church ready to sprint into action with Jesus and ready to sit completely still with Jesus.