The interesting thing about studying the Bible is that occasionally a new insight or truth literally jumps off the page at you. You say to yourself, “I’ve read this passage many times, but I’ve never noticed that before.” The more you study your Bible the more new things you will see that you have never seen before.
For example, I was recently reviewing the early history of the church when a new idea jumped off the page in my direction: “Now in those days, as the disciples were steadily multiplying, there arose a murmuring” (Acts 6:1). The words multiplying and murmuring are not usually found in the same sentence when you are describing a church. What an odd combination to find growth and grumbling linked together!
We tend to equate expansion with optimism, enthusiasm, and success, but in the sixth chapter of Acts it is associated with dissension, criticism, and tension. The first five chapters of Acts describe what we might call “the honeymoon days of the early church.” After personal encounters with the risen and ascended Christ, the followers of Christ prepared themselves through prayer and fellowship for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This resulted in three thousand conversions on the day of Pentecost.
Just when everything was moving forward in a wonderful way, the harmony was rudely interrupted by disharmony. Murmuring threatened to halt the multiplying. Grumbling that could have sidetracked the growth of the early church suddenly appeared. In the daily distribution of food to widows the Greek widows were given less food than the Jewish widows. The battle was on: the Hellenists versus the Hebrews.
It is the kind of thing that can happen, and often does happen, in churches – to this very day. Church members are human beings. We are not perfect. We are still in the process of growing spiritually. Just when a church catches a vision of what God wants it to do, and a sense of unity exists, Satan throws a monkey wrench into the mix. Church members divide into two groups: “our side” and “their side.” If the murmuring that takes place in churches is not addressed promptly and lovingly, the multiplying will soon come to a screeching halt. Growing and grumbling simply cannot coexist in a church without creating problems.
The early church addressed its problem by enlarging its leadership. Deacons were chosen to deal with what was a legitimate concern involving fairness by organizing an equitable distribution of food. This enabled pastors to (1) devote more time to the study of God’s Word, (2) better address the spiritual needs of church members, and (3) spend more time sharing the gospel with persons who needed to be saved.
The encouraging thing about this first-century incident is that God used the murmuring as a catalyst to launch a bold new mission. Out of ordinary jealousy and grumbling of the kind that can be found in many congregations today, God chose Stephen and Phillip to blast the church out of its Jerusalem stronghold and launch it on an expansion that finally reached the gates of Rome. By effectively responding to the problem, rather than ignoring it, the church became stronger than if it had never had a problem. By being forced to deal with the Hellenists, it learned how to deal with the world.
The same victory can belong to any church. There is no reason any church should ever be sidetracked from fulfilling its mission because of murmuring among its members. God is still on His throne. He is infinitely able and totally willing to help any church deal with its cultural diversity and the murmuring it creates.
And that includes your church!