Caring in love and ministering in the Word of God
Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 6
Acts 6 is very brief. In the past, my understanding was that these Greek-speaking widows were neglected, and the apostles were too busy to take care of them. The apostles said that the more important thing is to pay attention to the word of God (verse 2). There was no time to deal with these widows, but since they were protesting and making trouble, there was still a need for someone to deal with their need. Finally, Stephen and others were found. These people were not apostles, just ordinary disciples of Jesus who were spiritually mature due to it being the beginning of the apostolic era. Stephen was not only good at cooking, but also full of the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom and the words of the Lord. Miracles also followed him and the other men who were serving. In short, the apostles did not have time to deal with these matters so they were handed over to others.
But when we started talking about this, we found that the Holy Spirit led us to a broader understanding of the situation. I felt that the words and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit were that these complaining widows were not only materially poor, but also lacking the Lord’s abundance in the spirit. Therefore, the apostles’ decision was not only to arrange and provide meals for them, but also to allow people like Stephen, who were full of the Holy Spirit and the Word of the Lord, to both serve meals and dispense the Spirit and the Word to these poor people.
Poverty limits our imagination
I was born in an ordinary family in rural China, the bottom rung of society. The people in our Bible Study also include many Chinese from the same background, so we naturally talk about poverty. Our experience of poverty has not only caused us to be materially poor, but also limited our imagination and made us lack self-confidence in many ways.
We talked about the spirit of poverty in modern Chinese society, American society and even among some Christians in the US. The external poverty is not terrible—the most terrifying thing is that poverty limits our imagination. Some of the women in our study said that American social scientists investigated the impact that poverty has on human nerves. This study showed a decline in human learning ability. Therefore, some educators in the United States hope to include children from poor families in special education.
This argument is controversial. One woman said that being poor on the outside does not necessarily mean being poor on the inside. For example, Forrest Gump’s mother in the movie “Forrest Gump” encouraged him to maintain a pure heart even though they were poor, and at last Forrest Gump achieves success. I think the discussion on both sides makes sense. I also specifically mentioned that, for example, at the time of the founding of the United States, even though the American Puritans were poor outside, they were rich in spirit. Compared with people at that time, Americans nowadays are rich in material goods, but even poorer in their spiritual richness towards the Lord.
But we have to say that material poverty and spiritual poverty (or any restriction which leads to lack of self-confidence and imagination) are often closely linked. The lowliness and poverty of our birth often lead to our lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. I used to work as a reporter for a newspaper in New Jersey, often interviewing people at Princeton University. I saw many Chinese children attending summer camps at Princeton. I was very envious. I thought to myself that if I had such a good opportunity when I was a child, I might be more successful in my career and healthier in my personality. However, when I was young, I did not have these opportunities. Because I lacked adequate role models and help, I used to feel very inferior.
Reasoning from the above logic, if the Greek-speaking Jews and their widows are ignored and not taken care of, they will also develop spiritual problems after a long time. So, their grievances are not a trivial matter. Like physical poverty will bring about poverty of spirit, physical negligence will bring about improper spiritual growth and development.
The relationship between shepherding in love and the provision of the Lord’s words
Let me give an example. I heard a fellow believer talk about the relationship between giving loving care and using the Lord’s word in ministry. He said that our love seems to be a hot pot for Chinese believers to cook their spiritual food. If the pot is not hot, the dishes are not cooked well. We preach the gospel and help the new immigrant believers with their physical needs, often doing something like driving them to gatherings, helping them buy groceries and rent houses, and visiting them often. These actions of love will warm their hearts. If their hearts are not warmed, they will be closed to us. Even if we have the Lord’s words, they won’t be open to us. So, loving care is very important. It is like a hot pot.
However, merely making the pot hot is not enough. If the pot is hot and even smokes, but there is no oil in it, it is impossible to cook the food. In the same way, if we do deeds of love without the Word of the Lord and the Holy Spirit to minister to the people, it will be as if the pot is hot, but there is no oil in it.
This is not only true in our lives today but it was true when Jesus walked with the disciples on their way to Emmaus. By walking with them to Emmaus even when they did not recognize Him, Jesus was caring and ministering to them in love. While He explained what the scripture said about His resurrection, their hearts burned (Luke 24:32). If Jesus had not walked with them all those miles, He would not have the opportunity to minister to them. If Jesus had not made the Word of God regarding His resurrection clear to them, it would be impossible for their hearts to burn, and later recognize the resurrected Jesus. Jesus set an example for us of how to care by loving well, and ministering the Word of God at the same time.
Imagine that Stephen is a chef who is good at cooking and also filled with the Holy Spirit. When he is cooking, he is particularly concerned about a newcomer or widow, and gives them each a spoonful of vegetables to express his concern for them. This action may warm their hearts. In addition, they find that Stephen had cooked dinner for everyone that day. Cooking the meal was very tiring, but he did not blame them because it was hard or tiring. His smile was full of joy, and he often shared some words of the Lord to comfort and encourage them. They would realize that what they lack is not only the food and care outside. They would observe the joy in the Lord that Stephen has, his wisdom in the Holy Spirit, and the abundance of the Lord’s words. Therefore, the service they receive goes far beyond providing meals in the moment.
The early church did well because it was built on the disciples’ foundation, which was personally completed by Jesus Himself, and because the work of the Holy Spirit was strong. I think if the Holy Spirit keeps doing the work Himself, it may be better than what we do. But why did the church fall? It is God’s desire to put the building of the church in the hands of people. Although God’s people will make mistakes and take detours, they will learn through these processes sooner or later, so that they can finally reach maturity through their service. This is God’s will.
Our current failures in building the church involve nothing more than these two aspects. On the one hand, the church lacks love for God and people. On the other hand, it lacks the Word of the Lord. In the worst cases, it lacks in both areas. Therefore, if we are to build the church well today, we must recover these two aspects, so that the Holy Spirit has the freedom to love and care for others through us, as well as ministering God’s Word to others through us.
The spiritual meaning behind grievances
Acts 6:1 says: “In those days, the number of disciples multiplied. Some Greek-speaking Jews complained to the Hebrews because they neglected their widows in the daily supply.” People who spoke Greek may have been Jews from Gentile lands. They could have been immigrants or vulnerable groups. They complained that their widows were neglected. They seemed to be complaining that their material needs were neglected, but perhaps they were also complaining that their spiritual needs have been neglected. Why do I say that? Because people’s material needs are often connected with their spiritual needs. The spiritual needs are often hidden behind people’s material needs.
I met with a man who shared about his occasional quarrels with his wife. His wife is somewhat short-tempered, which makes it easy for him to get hurt. He asked me how to deal with this situation. I said that I had the same difficulties in my marriage, and I have learned a lot. I told him that the things our wives complain to us about may seem trivial and confusing to us. If we consider each complaint individually, we won’t be able to solve the problem in the end. The key to solving the problem is found in looking at the big picture. Our wives’ complaints remind us that not only did we neglect their feelings in trivial matters, but also that we are not spiritually mature enough. We aren’t manifesting Him by living out the Lord’s love nor feeding them with the spiritual abundance of His Word. So her grievances actually indicate her spiritual hunger and thirst, although she may not realize it.
Although dealing with matters in the material realm or getting marriage counseling in the realm of the soul are helpful to marriage, they cannot fundamentally solve our problems. The fundamental solution to conflicts between husband and wife is that the husband matures in his spiritual life and can feed and support his wife spiritually. The Bible says that the husband is the head of the wife, not lording over her, but providing the her with spiritual protection. Consider the comparison to the human body—the head will direct the mobilization of blood circulation and nerve transmission to supply our limbs at any time. If a person’s body is paralyzed and he loses the use of his lower limbs or is even a high-level paraplegic, but the person’s head is still healthy, then he can still live well. But if a person’s head has a problem, he will decline to a persistent vegetative state. Although his limbs are fine, they will gradually lose their function. In the same way, when I tried only to correct my behavior during the difficulties of marriage, it did not have much effect. However, when I surrendered to God, learned to get close to the Lord and communicated with the Lord more deeply through these challenges, my difficulties were reduced.
I used the theory of the ” Slumbering Spirit ” by John Sandford, a pioneer of “Inner Healing” and “Deliverance Ministries” in the American Charismatic Movement to continue to explain this truth. When I was studying the “Inner Healing” and “Deliverance Ministry” courses, his books were included in the teaching materials. He put forward a theory that many people’s problems are not only in their souls, but in their spirits. If a child does not get enough hugs and care during his growth stage, his spirit becomes a “Slumbering Spirit”. In other words, his spirit no longer continues to grow, which also hinders the normal development of his soul. Many of these children develop psychological and emotional disorders. In ministering to these people, he used God’s timely Rhema words which are obtained through both the Bible and through his prophetic gift (including words of knowledge, and prophetic words) to awaken the spirit of those people, to tell them that God loves them. Gradually, their hearts were healed through this process.
When I shared the above story with this man, my baby was still being bottle fed, so I continued to explain with the story of feeding my baby. The child would cry at night when she was hungry. My wife was exhausted from working all day, so I got up at night to feed my daughter. She could not speak and could only cry. Her complaining cry said that she was hungry. Faced with her need, we had two choices. One choice, at the expense of our convenience, was to feed her whenever she was hungry. The other choice was to ignore her. If she cries and no one responds, after a while she will not cry anymore. Why? Because she would find that crying does not work. I read an article that said that if you do this, the child will gradually get used to it, but her stomach will shrink and will not grow larger. The baby’s stomach is already small, so it gets hungry after a few hours. When we feed her on time, not only will she get full, but her stomach also gradually expands. After a while, she will sleep through the night.
We normally don’t treat children like this. However, I heard that many children in orphanages often cried but were ignored, so they gradually stopped crying. They knew that crying did not work, so they stopped. However, their spirits would shrink and become the “slumbering spirit” mentioned earlier, and they would no longer believe that there is love in the world. When their spirits begin slumbering, some functions of their souls, especially emotions, will be distorted. Therefore, caring people often go to the orphanage to hug or touch these children, which awakens their spirits and helps them grow up relatively healthily. Modern science also proves that receiving frequent touch and hugs will make people feel warmer and more loving, another reason this practice helps these orphans to grow up better.
I once worked as a reporter and interviewed a murderer in the courtroom. After his parents divorced, he felt abandoned. He gradually went astray, and eventually became a murderer. Many who commit homicides in the United States have no father or have received no love from their father, so they feel hatred for this world. These people have been hurt by the world and deserve our sympathy.
Going back to the issue of the wife’s complaint that I mentioned earlier, I told that man that our wives’ grievances seemed to be somewhat trivial to us, but they are actually opportunities God gave us to live for and manifest Christ. Every time a wife complains, we have to come out of our own emotional injury. Do not focus on the quarrel itself but focus on examining your recent spiritual situation before the Lord. Ask yourself in the presence of the Lord, “Am I close enough to the Lord? Am I full of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Lord? Have I shared some of the Lord’s words or spiritual experiences in my life intentionally or inadvertently, and provided for my wife’s spiritual life?” If after reflection, you find that your spiritual life doesn’t measure up, and you have not provided for your wife’s spiritual life in this way, you need to make up for it. Only in this way can you fundamentally change your situation.
Joyce Meyer, a famous preacher in the United States, also shared an experience between her and her husband. She said that the Lord trained her through marriage. Sometimes she would get into arguments with her husband. She asked the Lord, “Why can’t my husband change? Why require me to change every time?” She refused to obey at first, but then the Lord would discipline her through her marriage. She learned a lot in the process.
Another preacher, Yvon Attia, shared a similar experience. She said that she was also struggling with these problems. But the Lord told her that she should forgive the other party first because his spiritual life was not as mature as hers and he was unable to forgive. In other words, in a Christian couple, one person’s spiritual life is more mature, and the other’s spiritual life is relatively immature. People who are spiritually mature always have to forgive others first. It is because they have a deeper fellowship with the Lord, which makes them more capable of exercising this ability.
Both examples above are about women. We can see that it is not only the husband who can provide for the wife spiritually. If the wife is more spiritually mature, her husband is like the complaining child who is yearning for spiritual feeding. The Jews who spoke Greek in this chapter are like the young children spiritually. Their complaint was not just because the widows had no food. They also needed to be fed by the Lord’s words and given spiritual care.
The apostles knew this truth well. Otherwise, they would just have arranged for someone who could cook to serve these widows. However, they chose Stephen and others, who could not only serve meals, but were also people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (verse 3), full of faith and the Holy Spirit (verse 5), and the apostles also laid their hands on them to pray to pass on blessing and authority from God (verse 6). The apostles knew that the widow’s grievances were definitely not only about material things, but it was a signal that they needed to arrange for someone to serve the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to them.
As a result of that verse 7 says: “The Word of God has expanded, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem has greatly multiplied, and a large group of priests have obeyed this belief.” In other words, the Word of God expanded there because of the apostle’s decision to put Stephen and others in charge who were full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and faith who not only served the widows meals but also the Word of the Lord. These widows grew spiritually and their testimony affected other orphans and families, gradually expanding the influence of the Word even causing many priests to receive to the faith. Just as a stone thrown into the lake, causes a wave of ripples, when the apostles arranged for Stephen and others to provide the widow’s meals and the Lord’s words, it brought a series of positive results.
Conversely, if the apostles had ignored the grievances of the Greek-speaking Jews and their widows, it would be as if the babies I mentioned earlier were ignored. Their spirits would become shrunken and lethargic because they didn’t get enough care. Feelings of dissatisfaction and even betrayal could have arisen in their souls, which would have eventually hindered the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem.
This is not only the case of the family or the church we cited above, but also the truth of everything in this world. Paul said in Romans 8:19, “The creatio is eagerly expecting, eagerly waiting for the sons of God to be revealed.” He meant that after Satan’s rebellion and the fall of man, everything was in bondage. God’s salvation begins with man, who must be reborn as God’s son and be glorified. When man finally receives the glory of the Son of God, all things, including plants and animals will be free from this bondage. They groaned with all creatures and suffered the pain of childbirth together until now because they hoped to be redeemed (Romans 8:22). Everything is groaning and struggling, and hoping that we will become the image of the Son of God soon, so that we can be liberated together. This is why the Lord Jesus said that the church is a city on a hill and a light in the darkness, and we cannot put its light under the bushel. When our church does not shine, when it is not like salt to the world, we cannot illuminate the world. All the while, the world is in darkness, and is looking up to see our light.
The problem in American society is that the church has lost its light to some extent. When society is full of problems, it is actually crying and complaining to the church, just like a baby crying or a wife complaining. If we listened to these grievances in the Spirit and translated them, they would say: “Why doesn’t the church shine and illuminate me? Why doesn’t the church feed me?” The darkness of society is only a manifestation of the darkness of the church.
We need to use the Lord’s word to build up believers
The problem with the American church is the lack of feeding people with God’s word. You may not be convinced of this. You might say, “Aren’t there many pastors preaching and feeding people with the God’s Word?” This is true, but what we are missing is people like Stephen, Philip, Procurus, Nicanor, Timon, Pamenas and Nicholas from Antioch who converted to Judaism (verse 5)— people are who are full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith. Even if every pastor was like this, it is not enough. We also need many believers like this. In this chapter, it is not only the apostles who are full of the Spirit, wisdom and faith, but many ordinary believers were as well. While we recognize Stephen and Philip’s names, who knows or remembers Procurus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas? They were also people full of the Spirit and wisdom as is mentioned clearly in verse 3. You see, the Lord Jesus did a great work of discipleship through these ordinary men!
Many churches still work in the outer courtyard, which is just taking care of the widows’ food. However, we must go further and be able to serve the believers God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. A dominant characteristic of American culture is superficiality and the fast-food culture. This culture also affects the spiritual atmosphere of the church. Many ordinary believers are not being edified and discipled, so the church cannot be built up strongly enough to withstand the attacks of the enemy. Although there was a time when American society claimed that 70-80% or even more of the population were Christians, it was still not enough to prevent American Christianity and society from degenerating or the attacks of anti-Christian agenda in this county. What a sad fact! How can the majority of people be defeated by the minority of unbelievers, if the statistics are true? The reason lies in the lack of spiritual edification or discipleship of believers. Many people with insight into American Christianity have already admitted this. Therefore, the fundamental way to reverse the decline of American Christianity lies in the discipleship of believers. The lack of discipleship makes the church look like it’s built on sand, unable to resist water, rain and wind (Matthew 7:24-27).
If the believers were better disciplined in God’s Word, it would transform the church and the society. We need what happened in this chapter—the Word of God expanded first, then the numbers of the disciples in Jerusalem greatly multiplied (verse 7). It is not the other way around. We cannot seek for the numbers first, but should seek to expand the Word of God first. The Bible charges us to be filled with the Words of Christ in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16) but the reality is that many believers have never read through the entire Bible once in their lifetimes. If you read three chapters in the Old Testament and one chapter in the New Testament a day, you can read through the Bible once a year. I have been doing this for many years.
As your hunger for God’s word grows deeper, begin meditating on one verse each day. This will help bring the black and white of the written word into light and it will transform your life!
Do you agree? I personally think that God’s calling for me is to help to disciple believers, and make the church stronger. If this message blesses you, please help to share this word with a friend.