The Grecian Formula

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

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Have you ever asked anyone how they were doing, only to hear them say, “I can’t complain”? When that happens to me, I usually respond, “Sure you can, you’re just not trying hard enough!”

Of course, things were going so well at Pentecost that you would think no one would have any complaints. The Lord’s disciples were living “with one accord” and were “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; 4:32). What could saints who were living in such perfect harmony possibly have to complain about?

But as we come to Acts chapter 6, some people known as “Grecians” had a grievance, and the twelve apostles had to come up with a formula for dealing with their complaint:

“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1).

Now to begin with, I should point out that Grecians weren’t just people who spoke Greek. The Bible calls a Greek-speaking person “a Greek” (Mark 7:26). Everyone in the known world spoke Greek after Alexander the Great conquered the nations 300 years before Christ. But people of the Jewish nation who spoke Greek were called Grecians. They were Jews who were raised in other countries, and who grew up speaking Greek instead of Hebrew, like the Jews in Israel did.

And the Grecian widows in the kingdom church here were being neglected in something called “the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). What’s that? Well, remember, at Pentecost the disciples “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44,45). So the daily ministration must have been an appointed time each day when they parted their goods and possessions to the poor “as every man had need.” But for some reason, the needs of the Grecian widows were being neglected.

The question is: how did that happen? You wouldn’t think that it was a deliberate, sinful neglect, for “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4) and were being given a taste of what the kingdom of heaven on earth will be like (Heb. 6:4,5). In that kingdom, saved Jews will be “caused” to walk in God’s ways (Ezek. 36:27) and physically incapable of sinning (1 John 3:9; 5:18).

So it is more likely that these Grecian widows were an unintentional casualty of the sheer volume of people that were involved in this burgeoning distribution system. Any time you get multitudes of people together, as they had at Pentecost (Acts 4:32; 5:14), it multiplies the chances something will go wrong. Things don’t work as efficiently as they do when fewer people are involved, and honest mistakes are often made as a result.

A Mistake Made in Heaven?

But if those Jews were experiencing a taste of the kingdom of heaven on earth, does that mean men will make mistakes like this oversight in the kingdom? And will those mistakes lead to complaining like we’re seeing among the Grecians?

Believe it or not, the answer to both questions is yes! There are going to be mistakes and even disagreements in the kingdom of heaven on earth, disputes that will be serious enough to warrant the need for judges to settle the murmuring that will arise between men. Why else would the Lord have promised the twelve apostles that someday, when they rose from the dead to enter the kingdom, they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). He was talking about the kind of judging that Moses used to do in Israel to settle complaints among God’s people. As he himself explained to his father-in-law,

When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and His laws” (Exod. 18:16)

The law of Moses had all the answers to any and all disputes that could possibly have arisen in Israel, but the people needed someone like Moses to “make them know the statutes of God” that applied to their particular issues. When his father-in-law pointed out that doing all that judging on his own would send him to an early grave (vv. 17-23), Moses took his advice and enlisted the help of some lesser judges to help him with lesser matters (vv. 24-26). And God promised Israel that in the coming kingdom, “I will restore thy judges as at the first” (Isa. 1:26).

That means that the people of Israel will have matters of disagreement in the kingdom that will require judges to resolve their complaints. God is going to “purge away” (Isa. 1:25) the dross and tin of their sins in the kingdom, but they will still have disputes and complaints that will require judging (v. 26).

What kind of complaints? The kind we see illustrated here with the neglect of these Grecian widows, the kind prompted by an oversight. You see, sinless men are not perfect men. Only God makes no mistakes.

This means that the Bible commentaries that say the kingdom program is starting to break down here in Acts 6 are wrong. They insist that the murmuring here proves that the perfect harmony these disciples were enjoying was beginning to unravel. What they fail to see is that this is a picture of how that harmony is going to be maintained in the kingdom by the twelve apostles.

But if there are going to be complaints that need judging in the kingdom of heaven on earth, doesn’t that suggest that there will also be complaints that will require judging in God’s kingdom in heaven? The answer is yes! Why else would Paul tell us members of the Body of Christ that “we shall judge angels” (1 Cor. 6:3). The reason angels will need judging is that there is going to be murmuring among them. You see, angels are also sinless, but they too lack God’s ability to never make a mistake. And mistakes and oversights can lead to disputes, disputes that the angels are going to look to you to settle.

In a Perfect World

Now if all this messes with your idea of what heaven is going to be like, and I’ve got you thinking that heaven won’t be as perfect as you thought, do you remember that old television show The Twilight Zone? In one episode, a criminal gets shot and killed by police, and wakes up in heaven, where everything is perfect. I mean, he wins every poker game he plays, women are showing great interest in him, and nothing ever seems to go wrong.

Just as he starts to get bored, he sees a pool table. He chalks up a cue, breaks—and every ball finds a pocket on the break. At this point he blurts out to his spirit guide, “Heaven is boring! I want to go to the other place!” To which his guide replies, “Heaven? Whatever made you think you were in heaven? This is the other place!”

I think there’s something we can learn from that show. I would submit to you that if heaven were perfect in the way that most people think of perfection, you’d soon be bored out of your gourd, as we used to say when I was a boy.

By the way, the title of that episode was called, “A Nice Place To Visit”—and you know why! It is because the rest of that old saying says, “but you wouldn’t want to live there!” And you know what? If heaven was “perfect” in the way most people think of it, it would be a nice place to visit. That criminal was enjoying himself in the beginning of the show. But you wouldn’t want to live there, for you’d soon be bored to tears.

Heaven is going to be a lot like earth—just without the sin! Most people think that in heaven, they won’t have to go to work. And you have to admit that on some days, it sounds pretty heavenly to not have to go to work. But I’m sure you’d agree that things were perfect in the Garden of Eden, yet after God created Adam, He gave him a job when he “put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). I think it is safe to extrapolate from this that heaven is going to be perfect, but you’ll still have to go to work! Being a judge is a job, and to do our job we’ll have to go to work, and not lay back in a recliner while some angel dangles grapes over our open mouths for us to munch on at will, as heaven is sometimes portrayed.

But now that you know that it’s not inconsistent for someone to be complaining here in this taste of heaven on earth in Acts 6, let’s see how the twelve apostles responded to the saints’ complaint.

“Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts 6:2).

Now here it sounds like the apostles didn’t care about this problem. But that’s not what they meant when they said that it wasn’t “reason” that they should get involved. A man’s reason is his ability to think. When we tell people to “listen to reason,” we’re saying that we’ve thought something through, and we want others to listen so they can think it through as well. And the apostles reasoned that they shouldn’t stop studying and teaching the Word in order to investigate the cause of this neglect and correct it.

Now that’s not because they thought that serving tables was beneath them. Berean Bible Society founder Pastor C. R. Stam was one of the best Bible teachers of his day, but one year at the Berean Bible Fellowship Bible conference at Cedar Lake, Indiana, he volunteered to be one of the men who helped distribute the communion elements. I will never forget the moment when this legend in the grace movement served me the communion elements.

Criminal Neglect

And I’m sure that serving food to Grecian widows on their “tables” wasn’t something the
apostles thought was beneath them. It’s just that they were apostles, and apostles had all the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of “teaching” that we read about in Romans 12:7. So to look into the neglect of the widows, the apostles would have had to neglect one of their spiritual gifts, something Paul cautioned Timothy not to do in I Timothy 4:14.

If you want to know how important it is for spiritual leaders to not neglect the teaching of the Word, the apostles felt it was more important than even the feeding of hungry widows! If your church teaches the Word, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re not doing anything important because you’re not feeding the homeless, etc. Teaching the Word feeds the souls of God’s people, and God says it isn’t reasonable to stop doing that to start feeding people physically. If your church can do both, great! But if you can only do one, teach the Word.

Pastors and other spiritual leaders can’t let anything distract them from studying and teaching the Scriptures—not the stripes that men might lay on their backs, as happened to the apostles in Acts 5, nor the problems that are always rising within a church, as we see here in Acts 6. You see, the study and preparation of Bible messages takes a significant amount of time and focus.

A few years ago Dave Stewart, the Adult Sunday School teacher at my church, did a series on the typical significance of wind and water in the Bible. He mentioned that the word “water” appears nearly 400 times in the Bible, and he told us that he had read all those verses more than once. Then he said he also looked at all the references to streams, and rivers, and fountains, and pools. Add to that the Bible’s hundred references to wind, and Dave’s example provides us with the kind of dedication to the Word that God blesses and uses to edify His people, the kind of attention that the apostles chose not to neglect.

Rather than neglect their gift of teaching, let’s read on to see what they proposed to do about this legitimate complaint on the part of the Grecian widows:

“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).

So this is the formula the apostles chose to deal with the murmuring of the Grecian widows. I entitled this article “The Grecian Formula” because there’s a hair coloring product for men that goes by that name. And just as it solves the problem of gray hair in men, this formula solved this problem here at Pentecost, as we see later in this passage.

Delegating Is Not Relegating

If this solution sounds familiar, it’s because the world has a name for it. It’s called “delegating authority,” and it’s something every smart boss does. Here at Berean Bible Society, if BBS president Pastor Kevin Sadler had to do all of our jobs, in addition to studying the Word to prepare for our Transformed By Grace television broadcast, and all the other speaking and writing that he does, he’d be dead in a week! Instead, he wisely delegates authority to all of us.

And we know that God knows this principle, for we saw Moses adopt it back when God “multiplied” the people of Israel in his day (Deut.1:10-17), just as the disciples were multiplied in Acts 6. Moses picked men to help him judge the multitude in his nation, and when the apostles did that here in Acts 6, it freed them up to do what they declared they would do instead of neglecting their gift:

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

This determination on their part addresses another misconception that Christians have about heaven. I often hear believers say that they can’t wait to get to heaven, where they’ll know the Bible perfectly from cover to cover the moment they get there. But if these disciples here at Pentecost were being given a taste of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and the apostles gave themselves to the teaching of the Word, that must mean that the disciples to whom they ministered needed to learn the Word in that taste of the kingdom of heaven, right? And from this it seems safe to say that we’ll need to continue to learn the Word in God’s kingdom in heaven.

Hey, if you want to talk about being bored in heaven, how boring would it be to know the Bible perfectly, backwards and forwards, the moment you get to heaven, with nothing else to learn about God for all eternity? Compare that to how interesting and exciting heaven will be as we continue to learn the Scriptures for all eternity. The Bible is an eternal Book, and we are going to spend eternity learning it, as we’re seeing in this picture of the kingdom of heaven on earth here in Acts 6.

In closing, what we’re seeing in this chapter is an example of something that often happens in churches, even today. These disciples survived the attacks raised against them by their religious leaders in chapter 5, they weathered that storm of resistance raised against them from without, only to have problems from within rise in their midst, threatening to dismantle the church just as surely as any attack from without. But unlike some churches today, this church knew what to do about it. They let their leaders give themselves to the Word of God and prayer!

What an example of how it doesn’t matter what the question is, or what the problem is, the Bible is the answer. And what an example of the preeminence that every grace church and every grace pastor should give to the prayerful study of God’s Word, and the teaching of His Eternal Book.

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