Be a Disciple – Christ-Like Compassion – Acts Chapter 6
Within the early christian community, so marked by the dramatic show of radical generosity at the ends of chapters 2 & 4, the administrative structure fails to keep up with the community needs. As often happens, there is some grumbling within the community, claims of unfairness perhaps, or neglect. We don’t know the reason for the lack, whether intentional or otherwise. We do know that some folks began to fuss. No doubt they said things like, “EVERYONE KNOWS that THEY are showing favoritism.” The Greek word for this grumbling means ‘a secret displeasure, not expressed openly.’ How often does this happen in the life of the church!? Here, as is often the case, the inciting concern is real and valid – widows are going hungry – clearly an important issue of concern to God and whose who serve Him. Notice how it is handled at the beginning, though. For some strange reason, even in this most blessed and Holy Spirit filled time in the church, folks fuss among themselves rather than openly raising and discussing a matter of concern. How much heartache in the life of congregations grows from similar circumstances.
Eventually though (again, we don’t know how) the Elders get wind of the discontent. AND how do they react. Nearly every pastor and church leader who studies this text for any time has a twinge of discomfort – we know that our first impulse would be:
- to rush in,
- take responsibility,
- be worried over those who are grumbling,
- try to make everyone happy,
- and magage the solution.
The Elders, remarkably, do none of these things. Rather, they do several things which are vital for healthy leadership:
- Acknowledge valid concerns
- Focus on Leadership Responsibilities
- (In this case – teaching and prayer)
- Give responsibility back to the people.
- Initiate a Process
- Delegate Responsibility
- Restate and remain focused on Leadership Responsibilities
But this is supposed to be a post about Christ-like compassion, not leadership.
Actually, everything that is about being ‘christ-like’ is about leadership. Jesus is among other things a leader. He was a leader to the apostles, and remains one for those who accept Him as Lord.
And it is the leadership, in this case the Elders, who show Christ-like compassion. And, as noted above, they do this not in a reactionary way. Christ-like compassion takes real needs seriously. It does this while remaining focused on one’s own calling. (By the way, if you don’t know what your calling is, or have no vision for your life and ministry, then where will you focus lie?) So the calling of leaders is not to fix problems. That would not have been the Christ-like compassionate thing for them to do. Christ called them to do. So they showed compassion both for the Greek widows, and for the broader faith community, particularly those who were eventually called out to serve. These seven servant leaders found a ministry because the Elders were able to remain focused on their purpose. Christ-like compassion can not occur in the absense of a sense of purpose. Jesus clearly and repeatedly stated His purpose. So these seven also expressed Christ-like compassion, through the calling-out by the community of believers, in accepting and fulfilling their ministry purpose. AND then, through this experience, Stephen even discerned that had a further calling to preach. What if the Elders had taken ownership for this ministry, or the church as a whole? Stephen may never have become a preacher.
So, what are the marks of Christ-like compassion?
- See and understand the true needs around you
- Recognize the potential in others to provide ministry and meet needs
- Empower those who raise the concern to become part of the solution.
- Follow through to see that something gets done (but not necessarily do it yourself)
- Remain focused on the vision for ministry that God has for you.
Christ-centered community does not mean everything always runs smoothly. Even in the earliest days of the church there were significant growing pains. Christ-centered community does mean that those who are Christ-centered will listen thoughtfully and take action consistent with their calling from God, guided in part by Christ-like compassion for neighbor and enemy alike.