“The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
A drive-by reading of Acts 6 might lead us to think that the gospel spread because the Jerusalem church had assigned deacons. Such a conclusion would miss the point of v. 7. Yes, recognizing the gift of God is important in the life of the church. The healthy church acknowledges the workmanship of God through individual members, not to induce jealousies, but to promote compassion and cooperation among the members. At the same time, the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on us to accomplish His task of convicting and changing hearts and redeeming people.
Grammar time: verse 7 relates to the preceding 6 verses by means of a little word translated “and” in the KJV and ESV. (It’s not translated in the NASB.) The word here simply links the present verse to the preceding ones without suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship. In other words, the deacons didn’t cause the gospel to spread. God’s grace did.
Luke simply observed that the gospel increased. It spread as more and more people saw the truth and embraced Christ by faith. The little wrinkle of the Hellenistic believers’ complaint did nothing to impede God’s sovereign plan to disseminate the gospel.
No church is perfect. Because they consist of sinners saved by grace, every church has problems, and will have problems until the Lord returns. Still, God’s Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish His purpose. Christ will build His church – and neither will our weaknesses and failures thwart His plan, nor will our strengths and accomplishments cause His purpose to succeed. The Gospel is a gift of God’s grace, not of works.
So, the church grew as the Gospel spread. Today, many people think they’ve experienced church growth when one congregation grows because another congregation splits or declines. That’s not growth; it’s reorganization. Nor does the church grows simply by adding names to a roll. The church grows as people who are dead in sins are made alive in Christ Jesus by grace. The evidence of their new life in Christ is a profound love for Christ and His church. The orbit of their priorities shifts from self to Jesus and His church.
At various times throughout history, and in different places, the church has grown exponentially, even explosively, as masses of people come to faith in Christ; but it doesn’t always happen that way. When it doesn’t, we often think we’ve failed for some reason. Many times, preachers will decide that they need to pump up the people and try to generate the same level of enthusiasm as they’d once seen. Revivalism, however, is a humanistic effort to emulate the work of the Spirit. It always fails, though. Many churches today are filled with unregenerate members, the results of man-made revivals that attempted to conjure in the flesh what only God’s grace can do. The wreckage of such efforts is evident across the landscape. When churches grow through the simple means of gospel grace, however, they increase in spiritual health. Individual members mature spiritually and the church grows collectively.
The gospel is so powerful that even priests, the very people who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion and the persecution of the church, came to faith in Christ. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, the salvation of those priests is barely a blip on the radar, but at the time, it was quite a big deal – not because they were a special breed of people who brought great benefits to the church, but because their very presence demonstrated the sovereign grace of God who overcame their pride and hostilities and brought them to bow the knee to Jesus as Lord.
If God is able to save the priests who crucified Jesus, then He can save anyone He pleases. We can take great comfort in knowing that He can save us. He is a great Savior.