The congregation in Jerusalem selected the men to oversee the distribution. What was the outcome? Luke summarises the consequences in verse 7: ‘And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.’ I think Luke is saying that the word spread in two ways. First, it spread in the sense that the number of disciples increased and, second, it spread in the sense that the gospel penetrated a new area, on this occasion among the priests.
As we look at this incident, we can see that the church that grew was a church which kept a biblical balance between preaching, prayer and social concerns. This church was determined to maintain the centrality of preaching, and because it did so there were many converts. It did not allow communication of the message to be sidetracked by necessary concerns. But it did not ignore the social concerns. Instead it maintained a balance for proclaiming the gospel and performing acts of mercy.
Yet we can also see that God had already provided the church there with the right kind of gifted people that it would need to deal with this unexpected diversion. The awareness of this wonderful reality is a great encouragement for every true church. What was true of the church in Jerusalem is true of every church of God’s people. God will give them the gifts that they need to perform the particular tasks he requires of them. It is true of ourselves, and in fact each of us can perform tasks for the Lord. There is not one of us whom God expects to do nothing for his kingdom.
This successful solution is a reminder that it is straightforward usually for a church to defeat the devil’s intrigues. The remedy for his suggestions is to maintain a biblical list of priorities. Satan’s attempt to distract the church failed because it refused to silence the proclamation of the gospel and the ministry of intercession by its leaders. If the list of priorities gets adjusted by us, we will hand the victory to him. By insisting on spiritual priorities, the church continued to enjoy divine blessings.
The occasion also reminds us that divine logic is far greater than human expectations. We cannot see any connection between a church insisting that its leaders preach the gospel and others help the widows with the conversion of a large number of priests who had been opposed previously to Christ. But that reality is part of the joy of New Testament church life. They could not see the link, but God had connected the two factors of maintaining priorities and the spiritual blessings of the priest. It is the same with ourselves. Someone may ask us, Who do you think will benefit if you insist on putting the gospel first and then arrange for other important things to be done? The answer is, ‘We don’t know who they are, but we do know that God has made a link between our faithfulness and his blessing. This means that there should be many joyful surprises in store for congregations that behave in this way.
What was taking place in this incident reveals the twofold ministry of Jesus towards his church. On the one hand, he protects her from Satanic intrigue and, on the other hand, gives to her spiritual success. The Christ who did this for the church in Jerusalem two thousand years ago can do the same for us today.