Settling Disputes

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By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Acts 6.1-7

Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Book of Acts in conjunction with this article.

Settling Disputes

Friction points seem to be a part of life. One of those friction points seems to involve having our needs met. Each of us has legitimate needs; we need and want them addressed. Generally, there is no problem in meeting our needs, especially when our need is not at odds with another need. But how does one’s needs get not just addressed, but also fulfilled when our needs are in conflict with someone else’s? This situation is complicated enough regarding personal or family needs and is even more problematic when the matter is within the church. So if this issue is in the church, where is one to turn for advice? Thankfully we have Acts chapter six.

Conflicts Do Happen
From Acts six we learn that the church is not immune to conflict. At that time, the argument arose over meeting the needs of two distinct groups and each group was divided by language. The language used by the group (Hebrew vs. Greek) may or may not have been the source of tension, but we must acknowledge that two distinct languages itself created a barrier to problem resolution. While language may have contributed to the conflict, their issue was specifically about addressing the needs of widows.

Based on the text of Acts six, one group felt it was being neglected, or as another translation states, overlooked. But what does neglected mean? We might conclude that neglected meant that they truly did not receive anything. Perhaps, it could also be that their widows received assistance from the remains. But their neglect could be somewhere between these two situations. In any case, there was a problem involving some form of neglect. It seems it could also be seen that one simply was not esteemed as highly as another. So our question involves: how do we esteem the value of both?

Conflicts Can Be Resolved
When there are disagreements or flat out discord, the problem needs to be addressed and solved. It is simply not enough to just acknowledge that a dispute exists, there must also be problem resolution. A “difference of opinion” or a flat out quarrel may be the result of a misunderstanding or an actual misdealing. The situation needs more than just mere acknowledgement. The manner in which the situation is discussed and handled will either encourage and strengthen all involved or discourage and weaken the brethren. Knowing that such a dilemma exists, we need to learn from the solution recommended by the apostles. Consider the following information from the books of Acts:

     Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
     And the twelve [apostles] summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
     And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
     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.1

First, we need to see what the apostles chose for themselves. They continued preaching and teaching the Scriptures. This is a very important task that should not be neglected as other needs are being addressed and resolved. Second, the apostles asked the people to choose for themselves men that met certain criteria, but it seems reasonable to conclude that if the congregation chose those men, the congregation must have respected them. It is very interesting to note that the apostles basically told the congregation to solve it’s own problems, but provided guidelines in order to do so.

It is powerful to note what happens to those brethren. Because the congregation followed the advice of the apostles, it seems they not only resolved their conflict, but they also increased in number, some of which were specifically from the Jewish priesthood. This passage seems to be demonstrable proof that the manner in which a problem is addressed and resolved has a direct influence on the outcome.

Conflicts and Reflection
In a simple statement, Acts chapter six provides an excellent example of problem resolution in a congregational setting. While the books of Timothy and Titus provide additional information about church organization, Acts 6.1-7 provides a real-life example of how to handle every day issues. It is my hope that this article provided a quick overview of a mechanism that has a high probability of success for congregation management. The apostles gave the power of problem resolution to the people. But it is just as important to notice that the people respected not only the apostolic leadership, but also the leadership of the seven men.

The church needs leaders for a wide variety of areas. Leaders are needed for teaching about the gospel. Leaders are needed in administration. Leaders are needed for problems. The power resides in the people and their collective ability to meet each other’s needs. This lesson is not unique to the New Testament. This application, while specific to the widows, is a direct outgrowth of the advice Jethro gave to Moses.2 Most problems are best resolved by those closest to the issues.

Jethro advised Moses to choose “able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”3 The apostles gave a similar model: “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”4 There are real needs in the church. There are real problems that occur in the church. In order for the church to address both, it seems that Jehovah approves that the matters, at first, are to be attempted to be resolved by the people themselves. If such things were practiced, would problems have a different outcome? And would the people have a greater respect for the leadership? May the LORD bless us as we consider these things.

Endnotes
1. “Information from Acts.” Acts 6.1-7, ESV.
2. “Jethro’s Advice.” Exodus 18.13-26, ESV.
3. “Choose Men.” Exodus 18.21, ESV.
4. “Apostolic Model.” Acts 6.2, ESV.

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