In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
- Acts 6:1
The word ‘complain’ has significant negative connotations today. No one wants to be known of as a complainer. And when we label something as a complaint, we often mean that what we’re hearing is petty, unfounded or grating. But that wasn’t the case in today’s passage.
The church experienced a breakdown of generosity, as a subset of the widows in the church were neglected. Bringing the breakdown of generosity to the surface was an absolutely necessary step for the community to experience a breakthrough.
What other options did they have?
The Hellenistic Jews could have stuffed their frustration beneath the surface. Grim faces and uncomfortable, unexplained tensions. Everyone would know that something was wrong, but only the Hellenistic Jew would know what the problem was. The breakdown in generosity would have led to a breakdown in love.
The Hellenistic Jews could have voted with their feet. They could have said: “Fine. If you won’t take care of our widows, we’ll withhold our resources from the community and take care of them ourselves.” The breakdown in generosity would have led to a breakdown in community.
The Hellenistic Jews could have whispered amongst themselves, stoking the fires of their frustration until they were hot enough to explode. Frustration could have metastasized into bitterness. That bitterness could become a barrier between them and God. Why didn’t he prevent this injustice from happening? The breakdown in generosity would have led to a breakdown in faith.
No, bringing the breakdown to the surface was absolutely necessary. If the issues are not made known they cannot be addressed. If they don’t tell anyone, a wrong cannot be corrected. What’s going to happen next will set a wonderful and powerful precedent for the church, which will bump up against these kinds of issues over and over again. The complaint creates an opportunity for creative solutions that will bear the fruit of the Spirit in their corporate and individual lives. We can guess that it was uncomfortable. But it was absolutely necessary.
How do you respond to legitimate complaints when they’re presented to you? Where do you need to speak up about a breakdown that’s happening in your life, relationships or leadership? Where do you need to listen to someone who’s taking a risk to point out a breakdown to you?