During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers–“Hellenists”–toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines. So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”
The congregation thought this was a great idea. They went ahead and chose– Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a convert from Antioch. Then they presented them to the apostles. Praying, the apostles laid on hands and commissioned them for their task. The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.Acts 6:1-7
This passage could be the epilogue to the story so far or the preface to the third persecution and the conversion of Paul. Because the segment starts with “During this time” or more literally “now in these days”, we start a new chapter of the story. We have no indication of what happened between chapter 5 and chapter 6. Now the focus is back on the disciples and not the apostles. This section deals with the problems of growth. It is always a good problem to have. Now the band of followers is growing too fast for the leadership to keep up with the logistics. Not only are there too many believers in the band but they are now of mixed cultures which brings its own set of difficulties. There is now a schism between the Hellenists and the Hebrews. Yes, as depicted above, it is a language based issue between the Greek speaking Hellenists and the Hebrew speaking believers. Exactly who are the people in these two distinct groups?
The Hellenists are either:
- Greek speaking Jews
- Greek speaking Jews of foreign birth
- Jews influenced by Greek culture
The Hebrews are either:
- Aramaic or Hebrew speaking Jews
- Palestinian Jews
- Native Jews to the region
If they are both the latter classification, we have the scene set for what follows in terms of how this new faith handles the great divide between Jew and Gentile, which becomes a major consideration of Luke’s Book of Acts.
The issue at heart in this case is the distribution. Ah, but the distribution of what? The word [diakonia] can mean two things. Distribution or Ministration / Service. Are we talking about the act of distribution or are we talking about the fruit of distribution? Is their grievance that they were not included in ministry and given the opportunity to play their part in the new body of believers? I.e. not represented in the overall activity? Or is it that they did not receive the fruit of what was shared around? If the second meaning, then the meaning is focused on the aid, alms, charitable gifts that were shared among them. I suspect it is likely to be the latter. Remember it is most likely that the sharing of all things within the community, which was described at the end of Acts 2, is in focus here. But it is likely also to be the fact that this group was not included in the ministry of service of the church. It could well have been either and Luke does not clarify the matter for us.
Now the issue becomes one of the logistics of leadership. Recently we were asked by someone why they could not get close to the pastor of our 20,000 strong church in Indonesia. The person wanted to be counselled by the senior pastor. That is why there are sub-leadership levels to take the pressure off the senior leadership. That was the same problem Moses was having until his father-in-law, Jethro, offered him advice on how to handle the matter (Exodus 18:8-26). Reading Jethro’s advice to Moses, you would think that advice had been given to the Jewish believers of Jerusalem in Acts 6. Well it was – by Jethro. All the Jewish leaders in this incident would have known Jethro’s advice. They would all have completed the memorisation of the Torah. These men followed the advice word from Word it seems. Only in this case they were not divided into thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens – just seven. Thus instituting the office of “deacons”. They were just merely those serving to ease the burden on the higher leadership. “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor.”
So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task.Acts 6:3
And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men–men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible–and appoint them as leaders.Exodus 18:21
Notice how these two verses are paralleled. The people thought this was a good idea. I am sure they did. The idea came from the Scriptures they all knew and loved. These were Jewish believers.
They went ahead and chose– Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas, a convert from Antioch. Notice how Stephen gets the emphasis here. I am sure the other men were full of faith and the Holy Spirit as well. I am sure they were also men who feared God, men of integrity and incorruptible, according to the pattern. But whatever the case, Stephen is the one who is linked specifically to being – Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Stephen is the one in focus here. I wonder why?
And who are Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas? We don’t know exactly. We don’t hear about these men again. They are nobodies apart from Philip who is mentioned again in Acts 21:8. And of course Stephen is famous because of the incident recorded in this story in Acts. What is interesting is that they all have Hellenist or Greek names. That’s because they were Greek or Gentiles, chosen to represent the Greeks or Gentiles among the believers. The focus of this segment is all building up to the introduction of Stephen.
After choosing these men, they were then presented to the apostles who laid hands on them and commissioned them for the task. This is the first record of the practice of laying on of hands in this way in the New Testament. But it was practised in the Old Testament. It is an important practice and highly significant for them and for us. Take time to dig into it. We will meet it again in Acts 13 when I will address the significance. In the meantime let’s keep the main thing the main thing.
Notice the closing statement – “The Word of God prospered. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased dramatically. Not least, a great many priests submitted themselves to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
This is a nice tidy summation of all that has been going on as a result of the things that have happened. These believers have been putting their lives in danger for the Gospel for the last couple of chapters and the result is the band of believers are growing significantly. That growth has been addressed and managed by practising the principles found in the Old Testament and now the church is ready to be launched into the next phase of its development. But they are all unsuspecting as to how the next phase of growth is to be accomplished. It will be far from business as usual.
We define greatness by being worthy to be served. God defines greatness by our willingness to serve the unworthy.Lavonia Grabau
Don’t do what you are good at and call it ministry. Ministry is not defined by our gifts but by our calling.Ian Vail
We think much of what we will learn is what he tells us in His Word; but it’s the adventure of knowing His ways.Ian Vail
Favour is given you to bless. If it doesn’t bless the favour will be removed.Anon
A gracelet – A portion of grace which we give out to others from the stored Grace in us.Anon