ACTS OF THE APOSTLES CHAPTER 6
When external threats and internal guiles failed to cripple the church in Jerusalem, the believers in Christ lapsed into the care of this life and lost their focus. Though caring for the poor and needy was a legitimate and natural expression of the faith in the Messiah, flesh was still flesh and murmurings of unfair treatment threatened to derail the progress of the church much like the murmurings of the Jews after leaving Egypt failing to enter the Promised Land.
Acts 6:1: And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
The growth of the church was phenomenal with signs and wonders performed by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. This church did not meet just on Sunday to “worship” God in spirit and in truth while church leaders could not be bothered whether their members live or die through the week. This was a church that was alive everyday and not just on Sunday with activities centered upon the gospel with outward manifestation for the love of the brethren and in particular, caring for those members who were weak and poor. The disciples were made up of Hebrews as well as Grecians in Jerusalem. Racial distinctions still remained in the Body of Christ in the administration of daily necessities. The generosity of the wealthier brethren giving to care for those in needs was commendable but a better system and processes needed to be in place to ensure that the good work of the brethren not be evil spoken of.
Let not then your good be evil spoken of: (Romans 14:16)
The negligence in such daily administration of caring for the poor and weak would bring the reputation of the newly formed Church into disrepute among its members and the world at large. This could give occasion for their enemies to accuse the church leadership of mismanagement or even corruption and all the hard work of the apostles and disciples in building up the Body of Christ derailed. The apostles recognized this threat and took immediate action to nip this troublesome problem at its bud.
Acts 6:2: Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Acts 6:3: Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
Acts 6:4: But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
Church leaders are supposed to recognize problems and come out with solutions to solve whatever trouble it might be facing. Unfortunately sometimes, church leadership fails in its duty due to neglect and indifference and wish the problem the church is facing would fade away by piously claiming that the church leaders are waiting upon the Lord. Such irresponsible leaders would soon run the church to the ground. Church leaders cannot pretend to be waiting upon the Lord by remaining passive but led by the Holy Spirit to be proactive to ensure the smooth functioning of the church.
Here the apostles gave their advice that they should look for seven wise and honest men full of the Holy Ghost in their midst to take charge of the daily administration of caring for the poorer brethren. The reason why the apostles themselves could not and should not be cumbered with such daily task was that they had more important and critical task at hand. They were supposed to spend more times in prayers and in the word of God instead of serving tables. It was not because of their lofty leadership position in the church as apostles who regarded serving tables as lowly and menial task that was incongruous with their status that prevented them from serving tables. It was because men were limited by time and space and they had to prioritize their time in the service of the resurrected Messiah. If they did not spend time in the word of God and serve tables instead, the church would soon become a social club just like any charity organization whose sole goal becomes serving humanity instead of the true and living God.
The main duty of the apostles among the church was to teach its members the word of God and not culinary skills or table manners. They were supposed to ground the members in the truth of the gospel and not trying to fine-tune church policies and administrative details. It is much better to leave such tasks to honest and faithful men to help in the running of the church so that the apostles could concentrate on what they were called to do or they would soon lose focus and become cumbered with much care like Martha. The church must move forward and help was needed to help the weaker members move along so that none would be left behind and the church would be a shinning light to the lost world.
Acts 6:5: And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Acts 6:6: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
The advice given by the apostles pleased the church and seven men were chosen. These men were chosen based on their reputation among the people. Evidently, they not only exhibited their qualities as being honest among them but more importantly they were full of faith not in themselves and their capability but in the Lord and they were all full of the Holy Ghost as well. Such outward observable traits were discernable by the people they associate with and no one could easily fake to be spiritual when they were not. Ananias and his wife paid the price for faking to be spiritual and charitable and resulted in their untimely death.
The seven men chosen here included a proselyte of Antioch. This showed that the church was ready to bring in non-Jewish believers in Christ into leadership position to serve as servants of the church. The murmurings that arose were because of unequal treatment between the widows of the Hebrews and the Grecians. So it should be comforting to note that the apostles were not simply putting up a show trying to placate those who were unhappy with the way the widows were helped within the church. They meant business and the people chose these men based on the criteria set by the apostles regardless of racial distinction among the believers. Their decisions were unanimous and no casting of lots was required like when they chose another disciple to replace Judas Iscariot. No non-Jewish believers were excluded in the selection when they fit the qualifications given by the apostles.
It is important to note that no voting was called for to see which man best represent their interest within the church. The church was not a political organization where members choose those who best represent them though the problem at hand was apparently due to neglect of the non Jewish widows. There is no such thing as democracy within the church like those practiced by the people in the world. Political partisanship is not allowed in the church of the living God. Worldly wisdom must never be allowed to enter the church otherwise, there will be endless quarrels within the church whenever the church faces some problems and threaten to split the church as members follow those leaders they perceive to offer them solutions to their problem.
Recorded here was the first batch of servants selected to serve the church as deacons. The criteria set forth did not include the ability to teach for these servants of God. However, this does not mean these servants were unable to teach and in fact, one could teach and preach so well that he became the first martyr for Christ in the New Testament in the following chapter. When these men were set before the apostles, they were ordained into this ministry of ministering to the saints with the laying of the hands of the apostles. Servants in the church are always appointed and never voted in by popular votes and in this case appointed by the apostles. The approval from the apostles was important to ensure that there would not be any future challenge to these men with authorities vested upon them by the apostles. When business was carried out decently and in order in the church, blessings from the Lord would surely follow.
Acts 6:7: And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
So the church being led by the apostles of Christ and servants of the church was greatly blessed by the Lord. No one in the church usurped divinely ordained authorities trying to solve problems in the energy of the flesh and worldly wisdom. The church received authority from above and not created by whims and fancies of men from below.
When these apostles could spend time in prayers and in the word of God, the word of God of course increased. Moreover, the number of disciples multiplied as well. In addition, even a great number of priests were obedient to the faith. This was amazing to say the least as those priests were once antagonistic towards the apostles and disciples of Christ. One can imagine what a blessing it was for turning these former enemies to the faith to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel. This was the natural progression of the church when heaven smiled upon them for being obedient to the apostles God ordained to build up the young church in Jerusalem. It almost seemed that the church was untouchable and nothing could stop them in multiplying themselves where the whole nation would have to confront the powers that be to deal with the soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, all the apostles and disciples were labouring for the soon return of their Messiah whom they saw went back to heaven not too long ago.
Acts 6:8: And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
Here we note Stephen who was chosen with the responsibility to minister to those poor widows in the church actively doing the Lord’s work. He did not simply serve tables but preached the gospel with power and performed miracles and wonders to authenticate his message of salvation. He was no doubt a man of faith so recognized by those who chose him to serve in the church. What he did for the Lord surely caught the envy of those enemies of the cross to stir up troubles.
Acts 6:9: Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
Acts 6:10: And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Interestingly it was those Jews outside of Israel that were offended and sought to debate with Stephen. As in those days, the Jewish believers being Jews were still attending the temple in Jerusalem and congregating in synagogues trying to take the gospel message of salvation to the Jews showing them that the Lord Jesus Christ was the Messiah and had risen from the grave and went back to heaven. In fact, even a great company of the priests became converts as well. Such success in the gospel work must surely attract the attention of Satan to thwart his own soon demise.
Stephen was doing such a fine job that those Jews from outside of Israel could not resist the wisdom and spirit of Stephen who was earnestly contending for the faith of the forefathers of Jehovah God. These men were not going to take a back seat and allowed Stephen to work unhindered. When even many of the priests in Israel became obedient to the faith in Christ, these Jews outside of Israel were now playing a bigger role showing to the Jewish authorities and religious leaders that their orthodoxy in their practice of the Law of Moses were not questionable or any less compared to them. This would indeed be a good occasion for them to seek prominence among the Jewish communities to show that these Jews outside of Israel were not any less Jewish in the practice of their faith of the motherland though living abroad.
Acts 6:11: Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
Acts 6:12: And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
Acts 6:13: And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
Acts 6:14: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
Acts 6:15: And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Once again, the pattern of false accusation was the method commonly adopted by these enemies as it was during the earthly ministry of Christ leading to His crucifixion. Blaspheming Moses and God attracts the death penalty. The Jews held Moses in very high regard but they would not obey Moses and they did not understand the Law of Moses either. The Law of Moses was simply a tool for them to remain in power. These religious Jews were only having a form but lacked substance in their own worship. When the Prophet Moses told them would be coming they could not recognize Him and rejected Him. Moses and the Law were convenient platforms for these rebellious Jews to set up their enemies when they could not argue their case before them. So they complained to the religious police and caught Stephen and brought him to the council. It was so easy to stir up the people by appealing to Moses. Did Moses teach them to bear false witness?
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (Exodus 20:16)
Apparently, these leaders were simply politicians in religious garb. Political expediency precedes religious consideration. The end justifies the means. As long as they could remain in power, religious obligations became inconvenient truths and they had to be set aside. So what about bearing false witness? Who was Moses? But we were actually true followers of Moses, so they claimed. Moses would roll over in the grave.
So the elders and the scribes had the occasion to summon Stephen to the council just like the apostles appeared before the council previously to face unfounded charges. Again, false witnesses were set up repeating the same consistent pattern of wicked men in the past persecuting the saints of old. The kangaroo court was surely not short of business. What were their accusations against Stephen?
Stephen was accused of blaspheming the holy place, the temple in Jerusalem, as well as the law. But for these religious hypocrites, bearing false witness was not against the law nor was it a blasphemy. Incurable and severe acute blindness syndrome had afflicted these Jewish rebels, one might conclude. Such was the case when these religious leaders persecuted Christ and put Him to death. Any means would do included bearing false witness and disregarding and disobeying the Law of Moses. Wonderful and godly leaders they were. How corrupt these leaders became when they entrenched themselves in power for so long and they could not see for themselves in the face of the law how far they had fallen short of the law themselves.
Moreover, they accused Stephen of preaching, “Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” Perhaps this might be closer to the truth but taken out of context to suit their agenda in bringing Stephen to the book. Even the Lord Jesus Christ was accused of destroying the temple and building up the temple again in three days during His own persecution by the Jews. The temple in Jerusalem was sacrosanct. Anyone dared to suggest that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed; this would mean the end of the practice of Judaism and the end of the Jewish national life. The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life and culture as well as their national pride. What would they do without this temple? Which leaders would not defend their national and religious survival against such blasphemous claim?
Of course unless the Law of Moses would be changed as well otherwise, the temple in Jerusalem must remain. But what these religious Jews and leaders did not understand was that someone greater than the temple had already come.
But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:6&7)
The daily sacrifice performed the Jewish priests at the temple no longer suffice and would be done away with. The custom of Moses was already in transition and the Prophet Moses told them in yonder years had already arrived. Real estate in Jerusalem was going to tumble in the coming of days which these Jews failed to recognize. Worshipping the true and living God was no longer the sole monopoly of the Jews at the temple in Jerusalem.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21-24)
This was indeed a hard truth to swallow. Patriotism was a convenient weapon to defend their own decline as the church grew stronger with the passing of days and losing a great company of priests to the faith of this newly found sect of Jesus could not go unchallenged. Just when they had almost exhausted all means to bring the apostles to task and failing in every turn to stop or hinder their work in signs and wonders performed among the people, persecuting Stephen, a non apostle might seem to be a perfect idea to test the waters to gauge their declining popularity among the Jews. Notwithstanding, what they saw were indeed troubling as the face of Stephen took on the resemblance of an angel. What the Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples in the past were taking place.
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:17-20)
No wonder the face of Stephen was changed and the Spirit led Stephen would be conferred with one of the highest honours of being a martyr for Christ in the next chapter when he preached one of the greatest sermons of all time. The invitation he received from his hearers was phenomenal beyond human explanation on how could words bring about such a respond with raging madness from those who claimed to be followers of Moses agreeing with every point of the sermon except the final conclusion which they could not handle. The nation of Israel was entering a final phase of national reconciliation with their Messiah depending on their response towards the ministry of these apostles and disciples to the Jews.
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