In his commentary on Acts 6, we have a lot going on! There is so much in this short passage. Let’s check it out together.
Vs 1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
David Guzik tells us:
“Hebrews tended to regard Hellenists as unspiritual compromisers with Greek culture, and Hellenists regarded Hebrews as holier-than-thou traditionalists. There was already a natural suspicion between the two groups, and Satan tried to take advantage of that standing suspicion.”
When we read in the Bible that God’s people multiplied, we often find that they become divisive and begin to bicker and fall away from the Lord. That’s part of Satan’s game plan, it’s worked in the past and he is trying to use it here.
Remember the story of mankind before Noah and the flood?
Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth….then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Taken from Genesis 6 vs 1 and 6)
The Hellenists were upset because they felt that the Hebrews (traditional Jews) were favoring their own over the Hellenistic women. But God doesn’t allow Satan’s divisive strategy to work effectively here in the early Christian church.
Vs 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
God has a calling for you! God has a calling for me! He has a specific purpose and a plan for each of us, and we need to rest in knowing that. There is real peace in knowing and trusting in God’s plan rather than our own. What is God’s plan for you? I have no idea, but I know it’s beautiful.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Here, the apostles knew that it was God’s plan for them to be studying and teaching God’s word. They felt led by the Holy Spirit that serving the hungry was important, but something that should be delegated. In delegating this service, they allowed others to fulfill God’s will and plan for their lives. How awesome is our God!
Vs 3-4 “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
When choosing believers for ministry, it’s important that we choose people that love and follow God. God wants to produce “fruit” through us by His Holy Spirit. One way He produces that fruit is in serving Him and in serving the church.
In delegating this part of the ministry, the apostles were absolutely following God’s plan. Let’s look at how God moved Moses in Exodus 18:13-24 to delegate some responsibilities to further the Kingdom of God and glorify Him:
And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”
And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God.
When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”
So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.
Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”
So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
God knows we are human and have human limits. If Moses and his men had continued to govern the young Hebrew nation (1 to 2 million people!) the way they had been, they would wear themselves out.
Vs 5-6 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
The laying on of hands is often associated with an appointment or anointing of someone for ministry.
In Acts 8:14-17 we see the laying on of hands that result in the gifting of the Holy Spirit and an appointment to ministry:
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Guzik: “Why did they lay hands on them if all they were doing was providing for the practical needs of these widows? Do you really have to be ‘spiritual’ to do this kind of practical service? But practical service is spiritual service. The same Greek word is used for both distribution (Acts 6:1) and ministry (Acts 6:4). The idea behind the word in both places is service, whether in practical or spiritual ways.
People should count it a privilege to serve the Lord in these basic, practical ways, instead of seeing it as an ‘unspiritual’ burden. Apart from the cross, Jesus showed the ultimate measure of love by simply washing His disciples feet (John 13:1-5).”
7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Satan’s efforts to divide the believers and to distract the apostles from ministry was completely foiled. God is at work when we follow Him and allow Him to work! Not only do we see the early church multiplying dramatically, but we even see “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith”. When we get distracted by things of this world, temptation, or the busyness of life, we slow down what God is trying to do in us and through us.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Stephen is following God with a whole heart. He is being obedient to God’s Holy Spirit in how he is living his life and in that he gives us an excellent example. He was looking to eternity with God.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:15-17
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Colossians 3:1-2
I know that I tend to focus on what is around me and not on eternity! It’s a battle we all face. But God calls us to think differently than the world, and Christ helps us to change our perspective to an eternal one.
Vs 9-14 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council.
They also set up false witnesses who said, “This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
Now the enemies of Christ and Christianity have jumped on Stephen with evil intent. Perhaps this was an effort at making an example of this man of God. In their minds if they persecute Stephen, maybe the others will get the message and quiet down. This seems to be typical of many movements to quash the work of God.
Focus on one person, make up lies and false accusations, stir up the public with a campaign of lies, then prosecute through the courts.
This is similar to what the leaders did to the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament, to the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, and to the ultimate example in Jesus Christ.
Vs 15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
Though Stephen is in this place of persecution, even his face reflects the glory of the living God! Almost every time we read about angels in God word, we read about their radiance. That must have been Stephen’s face here. Oh that God would shine through us so much so that we are like a city on a hill, or like a lamp in darkness, and that people see God’s glory in us “as the face of an angel.”