Acts 6:1-15 (web)

A Shift to Lay Ministry

6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying,
a complaint arose from the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews
because their widows were neglected in the daily service. 
6:2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said,
"It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables
6:3 Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report,
full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 
6:4 But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word." 
6:5 These words pleased the whole multitude. 
They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip,
Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; 
6:6 whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 

6:7 The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly. 
A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. 

6:8 Stephen, full of faith and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 
6:9 But some of those who were of the synagogue called "The Libertines," and of the Cyrenians,
of the Alexandrians, and of those of Cilicia and Asia arose, disputing with Stephen. 
6:10 They weren't able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. 
6:11 Then they secretly induced men to say,
"We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." 
6:12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes,
and came against him and seized him, and brought him in to the council, 
6:13 and set up false witnesses who said, 
"This man never stops speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 
6:14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place,
and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." 
6:15 All who sat in the council, fastening their eyes on him, 
saw his face like it was the face of an angel. 
 

Comments

Ministry:  Either/Or versus Both/And

"It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God 
in order to wait on tables."Acts 6:2 (niv)

"We will turn this responsibility over to them 
and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." Acts 6:3b,4 (niv)

I have the impression that the attitude revealed by the Apostles here is not ideally Christlike, but rather communicates a bit of elitism which has historically been unfortunately somewhat characteristic of clergy. This is not what Jesus taught. Didn't he do both the ministry and wait on tables. In fact was that not his lesson when after the Last Supper he washed the disciples feet. And did he not say that, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." Matt 20:26,27 And so also when faced with feeding the 5000 didn't Jesus say, "You give them something to eat." Matt 14:16 Preaching the Word is one thing. Doing it is another. Notice also what happens after Stephen is chosen to serve meeting this practical need. 
  • God works miracles through him
  • He preaches bodly. In fact Acts 7 is almost entirely a sermon Stephen preaches.
And later we read of Philip, another one chosen to serve here, preaching the Word of God to the Samaritans. So how is that Stephen and Philip were both able to "wait on tables" (as the Apostles contemptuously refer to it), and also preach the Word, seeing as the Apostle's themselves didn't seem to be able to do both? 

Many things have hindered the growth of the church unto maturity. One is the elitist attitude of the "clergy" who view their congregation as simply composed of stupid sheep incapable of doing nothing more than the most menial tasks. Another is the laziness of the congregation who are willing accomplices in suppressing their own usefulness, avoiding responsibilities by reckoning themselves as nothing but stupid sheep. But there are those like Stephen and Philip who go beyond the menial responsibilities assigned to them by a condescending clery, and press on to fulfill the Great Commission while the clergy can't even keep up to them. 

Speaking to his apostles Jesus said, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:9. But in fact it was other Christians who first went beyond Jerusalem. For Philip was the first to preach to the Samaritans, and "men from Cyprus and Cyrene" preached to the Hellenists starting the church at Antioch, and Paul and Barnabus were first to the Gentiles in Asia. Jesus told his apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, but others were the ones to go. In fact it appears it took quite a while before the Eleven even got out of Jerusalem. I suspect that's why God chose Paul as the 12th Apostle - seeing as the others were simply too slow carrying out His orders.

As I mentioned previously God does miracles to affirm His Word. Normally miracles are done by the Apostles alone, for it is their word which needs affirming. But here we see God doing miracles through Stephen - not an apostle. Why? Because God chose him over the apostles to preach here and affirmed his words with miracles. He would become the first Christian martyr. For God often lifts up the humble servant, who takes up the responsibilities that others contemptuously reject. And Stephen could have said, "It's not my job to preach, but just to wait on tables." But he went beyond his institutional tasks to fulfill his spiritual responsibilities.

Prejudicial Treatment in the Christian Community

The Jews were characteristically racist, prejudice, elitist, and not to mention hypocritical which naturally follows such attitudes. This is seen throughout the New Testament. It was generally true both of believing and unbelieving Jews. We see it in Paul's message to Jews in Romans chapter 2. We see it in Peter's reluctance to preach to Cornelius in Acts 10 and the response of the other Jews in Acts 11, and in Galatians 2 where Paul even had to rebuke Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles. 

The "Hellenists" or "Grecians" were "Greekish Jews". They were Jews generally born in foreign lands and speaking Greek as their native language. The Palestinian Jews saw themselves as more pure Jews and were somewaht xenophobic of Greek influences which threatened to overrun the culture. Breaking these xenophobic barriers was essential to completing of the Great Commission. And it is to their credit that the Apostles at least took this seriously and had men assigned to the task who were of good reputation and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Of course the apostles were prehaps less prone to prejudice in this matter as most of them came from Galilee which was rather Hellenistic in comparison to Jerusalem. But also taking care of widows in their distress was understood to be an essential aspect of the practice of religion as God emphasized in the Old Testament, and as James, the brother of Jesus, later writes in his epistle.

"Religion that's perfect, God confesses, 
Is to help orphan and widows in their distresses, 
And to keep oneself from being polluted, 
For sin in the world is firmly rooted." Jas 1:27  (arv)

The Conversion of Priests

The conversion of a multitude of Jewish priests represents a signficant shift in the demographics of the Christian community. For both through Jesus' ministry and up to this point the early church had been relatively devoid of those of high religious office. The disciples had been mostly common Jews, and even those relatively despised in the society such as former prostitutes and tax collectors and such. No doubt the preaching of the gospel finally brought many priests to conviction of sin, just as they themselves had said before, "You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."Acts 5:28 It is also probable that many were convinced by Stephen's apologetics as he was quite adept in the scriptures. But also we should realize that Luke is written in an historical descriptive sense when he says they were "obedient to the faith" referencing their outward behavior. But I suspect, based also on some future passages, that there were those who entered the Christian community out of false motives, such as fear of the crowd, as popularity had been shown to be a common motivation of the religious elite, and also to spy, as Paul mentions in Galatians 2:4

Stephen Brought to Trial

A very significant aspect of Stephen's trial, which I'll also bring up in the next chapter is the fact that the future Apostle Paul was present, consenting to his final stoning. Paul was from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia of which we see Ciliceans arguing with Stephen in verse 9. No doubt Paul was among them. It is interesting also that near the end of Acts Paul would stand in Stephen's place in almost an identical situation in which he was also judged by the Sanhedrin for similar reasons (Acts 21:21

One lesson to be learned from this is to not underestimate the effect of preaching the message. Some may say that Stephen shouldn't have bother to argue with these people. They didn't come to believe, and it only ended in his death. But that is short sighted.  Who can say how great and positive an impact this event had on people like Paul and others as they looked back at it. And as for his death, Jesus said "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." John 12:24 In fact wasn't Jesus himself shown to be most fruitful after he died? And there is much to be learned in this confrontation which can edify Christians even today thousands of years later.

In verse 10 we read that they were not able to resist his wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. We need to be able to speak in a convincing manner.  And not just giving out information, but giving the sense and the application, the spirit of the message. But avoid wild speculation. For your opponents will always attack your weakest point. If your argument is strong, they will either agree with you or end up slandering you, purposely misinterpreting your message. I've met many skeptics who do that with the Bible all the time, purposely misinterpreting it so as to discredit it. But they only end up discrediting themselves, revealing themselves either as slanderers or so deviant in their thinking as to render them incapable of interpreting things correctly.

vs 11 indicates some political slyness in that they didn't themselves accuse him of slander. For he hadn't said anything slanderous. But rather they induced, or perhaps even bribed, some others to slander him - just to make sure they wouldn't be accused of slander. 

In this trial Stephen must have really been able to identify with Christ, as He went though very similar things. In fact in both cases the accusation of claiming that Jesus said he would destroy the temple came up. These accusations were simply to stir up the religious zeal among the Jews to the point of murder. (Funny how the most religiously zealous can end up being the most bloodthirsty)

Touched by an Angel

vs 15 What does it mean by seeing his face as an angel. Today many think of angels as gentle, beautiful, feminine type of creatures with wings. But angels in the Old Testament revealed themselves as men and often deadly when facing the enemy. Stephen was like the angel of death. His look was grave and profound - very serious. He stood there boldly in full conviction of faith as if in the presence of God, full of the Holy Spirit, ready to wield the sword of the Spirit and cut them into pieces. He was God's messenger of rebuke to these religious elite.



The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015