The Choosing of the Seven
1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)–Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.” 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
v. 1 “In those days…”
When the disciples numbers were increasing, the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked.
Previously, the apostles had been brought before the Sanhedrin who wanted to kill them. Gamaliel had persuaded them to just let them go – if the movement was of men, it would fade off, if from God, it wouldn’t fail.
So, the men were flogged and let go. They were full of joy to be able to suffer for Jesus, and they ignored the command of the Council – they must obey God rather than men. They continued to preach, and the disciples’ number increased. Increased numbers also lead to increased problems, which they experienced here.
The Grecian widows didn’t receive the same bread rations that the Hebraic widows received.
Now Luke turns his story to this tale.
Grecian and Hebraic Jews are separated linguistically and geographically.
The diaspora = the dispersion of the Jews (from Jerusalem to Babylon and at other times). This was part of the warning of God in Deuteronomy. “If you don’t obey my commands, you’ll be scattered throughout the whole earth.” The people weren’t faithful to God (read anything in the OT) and they worshiped idols, and were scattered.
When they worshiped idols and sinned, things went poorly. When they repented, things started looking up (improving).
When they did repent, they wanted to come back to Jerusalem (especially for the major feasts). Many also wanted to return home for retirement.
Many commentators say the Grecian Jews were probably more faithful?
They were Greeks, didn’t know the language, didn’t know the culture, etc, etc. They had suffered many things outside of the land so that they could come back.
Today, Sabbra Jews = immigrants who have come to live and work in Jerusalem.
The Grecian Jews went to a Greek speaking synagogue. The Hebraic Jews went to an Aramaic speaking synagogue. They were (quite) different in culture, and language. This was especially disadvantageous for the widows who couldn’t really speak up and express themselves.
Even today, when countries receive immigrants, the natives are suspicious of the newcomers thinking, “They’ll take our jobs! Our wives!” etc.
Even in this Christian context, there were probably prejudices against the immigrants.
Some say the Grecian Jews were all Greek speaking. But take Paul, he was not born in the land, he was part of the diaspora of Jews, spoke Aramaic and Greek fluently, but he declared himself a Hebrew, and in his letters (Corinthians) he defended his apostleship. “Are they Hebrews? Me too. Are they disciples? Me too. Are they children of Abraham? Me too.”
Even according to the Talmud (commentary on the Law) – the Pharisees looked down on the Grecian Jews and treated them poorly.
Now, here there’s a mixture of these two cultures and some problems with the relationships. The Greeks feel neglected (they were – possibly unintentionally – but felt very clearly).
So, looking at the attitude of God toward the widows and the orphans, the Law spoke much of God’s attitude toward these marginalized. Deut 10:18 “He defends the cause of the widow and the orphan and the foreigner among you and gives them food and clothing.”
Even in the Law, God makes his character known, and he specifies a curse against those who don’t. Deut 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who withholds justice from the fatherless, the widow, or the foreigner and withholds care.”
Derick Prince (in a small booklet on the subject) – didn’t really feel that he fully understood how to minister to these kinds of people. David Wilkerson “The secret of continual revival is: looking after the widows, the orphans, the oppressed.” Looking at the history of Wilkerson’s ministry, he was obviously right.
- Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do right, seek to do justice, take up the case of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
- James 1:21? “This is true religion: Looking after the widow and the orphan in their distress.”
The apostles received money at their feet from the sale and distribution of land. So, they also distributed the food and donations to the needy. They were going to continue doing so, but they needed to choose SEVEN men who would oversee it faithfully. (This was a kind of soup kitchen.) So the apostles turned the authority of the choice over to the church.
These were all proselytes (converts that did everything required in the Law including circumcision). Other converts were not circumcised so they are not fully “proselytes.”
- Nicolas is from Antioch (important later).
- Stephen is also important – his acts in the next chapter connect the Jerusalem church to the rest of the world’s church.
Acts 7:19? “Those who were scattered in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Cyprus and Antioch.”
At Antioch, the gospel was first preached to Gentiles as well as Jews. This became an important center for the spread of the gospel to Gentile nations.
Also, Paul later confesses about Stephen’s death – his witness, and approval of it.
- Philip preaches to an Ethopian, who also goes back to Ethopia to continue preaching. Paul later visited him.
- Nicolas was a convert to Judaism from paganism.
After they chose these SEVEN men, the apostles brought them forward, laid hands on them, and prayed for them.
The laying on of hands and praying is done for several reasons in the Bible including:
- Commission to Ministry
Numbers 8:10 “Bring the Levites before the Lord and the Israelites should lay their hands on them and pray for them.”
Deaconaos = the title for deacon.
These men became deacons, technically, though weren’t called it specifically. Philip was called “Philip the evangelist” in other places.
These men were preaches and teachers also, doing signs and wonders. The Greek Jews were probably more geared to preaching to the Greek Jews than the apostles – with the same power as the apostles.
Summary: Acts 6:7 “So, the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
There were 8,000 priests in the temple, and 10,000 Levites at that time. Many believed and turned to the Lord. This shows the power and authority with which the apostles preached.
There is a subtle change of audience here. They brought the gospel to a Greek speaking synagogue. The apostles were more used to speaking in the Aramaic speaking synagogues, but here Stephen is speaking to the Freedmen – former slaves or kids of slaves – Greeks – and Stephen is preaching to them. They hearts are hard and they argue with Stephen here. They could not stand the wisdom and Spirit by which you speak.
Matthew (last week)
“The time will come when you’ll be brought before leaders – don’t worry about what to say – God will give you the words to say.” Here is an example of that – speaking in the Spirit – and they can’t counter what he says.
Filled with the Spirit, Stephen does great wonders and signs – he’s filled with God’s grace and power – but the people resist his teaching. Some of them persuade others to say, “This guy is blaspheming Moses and the Law!” (Stephen is probably challenging their obsession with the Law. JESUS is the center of faith, NOT Law.) So they brought him before the elders and said, “He’s saying this Jesus will destroy this place and our customs!” (They are twisting his words – though there is some truth to them. Jesus didn’t destroy the temple, but he did prophesy it – the Romans eventually destroyed it.)
The temple was ordained with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. Jesus had said, “Just wait. There will come a day when not a single stone remains on another.” From a distance, this was a beautiful sight.
The reason why the stones were not left is because when the temple was burned by the Romans, the gold melted between the cracks. So in order to get to the gold, they eventually tore apart the whole temple, stone by stone.
Jesus’ prophecy came to pass – the people missed the true temple – himself.
Jesus also had said, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will not worship God in the temple.” (John 4 – to the woman at the well). “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth – for they are the kind of worshipers God is seeking.”
God is not to be found in:
- A place
- A type of worship
But, he is in all believers in the Holy Spirit.
“His face was like the face of an angel.”
Must be like when Moses was in the presence of God and came down from the mountain and veiled his face so the people wouldn’t see the glory.
Angel = messenger of God. Stephen was a messenger and was about to go see God.
The important thing for believers is that we:
- must be born of the Spirit,
- filled with the Spirit,
- have the Spirit witness to our spirits,
- acknowledge that we are sinners by birth,
- when convicted of sin, receive the Spirit of God,
- Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God.
- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation (1 Cor?)
It’s a self-authenticating thing that we can know we can know we can know. As we know, we learn. As we become new creations, we grow in knowledge and faith.
Have we begun?
We can begin by faith, be filled with the Spirit, live in the Spirit, rejoice in the Spirit. As we are filled, we will be more filled, and more filled. As we grow, we grow more. “From faith to faith we grow.”