When God is at work, challenges arise from within and from without. Just as Jesus directed His disciples to feed the crowds that followed Him (Mk. 6:37), so too His Spirit leads His apostles to appoint men to address the needs of widows in the early church so that the Word can continue to multiply.
The Text: “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…” (Acts 6:1-15)
Summary of the Text
Administrative challenges accompany the success of the gospel, and right on schedule a complaint arises from the Hellenists against the Hebrews that their widows are being neglected in the daily service (Acts 6:1). The twelve apostles charge the congregation to appoint seven men over this table service, so they can continue in the ministry of the Word and prayer (6:2-4). The congregation chose seven good men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and the apostles ordained them, and the word of God increased and the disciples multiplied (6:5-7).
Stephen, one of the seven new deacons, was particularly gifted with words and wonders, and a party of opposition arose, which when they were unable to resist his wisdom, convinced some men to falsely accuse him of blasphemy (6:8-11). They successfully got many people and leaders stirred up and brought him before the Jewish counsel, and while many false witnesses testified against him, God made his face like the face of Moses (6:12-15).
This text has traditionally been understood as the origin of the office of Deacons. While the noun is not used, the verb is used twice: “ministration/service” (6:1) and “serve” tables (6:2). The office of apostle was unique for the first century (eye-witnesses of Jesus, authorized to write the New Testament, Acts 1:8, 21-22), their ministry was passed on to elders (also called bishops), particularly the ministry of the Word (e.g. Lk. 1:2, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9). While all Christians are called to a general ministry of “service” (e.g. Mt. 20:26-28, Rom. 13:4-6, 1 Cor. 3:5, 1 Pet. 4:10), the word is also used to describe an office for qualified men (1 Tim. 3:8-13) who assist the elders (cf. Phil. 1:1) in a ministry of serving at tables, which we understand to include assisting the elders with the administration of worship, caring particularly for the material/physical needs of those within the congregation as well as those outside.
Controversy as Opportunity
We have already seen this, but Luke doesn’t want us to miss it: when the Holy Spirit it as work, there will be controversies inside and outside the church, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, controversy is an opportunity for the gospel to go forth. When this internal controversy arises, the apostles understand that they must not be distracted from their assigned task and therefore conclude God is leading them to appoint new leaders to oversee this need (Acts 6:2-4). And the result is clear: “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” (6:7). Likewise, we should be anticipating something similar coming with the controversy surrounding Stephen – more on that later (6:9).
Like the Face of an Angel
Clearly, Stephen did his administrative work well, and in addition to those gifts, was also a gifted teacher and evangelist (6:8-10). Remember, the miracles of the first century were specifically given as confirmation of the Word of the apostles (cf. Mk. 16:20, 2 Cor. 12:12), but the thing that the Jews could not withstand was his wisdom with the Word (Acts 6:10). And while they brought all kinds of false words against him, his face had the authority of an angel of God, which reminds us of the face of Moses coming down from the mountain, having spoken to God face to face (Ex. 33:11, 34:29-35). Elsewhere Paul says that when Christ is preached in faith and received in faith an even greater light shines on our faces without a veil, changing us from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
We are a growing community and congregation, and we should expect growing pains and needs. We want to preserve real community and personalism, but we should not resent wise administration. Large churches cannot pretend to be small churches. If you see a need, please say something. Just be aware that there are many moving parts to coordinate and sometimes the one who sees a need is gifted to fill it. But guard against all murmuring (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:10).
We should expect controversy, including persecution, slanders, and lies, and we should expect many people to hear them and get caught up into them. And we should expect blessing to come with it: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” (Mt. 5:10-12).
The Word is the tip of our spear. Read the word. Share the word. This word is our glory. It is the glory of a Holy God who freely saves sinners. This is the greatest wonder – that God takes hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh – that men and women may be born again – and that wonder truly cannot be resisted. But when resistance comes to that glory, we should be praying for more opportunities to preach this good word, and regardless, please pray regularly for those called to this particular ministry (cf. Eph. 6:19-20).