A Human Problem and a Divine Solution

Acts 6:1-6 records the account of a problem that threatened the peace and harmony of the Jerusalem church. From the very beginning of the church on Pentecost, brethren had been taught to love their brethren, and early Christians demonstrated their love for their brethren by selling property they had, giving the money to the apostles to distribute to those who were needy among them. Acts 2:43-45 describes their spirit: “And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all that believed were together and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need”.

Satan always tries to corrupt good things. The first specific sin named among brethren was the covetousness and lying of Ananias and Sapphira which brought about their death (Acts 5:1-11). What was good in its original state Satan turned into evil because the couple still could be tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life. In Acts 6 Luke records another problem which arose out of the results of the good spirit of brethren. Luke wrote, “Now in those days when the number of disciples were multiplying there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1).

Few things threaten two groups of people against each other more than the cry of “racism”. It was true that both Grecian and Hebrew Jews were blood descendants from Abraham, but they were not from the same cultures and that provides fodder for dissension as well. The “Hebrews” were home born and familiar with the ancient cultures, language, etc. The “Grecians” were from an altogether different upbringing. Satan seized upon this difference and from what was good, sought to turn it into contention and division in the people of God.

The apostles did not allow dissent and the neglect (most likely done unwittingly) of Grecian widows to fester, but attended to it with due haste. “And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them” (Acts 6:2-6).

The apostles constituted God’s voice in revelation of both His will and the resolution of problems among them. Jesus had promised and given to them the Holy Spirit who would guide them in all truth (John 16:13). He would refresh their minds of what Jesus had personally taught them (John 14:26). He would not speak from Himself but He would speak what He had heard (John 16:13). The apostles were assured that when they were confronted with a time of testing for them, the Holy Spirit would tell them what to say and speak (Matthew 10:19-20). Thus, the words of the twelve in Acts 6:2-6 were God’s solution to the problem which threatened the peace of the early church.

Spiritual food is eminently more important than physical. Jesus told Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). And while it was not wrong that the apostles personally deliver food and essentials to the widows, there were others who could do that and free them to attend to a more important thing. So the instructions of the twelve to the multitude to choose seven men to take care of the urgent business was the Lord’s solution to this problem among brethren. The work of these seven became a permanent feature in the church (Philippians 1:1) and qualifications for such men were given by Paul in his first letter to Timothy (3:8-9), along with qualifications by which to test men who would serve as elders.

The apostles instructed and the disciples fulfilled those instructions by choosing the men. Paul and Barnabas “appointed them elders in every church” in the churches they established (Acts 14:23). The apostles “appointed” by giving qualifications for elders. The churches chose the men (if they followed the Jerusalem church), measuring them (elders or deacons) by the qualifications given by the apostles’ teaching.

The multitude of disciples “rose to the occasion” and showed a magnanimous spirit. Look at the list of men the multitude chose and notice that the Hebrews didn’t choose four with Hebrew names and three with Grecian names; they chose seven men of which all seven bore Grecian names!

We must always seek to know God’s will from His Word, otherwise we cannot know it. God said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). “To the law and to its testimonies. If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no life in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

Jim McDonald