Seven Chosen to Serve
6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, 2 pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, 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. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Observations and Reflections
Luke moves from the previous section describing conflicts between the Sanhedrin and the apostles. The current narrative is only vaguely described chronologically, with Luke’s intro of “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number“. So it would appear that some time has passed since the apostle’s run-in with the Sanhedrin but how much in unclear. The only clue is that they have had enough time to setup a food distribution network among the Hellenists and Hebrews.
The Hellenists and Hebrews were part of the same Jewish people-group but had very different political views. The Hellenists were Jews who wanted to adopt the Greek customs and live out their Judaism in a modern context. The spoke Greek, learned the Torah from the Greek Septuagint, and participated in some of the Greek Culture. They were criticized by the more conservative Jews who wished to hold fast to the Torah and oral law passed down to them. The two factions were known for not getting along well, however, the strange part about this passage is that neither of these groups are referred to as being part of the Christian community. However, we cannot count them out.
The Hebrews mentioned in Acts likely spoke just Aramaic. The ones who could speak Greek likely only did so when necessary for business and public duties. They would have been mostly all from Judea, whereas the Greek speaking Jews were likely more spread out due to the diaspora. However, both factions were currently represented in Jerusalem and were being looked after by the early church, which by all accounts appears to be comprised only of Jews thus far.
… a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. (Acts 6:1)
The beginning of chapter 6 is more about the growth of the church than anything else, however, this small issue of food distribution should not be overlooked. The Greek speaking Jews (Hellenists) accused the Aramaic speaking Jews (Hebrews) of stiffing their widows in the daily distribution of food, which could provide some insight into issue some of the cultural barriers for the two groups. Were they not able to properly communicate between the two groups? Was there purposeful neglect of the Greek speaking Jews by the Hebrews? It is hard to say if this was on purpose or not but it seems as though the disciples were more concerned about fixing the issue than trying to find out who to blame for it.
Another important facet of this passage is that the distribution of goods to the needy was the very first task of the early church, aside from preaching and teaching. Think about this for just a second. Of all the things that the first church could do with their time, they chose to serve the poor. That should not go unnoticed. It should be a core Christian tenant. In fact, in ancient Judaism not taking care of the poor was a crime that was punished by God’s wrath and is one of God’s top complaints with Israel, in every prophetic book. God is absolutely relentless on this issue.
“During the seventh year, let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Exodus 23:11
“Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:10
“However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” Deuteronomy 15:4
“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 22:16
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” Zechariah 7:10
” So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Malachi 3:5
There should be no surprise the one of the main functions of the church was to take care of the poor and widowed. Moreover, it was prophesied by God that when the day of the Lord came there would be no poor among them. One has to believe that they saw caring for the poor as a prophetic completion of sorts.
The last thing that needs to be pointed out in this passage is that the lack of care for the poor was hindering the disciple’s ability to preach the gospel. It was not until the matter was resolved that Luke states,
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
This statement was purposeful. The word of God was delay (even if briefly) because the poor were being neglected. It is this kind of discord was unacceptable in the body of Christ. Where there are poor people in need, God’s justice is lacking. The kingdom is not fully realized there.