1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. 7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. 8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Historical Narrative Genre
Discipleship - The process of training people incrementally in some discipline or way of life.
Transmission of beliefs
Transmission of skills
Widowhood - often a dangerous state for a woman in ancient times because economic security was often based on a husbands income and work.
The Ministry of the Word
The Ministry of the Word
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Following Paul, the pastoral writers spoke frequently of the human need for being counseled through the word of preaching.
Following Paul, the pastoral writers have spoken frequently of the human need for being counseled through the word of preaching.
It is not a task that we can expect God unilaterally to do for us or without our human voices, as Luther noted:
It would not be surprising if I threw the keys at the Lord’s feet and said: Lord, do Your own preaching. No doubt You are able to do better; for we have preached to them, but they will not listen to us. But God wants us to stand fast in our calling and office, to administer them, and to give rebukes. For He wants to rule His church through preachers, through the external word and Sacrament, just as He rules the world through burgomasters, kings, princes, and lords, and punishes the wicked with the sword. (Luther, WA 47, p. 95; WLS 3, p. 1115)
27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.
There are indications of the leadership struggling and at times failing.
The selection of the leaders of Acts 6 indicates that leadership had failed to ensure that the distribution of welfare for the widows was equitable (Acts 6:1).
This was due to overwork and possibly a degree of ethnocentrism as they, even if inadvertently, favored the Hebrew-speaking Jews over those who spoke Greek; it is acknowledged and dealt with.
4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Flexibility in leadership is seen when the church leaders appoint a group of seven Greek-speaking disciples, including Nicolaus the proselyte, to distribute food to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows (Acts 6:4).
Rather than stretching themselves to resolve this issue, the apostles establish another group to take on the role while they concentrate on prayer and preaching (Acts 6:4).
Again, it is significant that, while the proposal came from the leaders, the “proposal pleased the whole group.” This indicates their commitment to a degree of egalitarianism in decision-making under the guidance of wise leadership.
The establishment of this ministry leads to further spreading of the word and sees the release of a new group of leaders.
Prominent in this group is Stephen, whose ministry is powerful and effective and ultimately ends unjustly (Acts 6–7); Philip, who leads the mission to Samaria (Acts 8:4–40); and Barnabas (Acts 11–15).
A strong feature of all the leaders mentioned in Acts is that they modeled Christian living. They are found preaching, praying, and laying hands on others.
They show amazing courage in the face of persecution, refusing to relent on the call of mission. Stephen and James even died for the cause (Acts 7; 12:1–2).
They are not distant figures in offices directing troops into battle while they themselves are separate and safe.
Although not military in a real sense, the first Christian leaders are more akin to Alexander the Great and others of history who led their armies into battle (spiritual).
This is appropriate, for Christianity is more caught than taught. These leaders know this and lead the way. Paul calls for believers to imitate his life (e.g., 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9).
In conclusion, the issue of leadership is always crucial.
The early church had great leaders who were not scared to make decisions and lead, yet they led in a non-autocratic manner, including all believers in their decision-making.
One of the great stories of the New Testament is the journey of Peter from the spontaneous and stumbling fisherman to the great leader portrayed in Acts.
Clearly, he is not perfect (see his development in the Synoptics and John 21, and his clash with Paul in Gal 2:11–14), but he is a great paradigm of the progress of a Christian leader. The role of other leaders cannot be overlooked, especially John and the other apostles: Barnabas, Philip, Stephen, Paul, John Mark, James, Timothy, Silas, Apollos, and Priscilla and Aquila.
The leaders of the Jerusalem Church were people of genuine faith able to bring together flexibility, participative leadership, and leadership by example.
Acts 6:1–6 is particularly instructive as something of a pattern for church life today.
In the first place, the early church took seriously the combination of spiritual and material concerns in carrying out its God-given ministry.
In doing so, it stressed prayer and the proclamation of the Word,
but never to the exclusion of helping the poor and correcting injustices.
And even when the church found it necessary to divide internal responsibilities and assign different functions, the early believers saw these as varying aspects of one total ministry.
Second, the early church seems to have been prepared to adjust its procedures, alter its organizational structure, and develop new posts of responsibility in response to existing needs and for the sake of the ongoing proclamation of the Word of God.
Throughout the years restorationist movements in the church have attempted to reach back and recapture the explicit forms and practices of the earliest Christians and have tried to reproduce them as far as possible in their pristine forms, believing that in doing so they are more truly biblical than other church groups.
But Luke’s narrative here suggests that to be fully biblical is to be constantly engaged in adapting traditional methods and structures to meet existing situations, both for the sake of the welfare of the whole church and for the outreach of the Gospel.
Finally, Luke’s account suggests certain restraining attitudes that could well be incorporated into contemporary churchmanship.
Among these are
(1) refusing to get involved in the practice of assigning blame where things have gone wrong, preferring rather to expend the energies of God’s people on correcting injustices, praying, and proclaiming the Word, and
(2) refusing to become paternalistic in solving problems, which implies a willingness to turn the necessary authority for working out solutions over to others—even, as was possibly the case here, to those who feel the problem most acutely and may therefore be best able to solve it.
Laying on of hands -
18 And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him;
Acts 8:17; Acts 9:17
; Acts 13:3
14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
22 Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.
Philip - Acts 21:8
Word of God Spread - Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20