by Greg Williamson © revised 2022
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB © The Lockman Foundation*

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The Choosing of the Seven (Acts 6:1–7) | Stephen Seized (Acts 6:8–15)

The Choosing of the Seven (Acts 6:1-7)

The complaint, conference, and choice (Acts 6:1-7)

(1) Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (2) So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. (3) Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. (4) But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (5) The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. (6) And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

(7) The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

  A. The complaint to the church leaders (Acts 6:1): The Greek-speaking widows feel that the Hebrew-speaking widows are being favored in the daily distribution of food.
B. The conference of the church leaders (Acts 6:2–4)
    1. Their dilemma (Acts 6:2): They want to help but feel they have no time.
2. Their decision (Acts 6:3): They determine to select seven men and assign them this task.
3. Their duties (Acts 6:4): The leaders believe their ministry should consist of praying, teaching, and preaching.
  C. The choice by the church leaders (Acts 6:5–7)
    1. The individuals (Acts 6:5): The men chosen for this task are Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.
2. The installation (Acts 6:6): The apostles lay hands on the seven and pray for them.
3. The increase (Acts 6:7): Soon the number of believers increases, including the conversion of many Jewish priests! [ref]

Satanic Disruption
R. Kent Hughes:
Acts 6 shows us Satan trying to disrupt the inward peace of the early church. Wonderful things were happening as the new church grew by leaps and bounds. Three thousand received Christ at Pentecost. Another 2,000 were added shortly thereafter. Acts 5 tells us that many more were then added to the church. Satan, unhappy about God's successes, sowed a spirit of murmuring and gossip among God's people, hoping to set believer against believer.

Countless works for God have been destroyed in this way. God blesses a work, souls come to Christ, the church reaches its community, missionaries are sent out. Then someone complains that he or she is not appreciated or is being neglected. Perhaps this comes in the form of a critical glance, a name forgotten, a social gaffe, or some imagined offense. Bitter dissension ignites and spreads, and the whole work goes up in flames.

Acts 6 describes such a situation. The delicate unity of the early church became endangered, threatening the spiritual testimony of many thousands of believers. [ref]
  • (Acts 6:1) It is now about five years after Pentecost [ref], there are at least 20-25,000 believers in and around Jerusalem [ref], and the Jerusalem church is still growing (the disciples were increasing in number) when word of a problem arises (a complaint arose). The Hellenistic widows are being neglected (overlooked) in the daily distribution of aid. (Note: In the phrase "the daily serving of food" [Acts 6:1], "of food" is supplied by the NASB. The word "serving" [Greek diakonia] refers to: "money given to help someone in need -- ‘contribution, help, support.’ And in the phrase "in order to serve tables" [Acts 6:2], "in order to" is supplied by the NASB and "serve tables" [Greek diakonein trapezais] refers to: "[an idiom, literally ‘to serve tables’] to be responsible for financial aspects of an enterprise -- ‘to handle finances.’[ref]). Bruce explains the situation:
    The church of Jerusalem, we are now told, comprised both "Hebrews" and "Hellenists." The main distinction between the two groups was probably linguistic: the Hellenists were Jews whose habitual language was Greek and who attended Greek-speaking synagogues; the Hebrews spoke Aramaic (or Mishnaic Hebrew) and attended synagogues where the service was conducted in Hebrew. Many of the Hellenists had affinities with the lands of the Jewish dispersion around the Mediterranean shores, whereas the Hebrews were Palestinian Jews; there were doubtless several minor social and cultural differences between the two groups. In the Jewish world as a whole there were tensions between them, and some of these tensions endured between members of the two groups who had joined the "disciples" -- as the followers of Jesus are here called for the first time in Acts.

    It was over a practical [issue], and not over a matter of theological importance, that disagreement became acute. As daily allocations were made to poorer members of the community from the common fund to which the wealthier members had contributed their property, complaints began to arise that one group was being favored at the expense of the other. Widows naturally formed a considerable proportion of the poorer members of the church, and the Hellenistic widows were said to be at a disadvantage in comparison with the Hebrew widows, perhaps because the distribution of charity was in the hands of the "Hebrews." [ref]
  • (Acts 6:1)
    ■ Polhill explains the plight of the Jerusalem widows: "In Jewish society widows were particularly needy and dependent, and the Old Testament singles them out along with orphans as the primary objects of charitable deeds. The Hellenist widows may have been a particularly sizable group. Diaspora Jews often moved to Jerusalem in their twilight years to die in the holy city. When the men died, their widows were left far from their former home and family to care for them and were thus particularly in need of charity. Many of them may have been attracted to the Christian community precisely because of its concern for the material needs of its members." [ref]
    ■ Peterson points out the fact that "[s]ince the apostles appear to have administered the community resources at this stage (cf. Acts 4:34-37; 5:2), complaints about the daily distribution of food were thus also a challenge to their leadership. At the deepest level, however, such grumbling is condemned in Scripture because it is seen as a complaint against God's gracious and providential care for his people (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10-11; Phil. 2:14-15; 1 Pet. 4:9). The antidote to such grumbling is prayer and a humble sharing of concerns with others." [ref]
Legitimate Grievances Vs. Incessant Complaining
Vance Havner has said: "If we growl all day we shouldn't be surprised if we end up dog tired at night!" [ref] While legitimate grievances can and should be respectfully shared with the leadership, there is no room in a Christian's life for incessant complaining which poisons the air that everyone else has to breathe. - AC21DOJ
  • (Acts 6:2-4) In a move taken from Conflict Resolution 101, the twelve apostles call for a churchwide meeting in which they propose a solution that will both address the problem and allow them to remain focused on their primary responsibilities of prayer and the ministry of the word. Marshall: "It is not necessarily suggested that serving tables is on a lower level than prayer and teaching; the point is rather that the task to which the Twelve had been specifically called was one of witness and evangelism." [ref]
No Room For Little Gods
R. Kent Hughes:
Waiting on tables would have left the apostles little time for anything or anyone else. The apostles would have dried up spiritually under the pressure of serving meals plus all the counseling and preaching, with little time for preparation and prayer. Furthermore, if the apostles had agreed to personally run the food program, others might have hesitated to perform the slightest ministry without apostolic direction, and that would have fostered the overdependence we sometimes see today, with followers afraid to tie their shoes without getting permission from the pastor. Delegation is at the heart of developing followers.

The ill-advised suggestion must have been a substantial temptation for the apostles. No one wants others to think they see themselves as above common work. "You are not willing to wait on tables? Are you better than Jesus? He washed your feet, and you will not even set a plate before a hungry woman? Did not Jesus say, 'The greatest among you will be your servant' (Matthew 23:11)?"

This was also a temptation to think, "Things will not happen the way they should if I do not do them myself." By nature, we like to be the ubiquitous hand of God to others. Certainly no one can do the job the way we can. It is to the apostles' credit that they resisted this. In fact, in the years to come they would wash one another's feet again and again and would repeatedly refuse the temptation to set themselves up as little gods. [ref]
  • (Acts 6:4)
    ■ Peterson explains the connection between prayer and the ministry of the word:
    The ministry of the word doubtless included the whole pattern of preaching the gospel and teaching about its implications illustrated in the apostolic sermons and in the later account of Paul's ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18-35). Even though the word of God is represented in Acts as the powerful means of winning converts and growing churches (especially in Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20), prayer was a necessary accompaniment because it expresses dependence on the Lord, to give boldness in speaking the word, to protect its agents, and to provide opportunities for the word to be heard and believed (cf. Acts 4:24-31; 12:5-17; 13:1-3; 20:28-36; Col. 4:2-4; 2 Thes. 3:1-2). [ref]

Learning Everything Else
R. C. Sproul:
Every year, seventeen thousand ministers in America leave the ministry. A primary reason is that ministers in the modern church are not encouraged, equipped, enabled, or allowed to devote themselves to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Today a minister is expected to be the CEO of a corporation. He is expected to do the administration and the work of development; he is expected to be an expert in counseling and pastoral care. As a result, we have raised up generations of pastors who are jacks of all trades and masters of none, and one of the reasons why they do not open the Word of God for the congregation on Sunday morning is that they do not know how. They have spent their time learning everything else but the texts of Scripture. [ref]
  • (Acts 6:2-5) While some interpret this episode as the Church's first deacon ordination, it is preferable to see it as a commissioning ceremony for temporary service.
    ■ Toussaint: "[T]hese seven men held a temporary position for the purpose of meeting a specific need." [ref]
    ■ Peterson: "This should not be understood in terms of postbiblical ideas of ordination. These seven were not ordained to an office, but were commissioned to fulfill a specific administrative task." [ref]
    ■ Marshall: "Although the verb 'serve' comes from the same root as the noun which is rendered into English as 'deacon', it is noteworthy that Luke does not refer to the Seven as deacons; their task had no formal name. The choice of seven men corresponded with Jewish practice in setting up boards of seven men for particular duties. The men chosen were to be distinguished by their possession of wisdom (Acts 6:10; 7:10, 22) and the Spirit, i.e. a wisdom inspired by the Spirit." [ref]
    ■ Polhill: "The context suggests that the seven men were to be Hellenists. The system had broken down with their group, and they would know better who the needy widows were and be better able to communicate with them." [ref]
  • (Acts 6:6) After praying for/over the seven newly appointed servants, the apostles lay their hands on them in "a conferral of authority and blessing." [ref]
  • (Acts 6:7)
    ■ Toussaint: "This verse contains another of Luke’s progress reports. The church was rapidly growing in numbers (cf. Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1; 9:31)." [ref]
    ■ As Stott notes: "As a direct result of the action of the apostles in delegating the social work, in order to concentrate on their pastoral priority, the word of God spread (Acts 6:7a). But of course! The word cannot spread when the ministry of the word is neglected. Conversely, when pastors devote themselves to the word, it spreads. Then, as a further result, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and (a remarkable development) a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7b)." [ref]
We Find What We're Looking For
R. Kent Hughes:
Ken Taylor, in his Romans for the Family Hour, relates the following story:
     One hot day a family traveling down the highway between Johnstown and Jamestown stopped at Farmer Jones's place to ask for a drink of water, which he gladly gave them.
     "Where are you headed?" he asked them.
     "We are moving from Johnstown to Jamestown to live," they told him. "Can you tell us what the people there are like?"
     "Well, what kind of people did you find where you lived before?" Farmer Jones asked.
     "Oh, they were the very worst kind!" the people said. "They were gossipy and unkind and indifferent. We are glad to move away."
     "Well, I am afraid you will find the same in Jamestown," replied Farmer Jones.
     The next day another car stopped, and the same conversation took place. These people were moving to Jamestown, too.
     "What kind of neighbors will we find there?" they asked.
     "Well," said Farmer Jones, "what kind of neighbors did you have where you lived before?"
     "Oh, they were the very best! They were so kind and considerate that it almost broke our hearts to have to move away."
     "Well, you will find exactly the same kind again," Farmer Jones replied.
     When believers are unhappy and begin to murmur, the first place to look for the problem is in their own hearts. Christians who were unhappy at their last church or town or job are probably unhappy where they are now. If they feel they have just cause for criticism, by all means they should express it to the right people in an appropriate way. But they must avoid murmuring or gossiping and must be willing to be part of the solution.
     If the widows are being neglected, we should be willing to wait on tables. If the Sunday school needs help, we should be ready to assist however we can. If we see a need for a small group, perhaps we should host one. If we see the need for evangelism, we should be willing to share Christ. We must not just complain but must be willing to lead, to delegate, and, above all, to serve. [ref]

Leadership Priorities (Acts 6:1-7)
Spiritual shepherds in the church are to maintain biblical priorities. (Video link) [ref]


*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.