About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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ch. 6:1-8    ch. 6:8-15

The Choosing Of The Seven (ch. 6:1 - 7)



Verse 1 of chapter 6 says that the number of "disciples" were increasing.  This is the first mention of the word "disciple" by Luke in the book of Acts.   The word “disciple” simply means "one who is a learner", or "one who is learning as a student".  In this case the one's who are learning are learning about and from Jesus through the ministry of the apostles.  In our day, many of us don't sue the word "disciple".  We tend to use the word "Christian" but that word has become so watered down in my opinion that it's not worth using. Using the term "disciple of Jesus" is a much better term.  You can call yourself a Christian without getting too much flack.  Tell people that you're a disciple of Jesus and they may look at you strange.      


Luke mentions two types of Jewish Christians in this verse.  The Grecian Jewish Christians were Jewish people who had been scattered throughout all of the Roman Empire .  They spoke mainly Greek.  The other group was called Hebraic Jews.  These Jewish Christians were Jews living in the Palestine area.  They spoke Aramaic. 


The point that Luke makes concerning these two groups was that the Greek speaking Jews were complaining against the Aramaic speaking Jews.  The Grecians felt that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  This appears to be a racial or cultural  matter.


Let me further explain the differences between the Greek speaking Jews and the Aramaic speaking Jews.  The Greek speaking Jews were often called "Hellenists", which is a word to denote Greek people living in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.  For this, the Aramaic speaking Jews of Judea often looked down on the Greek speaking Jews in Asia Minor.  They problem between these two groups of Jews as seen here in chapter 6 might well be based on a cultural bias.  Remember, these people are new to the Lord.  They had lots to learn and much growth in Jesus ahead of them.  A cultural bias would be natural for them, as it is with all of us.


What we should understand here is that the first Christians, who were Jews, continued on with their Jewish cultural activity.  One practice of the Jews in Judaism was to distribute fourteen meals to widows who were true widows.  They did this once a week.  These widows had to be true widows, without any family to help them out.   Fourteen meals would provide two meals a day for one week.  It appears that the first Christians had some kind of food distribution on a daily basis.   


 In verse 2 we see the solution to this problem.  The Twelve, that is the apostles, gathered all of the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables."  As we saw in chapters 4 and 5, people brought money to the apostles and they would distribute this to those in need.  Well, it became clear to the apostles that they did not have enough time to administrate food and preach the gospel at the same time.   


We shouldn't view passing out food to the poor as being something secondary to the gospel message.  The apostles weren't saying that feeding the poor was below them, so other less important people should do that.  No, they were really saying the opposite.  They were saying that feeding the poor was important and in order to do that which is important, certain men should be set aside so they could give themselves to the task.  The apostles wanted to see that people were fed the Word of God and fed food for their bodies.  It's all about delegation of responsibility.  


The apostles felt it necessary to devote all of their time to study and teaching the Word of God to both believers and non-believers.  That was their calling and that is what they were to devote their lives to.  This is the calling of church leaders today, but sad to say, many pastors don't understand the importance of properly teaching the Word of God. 


In modern Evangelical circles we have separated proclaiming the gospel into two sections.  We teach and we preach, and preaching has by far become the more popular.  Preaching is meant to inspire the audience.  Teaching is meant to instruct the audience.  When preaching trumps teaching the church loses in all respects.  It does not learn what it needs to learn.  Church is no longer made up of disciples or learners, because they are not being taught.  The New Testament does not separate preaching from teaching.  In New Testament terms, preaching is teaching.  The first church leaders taught and the disciples were instructed as learners should be.  The first generation church leaders left the inspiring up to the Holy Spirit.  That is His job.  In many respects Evangelicals have taken the Holy Spirit's job away from Him by attempting to inspire the audience with soothing music and inspirational sermons.  This has led to what I call "inspired ignorance" in the church.  This should not be.                 


It was at this point in verse 3 that we see what you might call "an evolutionary change" in the infant church.  The change is seen in verse 3 which  says, "Brother, choose seven men among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom, we will turn this responsibility over to them…"  I use the term "evolutionary change" to mean this is something new in church structure.  Prior to this point there were the apostles and the community of disciples.  Now we have a third group who distributed food to poor widows.   


There are a few things to note at this point.  The believers would choose seven men.  Why seven?  We don’t know for sure, but maybe it was because seven is the number of perfection or the number for God in Jewish culture. 


We need to note that the apostles did not choose these men.  It was the church who made this choice.  Also, it appears that the twelve apostles had to have discussed this matter among themselves before presenting their plan to the church.  The adoption of this plan "appears to be a joint decision" between the twelve apostles.  If this is true, we see "plurality of leadership" in action in the early church.  Twelve men gather and discuss the situation and come to a common consensus. 


Just how the believers chose these seven men is uncertain.  The text does not say.  Was it a vote?  Was there lots of discussion?  We do not know any of these facts, only that the believers as a whole chose seven men who were filled with the Spirit and wisdom.


One question that you might want to ask is, "how did the people know that the men they were choosing were actually filled with the Spirit"?  Obviously their lives had to show this to be the case, but what specific things were seen, we don't know for sure.  However, it is clear that the fruit and power of the Holy Spirit living in these men could be clearly seen by the people.  This tells us that there were, at least a few men apart from the apostles, who were filled with the Spirit sufficiently enough for it to be noticeable.       


There were two qualities that had to be found in the men the disciples chose that were specified by the apostles.  These men had to be filled with the Holy Spirit and they had to have a measure of wisdom.  So, even doing manual tasks, such as administrating food distribution, one had to be filled with the Spirit, as well as being wise.  I suggest that the same qualifications should exist in church today, but that's not always the case.   We tend to think of such men and women who do such tasks in the church as second class workers, but this mentality wasn't the case in the first generation church.               


Some have called these seven men "deacons", and perhaps they were, yet I think the responsibility of deacons as a position in church was not yet fully articulated at this point.  There was a need among the believers and someone had to fill that need.  I do believe that the choosing of these men led to the ministry that was later called deacons.  You can read what Paul says about deacons in 1 Timothy 3.    


I call the choosing of these men an "evolutionary" event because this was not something that was previously planned out.  The apostles were responding to a real need, thus the church structure evolved into something a little different than it was.  Structure was built on need, not on tradition or anything else.  Before this point, you had the twelve apostles and the new believers.  Now, as I've said, you have the twelve apostles, seven administrators, and the believers.  Again and I repeat, the important point to be made is that the addition of these men was in direct response to a need.  The twelve did not sit down some day to draw up plans to change the structure of the church. Besides, I really don’t believe that the apostles thought in terms of church structure. You can tell by this event that their thoughts were on teaching the gospel, not formulating church structure.


Verse 5 tells us that "this proposal pleased the whole group" so they chose Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas from Antioch .


We know nothing about these seven men except for Stephen and Philip.  We do know that all seven had Greek names.  We learn about Stephen and his death in the rest of this chapter. All of these men were supposed to be filled with the Spirit, yet as Luke names these men, he makes special mention that Stephen was filled with the Spirit, probably because he was going to zero in on Stephen shortly.    


Note that Nicolas was from Antioch.  Paul would have probably met up with him after his conversion in Acts 9.


Once the seven men were chosen, maybe by a vote, or some show of acceptance, they were presented to the apostles. As we see in verse 6.  Then the apostles laid their hands on the seven men and prayed for them.  As a result the apostles got back to the Word of God, resulting in even more people being added to the church, including some influential priests, as we see in verse 7.


The laying on of hands dates back to early Judaism.  The practice is continued into the New Testament church.  Many times I've gathered with brothers and sisters in Jesus and laid hands in prayer on people for various reasons.  Some feel it's symbolic.  Other feel they are transferring something from the Holy Spirit onto the person being prayed for through their hands. 


Note the words "the faith" in verse 7.  For the most part, faith in New Testament terms is an action word, as in, I have faith in Jesus.  Here though it's a noun.  Many Bible teachers thus suggest that "the faith' means the body of Christian doctrine that the apostles taught.  I would agree with that, but, I would add one more point.  It's more than the body of Christian doctrine.  It's the life of faithfulness to Jesus.  It's the life of trusting you life to Jesus.  It's the doctrine put into life's existence.  "The faith" is more than systematic theology, although it is that in part.     



Stephen Seized (ch. 6:8 - 15)


Verse 8 begins the short story of Stephen.  Luke says that he was “full of grace and power”.  Just a few verses earlier he said that Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.  So it is quite clear that Stephen was living in the power of the Spirit as the apostles were.  He performed great miracles Luke says. 


On one occasion certain Jews began to argue with Stephen, “but they could not stand against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke”. (ch. 6:10)    Clearly Stephen was a powerful Christian.  Although his new job in the church was to be an administrator he seemed to also be called to be a preacher of the gospel since that is what he was doing on this occasion.  Whether he was actively engaging a large crowd, or simply in a personal discussion with these Jews is not known.  We do know that he was sharing his faith.


Verse 12 tells us that these Jews stirred up others, including certain elders and teachers of the Law.  They could not win their argument with Stephen so they decided to make it rough on him by blowing this argument up into unreasonable proportion.  By agitating many other Jews, things got so bad that “they seized Stephen and brought him to the Sanhedrin”. 


The same men “brought false witnesses” to them to testify against Stephen in the gathering of the Sanhedrin.  These witnesses claimed that Stephen “never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.  For we had heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us”.  (ch. 6:13-14)


The question that I ask from this verse is,  “just what was the lie that these witnesses were setting forth against Stephen”?  Was he indeed speaking against the Temple and the Law.  Well, one might interpret what he said to be so, although we don’t really know.  Often Paul, and even Jesus Himself said things that were in one sense speaking against the Temple and the Law.  Jesus went as far to say that the Temple would one day be destroying.  Merely the hint of such things would stir up these Jewish agitators.


The preachers of the gospel in those days were beginning to understand the new identity of the people of God, and their relationship to the Law and the Temple .  The people of God were no longer only Jews.  The Temple and the Law had new significance.  They were only shadows of the real thing.  The real thing had come in Jesus, and as Paul taught in Romans 10:4,  Christ was the end of the Law.   


Luke tells us in verse 15 that after Stephen’s accusers made their statement, all in the Sanhedrin looked towards Stephen to see his response.  When they saw him his face shown like an angel.



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