Lesson 14: Grecian Widows Neglected/ Seven Men of Honest Report Appointed Over This Business
The headlines say: The church continues to grow. More internal problems in the church. We'll be back with details hi a moment. But first, let's review briefly. You should develop some kind of an outline in your mind to help you remember the books of Acts. For example, you might remember the first chapter is roughly divided into two parts. The 40 days prior to Jesus' ascension and His ascension to heaven. Then Matthias was appointed during the 10 day waiting period between the ascension and Pentecost. Chapter 2 is a record of the events on Pentecost, except the last 6 verses which tell us a little about life among the believers.
Chapter 3 is devoted to the healing of the lame man and Peter and John's sermon in Solomon's porch. Chapter 4 deals with the arrest and imprisonment ofPeter and John, their arraignment before the council, the threats of the council, and how they prayed for boldness when they were let go. Six verses at the end of Chapter 4 tells us more about life among the believers. Chapter 5 begins with an internal problem concerning Ananias and Sapphira followed by a few comments describing how the outcome of this case caused stronger unity and more church growth. Then the Sadducees arrested all 12 apostles and put them in jail. An angel released the early in the morning and told them to teach in the temple. The council assembled, apprehended the apostles and after a Pharisee named Gamaliel had spoken they charged the apostles not to teach or preach any more in the name of Jesus. They beat them and let them go again. The last verse of Chapter 5 tells they did not obey that last order. That brings us to Chapter 6. We have heard the headlines. Now for the details let's read v. 1.
And in those days, when the number of disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians again the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
In those days, must connect this text with that at the end of Chapter 5, when the apostles were daily hi the temple and in every house teaching and preaching Jesus. Their teaching must have its effect. The second phrase hi this verse indicates more converts. The number of disciples continued to grow. Two classes of Jews are mentioned in this verse, the Grecians and the Hebrews. You must keep in mind, first of all, these are all Jews. The Hebrews were the Jews who were native the Jerusalem and the neighboring countryside. They spoke the Hebrew language and were most likely born in Palistine. Their language probably identified them as Hebrews more than any other custom. The Grecians Jews were foreign Jews, i.e. they were born in a foreign land and spoke the Greek language. This they were Grecians. I suppose, it was natural for these Jews to segregate themselves into communities or ghettos, on the basis of their language. We have no data, as to how the groups compared statistically. It would appear that all the apostles were Hebrew Jews. That is, they were born locally. You should realize ALSO, all those discussed hi v.l were Christians.
At the end of Chapter 4, we saw perfect unity prevailed among all disciples. You will remember, they conducted then- own welfere system. Those who had excess contributed to the system. Those who lacked, were recipients, according to their need. They had all things common. If you get the picture in v. 1, the foreign born Jews have murmured, i.e. complained that their widows are being neglected in the dairy distribution of welfere goods. It is significant to notice, their needs were supplied daily. You will remember in Chapter 4, the donations were laid at the apostles feet. The apostles were administering the program. As a matter of feet, the apostles to this point were the leadership of the church: the elders, the preachers, the teachers, the deacons, they were it. One of the interesting things you might observe as we continue to study is how the apostles gradually and deliberately shifted these leadership roles. Since the apostles were Hebrew Jews, it is most natural that, as the workload increased to a trying point, the first to be neglected or overlooked were the Grecian widows. If you get this passage in sharp focus, it is quite revealing, into the mechanics of how the apostles were ministering to the needs. For example, it is quite convincing, this was not a communistic system, where the church owned everything and all citizens work for the church. It is very significant to us, this is the first indication of division or factionalization among the disciples. Therefore, it becomes very important for us to see how such internal problems were resolved by apostolic example. Modern day logic would probably solve the problem by splitting the apostles, 6 to 6, and each faction writing their own creed and by-laws, and each identifying themselves by some unscriptural name. Perhaps, you may think I am trying to be facetious, but a study of the history of religion over the last 500 years will conform to this remark much closer that you are perhaps aware. I will agree quickly, it shouldn't be that way, but it is. You see, that's why they are no longer the Lord's church. Let's observe how the apostles solved the problem. Verses 2-4, let's read;
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
OK, what were the alternatives? The apostles could have continued to spread themselves thinner and thinner at the expense of their teaching. Or, they could delegate some part of the workload to others. The latter is the only reasonable solution. That is what they did. You might notice, they didn't try to artificially solve the problem, before there was a problem. On the other hand, when the problem arose, they didn't string it out and put it off until the problem was compounded. They acted at a discreet time. They called the masses of the disciples together, and the twelve gave the needed leadership. Number 1, they gave a reason for their action. It is not reasonable to concentrate heavily on physical needs and neglect spiritual needs. There is a great lesson in this for us. Number 2, they offered a definite solution. Select seven men. Number 3, they gave the criteria for selecting these men. Number 4, they let the brethren (v.3) select the men. Notice, according to the last phrase in v.3, these men were appointed over a business. That business was 'serving tables' according to v. 2. Thus the welfere needs, primarily, at least, involved supplying food, but was not limited to food only. The goal of the apostles, as expressed in v. 4 makes it clear, other necessary business duties were inherently included.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out, the appointment of these seven men to take care of the business needs of the church does not prevent these seven from teaching as we shall see in future verses. Also notice, at the end of v. 3 the apostles did the appointing. Thus, these seven served under the oversight of the apostles. The qualification they gave concerning being filled with the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit does not necessarily mean these men were to possess miraculous powers. They could have, but not necessarily so. This may refer to the indwelling of the Spirit and have reference to their zeal and convictions. The other qualifications, 'men of honest report' and men full of 'wisdom' are only reasonable and natural qualifications. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is sandwiched in between the other two, thus, I would prefer to think the remark has to do with their spiritual zeal. Some try to put as much mystery and as much supernatural into every interpretation as they can. But, the more you study the context here and think about the circumstances the more likely you are to see it in the light of a routine day and a routine problem in the church. It just happened to be the first time for this particular problem. Thus, this serves as a guideline to elders for solving similar problems today.
It might interest you to notice, no title is given to these seven men hi these verses. This is hi keeping with almost all scriptural examples. These men were not concerned about the glory of the work, titles, respect and rank. They didn't even think in such terms. Granted, today, in many cases, the title would be considered the most important part. That's the way most religious people think today. That's why today we find many, long, and bitter disputes over names and titles. The apostles probably referred to these workers, after they appointed them, by whatever fit the occasion, workers, servants, the business custodians, the seven, the table servers, the welfere directors, etc. The apostles were called apostles because Jesus appointed them and the word means an appointee. Thus, they were an appointee of Jesus, the apostles of Christ. McGarvey says the Greek word for the word ministration in v.l is a form of the same Greek word that is translated 'deacon' hi the 3rd Chapter of I Timothy.
Strong also verifies McGarveys' conclusion. Thus a deacon is one who is appointed to care for the daily ministration or business under the direction of elders or apostles, whichever the case may be. Glory of rank is one of the first things that corrupted the church in the next 300 years after the apostles. I would like to say this, as kindly as I know how, many so-called religious leaders and so-called religious organizations today are just wading around and rattling around in all this glory seeking debris. It's true! They are man-made organizations, they are man-named organizations, they follow the doctrines and commandments of men. Isn't it just like those Pharasees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.? They all claimed to be followers of the Law of Moses, but you see, they were doing what they wanted to do. They were not following, they were wandering.
Incidentally, just in case you should think I'm being overly hard on this point; I'd like to make you a little assignment. Read Matthew Chapter 23, on your own-the whole chapter. Jesus in those 39 verses, looked those Jewish religionists straight in the eye and berated them for this very thing. He called them names, I'm not even capable of thinking up. He called them hypocrites 4 times, he called them fools, blind, snakes; he said they would gag at a gnat and swallow a camel. He said they were like a cup that was beautiful washed and sterile on the outside, and just filthy on the inside. He called them a whited sepulcher. I'll let you figure out what that means. It sure isn't a very pretty picture. The point is, don't let all those religious names around you and all that theological smell of complicated terms fog the issue for you. Get the Bible slant. Forget all those denominational slants, doctrines, creeds, and arguments. You see, we'll be judged by the Bible and we'll never have pure Christianity until we get the Bible slant. Think like the Bible presents it. Speak like the Bible presents it. Obey, as the Bible requires. Worship as the Bible exemplifies. It's just that simple! Now, I must admit, it takes a courageous person to do that. It did then; it does now. It takes a hard working, truth seeking, obedient minded person to study the Bible as you are doing. I trust you are checking and rechecking everything I say. You see, I didn't say read the Bible, I said study the Bible. Sure it takes a lot of work. Incidentally, if it's any encouragement to you more than 1/5 of our study in the book of Acts is now behind us. I would like to just stop right here and congratulate you. I wish I could shake your hand and say: CONGRATULATIONS for hanging in there. If you have kept your eye on the Bible in this study, as I suggested; if you have comprehended as I suggested, then you probably know more about the books of Acts, up to this point, than anyone around you. Give it a little test. Remember the outline I suggested you learn? Pick out a couple of your more Bible-knowledgeable friends. Ask them to outline from memory the first 6 chapters in the book of Acts. See what they can do. You'll probably be surprised how little they know.
OK, let's see in v. 5 who they picked for deacons or servants. Now the disciples, called brethren in v. 3, are the ones who did the choosing. It please them to do it that way, according to v.5. Seven men are listed in v.5; Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas. Notice the comment following Stephen's name;
a man fiill of faith and the Holy Ghost.
You might be inclined to apply this only to Stephen as you first read this, but most likely it applies to the other names. Verse 6 says,
whom they set before the apostles and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
None of these men who were appointed here have been mentioned before in the book of Acts. Two of them, Stephen and Philip, are mentioned later in this book. We know nothing of the other five. McGarvey makes an interesting observation here. And I quote, "It is a remarkable manifestation of generosity in the church at large that all of these are Greek names, indicating that the men were selected from the very party whence the murmuring had proceeded." As I said before, that is an interesting observation. None of these names are Hebrew names, he says. This gives us an interesting insight. All seven men were selected from the very group who were doing the complaining that then- widows were being neglected. You see, we can take a lesson from that. When people complain or express dissatisfaction with our work, ask their help. The Hebrews, henceforth, trusted their widows to the care of the Grecian men. How do we eliminate division, hard-feelings, and puckered faces in the church today? It can be done. The Bible gives the formula, if we will just listen and study. Notice, it is mentioned with reference to Nicholas, that he was;
a proselyte of Antioch.
A proselyte was a Gentile or non-Jew that had been adopted as a Jew, had been circumcised and identified with the Jewish religion. This tells you a lot, when you think it over, there was no bias or prejudice among the disciples with reference to their background. This former Gentile, Nicholas, was appointed to the office of deacon in the Jerusalem church. For the benefit of those who have studied the book of Revelation, I simply throw this in on passing. Eusebius, who wrote a church history, about 300 years after the time we are talking about said this, I quote: "for a short time, arose the heresy of those called Nicolaites, of which also mention is made in the revelation of John. These boasted of Nicolaus as their founder, one of those deacons who with Stephen were appointed by the apostles to minister unto the poor." I do not vouch for the accuracy of this statement, I simply point out that it is there. The Nicolaitans are mentioned in Revelation 2:15. And from that verse in the book of Revelation it would seem that the church at Pergamos in Asia Minor, some 50 years (or more) after the time we are discussing here in Acts 6; was infiltrated with false teachers, false doctrine, and the works of Satan himself. If Eusebius is correct, then it underscores for us the danger of departing from the faith. How easy it is for well intentioned men, respected me, to gain a following and to go off on the deep end.
OK, back to v. 6. The apostles prayed and laid their hands on these men. In the prayer of course, they ask God to bless these men in their work. It is not clear why and how they laid their hands on these men. Some think they imparted to them the power to do miraculous works by the Holy Spirit in this act of laying on of hands. It might merely mean, they patted them on the back, I do not know. It is probably not as mysterious as some would have you to believe. So, the apostles spent their time, henceforth, praying and attending to the ministry of the word, according to v. 4. The seven took over the serving of tables and the welfare problems. Under this agreement, the church prospered and grew. Let's read verse 7.
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
The last part of v. 7 gives us some interesting information. This is the first mention of any priests becoming baptized believers. This tells us two things. First, the church was making tremendous strides in their teaching program. Secondly, the Jewish religion was deteriorating fast; if the curators of the Jewish religion, i.e. priests were being converted by a great company, as this verse says. You might make note of the last phrase in v. 7,
the priests were obedient to the faith.
Notice, this indicates the Priests did not merely believe or have faith, in some passive sense. They acted. They obeyed with reference to the faith. In other words they took the steps we discussed before; they repented, confessed and were baptized for the remission of sins. I think you see, this does not agree with the doctrine of "FAITH ONLY" espoused by the followers of Wesley. The rest of this chapter (v. 8 -15) has to do with Stephen, one of the seven, appointed to serve tables. We'll cover that in lesson #15.