Neglect is a universal problem and in this chapter, we read about some widows who were being neglected. In the previous chapter, Luke told Theophilus that various people sold some of their possessions and laid the money at the feet of the apostles. And then he further reported that the money was distributed among the brethren according to need.
And so what Luke is doing next here is reporting some complaints from a group of Jewish Christians called Hellenists. Now, these guys are likely to be converts from among the Jews who had been scattered throughout the world and now spoke Greek and followed the customs of those using the same language.
The Grecians were born of Jewish parents outside Palestine and spoke Greek and they would have used the Septuagint. They were influenced by other aspects of Greek culture.
Hebraic Jews were born in Palestine and spoke Hebrew, Philippians 3:5, generally, the Grecian Jews would look down on others. The 12 apostles were Hebraic Jews.
The Grecian Jews felt that their widows were not being cared for as well as the widows of the Hebrews, or those who spoke Aramaic, in the daily distribution, or serving of tables.
We don’t know how the charge against them came about but that isn’t really that important. What was important was the more serious issue of unity in the young church.
When the apostles said, ‘it would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables’. They weren’t suggesting for one minute that serving tables were beneath them.
That’s not what they are saying, they are saying that we have the Lord’s work to do, they have some preaching and teaching to be getting on with because that’s why they were called to be apostles.
So how were they going to solve this widow neglect problem? They directed the members of the congregation to look among their own number to find seven men qualified to carry out this important task.
Did they get someone else in from a nearby congregation to deal with their problems? No! Did they choose the most popular people within their own numbers to deal with the problems? No! The church chose men from among themselves, men that they already knew, men who knew what it meant to serve.
When the apostles said to the church that the men they choose from amongst themselves need to meet a certain criteria, Luke tells us that these men had to be ‘full of the Holy Spirit’, which means their lives should be displaying fully the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-26. The apostles were looking for seven men who displayed this fruit in their everyday lives.
These men also needed to be ‘full of wisdom’. Wisdom isn’t just knowing right from wrong but it also involves doing what is right. There is no wisdom in just knowing right from wrong if we continuously choose the wrong direction. Wisdom is knowing and doing the right thing.
These men needed to know how best to deal with the distribution of food to the widows in question. In other words, they needed skills in the management of affairs.
And so the apostles planned to appoint the seven selected to attend to this important matter so that they could continue to focus on prayer and ministering to others with the word of God.
And so with the requirements of men ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’, the whole multitude of believers set about the task of selecting men so qualified. They chose Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, who, Luke tells us, was a proselyte from Antioch. These people were all Greek Jews.
The seven were then brought before the apostles, who laid their hands on them but to notice an important event that took place before the apostles laid their hands on them.
The text says, ‘they prayed first’. The apostles laid their hands on them after going to God in prayer. In other words, some people try to deal with the problem first and then pray to God about the problem.
We all need to get into the habit of praying first to God and asking for His guidance and approval before we move on. It is an essential practice for all Christians to approach God about any matter they are about to undertake, especially when church problems are involved.
Notice another important point here, it was the apostles who laid their hands on the seven men chosen. The laying on of hands is an interesting study in the Bible and it was done for one of two reasons.
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a young man named Timothy, and Paul says to him in 1 Timothy 4:14, the King James Version says, ‘neglect not the gift that is in thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.’ Now that word ‘presbytery’ is another word for elders.
But notice the word Paul uses here, he uses the word, ‘with’. But he uses the word ‘with’ in the sense of signifying attending circumstances or accompanied.
In other words, Paul is telling us that he, an apostle imparted the miraculous gift to Timothy. But at the same time, the eldership laid their hands on Timothy ‘with’ Paul to indicate their simultaneous support and accompanying commendation. And that’s what’s going on here, the apostles were showing their support and approval for the seven.
But at the same time, they were passing on miraculous gifts. Very often, people overlook the fact that every person who had miraculous gifts in the Book of Acts, received these gifts by the laying on of the apostle’s hands. The Philip mentioned here is a perfect example, Acts 8:14-21.
Simon the sorcerer, in his infinite wisdom, wanted this gift so much that he was even willing to pay money for I but notice the text clearly tells us that the apostles Peter and John laid their hands on them. The text clearly tells us that Simon saw how the gift was given through the apostles laying on their hands.
Now there’s no arguing with scripture here about how the Christians in Samaria received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. We might ask, how did Philip get this gift?
Because the text says that Philip had the ability to perform miraculous signs, Acts 8:6 / Acts 8:13. How did he receive this gift? His gift was given to him by, the apostles. He got the gift through the laying on of the apostle’s hands, which is what we read here in this chapter.
The reason I mentioned this is because nowhere in the Bible does it say that anyone else had the capability to pass on these gifts. When the apostles died, there was no one else to pass on these gifts.
And when those who possessed these gifts through the laying on of the apostle’s hands died, all the miraculous capabilities of the first-century church died with them, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
Because the problem of neglect was handled with wisdom and Spirit-guided, the result was further growth in the church through the spreading of the word of God.
In fact, the number of Christ’s followers was multiplied. Luke told Theophilus that even a large number of priests obeyed the faith. When we finally learn to deal with church problems using God’s wisdom instead of our own wisdom, God will bless our efforts and add to His number.
Remember what I just said, the miracles that Stephen performed could not be accomplished without the laying on of the apostles’ hands.
The miracles that Stephen performed did exactly what they were designed to do. They attracted the attention of people, in this case, it was the attention of the synagogue which was comprised of people from among the Freedmen, or freed slaves.
People came from various cities outside of Palestine to attend the synagogue and since Cilicia, where Tarsus is located, is specifically mentioned, it may be that Paul attended this synagogue.
There were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. Those who attended the Synagogue of the Freedmen were considered very religious.
Some of those who were in attendance confronted Stephen and began to debate with him concerning his teaching. But when God is our guide and His word is our wisdom, people can’t argue against such wisdom, Proverbs 17:24 / James 1:5.
They argue with Stephen and his arguments but couldn’t win because his wisdom came from God himself.
Luke tells us that certain men in the Synagogue bribed other men to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. On this occasion, it was accusing him of speaking against God’s words as delivered by Moses.
All the way through Jesus’ earthly ministry the so-called leaders were looking for ways to trap Jesus and persecute Him because He spoke the truth.
We saw Peter and John thrown into jail and persecuted by the so-called religious leaders in Acts 4 because they spoke the truth. And here, we see Stephen being persecuted because he spoke the truth.
To understand why they were upset, we need to put ourselves in the mindset of the religious leaders. One of the reasons they were so upset with Stephen, one of the reasons they even went to the extent of bribing false witnesses was because Stephen told them that God, through the resurrected Christ, whom they had crucified not so long ago, has now provided a new sacrificial system, Hebrews 7:27.
So what Stephen meant when he said that Jesus ‘will destroy’ the temple, is that, just as Jesus took away the basis of the old system on the cross, so now He will go on to dismantle its practices until it is no more. In other words, Stephen told them that the temple is done for.
Jesus has destroyed it and will destroy it until it is clear to all that He alone is the One and Only sacrifice for sins, the One and Only high priest to God, and the One and Only habitation of the fullness of the glory of God.
Stephen told them the time was coming when they are going to lose their jobs, and their livelihoods because the temple would soon be destroyed which we know happened in AD 70.
But the truth of the matter is, if these leaders had read and understood the prophets, especially Jeremiah, they should have been welcoming the end of the Jewish sacrificial system because God told them it was coming, Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Jesus was so right about these people when He said they hear but never understand, they see but never perceive, Matthew 13:14-15.
God sacrificed His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, Himself on Calvary’s cross and shed His blood once and for all to pay for our sins. Because His sacrifice and His blood could do something that no other blood or no temple sacrificial system could ever do, that is cleanse our hearts and minds of sinfulness, Hebrews 9:13-14.
Remember in Exodus 34:29-35 the writer there tells us that Moses’ face shone after he had been with the Lord to the point that people could not look directly at him?
Luke tells us that Stephen’s face was like that, like an angel’s face. Being at peace with God, walking with God, face like an angel implies, innocence.
Sadly, there should be no chapter break here, so please keep that in mind as we enter the next chapter.