Pastor Jeremy M. Thomas
Fredericksburg Bible Church
107 East Austin
Fredericksburg, Texas 78624
A0830 – July 27, 2008 – Acts 6:1-7 – The Choosing Of The Seven
Acts 6:1-7 1Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις πληθυνόντων τῶν μαθητῶν ἐγένετο γογγυσμὸς τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν πρὸς τοὺς Ἑβραίους, ὅτι παρεθεωροῦντο ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ αἱ χῆραι αὐτῶν. 2προσκαλεσάμενοι δὲ οἱ δώδεκα τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν εἶπαν· οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς καταλείψαντας τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ διακονεῖν τραπέζαις. 3ἐπισκέψασθε δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἄνδρας ἐξ ὑμῶν μαρτυρουμένους ἑπτά, πλήρεις πνεύματος καὶ σοφίας, οὓς καταστήσομεν ἐπὶ τῆς χρείας ταύτης, 4ἡμεῖς δὲ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου προσκαρτερήσομεν. 5καὶ ἤρεσεν ὁ λόγος ἐνώπιον παντὸς τοῦ πλήθους καὶ ἐξελέξαντο Στέφανον, ἄνδρα πλήρης πίστεως καὶ πνεύματος ἁγίου, καὶ Φίλιππον καὶ Πρόχορον καὶ Νικάνορα καὶ Τίμωνα καὶ Παρμενᾶν καὶ Νικόλαον προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχέα, 6οὓς ἔστησαν ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀποστόλων, καὶ προσευξάμενοι ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας. 7Καὶ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ηὔξανεν καὶ ἐπληθύνετο ὁ ἀριθμὸς τῶν μαθητῶν ἐν Ἰερουσαλὴμ σφόδρα, πολύς τε ὄχλος τῶν ἱερέων ὑπήκουον τῇ πίστει. (NA27)
Acts 6:1-7 Now, in these days of the disciples (committed) increasing, an utterance (behind the scenes talk, murmurings reminds of wilderness wanderings) came (3SAAI) from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, that their widows were being overlooked in the daily service (food only or food and money? How were they distributing the contributions?). 2And the twelve (including Matthias) summoned the multitude of the disciples (committed) and said (3PAAI), “It is (3SPAI) not desirable for us to give up the word of God to serve (PAInf) tables (the place food is set but also related to the noun for a money changer, banker, trapezites). 3Therefore, brethren, select (skeptically analyze, inspect, examine carefully) from among you seven men well spoken of, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will put in charge of this office (service, duty, office of deacon, diakonos – a minister, an intermediary, agent, one who gets something done at the behest of a superior, an assistant, in this case the superiors are the apostles, at a later point the elders (Phil 1:1)). 4But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.” 5And the word was pleasing (3SAAI) before the whole multitude and they chose (3PAMI or ADepI; eklegomai) Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6These they set (3PAAI) before the apostles, and they prayed and laid (3PAAI) their hands upon them. 7And the word of God increased (3SIAI), and the number of the disciples (committed) multiplied greatly in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8) and a great crowd of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. (Author’s Translation)
Acts 6:1-7 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. 2So 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.” 5The 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. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7The 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. (NASB95)
Let’s begin in Acts 1:8 where we get the flow of the book. It’s necessary to do that because the witness is going to go out to these three areas and in this order. So this is the three steps of world evangelization. In v 8 the witness begins in “Jerusalem,” then it goes to “Judea and Samaria,” and finally “to the remotest part of the earth.” This is sort of the outward spiral of the thing and what we learn in Acts 6 is how the Holy Spirit pushed them out. You don’t see believers rushing out into the surrounding regions, they were focused on Jerusalem, there was nobody going out, so what happens behind the scenes, totally unbeknownst to them, is people are put into place, they’re sort of set on stage so the play can begin, so this is stage setting here and it’s the Holy Spirit’s stage setting as He prepares to get the witness out of Jerusalem. We’ve called this book the Acts of the Holy Spirit and this is why, because despite what these believers do, if they’re not going to go out, He’s going to make sure they go out and He does it in a way they never imagined. The church people are going to encounter a problem in this passage and they solve the problem but they have no idea that what they are really doing is moving to phase two in world evangelization. So we start the transition out of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria in Acts 6. By chapter 8 that transition will have taken place but the initiation of that transition starts right here in this church dispute. So you’re going to be watching Stephen and Philip, these men have high visibility but the orchestrator of it all is the Holy Spirit. So keep your mental focus on the Holy Spirit, because yes, these men are moving out but why are they moving out? Because the Holy Spirit is moving them out.
So in 6:1 we have a little problem arise between two groups or factions in the church. You have the Hellenistic Jews vs native Hebrews. These are two cultural factions. The church is made up of people from different cultures and different cultures rub one another, often the wrong way, this is often a source of division. Culture has always been a challenge in the church because you’re trying to get all these people together who have different languages, different customs and everybody looks at everybody else and thinks, “Boy, they’re weird.” So naturally it’s an easy place to get a fight going. So here we have some more internal division. We’ve seen external pressures from the civil government, we’ve seen internal pressures with Ananias and Sapphira, and here’s some more internal pressure. The first faction here are the Hellenistic Jews. Hellenism is just a term for Greek culture. It goes back to Alexander the Great in 331BC. One of the greatest military leaders of the ancient world. He only lived to be about 31 years old and the guys entire 11 year career was one BIG military campaign after another. After he conquered the world he had a problem and that was you had all these different kinds of Greek being spoken and nobody could communicate so he got fed up with this and he said, “Alright, the quickest way to unite my empire is to have a common language.” So he decided on koine Greek. And that’s significant because what do you know but the NT is written in koine Greek, so Alexander got that started centuries before. You always hear about the Roman roads and how that paved the way for the gospel to go out, that was geographical pavement, well Alexander paved the way for the language of the gospel, he laid the linguistic pavement. And he used the koine as a base for Hellenization of culture, art form and so forth. This Hellenization caused quite a rub with the Jews in the 2nd century before Christ. Maybe you’ve heard of Antiochus Epiphanes, well he was one of the Seleucid kings who ruled over one of the quadrants of the Greek Empire, his quadrant happened to cover the land of Israel, and what he tried to do was unite his kingdom the way Alexander had done, by forcing Greek culture on the Jews, trying to get them to break with the Mosaic system and accept the Greek system. And that didn’t go over to well so you had the Maccabeen revolt. Then Rome came on the scene and they began to dominate politically but they inherited Greek culture and there were Jews who lived out in those Roman cities, they’d been dispersed in 722 and 586BC and a lot of them never went back to the land. They just settled outside the land and so they had lived out in the Greek and Roman world, both of which had been influenced by Greek culture. So the Hellenists were the more the Jews of the dispersion, they were more cosmopolitan, more liberated and well-traveled Jews.
The other faction is what Luke just calls the Hebrews. These were obviously those who were native to the land, they spoke Aramaic as their first language, they’d been living there century after century after century. They had come back from the Exile with Ezra and been living there ever since. So they had developed their own culture. They were very narrow minded, they had been staying at home minding their own business, trying to keep the Hellenic culture out, some of it got in anyway but the point is that you have a clash of worldviews going on here. These factions sort of kept separate and they didn’t have to say much, they just kind of stared at each other across the room and each had their opinion of the other and finally you had these murmurings crop up.
Now the church dispute involved these two parties and I want you to notice one of the parties of the dispute because this party to the dispute is going to be the key for evangelization of the world. If this dispute, humanly speaking, had not occurred we would not be here this morning; the gospel would have remained trapped in the city of Jerusalem. So God is going to work all things for the good including the first church fight. It’s going to be through the Hellenic Jews that the second stage of world evangelism takes place. Notice in verse 9 you have the “Synagogue of the Freedmen” or the “Libertines.” These were Diaspora Jews who had been enslaved and set free or descendants of such families. These Jews were Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and also of Cilicia and Asia. So what you had in Jerusalem was a division of synagogues, you had Hebrew synagogues and you had Hellenic synagogues and these groups stayed separate. In Jerusalem alone you had seven Hellenic synagogues and Stephen’s having a big argument with them. Why? Because Stephen was a Hellenic Jew, He was a member of the dispersion community, he had been involved with this synagogue, he knew these people and now he’s a Christian so he’s arguing with all these Hellenistic Jews. Now you’ll notice the places from which these Jews come from, and this reminds us of just how far the Jews had been dispersed. They had been dispersed to the city of Alexandria in Egypt; Alexandria replaced Athens as a prime intellectual center in the ancient world. It had one of the greatest libraries in the ancient world, destroyed now but at its time it was a fantastic library. Then you have a place called Cilicia. The significance of Cilicia can be found by turning to Acts 21:39. Again, all this by way of background to understand why the Holy Spirit is doing what He’s doing in the middle of a church dispute. This is Paul, at one of his trials, giving his background, and he says “I am a Jew of Tarsus, in Cilicia,” now that’s interesting isn’t it. How did Paul find out about the church? Did he first hear about it on the Damascus road? Oh no, Stephen fought with men from his region in Jerusalem and when they went back the word got around to Paul. You think Paul, the top student of Rabban Gamaliel would be interested in theological movements in Jerusalem? You betcha and he went to researching this Christianity bit, and that my friend is why he’s on the Damascus road. Without Acts 6 Paul would have never been on the Damascus road to begin with. So it all goes back to this event in Acts 6 with Stephen. This is where the gospel broke away from just the Jerusalem natives and began to flow over into the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, Tarsus, Cilicia, and so forth, and because this happened Paul was won to Christ. And we know what happened once Paul was won to Christ.
Now to Acts 11:19 lets see something else with the dispersion. “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” Now isn’t that interesting, the Stephen event happens, these Jews scatter, their forced out of Jerusalem and the gospel goes out to Jews and Greeks. So now can you see that Acts 6 is the Holy Spirit putting in place a mechanism for the expansion of the gospel, “I’m going to use the Hellenistic Jews, the Jews who are native to those regions.”
Now let’s see if we can summarize what we’ve been saying so you can grasp the background for the movement in Acts 6. The first point is that Alexander the Great had forced one language, the Greek koine, he was doing that to get his empire united, God used that to be the language of the gospel, now Alexander didn’t know he was doing that, that was God’s providence, that was stage-setting for Jesus Christ to come into history. So that now we have a language, very unlike Hebrew, a language that can express all the niceties of theology, a language that can build nicely on the foundation of the Hebrew OT. So he lays the linguistic foundation for the gospel to go out to Greek speaking people. Second point has to do with Rome. Rome built roads, obviously not to take the gospel out, they just wanted their military to get from point A to point B quickly, but again, providentially these became a path for the gospel. Third point, at this time Jerusalem had the monopoly on the gospel. Everything was confined to the city of Jerusalem. Nobody was going out to Judea and Samaria. And if the gospel stayed locked down there then would we ever have been saved? Of course not. So something had to happen to fulfill Acts 1:8. So the fourth point is that there’s this dispute between the Hellenists and the Hebrews, and the way God gets the gospel out on those Roman roads is going to be these Hellenists. What do these Jews have which will be used to evangelize the world? They know Greek culture, they know the Greek language, they can go into any part of the Roman world, they can speak the dialect of the various cities. Paul was raised in the city of Tarsus; Tarsus had its own dialect; Paul knew that dialect, he knew the town, he knew the culture, he knew the people on city council, so Paul’s a natural. If anybody can evangelize Tarsus it’s not Peter, it’s not John, it’s Paul, the man who lived there. And so it is throughout the world; who can best evangelize the Chinese but someone who’s lived in China their whole life, whose cultural ties are with China.
By way of application there’s a pattern being laid down right here for mission’s methodology. And obviously the method is not for some strange people to invade a culture they know nothing about, and try to use a language they can hardly speak. The method is to use those who are already a part of the culture and already know the language. What people are the best people in the world to do that? The Jewish people. They already live all over the world, they almost always know multiple languages, they’re already in place. Why is the church given the task of evangelizing the Jew? People never address this point but that’s what Romans teaches, evangelize the Jew, evangelize the Jew, evangelize the Jew. Why? Because they’re already in place all over the world. And usually they’re very successfully at what they do, very influential people. So you evangelize these Jews they go back to their culture and evangelize them. What’s going to happen in the Tribulation? Who are the witnesses in the Tribulation? The Jews, 144,000 of them. Why? Because they’re already in every country in the world, they already speak all those different languages, they know their cultures and why else? They already know the OT cold. The Tribulation is only a seven year period, you don’t have time to learn all the OT so you can understand the NT, you don’t have time in 3 ½ years to learn new languages and different cultures, you don’t have time to do all that so God has already put the Jews in place to do it. What they don’t get done will get done by an angel. That’s the method in the future and that’s the method here. Evangelize those who are a part of the culture and train them so they can reach their own people. It’s always been the most successful method. So the Hellenistic Jew is going to be the breakout tool for the gospel.
Now, Acts 6:1, 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. Now notice the phrase at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, Luke has three terms he uses for the Christians. One is “brethren”, the second is “believers” and the third is “disciples.” These all have their special usage, we use believer all the time, Luke has used it numerous times. If he used the word “believer” it would read in verse 1, “Now at this time while the believers were increasing in number,” and we would know very easily how to interpret that. We’d just say, “Well, Luke is telling us that the church was growing, more people were becoming believers.” But Luke doesn’t use the word “believer,” he used the word “disciple,” “the disciples were increasing” and that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as the number of believers increasing.
What is a disciple and what is a believer? A disciple is one who is under training, he’s learning doctrine; a believer is simply one who responds to the gospel. So what is verse 1 telling us? That the number of trained believers was increasing in the city of Jerusalem. How did this happen? Go back to v 42, the apostles were going from home to home and that means they were going into private homes and they were teaching, see. So they concept was “We’ve got to get these believers trained in the word, trained in the word, trained in the word.” This was number one priority. How often were they teaching? It says “every day.” It wasn’t just Sunday at 11 o’clock. I don’t know about you but I can’t go more than two or three days without getting in the word of God and I don’t think any of you can either unless you’re a very unusual individual. So if you happen to be the kind who drops in here once in a while on Sunday morning and if you’re not constantly taking in the word of God you are never going to amount to a hill of beans as a Christian. That doesn’t sound very nice to say that but it’s the truth. I’m up here to tell you what you need to know, not what you’d like to know, not what you’d like to hear me say. But that’s the truth as far as your spiritual life is concerned. You have to take in the word of God on a daily basis; it can be by CD, it can be by your own study but somehow you’ve got to constantly take in the word of God or you’re just not going to make it in the Christian life. There’s too many pressures exerted on believers today to live without taking in the word of God. And sure enough what do these disciples face in v 1, a pressure situation. a complaint arose and the Greek word there means they were murmuring under their breath one side against the other. And the murmuring was on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews. Why? because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. Now remember, we’re talking about two factions of believers, they come from two different cultures but now they’re in the one body of Christ and they’ve got to live with each other. So on the one hand you have the Hellenistic Jews and they were the outsiders, they were the travelers, they had a broader experience base and then you have the hometown kids, they haven’t been outside the city limits, they’ve just heard about what goes on out there and so you have this tension. What this reminds me of is the Christian from the Bible belt and he goes over to Europe and he meets some German Christians and the German Christians are drinking beer and the Bible belt boy says, “Oh, that’s wrong, Christians don’t drink beer” and the German Christian thinks, “What’s wrong with this guy?” We Germans have been studying the Scriptures for centuries and we’ve been drinking beer for centuries, never had a problem with it, we love beer.” We know Martin Luther loved beer because he talks about his Wittenberg beer. The point is that we have Christians all over the world with different sets of customs. Now what happens is you take a believer who has been around the block and set him next to a Christian who’s scared to peer out the window and I guarantee you there’s going to be tension. This person who is sitting down is going to think, look at this guy that’s been doing all this traveling and think “Man, he’s liberal.” It has nothing to with theology; it has to do with the fact that the guy’s been around and he knows how people live on the other side of the fence and he can relax a bit. And the person who walks in who’s the one who has been around and visited different places, he walks in, “What kind of a creep are you, get real.” That’s the difference between these two factions.
So you have the Hellenic widows being overlooked in the daily serving. Now why were the Hellenic widows being overlooked? I suggest it was because of their more liberal stances, they weren’t from around those parts and therefore they sort of got cut out of all the inside deals. Now this daily serving not only consisted of food, there was that but there was also the financial contributions so these ladies could live. Contributions of men like Barnabas from Acts 4, so what you had was an inequality growing and this all came to a head.
V. 2, So the twelve summoned the congregation and that incidentally is one of the reasons I hold that Matthias was the twelfth apostle. Luke wrote this years later probably with Paul’s help at Caesarea and yet he doesn’t say “the eleven” but “the twelve,” Luke accepted the twelve apostles before Paul ever even thought about being a Christian. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples, notice the disciples, not all the believers but the trained believers were brought together, men who were actively training in doctrine, and they said to them, “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.”Now they solve this problem in a very interesting way. You’d think as the apostles who have apostolic authority they’d handle this problem, and in a way they do, but it’s not in a direct way. They’ve got a church split on their hands and yet they don’t get directly involved. Instead they put the task on someone else. Now why don’t they handle it? Obviously because they already know the will of God for their lives. They’ve been told by the angel to continue teaching the word, teaching the word, teaching the word. Now this is a principle in the Christian life. You have the word of God and in the word of God you have God’s will for your life. It’s expressly stated. And you always have believers coming along, “What’s God’s will for my life?” and the whole nine yards. When 99% of the time it’s staring them right in the face in the word of God, the problems is they’re too lazy to study the word, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just spoke out of the clouds God, just whispered in my ear.” Forget that, believers are going to have to face the fact that the Christian life is a life of study and training, there are no shortcuts to sanctification, just do what the word of God says. Well what about the other stuff? Don’t worry about that. God will handle that. What does Prov 3:5-6 say? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will” do what? “Make your paths straight.” That’s a Hebrew way of saying, “Hey look, do the known will of God for your life and God will take care of the unknowns.” It’s a simple principle of divine guidance. You can’t know what’s unknown so don’t try to figure it out. Just follow what is known, just follow the word of God and God will take care of the rest. That’s what the apostles do right here. For example apostle Matthew says, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with this church split deal but one thing I do know and that’s that I’m supposed to be ministering the word of God.” John, the young apostle says, “That’s an unknown detail and I know if I do that I won’t be able to study like I need to.” So they’re going to continue to study and teach, study and teach, study and teach, that’s the job of the apostles, that’s my job as the pastor-teacher. It’s not my job to solve every problem, it’s not my job to be on every committee, it’s not my job to start a new program for every kid whose parent thinks they need a social life. What’s important is the word of God. It’s amazing how many of your problems will be worked out just by taking in Bible doctrine week after week after week. Some people come here and they have a hundred questions and they never write them down and give me the list. But a year later they don’t have any of those questions anymore because just by verse-by-verse teaching they get answered. Now, they have 120 new questions but still, the point is that questions are getting answered, problems are being solved just by teaching the word of God. So the apostles solution is simple, It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Is everything going to work out? Everything is going to work out for the good. This thing is going to be solved and not only is it going to be solved, it’s going to be solved in such a way that the gospel is going to go out to the ends of the earth, simply because believers kept following the word, following the word, following the word. You can’t turn aside from the word to spend all your time trying to solve Tom, Dick and Harry’s problems. The parallel for the pastor is to solve these things by passing them on to someone else who is reliable and not neglect with the word of God.
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. So this is the genesis of the office of deacon. Deacon isn’t a spiritual gift it’s an office and it’s not real formalized at this point but the apostles, who are acting as the elders at this time, realize they need some help, so they take the believers in training and have them select a group of men. Notice, they did not choose women, they had women in the church but these offices have authority and you don’t see any female apostles or female deacons. That may rub you the wrong way but you have to realize its God’s order not our order, His hierarchy not our hierarchy and He says the men are the leaders. So out of this is going to grow the office of deacon and the more elaborate requirements are found over in 1 Tim 3. But in the meantime notice the word select, that means “to skeptically analyze” and it means you thoroughly investigate these men, doctrinal evaluations; this is not a little decision. These guys are going to have to solve a church squabble and the problem is among the women. Now how many of you men want to try to put your hand in that cookie jar. Yet somehow the men have to go in there and solve the women’s problem. So obviously the first deacons were not selected on the basis of how well they could use a hammer. They need some heavy duty spiritual requirements, doctrinal requirements. Nor could they be men that are just going to go in and tip toe around, they’re going to have to stand up to the women so they iron things out, see women like to hold grudges and if this is ever going to really be solved these have to be real men with real solutions. Further we’re going to find that once these men solve this problem guess what happens next? They move on to a greater problem; namely, the problem of how the gospel is going to get out of Jerusalem. The apostles aren’t going. Who goes? The deacons, these seven guys here, they push the envelope, it’s not the apostles. It sounds strange but they have other responsibilities in Jerusalem. V 4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The fact is you can’t do everything and the apostles realized that. Was it a good thing to serve tables? Yes. But it was a better thing for them to stick to prayer and ministry of the word. There’s no substitute for that, it has to be done. These other issues could be handled by others. So this was the plan.
Verse 5, The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they choose the seven. They chose seven because that was the number on Jewish city council, they’re apparently following Jewish procedures.i And so let’s look at these men. Now the interesting thing about these seven names is they are all Greek. So they are all Hellenistic Jews. There’s not a single Hebrew native on this. That may sound odd to you, you’d think you want to have a balance, some Hellenistic some native. But no, this isn’t pragmatic humanism, this is biblical thought and therefore the issues they consider in v 3 are good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. They had to have the filling of the Holy Spirit plus skill, the word “wisdom” means “skill”. They had to be very skilled men to step in there and administer this program fairly and justly, listen to complaints, sort out which complaints were good, valid, and which complaints were just somebody blowing smoke because they didn’t feel good that day. This takes discernment and skill.
So they chose seven Hellenistic Jews. First they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Luke, by the way, when he uses this notice he uses the Holy Spirit plus a noun of quality, and that qualifies what he means when he says full of the Spirit, he means full of faith. “They chose Stephen,” Stephen is going to turn into the first martyr of the Church, he is going to become a skilled evangelist and apologist, we will observe his skill next week at the end of chapter 6 and chapter 7. But Stephen started his career waiting on tables. He didn’t just hop in one giant step and become the Church’s first martyr.
Let’s look at the next man’s name; Philip. In Acts 8 we’re going to find out how Philip was promoted. He started out waiting on tables and he wound up as a great evangelist, he had daughters who had the gift of prophecy, he won one of the top black men to Christ in the world at that time, who was the treasurer of Ethiopia; he was a fantastic evangelist. He was a master at exegesis of Isaiah 53; he was a strong Bible student. Stephen and Philip prove to you, or should, that these men, before they were appointed, had hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of Bible teaching. Stephen didn’t just get up and give the famous address he’s going to give in chapter 7. That took years of training; same with Philip, he didn’t get up and start going through the exegesis of Isaiah 53. That took years of preparation.
The next man, Prochorus, now we don’t know much about Prochorus except from what comes down through church history. This man volunteered to go into exile with John the apostle when John was in his 90’s. While he was there he became the personal stenographer for the apostle John. And so he had the tremendous blessing of sitting there as John the apostle dictated the Book of Revelation and the fourth gospel,ii we can never be quite sure of it but it is said he did this out on the isle of Patmos and so John would be dictating and Prochorus would sit there and take notes, notes, notes, and so the text that you read in the Revelation and the Gospel of John was first written by Prochorus, so again a man started with a very lowly job of waiting on tables; he wound up having the privilege of listening to John dictate these two books. His life ended abruptly when he was martyred in Antioch.
And Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, we know nothing from church history about these three. The last one we know something about, Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. That’s interesting; what was the city that was to become the missionary center of the Church? Antioch. Here is your contact already developing, right back here. The Holy Spirit moving in the middle of a widow’s controversy to get the right man in the right place with the right background at the right time. And Nicolas as a proselyte was incorporated into the Church structure. Later Nicolas, because he became so outstanding, as often happens in history, had a group of apostates name their movement for him, called the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6, 15. Little is known about what this sect believed. But Nicolas apparently didn’t have anything to do with that heresy, they just used his name to get a following.iii
And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. And that meant transfer of authority. The deacon is a servant or assistant and obviously they were to assist the apostles. So to do that in an official capacity the apostles transferred authority to them by the laying on of hands.
And in v 7 we see the results. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, that’s the number of believers undergoing training, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. That’s one of the interesting results because now the gospel is making inroads in the highest level of society. So it’s a glimmer of hope but don’t think these were of the Sanhedrin, there may have been some but there were about 8,000 priests in Jerusalem at that time who worked normal jobs and took turns part of the year with meager details in the Temple. It’s most likely these that are obeying the gospel by trusting in Jesus Christ.
What I want to spend our last moments on is the expression the word of God kept on spreading. No matter how you slice this verse the one thing to notice is what is the emphasis now? Is it the number of people becoming believers? No, that’s there but the emphasis is the word of God increasing, that is, believers are getting trained. The emphasis in chapter 6 is not numerical growth, it is spiritual depth growth. Why? Why do you suppose the Holy Spirit is emphasizing spiritual depth growth? Because right in the next chapter starts the first major blood persecution of the Church. While there is freedom at times believers must be trained because the hour will come when the freedoms will be taken away and when the pressures come it will be too late for doctrine.
In conclusion, there are four places up to chapter 6:7 where the Church is strengthened. We are going to close by reviewing these four areas and see what led to the strengthening of the Church in that day. In Acts 6:7 the reason that the word of God is increasing, from the context, the reason is good management. They effectively used the resources at their disposal, “the word of God increased.” They did not waste the time of their teachers, they deployed well-trained men to take care of it. So principle one: effective management of resources.
Acts 5:14, the second principle, it says: “And believers were the more added to the Lord,” they were being added at a faster rate. Why, in context was this growth occurring? Answer: internal discipline. The Ananias and Sapphira incident had just occurred, these people realized that God meant business, so besides the fact that they had good management they had internal discipline; they got rid of the flakes.
Third factor in the growth of the early church, Acts 4:4, “But many of them who heard the word believed; and the number of men” or males, “was about five thousand.” Notice the third factor in context is that these believers taught the word, they taught the resurrection, they went into the OT and proved how it pointed to Jesus and His resurrection, how the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were divinely interpreted in accordance with those OT prophecies. The result of teaching the word was that the early church grew.
Finally the last, Acts 2:47, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Why? Because of verse 42, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer,” emphasis primarily on the teaching. Constantly the teaching, day after day after day after day the teaching. Why? Because there’s so much to teach, there’s just so much content to teach. People who knock teaching have no idea of the content that is necessary to live the Christian life. The emphasis, then, is the teaching of the word, it has always been and always will be the word.
i Josephus, Ant. 4.18.14 [4.214]
iii Hippolytus and Epiphanius say he originated the heretical group. Ignatius, Clement
of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Theodoret condemn the sect, but impute none of the blame to Nicolas
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