The church experiences growing pains in chapter 6. Most of the believers were still in and around Jerusalem. The church consisted of only Jews at this time, but there were two distinct groups among them. The Hebraic Jews were those who followed only Jewish traditions and spoke the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. The Hellenistic Jews or Grecian Jews were those from other lands. They spoke Greek and were more Gentile than Jew in outlook; in a sense, they were outsiders. All these were one in Christ, but their sense of fellowship needed to develop more fully.
True widows were those without family to assist them (1 Tim. 5:3-16). The setting being in Jerusalem, the Grecian Jews found their widows lacking in support. This problem was not just a matter of perception; it was real. The Twelve, the Apostles of Christ, found the answer to the situation. Distribution of food and funds to widows was a big job. The Apostles were busy with their primary work—prayer and preaching the Gospel. They proposed that the material ministry of aid to widows be handled by others.
The Apostles entrusted the selection of helpers to the Grecian believers. All those chosen have Greek names. “We trust you with the solution to the problem.” Although the seven servants are not called “deacons” in context, their work answers to the description of deacons elsewhere in the New Testament (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). Deacons are servants by definition and by description of responsibility. Their work is crucial, but it is not oversight of the church. This role would be entrusted to elders as God’s plan continued to unfold (Acts 14:23). A problem was solved, and once again, “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts 6:7). Even Jewish priests obeyed the gospel.
Stephen, one of the seven chosen to assist widows, was outstanding in his service and his message was also powerful. He performed wonders and miracles, the first mentioned in addition to the apostles. We will learn in chapter 8 that the apostles passed this ability to others by laying on of their hands (Acts 8:18). Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy or speaking against Moses and God. To say that the Law has been superseded by the Gospel is not an attack on the Law. Stephen was predictably brought before the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. How sad that religious people resorted once again to false witnesses to accuse Stephen. When opponents of the truth cannot win their battle, they often turn to violence. The look on Stephen’s face as he endured false testimony speaks volumes: “They saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). How do we react to challenge? How do we answer critics of the gospel? (1 Pet. 3:15; Col. 4:6).
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.