Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Six
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 6 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without legal drama or breaking anyone’s rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Thanks to everyone that has participated. Let’s get started:
A brief catchup: In the last chapter, we found the early church meeting in the courtyards of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem where there was plenty of room. Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter about selling a piece of property, fell dead and were carried out and buried. As the Apostles were preaching about Jesus, the high priest and Sadducees were jealous and arrested them. The Apostles were put in jail for the night, but an angel showed up and let them out. The following morning, the courtroom sent men to bring them from the prison, but they found the prison cell empty. The Apostles were found preaching in the temple courtyard again, and they brought them before the Sanhedrin, where they beat them, told them not to speak about Jesus anymore, and let them go.
That is where we begin today. The Apostles are still in and around the temple at Jerusalem.
Acts Chapter 6 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service.
Three thousand people received Jesus Christ at Pentecost. Another 2,000 were added shortly thereafter. Acts 5 tells us that many more were added to the church. So satan was becoming unhappy about all of these people turning to God, so he began sowing a spirit of murmuring, gossiping, and strife among God’s people, hoping to turn believers against one another. In Acts chapter 5, we saw that the strife came from within the church with Ananias and Sapphira.
So many times a church is braced for outward attacks, but the division comes silently from within their own members. I read about a church in Dallas that split and both sides went to court and sued each other for the property. The judge wasn’t sure what to do so he passed it back to the authorities of the denomination, and they assembled a panel to decide the issue. When they got into the details of the dispute, they found that it had all begun at a church dinner, when a certain elder got a smaller piece of ham than the child sitting next to him. This offense had grown until it split the church. It came from seeds that the enemy had planted within the church.
Countless works for God have been destroyed from the inside this way. God blesses a work, people come to know the Lord, the church beings to grow and reach its community. Then someone complains that he or she is not appreciated or is being neglected. It is often over something so small and simple, but the enemy puts it under a magnifying glass and bitter dissension begins to spread. Something that is really nothing, begins to be everything and the work goes up in flames. Satan loves to use an unintentional wrong to begin a conflict between believers.
That is happening in Acts chapter 6, the unity of the early church becomes endangered and threatens the spiritual testimony of thousands of believers. The church took up donations and people supported them, just as Barnabas had sold his property and gave the money to the church. The church would then help to feed the hungry, the orphans, and the widows in their community.
Jerusalem had a large minority of Greek-speaking Jews called “Hellenists”, meaning of Greece. They spoke no Hebrew because they had lived abroad for centuries, but returned to Jerusalem because it was their holy city. Many of these Jews had returned so that they could spend their final days in Jerusalem, to die there. As a result there was an abundance of Greek-speaking women who had outlived their husbands. The native Aramaic-speaking Jews that grew up there discriminated against the Hellenistic Jews, whom the Pharisees held in utter contempt, and considered them second-class Israelites. There was suspicion between these two groups, though they were all followers of Jesus, and satan wanted to take advantage of it.
The day of Pentecost had joined them all together into one body, but it did not remove their prejudices. The Greek-speaking widows soon felt they were being shorted on the distribution of food. From what they saw, when the other widows received two loaves of bread, they only got one, so they began to complain about it. “Our Hebrew brothers are favoring their own people!” This is just an example and the offense may have been more imagined than real, but that made no difference to those who were feeling overlooked. In a congregation of several thousand people, it would have been very easy for someone to be overlooked. Because of the perceived offense, the seeds of neglect, and gossip against one another, begin to spread like a cancer.
2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.”
Andy Stanley has a saying that summarizes this decision the best: “Don’t sacrifice what is unique to you for something someone else can do.” Apparently someone put forth a motion that the twelve Apostles should oversee the distribution of food so that it would be more fair. That sounds good, but it would consume their life and stall the church. Instead of spending time in prayer and teaching, the Apostles would spend all of their time waiting tables. It was not that this task was beneath them, but who would do the praying and teaching then?
You can bet that satan would have loved to get the Apostles bogged down, and worn out, doing repetitive tasks. The apostles would have dried up spiritually under the pressure of serving meals plus all the counseling and preaching, with little time for preparation and prayer. People probably even reminded them that Jesus said ‘The greatest among you will be your servant’ (Matthew 23:11) He washed your feet but you will not even feed the hungry! Are you better than Jesus?”
So the Apostles prayed about it and basically said: Nope, can’t do that. Choose seven men full of the Holy Spirit for this job.
5 These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; 6 whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
These men are the first deacons of the church and we will be reading about Stephen and Philip doing exploits soon. Now the text does not call them deacons, but the word deacon simply means “servant” and these men were certainly servants, and most people believe these were the first deacons. They chose seven men, maybe so they could serve a different day of the week. All the names listed happen to be Greek. Though Hebraic Jews comprised the majority of the congregation, they chose Hellenistic Jews to administer the program to completely put the matter at rest.
The Apostles prayed and laid their hands on the newly appointed deacons, imparting the gifts that were in their own lives, into them. There is a power transfer that happens during the laying on of hands and we will see this a lot in the book of Acts. I have prayed for people and felt something like electricity go down my arm and into them, and see them react to the sensation at the same time. I have also had it happen when others prayed for me. I can’t explain it, but it is real. There is a power transfer that can happen between believers through the laying on of hands and you can receive new spiritual gifts that you previously did not have.
7 The word of God increased and the number of the disciples greatly multiplied in Jerusalem. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Because of the wise decisions and avoiding the division and strife in the church, the number of disciples continued to grow, and now even some of the priests were beginning to believe.
8 Stephen, full of faith and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some of those who were of the synagogue called “The Libertines”, and of the Cyrenians, of the Alexandrians, and of those of Cilicia and Asia arose, disputing with Stephen. 10 They weren’t able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.
Stephen was one of the new deacons that the Apostles had laid hands on, and now he performed great signs and wonders among the people. He was full of faith and power. As usual, this met with resistance from some of those who were “of the synagogue.” The Sanhedrin had been amazed that uneducated fisherman like Peter and John, spoke far beyond their learning, because of their time with Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Stephen spoke with the same boldness, power, and authority by the Holy Spirit and they were not able to withstand his wisdom, which made them furiously angry and jealous. Their pride was hurt.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and came against him and seized him, then brought him in to the council, 13 and set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
Because they were jealous of Stephen and could not win their debate with him, they secretly got men to lie about him and stirred up the people. He was arrested and brought in front of the council. They basically called liars to the stand as witnesses against him and they twisted his words into something they could use against him:
They accused Stephen of these things because he taught that:
• Jesus was greater than Moses (blasphemous words against Moses)
• Jesus was God (blasphemous words against … God)
• Jesus was greater than the temple (blasphemous words against this holy place)
• Jesus was the fulfillment of the law (blasphemous words against … the law)
• Jesus was greater than their religious customs and traditions (Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change customs)
Of course, Stephen never taught against Moses and God, but they twisted his words. Stephen never spoke blasphemous words against the temple, but it was not an idol to him as it was with many Jewish people in that day. Stephen had his words twisted, and false accusations were brought against him.
15 All who sat in the council, fastening their eyes on him, saw his face like it was the face of an angel.
Stephen was in perfect peace and his face shown bright, like the face of an angel. This description is of a person who had been in God’s presence and reflects some of His glory, like Moses did when he had to wear a veil over his face to keep from scaring the people, in Exodus 34:29. The name Stephen means “a crown” or “a garland.” The Greek word was used for the reward given to a civic leader or to the crown of glory received by a victor in the Olympic Games. He was named so appropriately.
Stephen stood before the same group of people who sentenced Jesus to death, and he responds with a highly inspired sermon from the Holy Spirit, which we will cover next week.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 6. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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