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Complaints in the Church
As the number of disciples increases, so do the dangers of the sinful flesh that every believer has within him. In the previous chapter two of the disciples expressed this in a well-considered and therefore crafty way. The judgement was in accordance with it. Now the sinful flesh reveals itself in a different form than in the previous chapter.
It is not an intentional, deliberate sin, but a spirit of dissatisfaction comes into the church and manifests itself in complaining. It is not a rebellion, but it is deadly if it is not responded to properly (1 Corinthians 10:10). As with Ananias and Sapphira, money is the cause. With them it was about giving it in, here it is about handing it out, perhaps mainly in the form of goods.
The complaining stems from the different living conditions of the disciples. The Hellenistic Jews or Greek-speaking Jews believe that their widows are not treated equally with the Hebrews in the distribution of the goods that the church received from its wealthier members. We see here two groups with different backgrounds. The Greek-speaking Jews are Jews who came out of the scattering. They speak the Greek language and are familiar with Greek culture which may have been evident in their behavior. The Hebrews are the Hebrew or Aramaic speaking Jews. They have their origin in Israel and have been formed by law.
They are two groups that both have their dangers and have to learn to bear each other. The Greek-speaking people are in danger of introducing a worldly way of life into the church; the Hebrews are in danger of introducing legalism into the church.
The Preacher has already observed that danger and warned about it (Ecclesiastes 7:15-Job :). He speaks of the contrast between the righteous who boasts of his righteousness – that is, someone who takes himself as the norm, makes laws of that norm and imposes it on others – and the lawless who boasts of his freedom – such a person does not acknowledge any law. The only way to avoid falling into either extremity is to fear God.
The God-fearing one has respect for God’s Word and adds nothing to it and avoids both dangers. The Lord Jesus walked on the narrow path, “in the midst of the paths of justice” (Proverbs 8:20), not to the right and not to the left. We must always focus on Him again (Isaiah 30:21). If we don’t, Satan will succeed in bringing discord among us through dissatisfaction and jealousy.
Satan exploits the small differences there are in the church by playing them off against each other. In this case they are earthly goods. If we are content with what we have (Hebrews 13:5), we will not become jealous of what others have or can do. Contentment is inseparable from Godliness (1 Timothy 6:6).
The apostles, who are called “the twelve” here, recognize the problem. They even recognize that they have contributed to its arising. They have taken on tasks that are not directly theirs. That is asking for trouble. An additional consequence is that they are no longer able to carry out their actual task to the full.
If more is done than is ordered, nothing will happen properly anymore. On the one hand, the apostles do not get around to their original task of preaching the Word of God; on the other hand, the task they have taken upon themselves, serving the tables, is not carried out properly. Serving the tables is about distributing money and goods to the needy believers.
It is also an important instruction for us to stick to what the Lord has given us as a task. If, however well intentioned, we take on other tasks for which He has not given us an order, it is at the expense of the actual task. Also the extra task which has been taken on is not carried out satisfactorily.
Fortunately, the apostles recognize their mistake in time. They themselves feel that it is unsatisfactory. They hear the signals of dissatisfaction in the complaining, and act before tumult breaks out. This allows them to reduce and eliminate the danger. They want to return to their original task. The social aspect of the church, which is also there and important, must be transferred.
The Seven Deacons Chosen
To overcome the difficulties that had arisen, the apostles proposed to the brethren that they choose seven men who could take over from them this task of distributing funds and resources. The apostles do not choose the men themselves; they only give directions that the church should pay attention to in the search for men suitable to carry out this task. The qualities described that such brothers must possess indicate the value of this service. The men eligible for this work must have a good testimony in their environment. Also, the Holy Spirit must be able to work freely in them and they must be able to perform their task with wisdom (cf. 1 Timothy 3:8-1 Chronicles :).
Although these are practical matters, the brothers who are going to take care of these matters must meet certain spiritual features. They are not practical brothers who are good in bookkeeping, for example, but spiritually minded brothers who feel the material need of believers and provide for it with wisdom. The church is not an organization, not a system of rules, where one looks at how everything can be arranged in the best way. It is the Spirit of God Who in His wisdom knows all needs and can indicate exactly where and how they should be met, as is necessary for the glory of Christ.
These men are chosen by the church (2 Corinthians 8:19). This is different than with the gifts of grace in the church. These are not chosen by the church, but are given by the Lord and set in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). The church must accept them and acknowledge them as given to her by the Lord (Ephesians 4:7; Ephesians 4:11). In short: the church is owned by the Lord and therefore He chooses and gives the gifts necessary for the building up of the church; the church as steward manages the money and she chooses who is responsible for its management.
After the apostles have made their proposal, they also say what they will dedicate themselves to. They have said that the Word of God is neglected by them. Nevertheless, the first thing they want to do when they have their hands free again after handing over the care of the practical things, is not to preach the Word, but to pray. And not just once or on a special occasion, but they want to “devote” themselves to it. Then they say that they will also devote themselves “to the ministry of the Word”.
It is remarkable that the apostles here mention prayer first and then the preaching as their work. Their struggle with the power of evil is firstly a struggle in prayer. In prayer, more than in any other service, we become aware of the power of God that is needed for any other service. It is important to first speak with God about people and only then to speak with people about God.
The proposal of the apostles is widely supported by the crowd of believers. They choose seven men who meet the requirements. This means that the church has also worked spiritually and has been able to recognize these conditions with these men. Luke gives the names of the seven they choose. With Stephen he mentions as an extra characteristic that he is “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. This means that Stephen trusts in God completely, while the Holy Spirit can work in him without hindrance.
As far as can be deduced from the names, all men chosen are Greeks, for they are all Greek names. This is certainly a loving concession to the group of believers who have complained. From that group there can no longer be any reproach of partiality. When the love of God fills the hearts, it overcomes selfishness and pettiness. Today’s church is governed based on democracy, with each group demanding its representation in every commission that is thought to be established.
According to the well-known Bible interpreter F.W. Grant (1834-1902) the names have the following meaning:
1. Stephen – crown
2. Philip – lover of horses, runner
3. Prochorus – leader of praise
4. Nicanor – victor
5. Timon – honorable
6. Parmenas – permanent
7. Nicolas – conqueror of the people
Two of these names stand out, which we will come across a few more times in this book: Stephen and Philip.
These seven men are put before the apostles by the church. Before the apostles unify themselves by the laying on of hands (cf. Leviticus 3:2; Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9) with the choice of the church, they pray. They will certainly have prayed for these men that the Lord will give them grace and wisdom to perform this important task. After all, it is about the welfare of the church.
It seems that the multiplication or increase of the influence of the Word on the lives of the believers, about which Luke speaks in Acts 6:7, is a result of the election of the deacons. As a result, the apostles are again free to preach the Word, which is not without consequence. The spiritual life of the believers grows through it. And not only that. We also read that the number of disciples in Jerusalem is greatly increasing. So people also come to faith through the preaching of the Word. Among those people there is a large crowd of priests. They become obedient to the faith. This is in contrast to their lives until that moment because it was dominated by obedience to the law.
N.B. Acts 6:7 can be seen as a verse that connects two parts. We find such a verse also in Acts 9:31; Acts 12:24Acts 16:5; Acts 19:20Acts 28:30-Obadiah :. This gives a division of the book into six parts.
The Performance of Stephen
After the mention of Stephen as one of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5) we now hear more about him. As noted above, Stephen, which is derived from stefanos, means ‘crown’. This name refers to the crown of a victor. There is another word for crown, diadema, which is diadem or royal crown. The diadema can be inherited by someone, the stefanos must be earned.
We see that Stephen’s work is not limited to “the daily ministry” (Acts 6:1). He does “great wonders and signs among the people”. He does this “full of grace and power”. In him the merciful power of God becomes manifest. He shows the powerful efficacy of grace by performing wonders that are a benefit to the people. The wonders he performs are great signs because they all refer to the Lord Jesus in heaven.
In Stephen we see the free working of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11). None of the apostles commissioned him for his work. There is also no mention of the church appointing him to do this work. He who has a gift must not only be free to use it, but is even obliged to do so for the Lord and for the church.
Stephen is a man “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), “full of faith” (Acts 6:5) and “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). Being “full of” means, in case this is said of people, “to be controlled by”. The Lord Jesus is the Only One of Who can be said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
In doing wonders and signs, Stephen is doing something we have only seen with the apostles so far. However, his wonders are not described, because our attention should not go to his wonders, but all our attention should go to his preaching.
His performance in the fullness of faith, grace and power evokes resistance. This time the resistance comes from the synagogue. Different groups come towards him and argue with him. Stephen is not afraid of them. He stands there as a lonely witness of the truth against a majority of opponents of the truth.
No matter how they try to beat him, they don’t succeed. Stephen is powerfully assisted by the Holy Spirit. According to the promise of the Lord Jesus, he demonstrates a wisdom and a spirit that silences his opponents (Luke 21:15; Luke 12:12). For us, we must always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
Arresting of Stephen
It is unacceptable to the opponents of Stephen that they cannot overpower him with words. That is why they resort to false accusations. They do not express these accusations themselves yet, but they incite men who make them claim that they have heard Stephen speak slanderous words against Moses and God.
Remarkably enough they place Moses before God. In their traditionalism and formalism their conception of Moses’ law is the filter through which they judge God and thus how people speak about God. When people say things that do not correspond with their view of Moses, they are reprehensible, no matter how much they reflect God’s thoughts.
They treat Stephen as they treated the Lord Jesus. The people who first held the apostles in high esteem rebel against Stephen here, under the influence of slander. This is how fickle the people’s favor is. In the elders and the scribes, these slanderers find a grateful following.
The whole group comes up to Stephen. They drag him away and bring him before the Council. The Council knows, they believe, what to do with him. They bring forward false, criminal witnesses (Psalms 35:11). They accuse him of slander because he would have spoken against the temple and the law.
Stephen, like the Lord, has spoken the truth to their conscience. Because they do not want to bow to the truth, they bend the truth and turn it into a lie. They want to hold on to their own truth about the temple and the law, which gives them prestige among men. Therefore he must be accused of speaking against the temple and the law.
Their accusation indicates that Stephen has confronted them with the consequences of their unbelief. In his preaching he has referred to the Lord Jesus as the One Who has prophesied that the temple will be destroyed (Luke 21:6; Luke 21:20). He will have pointed out the hollowness of the temple service because of the rejection of Christ. He will also have pointed out that the law is not sufficient as a means to be justified. But they did not want to listen. With undisguised contempt they speak about “this Nazarene, Jesus”.
After these accusations, they do not see the face of Stephen as the face of a demon, but as that of an angel. They see in the shine of his face the reflection of the glory of heaven. Perhaps some have thought of the face of Moses that shone (Exodus 34:30). It is as if God says: ‘This man is not against Moses, but he is like Moses, a faithful servant of Mine’.
In the next chapter we hear the impressive speech of Stephen. There we see that the roles are reversed. There it is not the Council that is the court for which Stephen is summoned, but Stephen is the court for which the Council is summoned.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 6". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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