(1) Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. (2) And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. (3) Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. (4 ) But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
(5) And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
(6) These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. (7) And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
This problem was potentially serious and could have significantly impacted the development of the early church. The apostles were providing the leadership and they were up to their eyes keeping on top of the rapid growth. Further, they knew that continued growth depended on their obedience to their calling – prayer and ministry of the word. How were they to solve this problem among the widows?
There is no record of an eldership having yet been formed in the church and so no obvious body to whom the task of resolving this conflict could be delegated. And so the apostles determined to appoint people who would bring wisdom to the situation. What sort of people were they looking for? People with an MBA from Jerusalem University? Bank Managers? No, it seems they were more interested in the character than the qualification, a frequently occurring Biblical principle. Further, since they did not know everyone they sought suggestions and gave the basis on which people should operate namely ‘men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom’ (Act 6:3).
A democratic solution?
This was not to be decided democratically but by being appointmed by the apostles – ‘…whom we will appoint to this duty’ (Acts 6:3) and ‘..they prayed and laid their hands on them’ (Acts 6:6). Democracy is not the Biblical way of making decisions. There was clearly acknowledgement by the apostles that the seven men from different nations who were brought before them were mature and able. Through the laying on of hands authority was imparted to them.
Were they successful?
No record of accountability is recorded – demonstrating the apostles’ confidence in them – and we hear nothing more of the problem, so we can assume that the problem was satisfactorily resolved.
But there is one important feature in this report that I want to highlight. It centres around the word ‘and’ which starts verse 7. Once the seven had been appointed the next thing we read is ‘and the word of God continued to increase …’ (Acts 6:7). As the word kept spreading effectually, not only do we read ‘increase’ but also other growth words – ‘multiply’ and ‘great many’. How did this come about? Once the apostles were released from resolving the problem of the widows’ welfare they could give themselves once again to prayer and the word. The result was explosive growth in the church!
What can we learn from this? God has given gifts to the church for its continued health and growth. For these to take place it is vital that these gifts operate effectively. In this record we see the way in which administration released the gifting of the apostles to great effect. I believe that there is an important principle here about administration. Good administration seeks to mobilise people in their gifting which God has given for the body of Christ. By so doing one can confidently expect the church to be effective in fulfilling the mission God has entrusted to her.