Acts chapter 6 is popular for producing the First set of Deacons. Stephen and the others. But the chapter opened with a completely different set of problems, problems we still deal with today. And in what seemed like a 0-100 motion, the presumably perfect Christian community quickly degenerated, and all that we were left with were “Rumblings of Discontent”!
Acts 6: 1: “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.”
Rumblings of Discontent? This probably needs some explanation.
For perspective purposes:
The Hebrew-speaking believers were the “real Jews”, living in Judah, speaking the language of the Jews who embraced the Gospel. While the Greek-speaking believers are the Hellenistic individuals, scattered among the “gentiles” and and who embraced and adopted Greek culture and ideas prior to their conversion. So, there was a situation where Hebrew-speaking believers were considered holier or more superior to the Greek-speaking believers, a situation where division and discrimination already crept in.
Anyways, back to the story.
Several months earlier, there was Pentecost. The Big Power – the Holy Spirit – that descended on that day brought with it the big revival and turned a small group of timid disciples into a strong and rapidly growing Christian Community. Miracles and strange acts were happening everyday. They were having daily house-fellowships; and the Communion Services were not just sips of wine and tiny bits of bread – those holy communions were actually happening in banquet-size proportions!! Rich converts sold their properties and donated huge sums of money to manage the organization and to support the less privileged. Benevolent payments were made daily. An empire of new believers was fast growing.
Then gradually by act of commission, omission and natural selection, a pattern of discrimination started becoming obvious. Of course, it wasn’t intentional, but there were discrimination along the line of race and ethnicity, language and other parameters, and some vulnerable groups became more special than the other vulnerable groups. Somehow the Grecian widows were being neglected in the support payments. And there were interest groups who were uncomfortable with something and started gathering evidence to make formal complaints.
It became obvious that the ‘perfect believers’ system was not perfect at all. It needed improvement or at least more attention.
And the story became juicier when the 12 Apostles became aware of the situation and came up with the disclaimer:
“We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program!” (Acts 6:2)
A Food Program???
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. In Acts 6:3, the Apostles encouraged the community of believers to select 7 worthy men who would take over the responsibility of “the food program”; “then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”
And just like that, we have the list of the first deacons – qualified and trustworthy men appointed to be in responsible charge of various tasks.
“They chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith).”
The seven men all had Greek names and were most likely Grecians. And it’s commendable that Hebrew members of the congregation showed a lovely spirit of acceptance and reconciliation.
In my personal opinion, I believe Stephen was also chosen because he was popular both with the Christian community and with the leaders of the opposition – the Jewish religion.
Stephen took up the duty of managing the “food program” (as the Apostles called it) even though his calling was totally different: he was an intelligent, fire-spitting Paul-kind-of-missionary.
Philip was a father of 7 beautiful girls called to be an evangelist who could convert a whole city.
Nicolas was an activist, gentile-turned-Jewish-turned-Christian.
There other 4 had their stories too.
But by popular demand, they took over the ‘food program’.
Well, God wasn’t interested in their pyramid of Empire the believers were building; and with Stephen doing a good liaison job between the Christian community and the Jewish religious group, it was Tower of Babel once again.
Which was probably why God decided to raise up a Man, a terrorist, a ruthless personality by the name of Saul who stepped up persecution from the temple authorities to a new level and moved the believers out of their comfort zones in order to achieve God’s goals for sending the Holy Spirit.
And when Saul was done with being the instrument of wrath, he continued from where Stephen stopped, adopting a new personality we now know as Apostle Paul.
All Scriptures are taken from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible