Summary: The greatest man or woman of God can perform the most menial tasks willingly. Plus, the most lowly of jobs can actually be the most mighty works for God if you combine two things: wisdom and God’s Spirit. Learn how it worked in the life of Stephen.
In a lot of ways chapters 6 and 7 mirror the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit, chosen to serve, healed and performed miracles while contending with the intransigent religious leadership and preaching the gospel, then was arrested and tried for attacking Moses (supposedly) and threatening to destroy the temple.
These two chapters serve to 1. Introduce Saul, 2. Show the slow move of the gospel to the Gentiles (through Greek speaking Jews), 3. Show the priority of teaching the word of God, 4. Show the heart of true servanthood, 5. Show spiritual as well as practical service of Stephen, 6. Lay some theological groundwork for how the Lord always planned to bring Jesus as the Messiah. 7. Show that when given the opportunity, the enemy’s real intent is to kill anything belonging to God.
The early church was not totally idyllic. Problems with integrity surfaced in chapter 5, and now class discrimination. The “local” Christian Jews spoke Aramaic, while those Christian Jews not from Israel spoke their own language and Greek. These widows may have moved to Jerusalem to be buried with their ancestors, and felt “cut out” of the daily distribution of help because they weren’t local.
To “serve” tables is where we get the word “deacon,” which means “servant,” or “attendant.” The Apostles were not saying they were “above” waiting tables, but that given their limited time and energy, they should focus on the teaching of God’s word and find others who could share in the work.
I think their value does come down to us today in that we err when we put social programs and physical activity in front of teaching the Word. Both are important but to become a church that simply serves and never teaches is a church that does not fully fulfill Jesus’ charge of making disciples.
3 – 7
The qualifications they spelled out were for mature Christian men who could identify and work closely with the group in need, applying common sense to get the job done. 7 was the number usually chosen to conduct public business in a Jewish town, the town council.
We don’t know how the men were chosen and we only know more about two of them, Stephen and Philip. Though it might seem trivial and menial to some, this was important business of the Lord and so they laid hands on them to commission them.
Again Luke records the spread of the gospel, here now even to some of the as many as 18,000 priests living in Jerusalem at the time.
Stephen didn’t spend all his time waiting tables, and he becomes the first martyr of the faith, but an act that opens up the gospel even more.
8 – 15
Isn’t a bit ironic that Stephen was just chosen to reach out to Greek speaking Jewish Christians in a loving and giving manner and now it is Greek speaking Jews who are after him? The Freedmen was probably a synagogue of Jewish slaves and children of slaves freed by the Romans. They came from North Africa (Cyrene and Alexandra) and from Paul’s home province of Cilicia (that’s probably why that is mentioned here).