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.
Note that the disciples took this seriously. Widows, in fact, became a recognized group in the church needing assistance (if certain conditions were met). 1 Timothy 5:3-16.
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).
Earlier we see the Apostles proclaiming the gospel, now Stephen is contending for it by debate. The stakes are getting higher. Stephen was a skilled debater. Notice the combination of his wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works with us and through us, empowering what we already have. That’s one good reason to keep studying and learning.
The accusations are similar to what Jesus faced and likely came from Jesus speaking about himself as being destroyed and raised up in three days (that was misinterpreted as meaning the physical temple in Mark 14:58). And the part about Moses was played to the Sadducees who believed only in the writings of Moses. Perhaps they were trying to subvert Jesus words on many occasions that clarified, but didn’t nullify, the words of Moses.
But notice how Stephen uses the accusations as a jumping off place to make a great argument for Jesus.
The accusation was that Jesus had rejected Moses and planned to destroy the temple. There couldn’t be two more essential elements to the Jews than Moses (their ticket to a relationship to God) and the temple (which they felt was never to be destroyed).
Stephen says, “You want Moses and the temple? I’ll give you Moses and the temple, plus throw in how Moses pointed to Jesus as the only way to have a relationship with God and how God never intended the temple as the home of His presence, but Jesus, who is the only One who can never be destroyed. And I’ll show you how the Jewish people, all through their generations, have had a pattern of rejecting God’s plan and person, a pattern that continues in you today!”