Summary: The apostles were becoming too busy to meet the needs of the disciples as well as being devoted to the ministry of the Word. This outline gives a "talking paper" format as to how the apostles handled this challenge.
Introduction: After the events of Acts 5, the apostles found themselves in a predicament. They realized they needed assistance and presented the facts to the multitude of disciples. Then the disciples themselves chose the men who assist in the situation at hand.
Text, Acts 6:1-7, KJV: 1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
1 The problem: people in need (verse 1)
--Number of disciples was “multiplied”. The Lord had been adding to the church daily before this time (3000 on Pentecost, many others over time).
Did some think this was too much of a good thing?
Note how this is mentioned after the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
--Differences were in culture and “heart language”, not necessarily ethnicity
“Grecians” were Greek-speaking Jews who lived outside Israel. Acts 2 lists many different places where Jews were living.
“Hebrews” were Jews living in Israel, mostly speaking Aramaic (“Hebrew” in NT)
“Widows” were of course those women whose husbands had died. Luke does not mention how or when these women had come to basically dwell in Jerusalem.
“Murmurings” were mentioned several times, especially in the OT as Israel journeyed in the wilderness (see Exodus-Deuteronomy). Again, Luke does not provide the specific event or series of events that led to this murmuring or grumbling. What had happened?
“Daily ministration” is another thing not described. When did this start? What was done and for whom? Who was responsible for this ministry?
We do not have the answers to these questions.
2 The proposal: get some help (verses 2-4)
--Luke notes that something was in place but not always how it took place.
Had the apostles become too busy in doing the good that they had a hard time doing the best?
The apostles realized this “mission creep” and promptly addressed the situation.
The apostles rightly said it wasn’t right to “leave the Word of God and serve tables”. Further study in the original language would add a great deal of light and information to what the apostles said here.
They had to make a choice and they decided to make the best choice.
We don’t know why the apostles recommended seven men, no more and no less, to be “appoint(ed) over this business”.
Note the qualifications specified by the apostles: honest report, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom.
Compare these with Paul’s list of qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3.
Apostles reminded the disciples their priority was prayer and the ministry of the Word. Just as true today as in that day.
3 The people: seven chosen men (verses 5-6)
--The multitude was pleased: “win-win” situation, in that the apostles were able to minister the Word and the seven selectees, sometimes called “deacons”, assisted in practical matters like this.
--Note the names of those selected: all Greek or Greek-sounding names. Nicolas of Antioch was a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith and now he too, like thousands of others had found salvation in Messiah Jesus!
Luke adds more about Stephen. Philip may be the one mentioned twice later in Acts (chapters 8 and 21). This
Philip is clearly not the same man as the apostle Philip mentioned in the Gospels.
Nothing else is known of the other 5 men but the Lord knows all about them.
Postscript (verse 7): when the apostles were freed to devote themselves primarily to the Word, the Word “increased,” the number of disciples “multiplied . . . greatly”.
Best of all, a “great company of the priests” believed and “were obedient to the faith”. How many, if any, of these men had seen the events leading to Calvary?
Conclusion: The apostles could have continued doing what they had done, in trying to juggle the ministry of the Word and the needs of the disciples, but that would not have been the best choice to follow. They recommended to the disciples that they, themselves, choose seven men to handle the needs. As a result, the word was “increased”, the number of disciples was multiplied greatly, and even best, a number of priests became believers.
The apostles had to make a choice—the good or the best—and they made the best choice.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)