Summary: This is the beginning of sermon series based on the travels of Paul, and there is no place to begin like the beginning.
It would appear that he had everything going for him. He was one of the leaders of the early church. He was a person of influence and integrity and he had the respect and honour of his colleagues and peers. Think about it, how would you like to be described as “a person full of faith and the Holy Spirit?” That’s how this man was described.
It would appear that he had everything going for him. There was just one small problem. He was dead. He had been murdered, cut down in his prime, killed by the very things that made him who he was, his integrity and his Godliness.
His name was Stephen and he was first introduced to us in the book of Acts as the early church faced one of its first challenges. The story begins in Acts chapter 6, with the church going through unprecedented growth. Literally thousands of new believers were being added to the church and the apostles were struggling with how to handle the influx. Miracles are happening, people are getting saved, society is being influenced and then we read Acts 6:1 But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.
Boy you gotta hate that. So what were the grumblings about? Obviously in such a spiritual group, who lived so close to the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost it must have been something that involved spiritual issues, maybe arguments over doctrine or theology. Nope nothing so grand and compelling, if we continue to read we discover: The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
Remember at this point Christ followers considered themselves Jews and as such they felt an obligation to taking care of their own, especially the widows in the group. In a society that was as male oriented as Palestine and most of the world was 2000 years ago a woman’s existence really depended on her husband. He was the bread winner and the shelter provider and in many cases his wife didn’t have the ability or opportunity to provide for herself and so if she lost her husband her community had to step up to the plate to support her. And the early church embraced that, in James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
The problem was while the church at this stage was comprised of Jews, they weren’t all the same Jews. Hundreds of years previous the country of Israel had been conquered by Assyria and Babylon and as part of that many of their people were taken captive. During that time they were assimilated into the culture of their captors and eventually lost their original language. Fast forward a few hundred years and the Greeks under Alexander the Great captured most of the known world. Instead of taking people captive the Greeks took their culture captive by simply insisting that they take on the Grecian culture and language and so Greek became the common language of the area. However the Jews in Palestine resisted and while most of them spoke Greek they still considered Hebrew their primary language and anyone who didn’t speak Hebrew was considered less of a Jew.