By Ken R. Speakman
Member, Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Old Hickory
The Jerusalem church was experiencing growing pains that impacted the apostles’ ministry. The membership of the church had grown into the thousands and the staff of only 12 found it difficult to attend to the needs of so many. The first dissension in the church arises.
There were two kinds of Jews in the early church. Our text names them as Hellenistic Jews and Hebrew Jews. The Hebrew Jews were descendants of the faithful Jews who left Babylon under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. They endured the difficulties of rebuilding Jerusalem. They were committed to the Hebrew Scriptures and spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hellenistic Jews descended from Jews who had chosen, for whatever reason, to live outside the land of Palestine. They were still Jews, but they spoke Greek and absorbed some of the Greek culture into their lifestyle.
According to Hebrew writings, “The Hellenists were frequently categorized as second class Israelites.
They were considered tainted by the Greek world. Hellenistic Jews had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and Pentecost. They were among the many Jews from other nations who heard the gospel in their own language. Many of them came to faith in Christ and were among the 3,000 who believed and were baptized. They stayed in Jerusalem and were part of the Jerusalem church.
The first internal problem to face the church was racial prejudice. Centuries of prejudice did not erase the problem just because these people became Christians. Sadly, that is true today. The Hellenists complained their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food distribution. To prevent a potential split in the church, the apostles came up with a great solution.
The apostles concluded they were so busy serving tables, they were neglecting prayer and the ministry of the Word of God. They were trying to do too much and created a problem. There is an ageless principle that is true in business and applies also to the church; priorities must be maintained in spite of pressure. We find the solution to the problem in verses 3-4. The congregation selected seven men from the congregation to administer the serving of food to the widows.
Please note that serving tables is not less spiritual than other parts of ministry. This had nothing to do with importance of the ministry; it had everything to do with the priority of ministry. As in any growing church, the church in Jerusalem realized the priorities of ministry must be defined and teaching and preaching the Word was the responsibility of the apostles and must be a top priority.
We commonly call the seven men chosen to serve deacons, although the title is not given to them in this chapter (Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:8-13). The word deacon means servant. These men were humble servants of the church, men whose work made it possible for the apostles to carry on their important ministries among the people. Stephen was one of these men and did not limit his ministry to serving tables. He had a burden for souls and strongly proclaimed the gospel. Regardless of our position in the church, we are to be witnesses. Stephen is known as the first martyr of the Christian church.