Monday, February 11
In those days, as the disciples were increasing in number, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole company. So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch. 6 They had them stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
(Act 6:1-7 CSB)
Up to this point in Acts, Luke has twice described how this new community of Jesus-followers acted—meeting together daily, sharing meals, praying, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, giving generously so everyone’s needs were met. The description is nearly idyllic, but today’s passage reminds us that, although this community was God’s new covenant people, they were not yet perfected. They were still very human. Church conflict is nothing new.
This particular conflict was between Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews. This was not a dispute between Jews and Gentiles, but between Jews and Jews. They shared ethnicity and religion, but they were from different geographical locations. Hebraic Jews were from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel; Hellenistic Jews were from all over the Greek-speaking world, from Egypt to Babylon to Rome. Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic as their primary language; Hellenistic Jews spoke primarily Greek, and probably disdained Aramaic as crude and country. For various reasons, these international Jews had settled in Jerusalem and were part of the growing group of Jesus-followers, but the Hellenes originated from larger and more cultured cities than the backwaters of Israel and its simpler inhabitants. On the other hand, those who were Israel born-and-bred were lifelong residents of the Promised Land; they had suffered hard times yet remained in their homeland, the land of God’s promise, the place of His Temple.
The Bible doesn’t go into much detail, but, human nature being predictable, we can assume that these geographically-based biases and prejudices leaked out in actual favoritism, exacerbated by perceived slights, until the conflict reached a head in the issue of the widow’s portions. The apostles’ response, that they didn’t have time to ‘wait tables,’ sounds curt, but perhaps that is part of the point: they really didn’t have time for it. Handling the situation would have taken them away from their God-given tasks of prayer and ministry of the Word, prayer being the primary. They could have spent less time in prayer and still fit it all in, but they knew that to skip prayer in favor of activity or accomplishments was the surest path to failure.
So the apostles called for the appointment of men who were wise and had a good reputation. The requirements were not record keeping or logistics, because the problem was not administrative. The task was not simply distributing food, but overcoming bias and bitterness so that the Church could truly be one. Rather than nominating the men themselves, the apostles instruct the Church to select the men. By nature of their responsibilities, leaders and teachers aren’t always among the people—and when they are, people tend to be on their best behavior. But the people know who the gossipers and ring-leaders are. They also know who the true leaders are.
Interestingly, the seven men chosen have Greek—not Hebrew—names. At least one was from Antioch, beyond the geographical borders of Israel. This local Jesus-movement is becoming more international with every passing chapter, and God uses this leadership, born out of crisis, to become the launch team for His international mission.
Acts shows us that the tendency towards church factions—the desire to clump together with those like us against those who are different—is nothing new, but it also shows us that the solution is not splitting or declaring a winner, but restoring unity through wisdom. Do we seek people who are recognized as wise and have good reputations, or do we prefer to be the leaders of our cliques, the ones in the know, the ringleaders of dissent?
And/Or, perhaps what struck you was the apostles’ refusal to add another task to their job description at the expense of their primary work. We live in a culture that constantly bombards us with the message to achieve “work/life balance” or books that tell us to pick ourselves up and go after it all. We refuse to believe the timeless truth that we are finite creatures, and a “yes” to one thing is always a “no” to something else. The apostles refused to say “no” to prayer. Do you need to say “no” so that you can be more effective at the tasks God has called you to? Do you need to recognize the gifting of others and allow them to step into roles God wants for them?
And/or, do we need to stop expecting so much of our leaders? Do we allow others to do tasks so that pastors and teachers can devote themselves to their main tasks? Including prayer? Too often we downgrade prayer, rather than prioritizing its place as the primary task of all followers of Christ.
Lord Jesus, there is truly nothing new under the sun. As your Church, through your Spirit, we have the power to be a distinct community that lives and loves radically and generously. May we recognize and encourage the various giftings within our body so that we can be as vibrant and effective as possible. Yet we recognize that we are still a body full of humans, prone to pride and prejudices that jeopardize our identity as Your people. Forgive us, and give us wisdom so we may be people of good reputation to all around us.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.