Chapter 14: A problem solved, the word spread, and opposition stirred
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit 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 the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. 13 They also set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
We now see how godly people in authority solve a real problem. As directed by the apostles, food is distributed daily by the infant church to feed needy widows. Somehow their well-meant distribution benefits the Hebrew widows more than the Hellenists who are Jewish widows of Greek origin, often regarded as ‘second class citizens.’
The twelve apostles identify that their own priority calling and role is to teach God’s word and pray. They authorise the church to select seven wise Spirit-filled men of good reputation to oversee this sensitive and important operation of feeding the widows. They will serve as business managers. The men chosen include Stephen (whom we meet again in Acts 7 and in the next chapter of this book) and Philip (who features in Acts 8). They all are presented to the twelve, who pray for and with them, and identify with them by laying their hands on them. As we hear no more about this problem, it seems that God blesses the prompt and wise action taken to solve it!
Western Christians may never face the same problem, though in some countries up to ten percent of a congregation may be destitute widows. Here are valuable principles about how to tackle any problem that faces God’s people anywhere. First, make sure that Bible teaching and prayer are always top priorities. Then, recognise, face, and tackle any problem honestly, objectively and impartially. Next, if converted, spiritually-minded, able and wise Christians are involved, delegate the problem to them to handle. Give them responsibility with authority over the delegated area. Encourage leaders to identify, pray with, and pray for those dealing with the problem, and keep themselves informed. Many problems would be solved by such prayerfully backed delegation.
God’s word gives growth
So the apostles can now concentrate on communicating with God in prayer, and sharing God’s word with men and women. Unsurprisingly, ‘the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem’. Disciples are made when God’s word is taught by Spirit-filled people who pray and are prayed for. How pleased they must be that ‘a great many of the priests’ become ‘obedient to the faith’. They become disciples too. Those who are saved obey the Lord who has saved them. As we have received ‘Christ Jesus the Lord’, so we are commanded to ‘walk in Him’.1 The fact that a ‘great many’ priests become Christians underlines that religious people, no less than pagan or irreligious folks, need their sin forgiven by personal faith in Christ. Being a priest, pastor, clergyman, leader or Bible teacher does not guarantee being a true Christian. The conversion of John Wesley, already a devout clergyman, demonstrates that!
The truth of the best known gospel verse of all, John 3:16, says, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’. Whoever includes religious people. These priests, who know so much about the Old Testament law, sacrifices and priesthood, now should understand that the last High Priest offered the last sacrifice for sins, when Jesus gave His sinless body on the cross. He died as the Lamb of God to save them.2
All seems to be going very well. The Hebrew and Hellenist widows are well catered for. The apostles are fulfilling their role with great effect, and many priests are converted. Just as it seems ‘everything in the garden is wonderful’, here comes persecution!
This time it does not start with the corrupt religious Council in Jerusalem, though it will soon fully involve their biased cruelty also.
Stephen is not only a godly business manager helping to feed the widows and to solve the earlier conflict between the two groups of widows. He is also a man ‘full of faith and power’ who speaks the word of God with authority. God-given wisdom and the working of God’s Spirit enable him to speak like this. He is fully identified with the twelve apostles and their message of forgiveness through Christ alone, and so God empowers him to perform ‘wonders and signs among the people’. Observers and hearers will know that he really is sharing God’s authentic message.
Jews having their roots in Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia3 come and dispute with him. They soon realise they cannot win their arguments, because of Stephen’s God-given wisdom. However, they do not admit they are wrong. That would oblige them to repent from their sins and trust the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead they motivate liars to say they have heard Stephen blaspheming Moses, the writer of the books of the Old Testament law,4 and God. The people, the elders and the scribes then seize him and bring him to—guess who?—yes, the Council. That is an appropriate arena for any dishonest claims against Christians to be heard by prejudiced Christ-haters, as we have already seen.
For good measure, they secretly arrange for false witnesses to attend. They will feel at home in front of the crooked Council as they will untruthfully claim there that Stephen ‘does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law’ and that ‘Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us’.
Jesus Himself was lied against.5 Eventually that led to His death at the hand of sinful and wicked men, but sovereignly planned by God in eternity as the only means by which our sins could be paid for.6 Now we will see the start of the moving account of the death of Jesus’ first martyr.
The irony of it all
Verse 15 tells us that the Council members gaze at Stephen, now appearing before them. They all see that his face is like ‘the face of an angel’. Most of the Council members are Sadducees, who do not even believe in angels! How do they know that Stephen’s face is angel-like? How does this exceptional change in the face of a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ affect their existing bias against His name and His followers? These are questions not answered here! But they must notice the big difference between Stephen and others who might be condemned to death for blasphemy. Especially so, when they know the charges are false. There is a striking double irony. Here is a court which claims to believe in God and yet unjustly denies God’s word! In that court are influential people who deny the existence of angels and yet see a man with a face like an angel! The Council members will be even more struck by what they hear soon. Stephen will boldly challenge them in what is supposed to be his defence speech. God is, and will be present with His persecuted follower as he soon will become the first martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Questions on Chapter 14
A Problem Solved, the Word Spread, and Opposition Stirred—Acts 6:1–15
A. What do you learn from this passage about how godly people can solve real and practical problems? How do the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom help?
Acts 6:1–6, James 1:5, Galatians 5:22–26
B. Are you surprised to learn that a great many priests are converted? What do you think would help them to come to Christ, and what would hinder them?
Acts 6:7, Acts 4:1–4, Acts 5:38–39, Proverbs 29:25, Galatians 5:11, Matthew 7:7, Romans 10:13
C. Does the existence of opposition or persecution mean that God is not at work? Say why you answer the way you do.
Acts 6:8–15, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Timothy 3:10–13, Acts 8:1–4, Acts 9:5
- Colossians 2:6 ↩
- Hebrews 10:11–12, John 1:29, Hebrews 4:14–16 ↩
- This includes the same Hellenistic Jews who now oppose Stephen when he is making sure their destitute widows are fed! ↩
- The first five books in the Old Testament, or Pentateuch, are the five books of God’s law written by Moses. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. As part of God’s word, they are foundational to the Old Testament and to the New Testament, namely to the whole Bible. ↩
- Mark 14:55–59 ↩
- Acts 4:12, Colossians 1:13–20 ↩