By Judy Laredo
In The Joy of Living commentary, regarding chapter 6 on the Book of Acts, Ray Stedman points to Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the wheat and the tares, stating that it is "the Lord's prophecy of conditions in the church during the age between His first and second comings."
Since we don't have a lot of time, let me quickly paraphrase Matthew 13:24-30, A parable of the "wheat and the tares."
A man (the Lord Jesus), Sow's good seed, the wheat (the people of God) in His field (the world). Then, the enemy (Satan) comes and sows bad seed, the tares (the false believers) among the wheat. The servants of the Owner said to him, Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? How does it have tares? The Owner replies, the enemy has done this. The servants asked him, should we remove the tares?
And we know what happens to the wheat and the tares at the end of the age. Jesus said in Matthew 13:30, "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Ray Stedman points out that in "the first four chapters of the Book of Acts, we see no sign of any tares springing up in the church." In Acts chapter 5, we see the first sign of tares. We see the deceit of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, pretending to be something more than they were.
And now, in Acts chapter 6, w e see more tares being sowed by the enemy in his attempt to divide the church with dissension and misunderstanding."
So now that we have that in the back of our mind, let's read and review Acts 6:1-7
V1: “ 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.”
So, chapter 6 verse 1 starts out saying, "Now in those days." The Book of Acts begins with Luke's second account (the Gospel of Luke being his first account) with the Lord's ascension into heaven and ends with Paul as a prisoner in Rome covering a period of more than 30 years. Scholars put the timeline for chapter 6 about 1 year after Pentecost.
We then read, "the number of the disciples was multiplying." They church was growing. Remember, after the mighty rushing wind in Acts 2, over three thousand men were saved.
The word disciple is a learner, a student, "one who follows one's teaching," hence, they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher. John 8:31 says, Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed."
And that's what we're trying to do. To be more like Jesus. We're learning, we're following the Lord's teaching and we're trying to be imitators of our Lord. Just like it says in Ephesians 5:1 "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children."
The verse continues, "there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists."
The Hebrews were the native Hebraic Jews who were believers who were mostly from Judea. Aramaic was the language spoken in Israel during Jesus' time on earth. These were the Hebrew-Jewish Christians.
The Hellenists were the Jews who were believers from provinces just outside of Israel. Due to the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek became the language of the "civilized world." These Jews adopted the Greek language and the culture. These were the Greek-Jewish Christians.
Now, the Hellenists were complaining that "their widows were neglected in the daily distribution." Some commentaries I've read believe that the language Luke uses in Acts 6 seems to indicate that the neglect of the widows was purely an oversight and not intentional. A misunderstanding. So, we see the Hellenist did the right thing by going directly to the leadership for a solution.
However, there were other commentaries that noted because there was a cultural and language barrier, even though it may have been unintentional, it became a source of conflict in the church.
The word "complain" used in this verse can be described as "murmuring" or "grumbling"
So, what can we learn from this situation? We know, in the church, there will be differences in opinions and misunderstandings. Whether intentional or unintentional, feelings will be hurt.
But, instead of keeping it inside and letting it fester - Or worse, complaining (murmuring) about it to everyone around us, we are commanded to do what Matthew 18:15a says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone..." (ESV)
But before we even do that, we need to pray. Before we do anything, we need to pray first! Praying first will help keep us from reacting in the flesh. Psalm 142:2 says, "I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble."
God has a way of showing us that maybe we may have overreacted (just a tad)
or maybe we need to see it from another perspective. Either way,
James 1:19-20 says, 19 "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be
swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man
does not produce the righteousness of God"
Our anger and our complaining does not glorify God. Just like in the early church, it is the enemy that wants to sow discord. He wants to divide the church! Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
In a bible study by Pastor Skip Heitzig, he noted the following, "The Lord adds, and the Lord multiplies. In chapter 5, we saw how the Lord removed Ananias and Sapphira from the church. So the Lord adds, the Lord multiplies, and the Lord subtracts. But one thing we do know, the Lord NEVER divides the church. That’s the devil’s work.”
V2: “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 .”
V3: “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;"
In verse two, it says, "the twelve summoned the multitude . . ." So, this was a church-wide meeting. Now, "The twelve…" also included Matthias who had been added to the Apostles after Judas transgressed (Acts 1:26). God has been adding to the church since Pentecost so, who knows how many disciples were summoned? But we do know the early church was growing at a rapid pace.
The Apostles informed the disciples that it was “not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables." Now, just to underscore, what the Apostles didn't say was that serving tables was beneath them.
In David Guzik's commentary, he said, "People should count it a privilege to serve the Lord in these basic, practical ways, instead of seeing it as an “unspiritual” burden. Apart from the cross, Jesus showed the ultimate measure of love by simply washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-5)."
It seems the Apostles were involved with the day-to-day matters as well. And now, there's an issue that needs to be resolved. The Apostles told the brethren to "seek out from among you seven men." In his commentary on the Book of Acts, Warren Wiersbe quotes that D. L. Moody used to say that it was better to put ten men to work than to try to do the work of ten men.
So again, the disciples were to seek out "seven men." Why seven? So, looking at several commentaries, there were many different opinions as to why seven men. So I picked three:
- Some bible scholars believed that "they were organizing the early church based upon the model they saw in Judaism. In Judaism in any community all of the public affairs were done by a group of seven elders...from their town that gathered together and settled disputes and issues within the community."
- In other commentaries, choosing seven men was just "a general reverence for the number seven."
- And still in other commentaries, like David Guzik, thought perhaps seven men were chosen "…so that one could oversee the needs of the widows a different day of the week." All that to say, we really can’t be sure.
The Apostles also instructed the church to look for certain qualifications in these men. They were to seek out from among them "seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." Men of good standing and character. These men had to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Today, if we had to find servants who are "full of the Holy Spirit," how would we know who to pick? Well, we would know them by their fruit. Their Spiritual Fruit. Galatians 5:22-23, says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."
Notice the Apostles said to the disciples, "Whom we may appoint over this business." The disciples (the church) were to nominate seven men who met the qualifications, but the Apostles made the final decision.
V4: “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The words "give ourselves continually" in the Greek means to be: Steadfastly attentive; devoted; constant; to continue all the time; to persevere.
The Apostles rightly chose not to abandon the word of God, so they asked the church to appoint others to do the work.
These men, their character, their wisdom (their fruit), would be well known to the church.
So, the Apostles were able to give themselves "continually to prayer." Both private and public prayer.
"And to the ministry of the word.” Albert Barnes put it this way, "to preaching the gospel or communicating the message of eternal life to the world."
V5: "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"
V6: "whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them."
So, the disciples chose the seven men we see listed in verse 5. Bible
scholars believe the seven men that were chosen by the disciples were all
Hellenists because of their Greek names. Except for Stephen and Philip,
nothing else is known about the other men named in verse 5.
So, the men were "set before the Apostles" and the apostle prayed with them and for them. Then, "when they had prayed, they laid hands on them." That is, they blessed them in the name of the Lord. It was a "sign" indicating their acceptance of the seven men chosen to serve and their commissioning for ministry. Again, the brethren selected the men, but it was the Apostles who commissioned them.
When the Apostles laid their hands on people, it was usually for them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But these men were already"full with the Holy Spirit and wisdom." In Matthew Henry's commentary, he stated that, "these men also needed to be filled with gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost. There was a need of a supernatural grace, raising men above prejudice and passion."
So the laying on of hands was also a "sign" authenticating the men through whom the physical manifestation of a spiritual gift was bestowed. In David Guzik's commentary, he stated that, "God used the laying on of hands to communicate spiritual gifts to Timothy. This is not the only way God gives gifts, but it is a common way – and a way that we should never neglect. It is a good thing to have others pray for us and ask that God would give us gifts that might be used to bless and build up the family of God."
The apostle Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6, "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands."
So, the early church encountered a problem. They did some reorganization and raised up additional people to help serve church needs. Problem solved; peace restored.
Listening to a bible study from Calvary Chapel Vista, it was pointed out that the reason the problem was resolved and peace restored in the early church was because of the servants. It wasn't because of the food-service ministry for the widows. It was because of the servants. It was because of the Spirit-called - Spirit-filled servants.
1 Corinthians 12:7 , "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." Ray Stedman said in his commentary, "The early church was learning to divide responsibilities and duties according to the distribution of spiritual gifts." Romans 12:6a says, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. . ." So, we ought to be using our spiritual gifts that best serves the church and not ourselves.
V7: "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."
In Warren Wiersbe's book, The BE Series Commentary, he wrote, "It has been estimated that there were eight thousand Jewish priests attached to the temple ministry in Jerusalem, and “a great company” of them trusted Jesus Christ as Savior!"
So, we have the twelve Apostles, attending to the spiritual needs of the church. And we have the newly commissioned, spirit-filled servants, attending to the practical needs of the church. Again, problem solved; peace restored.
In his commentary, David Guzik states: "Satan’s strategy failed. He tried to divide the church, and it did not work.
Satan’s second strategy also failed. The apostles were not distracted from the focus of ministry God had for them - to focus on the word of God and on prayer."
When we're obedient; When the word of truth is taught, and the gospel of Christ is preached; And when believers are praying; the church of Jesus Christ flourishes.
Ok, so what are we to take away from these verses? What are we being exhorted to do? It's right here in verse 4:
“but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Ladies, we need to be praying, and we need to stay in the word. The world is getting darker. Deception is on the rise, and can we all agree that spiritual warfare is also increasing? We see the signs of the times! The very warnings Jesus gave to us in Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21, are happening before our eyes! Wars and rumors of wars; False doctrines; Famines, pestilence and earthquakes in various places… Jesus said that these events are only the beginning of birth pains.
Jesus also said, "Take heed that no one deceives you." (Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5 and Luke 21:8). Therefore, just like the Apostles, we need to devote ourselves to prayer and to the word of God. And we need to ask the Lord to help us do that. We need to always pray for discernment.
1 John 4:1 says , "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."
It is sad to say, but we can no longer trust our media or what's on social media. It's even more sad to say, but we can't even trust our own government. In Matthew 4:6, when Satan was trying to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, Satan misquoted scripture (and he knows the scriptures better than we do.) We need to be in the word so that we know the truth between true and false doctrine as well as what is from the Holy Spirit and what is not.
The bible tells us that Satan can work deceiving miracles. Luke 21:11: “And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.”
Fearful sights" in the Greek can also be "that which strikes terror, (cause of) fright." (So, have any of you seen any balloons floating across the skies lately? Do you hear increased chatter about Unidentified Flying Objects?)
2 Corinthians 11:14-15a: "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness…"
2 Thessalonians 2:9: "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders."
I assume some of you watch bible studies by Pastor Jack Hibbs, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. He did a bible study titled, "Now Arriving," and in this study, he gave the example of Moses and Aaron, when they were in Pharaoh's court, and Aaron threw down his staff to the ground, and it turned into a snake. That was the power of God. But Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing turning their staffs into snakes. But they used demonic powers. (Exodus 7:8-13)
He forewarned that there’s a strong possibility we may start to see or hear
some really strange stuff out there.
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” Matthew 24:24. So we need to stand on His word, which is our firm foundation. But Lord willing, the rapture will take place before any of this really comes in to play. We need to fight the good fight of FAITH!
So, again ladies, we need to be praying and we need to be in the word of God. Let's not take for granted any of our church gatherings. Whether it be Sunday morning or mid-week service, Tuesday morning women's bible study, Testify, Mom’s group, or even the Ladies evening home fellowship.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV)
The Lord has blessed the church in America with the ability to still gather together to worship Him today. Let’s not take that for granted! We need to be doing what we read in Acts 2:42: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (ESV).
Jude 1:24-25: 24 "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (ESV).
Like the early church, may we also be found focused on the word of God, in sweet fellowship and praying.