Problems line up on a church’s doorsteps. They threaten the unity of a church family and creep in like the cold draft blowing in under the front doors on a winter day. The warmth of more than one church has been chilled by a problem, and some churches have been permanently divided because they either could not or would not see beyond the issue in their midst.
The Jerusalem church was rapidly growing, but growth opened the way for what we find was the first controversy to arise within the church. Luke tells us in Acts 6:7: “And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
It was the practice in synagogues to collect and distribute food and money to the needy on Fridays. Door-to-door collections were also taken daily for people whose needs were immediate and could not wait. This practice was probably adopted by the early church, and a dispute arose so that there was “a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”
The Hebrews were Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic and had great pride in their homeland and heritage. Grecians were Jews who had scattered to other countries and knew only the Greek language, had lived in other lands and were in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. All of these people were believers and were saved but as Luke said, the Greeks complained because they believed their widows were overlooked in the distribution of charity.
The issue became an opportunity for the apostles who said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.” As the church grew so did the needs of its people, and the apostles were giving more and more time to administering the charitable funds. They told the disciples to find “seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, who we may appoint over this business.”
These men whom we usually call deacons were to be first “men of honest report.” They needed to be men seen as trustworthy by members of the community. Secondly, they should be men “full of the Holy Ghost.” A man might be qualified to conduct business for the church but he will fail if he does not look first to God. Thirdly, they had to have wisdom. There are two kinds of wisdom, worldly and that which comes from the Lord. James said, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
With the seven men in place, the apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the Word. It is here we read that Stephen was among the seven men, and it is noted he was “full of faith and power” and “did great wonders and miracles among the people.”
What we learn from this is that we should never resent the poor and their needs, and we must always be fair in our dealings with people.
There are many things that would bring division to a church, but there is One who unites us and of whom it is said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. firstname.lastname@example.org.