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Growing Pains (Part 1)
a commentary on Acts 6 (Context)
Thank you, Lord, for this day. May it be used for your glory!
Good morning everyone and welcome back to Biblit!
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We just had Prime Day a few weeks ago. If you don’t know what that is, it’s Amazon’s special birthday sales extravaganza held each July.
Prime Day and Black Friday both have something in common: the number of people that go to Amazon’s website skyrockets.
As a software engineer myself, I think tech companies, or businesses in general are really interesting…especially startups.
Within all these web-based companies, there is a very important term called: scaling.
Have you ever hopped on Amazon on one of those special sale days only to experience a pretty slow website or potentially even a crashed site that never loads your precious sale?
That’s because of a scaling issue. The issue is that Amazon’s user base grew exponentially, and with that growth comes growing pains. Slower response times, crashing sites, etc.
The solution? Scaling.
In this week’s Biblit we will see a different form of a scaling issue, but one that results in a similar problem: growing pains.
Let’s jump in!
The chapter picks right back up with the disciples continuing to preach the gospel and the church continuing to grow.
However, there is a new problem at hand.
Remember a few chapters ago when we talked about how well the disciples took care of the poor and needy? How their radical generosity was increasing the followers of Jesus and making even the emperors angry?
Well, as their numbers continued to grow, eventually the number of needy people outgrew what 12 human beings could reasonably do.
In this passage, we see a group of Greek Jewish widows begin complaining to the Hebrew Jewish widows that they were being neglected. That the disciples were not giving them any food.
Now, the interesting thing to note here real quick is that even though these widows getting overlooked were Jewish believers, they at some point had moved away and adopted more of a Greek culture. This meant they were actually often looked down upon. The Pharisees considered them dirty and second-rate Jews.
So right off the bat, there is already some cultural tension at play. Now add on the fact that to them, it seemed like the “pure” Hebrew Jews were getting special treatment.
Again, the real issue was that the numbers grew too big, too fast, and the disciples couldn’t take care of everyone.
They had a scaling issue.
“It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables.” (Acts 6:2 CSB).
So they decided to elect 7 men from the congregation who met these criteria:
Full of the Spirit and wisdom
So the congregation selected 7 men, who in God’s sovereignty all had Greek names. So it was a cultural and Spiritual fit for this particular problem.
There names were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus.
The disciples prayed over them and the 7 men took their duty up to take care of the widows so the disciples could continue devoting their time to prayer and preaching the gospel.
We are then told that their numbers continued to increase, including some of the priests who earlier would have been oppressing these early Christians.
My commentary made an interesting note here too. The word “deacon” is not talked about in Acts, but these men could potentially have been the first institution of deacon. These men weren’t ordained to an office or anything like that. They were simply appointed to “deacon” tables.
Either way…with the scaling issue solved, our story moves on to focus on one of those 7 men: Stephen.
Stephen was appointed to take care of the widows, but throughout the rest of this chapter, we see he did a whole lot more than that!
We are told that Stephen is full of grace and power, that he is performing miracles and signs among the people, and thus just like the disciples, Stephen faced opposition too.
Here is a really fun fact.
Stephen in Acts 6 is facing opposition at the Freedmen’s Synagogue, where they spoke Greek. It lists a few places from all over that represented the Freedmen’s Synagogue. One of those places is Cilicia.
Cilicia, for those that don’t know, is where Paul is from. However, of course, at this time he is still the high religious leader, Saul, persecutor of Christians.
We can’t say for sure, but it might be a safe assumption to say that one of the people opposing Stephen’s message was none other than Saul himself. We do know for certain that Saul was there when Stephen is martyred as we’ll see in another Biblit.
In fact, my commentary points out that if you look at Paul’s letters throughout the New Testament, you can see a lot of Stephen’s sermons come out in his theology.
Anyways, so Stephen is preaching and doing amazing signs and none of these other religious leaders can argue against him. His preaching is just too good!
So, just like they did with Jesus, they craft a sneaky plan to trap Stephen in his own words.
Specifically, they go and accuse Stephen of blaspheming against God and the law of Moses saying that Jesus was going to destroy the temple and change the laws of Moses.
Now, in Acts 6, we don’t actually get to read Stephen’s words, but next week in Acts 7 we will see his follow-up sermon to these accusations.
Spoiler alert…it is an amazing sermon, tying in such amazing references to Moses (the very man they accuse him of desecrating), and it is so powerful it ends up with the first martyr of the early church.
In the meantime, however, Acts 6 ends with one final powerful statement to summarize how close Stephen was to God:
“And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15 CSB).