For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

6:1.  “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.”

This was not a complaint of believing Gentiles against believing Jews, but of Greek-speaking Jewish believers against the native, Aramaic-speaking Jewish believers.  It was still a Jewish age, and God was still dealing exclusively with Israel.

Satan, never at a loss for ways to thwart the purposes of God, found within the Church itself that which lent itself to his scheme.  An inequality, real or imagined, in the distribution of relief for the widows, became the cause of a dispute, which but for the wisdom of the apostles, could easily have divided that early Church.  It is unfortunate that in the years since then, the adversary’s evil activity has been facilitated by equally trivial causes of dispute within the Church, and we do well to remember that it is questionable whether any attack from outside has ever divided the Church, but rather, has been the means of weeding out mere false professors, and drawing genuine believers closer together.

The lesson God would teach us is the need of vigilance to make sure that we as individuals furnish no cause for division in the Church.

6:2.  “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.”

This teaches the truth that each man is to serve, by using to the utmost of his ability the spiritual gift he has been given, as is taught also in Ro 12:4-8, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ .... Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministry: or he that teacheth, on teaching ....”

No believer should try to do everything.  Few things are more conducive to the disruption of harmony in the assembly than the attempt of believers to intrude into a sphere of service for which they have no qualification.

6:3.  “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

That God endows each assembly with the gifts necessary for the maintenance of its spiritual life, is clearly declared here: the men suitable for this work would be found in their midst.  It teaches further the need for each one of us to be watching for the evidence of spiritual gift in our brethren and sisters, not that we are to attempt to direct their service, but to encourage the use of the gift, and avail ourselves of the benefits attending its use.

Since seven is the number of perfection or completeness, and since it was clearly the Holy Spirit Who led the apostles to mention this number, we learn the further lesson that administration in the Church is His privilege and His alone.  There is no spiritual gift of administration, in spite of what is being taught to the contrary today by men who would arrogate the Holy Spirit’s prerogative.

It is also significant that in regard to what we might have supposed would be work more suitable for women than men, those chosen were all men.  Scripture furnishes no authority for women to assume any form of leadership in the Church.

First in the list of necessary qualifications was the need of a good reputation, and there is no reason to believe that it was limited simply to the opinion of those within the assembly, but that it included that of the unbelievers also who would be familiar with the men.  (This is not to imply that unbelievers were consulted in the matter, but rather, that the man’s reputation in the world was to be the same as it was in the assembly.  There must be the same moral integrity before believer and unbeliever alike).  The rectitude that marks the believer’s assembly life must mark also every other facet of his life.

The further requirement that they be full of the Holy Ghost reminds us that while every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not every saint is filled with that same Holy Spirit, for filling is dependent on obedience.  The extent to which He fills us is governed by the extent to which He dwells within us ungrieved and unquenched.  Indwelling is a permanent, unchanging thing; filling, a fluctuating experience.

The requirement that the men be capable of exercising good judgment or wisdom, reminds us of what is confirmed by experience: wisdom isn’t necessarily always a concomitant of faith.  Some believers are possessed of more practical “common sense” than others.

6:4.  “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

This may not be taken to imply that the apostles considered themselves the superiors of the others.  They didn’t.  They simply recognized the necessity of giving themselves to the work for which God had gifted them, and to which He had called them; and they recognized that important as was the ministry to the widows, it wasn’t the ministry to which He had called them.

It is instructive to note the emphasis placed upon prayer in connection with their ministry of the word.  It’s being mentioned first, would teach us the importance of prayer in our own lives.  The spiritual life can no more exist without prayer than can the physical life continue without air. 

Nor was prayer a sporadic thing with the apostles.  They gave themselves to it continually, as did also the whole Church, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42).  The pristine spiritual vigor of those early days will be restored to the Church when prayer is restored to its rightful place both in our corporate meetings, and in our individual lives.

“Ministry of the word” is literally teaching and preaching the gospel.  This ministry must also be restored to its rightful place if we hope to see anything done for God in these closing days of this age of grace.

It is to be noted, however, that they said “We will give ourselves to ....”  There was a determination of their own personal wills to devote themselves to these two activities.  There was no compulsion from God then, nor will there be any today.  If prayer and the ministry of the Word are to be restored to their rightful places in our assemblies, and in our personal lives, it will be only when we too determine to give ourselves wholeheartedly to this vital work.

6:5.  “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:”

Where there are hearts submissive to the Holy Spirit’s control there will be similar harmony.

Regarding Stephen’s being “full of faith,” we need to note that the faith by which the believer lives is not to be confused with the faith that converts a sinner into a saint.  This faith of Stephen was that of the saint, not the sinner, and clearly it governed every facet of his life: he was “full of faith.”  Every true believer has exercised saving faith; but some of us display remarkably little living faith.  We are willing to trust God for the salvation of our souls, but unwilling to trust Him in regard to the ordinary affairs of life.

Others have pointed out that the seven were all Greek-speaking Jewish believers, the very segment of the company which had made the original complaint.  Their being selected therefore, was the evidence of very great grace on the part of the rest.  The very ones who had complained were now to have men of their own group entrusted with the distribution of what had been provided for the widows of the assembly.  This was the demonstration of the spirit advocated by Paul in Eph 5:21 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”

This is the same Stephen who was stoned to death in chapter 7, so that he was the first member of the Church to earn the martyr’s crown, and significantly his name means a crown.  God sets a very high value on that faithfulness which extends even to death, for it is the same faithfulness as led the Lord Jesus Christ out to Calvary to die; and as He now sits in heaven “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb 2:9), so is there also reserved a crown for all who are willing to die for His sake “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Re 2:10).

We note also that Philip is mentioned again in 8:5, where following the persecution promoted by Saul, he (Philip) “... went down to ... Samaria, and preached Christ unto them,” and from that work he was sent to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26); and finally he is described in 21:8 as “Philip the evangelist.” 

He who had been willing to begin his service for Christ by doing the menial work of waiting on tables, was promoted to the greatest work to which any believer can be called - that of evangelizing, preaching the gospel, for evangelism is absolutely essential to the life of the Church.  Without the work of the evangelist there is no need of elders or teachers, or of any other servant, for apart from evangelism souls will not be saved - there will be no converts to be ministered to.  This is why the assemblies are dying today: the Scriptural evangelist has all but disappeared from the scene.

It is to be feared also that some have forfeited their opportunity for fruitful service by their unwillingness to begin as did Philip.  It isn’t just in eternity that those who have been faithful in a few things will be made ruler over many things (Mt 25:21).  The same principle governs Christian service here on earth.

There is no further Scriptural mention of the other five, reminding us that many are called upon to render their service in obscurity.  The Bema, however, will reveal, not only whether those five continued faithful to the end, but also whether we did.

6:6.  “Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.”

The essential part played by prayer in connection with every detail of the believer’s life is declared in that the appointment of the seven was preceded by prayer.

Relative to their laying their hands on them, it must be remembered that these were Jewish believers, and it was still part of the Jewish age; and as noted already, until the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, there was a divinely appointed order for Jewish converts, which did not apply to their Gentile fellows (Ac 15:19-29).  The laying on of hands is unique to Judaism, and like many other things practiced in the early apostolic age, has had no part in the order for the Church since AD 70 when everything Jewish was brought to an end.

6:7.  “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”

Other renderings of “the word of God increased” are “God’s word continued to spread” or “the word of God was gaining influence.”  This was due to the faithfulness of those early believers in preaching the gospel.  Souls will be saved only when there is the same faithful preaching of God’s Word.

We must note also that all of this was “in Jerusalem.”  The gospel hadn’t yet gone out to the Gentiles, for it was still the Jewish age, and Israel was still being offered the millennial kingdom.  In that respect the gospel preached in the early apostolic age was the same as that preached by the Lord Himself, and was different from the gospel we are commanded to preach today.  Until AD 70 the gospel warned men of the need to repent and believe, in order to enter, first the earthly millennial kingdom, and then heaven.  Since then, however, the gospel sounds the call to repentance and believing faith, not in order to enter the millennial kingdom, but to enter heaven itself.  That early Jewish gospel will be preached again in the soon-coming Tribulation era, when the millennial kingdom will again be offered to Israel.

The “great company of the priests (who) were obedient to the faith” would indicate that the unbelief of the rest was the result of their own deliberate hardening of their hearts against the truth and the striving of the Holy Spirit.  It would also confirm that it was still a Jewish age, and that the Levitical order was still followed.  The temple vail, rent at the time of the Lord’s death, was presumably repaired or replaced.

6:8.  “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”

This makes it clear that the ability to perform miracles wasn’t limited to the eleven apostles; and it reminds us that faith and power go hand-in-hand.  We must note, however, that miraculous manifestation was another uniquely Jewish phenomenon which did not continue beyond AD 70.  There is no scriptural reference to any such activity in the later Epistles; nor does Church history furnish any evidence of its having continued beyond the dissolution of Jewish autonomy.

Joel makes it clear that the miraculous manifestation of the early apostolic age was related to the offer of the millennial kingdom, another fact which negates any expectation of its activity after AD 70.  That it will resume in the coming Tribulation period is declared by the same prophet, for those seven years will witness the renewal of the offer of the millennial kingdom.

6:9.  “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.”

The halcyon days of the Church’s beginning were about to end, for Satan, having failed to disrupt harmony from within, was at no loss for other methods of accomplishing his ends. 

The Libertines were a synagogue of freed slaves, and it is instructive to note that their opposition came in response to the wonders and miracles wrought by Stephen, which undoubtedly accompanied his preaching of the gospel. 

The gospel is the touchstone which reveals the true state of man’s heart - it is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9), it’s deceit and wickedness frequently hidden under the facade of religion, the man himself, often deceived as to his true state, loud in his profession of love for God, and busy with many religious works; but let his need of a Savior be declared - and the evangelist may not omit that declaration - and immediately the disguise is penetrated, the enmity towards God revealed.

Disputing is literally debating, and it is clear that their debating wasn’t prompted by desire for enlightenment, but by the determination of hearts steeled against the gospel, to oppose the work of God.  Physically they may have been free men, but spiritually they were the bondslaves of Satan, and all too eager to do his evil work.  The world abounds with these “Libertines” today; and as then, they are not infrequently found within the ranks of religion, for as Judaism was then the fanatical, murderous opponent of God and His own, so in the centuries since then, it is professing Christendom which has filled the same role, her enmity today no less murderous, though of necessity exercised with greater subtlety.

6:10.  “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.”

We have already seen that Stephen was full of faith and power, so it should surprise no one that his opponents were foiled in their attempts to refute his words.  His wisdom was that which is given by the Holy Spirit, and was therefore impervious to any attack.  Those Libertines, in opposing Stephen, made themselves the opponents of God, and they would have done well to heed the advice given the Jewish council by Gamaliel, “If it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (5:39).

6:11.  “Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.”

Suborn means literally to introduce by stealth or collusion, and it is instructive to find these religious, but unbelieving Jews employing the same tactics as had been used against the Lord Himself.  Their rancor refused no means of accomplishing their evil ends.  As they had attempted to silence the Master by death, so would they attempt also to silence the servant.  As they had attempted to make the Lord a blasphemer, so would they also try to cast Stephen in the same role.

We aren’t told what Stephen had said that these opponents alleged to have been blasphemy, but since the gospel declares the Mosaic ritual to be simply a shadow of the better things offered by the gospel, it is possible that this formed the basis of their accusation.

6:12.  “And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council.”

The scene is reminiscent of the Lord’s arrest in Gethsemane when a multitude, also stirred up by the sly, hypocritical Jewish leaders, seized Him.  This is a popular ploy of Cowardice: it will incite an unthinking multitude to do what it lacks the courage to do itself.

The blindness of the unrenewed mind is incredible.  The multitude who seized the Lord, and hurried Him off to Calvary, by that very deed robbed themselves of the ministry which had fed their hungry, healed their sick, and raised their dead; and which, had they but believed, would have remitted their sins, and brought them into the blessings of the millennial kingdom.  They killed the One Who had done them nothing but good.  And so was it in the case of Stephen, for clearly the great wonders and miracles which he wrought were no less for the benefit of those who would now do to him as they had done to his Master.  But also as with the Lord, it would not be without the pretext of a fair trial!  The deluded mind can justify the foulest deed.

6:13.  “And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:”

6:14.  “For we heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.”

The “blasphemous words against this holy place” are generally accepted as referring to their wrong interpretation of the Lord’s words, quoted by Stephen, relative to the destruction of the temple of His body as recorded in Jn 2:19-21, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.... But he spake of the temple of his body.”  It would seem that Stephen had alluded to these words in order to convince his audience that the Lord had done exactly what He had promised.  Christ’s resurrection condemned those who had condemned Him, for it proved that He was Who He claimed to be, the Son of God.  This condemnation of Stephen therefore announced their refusal to believe that the Lord had been raised up from death: and that refusal sealed their own doom, for belief in the resurrection is an essential part of saving faith, as it is written, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro 10:9).

And there can be little doubt that the reference to the law was Stephen’s claim through the gospel, that salvation is not by law-keeping, but by faith in the crucified and risen Christ.  This is the great stumbling block over which religionists of all ages have tripped.  The natural man clings tenaciously to the belief that somehow he can work for his salvation.  The gospel says he can’t!  The religious Libertine today, as then, will condemn Christ rather than accept God’s indictment that “All have sinned, and come short ....” (Ro 3:23).

6:15.  “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”

An obvious question is, How would they have known what an angel looked like? but we have to remember that angels are mentioned frequently as the agents employed by God in His dealings with Israel, and while He had forbidden the making of any likeness of anything, it is very probable that verbal accounts had been handed down, so that they would have some concept at least of what an angel looked like.

Whatever else was involved in Stephen’s face being made to look like that of an angel we have no way of knowing, but one thing is clear: the fact that it did resemble that of an angel assures us that God was still dealing with Israel.  The Jewish age hadn’t yet ended; but gradually the phenomenon ceased, and outside of Acts the references to angels relate to their activity in the OT age.  Angelic activity is related to Israel, not to the Church.

[Acts 7]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough