D. Qualified by reputation:
The seven men of necessity already had a good reputation of having dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints. This is the character of leaders as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:15,16:
“You [in all Achaia] know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints, that you submit yourselves to such, and to everyone who works with us and labors.”
This is the commentary passage on the situation in Jerusalem in Acts 6. Achaia was a Roman province. Because of the dedication of brother and sister Stephanas and their household, they had a great reputation for ministry among all the disciples throughout the province of Achaia. Because the seven men who were to be selected in Jerusalem were already involved in ministry throughout the city, it would be easy for the church to identify them because they already knew of their ministry. The whole church of Jerusalem, therefore, simply had to select which seven ministering saints of the city they wanted to be designated by the apostles to focus on the administration of food to the widows. They would have to agree to work in this ministry until the problem was solved. The point is that the seven were already in the work of ministry to the saints before they were selected by the church. Once they were selected, they were then designated by the apostles. This was done in order to make sure that the whole church knew those to whom to go in reference to distribution needs.
God opens doors of ministry for those who are already in ministry. Therefore, instead of praying to find a ministry, one should get busy on his own initiative and start ministering. Once God sees that one is dedicated to the ministry of the saints, then He will open doors for greater ministry for that person. The one who sits idly by waiting for a ministry will see no open doors for ministry. Because he is not able to find something to do is an indication that he will do nothing though a ministry is staring him in the face.
What is also significant about the apostles’ suggestion is that it “pleased the whole multitude” (At 6:5). All the saints in Jerusalem were on board for a solution because the apostles did not form a board of authority to run the show. There were no power struggles and debates. We see no business meetings or ambitious populous candidates stepping forward to be voted into office. The church went forth to make their own selection. Candidates did not come forward for a populous vote.
The names of those who were chosen indicate that there were both Greeks and Jews in the group of seven, for the list of names included both Grecian names and Hebrew names (At 6:5). Nicolas was a Gentile proselyte who had immigrated from Antioch to Jerusalem. In order to culturally reach all the widows of all the language/cultural groups, those who were chosen represented men from all linguistic and cultural house groups of Jerusalem. The whole church thus revealed great wisdom in the men that they chose for this work of ministering to the widows.
E. Functional growth:
It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit began the historical section of the neglect of the Grecian widows with the statement, “When the number of the disciples was multiplying” (At 6:1). When the solution was implemented by the church, the Holy Spirit concluded with the statement, “So the word of God increased. And the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (At 6:7).
When the church does that which is right according to gospel motivation, then growth happens. Whenever there is a dysfunction in the body of Christ, growth is always hindered. When the members’ minds are so focused on the problems that disrupt the body, they cannot focus totally on the preaching of the gospel to the lost. For this reason, Satan seeks to disrupt the body, and by so disrupting the body he disrupts the preaching of the gospel. It is for this reason that gospel-obedient disciples must always keep their minds focused on those things that are above (Cl 3:1). They must be alert to areas of function in the body wherein problems may develop.
It seems that in the three to four years of growth since Pentecost, the church in Jerusalem was functioning without any “committee” to feed the widows. The committee of seven was designated only when a dysfunctional problem arose. Committees, therefore, were not a common organizational structure of the early church, even among the possibly 20,000 people in the church of Jerusalem who were meeting in possibly 800 homes throughout the city. Therefore, when a committee was formed to solve a problem, it was not permanent. This does not mean that perpetual committees are wrong. It only means that when gospel-obedient people are motivated in their daily living by the gospel, there is little need for cooperate organizational structures in the body life.
This point is brought out in reference to the lives of two of those who were on the first committee. One of the committee members, Stephen, was full of grace and power of the Holy Spirit (At 6:8). However, his total commitment to preach the gospel eventually led to his death (At 7:54-60).
It is significant to note that though Stephen was part of the committee of seven to serve tables, he still reached out in preaching the gospel. It may be worth nothing, therefore, that the church knew him as a leading person among the disciples because he was formerly preaching the gospel in Jerusalem prior to his selection by the church to be on the committee of seven (See At 15:22). It may be that by the time of his death, the problem of the neglecting of the widows had been solved and the committee terminated. At least Stephen’s part on the committee was terminated when he went on to glory.
Philip, another person of the committee, was a married man with possibly four young children at the time. Many years later we find Philip as an evangelist. When the great persecution eventually arose in Jerusalem, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (At 8:5). He then was led to the desert to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (At 8:26). And then he and his family moved on to Caesarea (At 21:8,9).
The problem of the neglect of the widows had long been solved by the time of the death of Stephen and Philip’s move to Ceasarea. Committees are intended to solve dysfunctions in the organic function of the body. But when the problem is solved, there should be no need for gospel living people to be organized into committees to do good to all men, “especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gl 6:10). Those who are living the gospel fulfill the needs that arise among those of the family of God as soon as they encounter needs. This is the meaning of being “organic” as the body of Christ. When disciples are meeting in their homes, it is difficult to ignore a need that is sitting across the living room table.
It is as John exhorted, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). If one needs a committee person to come by and remind him of his responsibility to care for his brother, then his relationship with the brethren as a whole is not close enough to discover the needs of his brethren. If he knows legitimate needs, but does not respond, then the heart of God does not dwell in him through the gospel. Therefore, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).
[Next in series, October 3]