#15 (Acts 6:1-7) Providing for the Widows

The growth of the early Jewish church is nothing less than phenomenal. Even many priests are identifying with Jesus. But a new problem arises. It has to do with the care of widows. In this study we will cover how this problem was dealt with. But this will also be a good time to get a glimpse at how the early Church was structured.

This is Acts Study #15 (Acts 6:1-7) Providing for the Widows.

Vs1: "Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food."

Hellenistic Jews were Greek speaking Jews, sometimes referred to as Greek Jews. It doesn't necessarily mean that they were Jews from outside Israel, but in this case it may have been so. Actually there were many Greek speaking Jews in Israel. They had their own synagogues. It should be pointed out that Second Temple Judaism, was not a monolithic religion. It was made up of varied sects. Jewish Christianity became one of them.

As for the term 'Hebrew' this generally spoke of the Jewish Christians who were from Jerusalem, and the land of Israel in general. These were more traditional and conservative in their beliefs. They spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. But even this term tends to break down further. Remember how the apostles were referred to as Galileans.

It is difficult to say if these widows were from the land of Israel. From Pentecost to this point, many of the Jews who gathered from the nations did not want to leave. If you were a Jew who had just found your Messiah, would you want to leave Jerusalem? Probably not. So the company of believers keeps multiplying by the thousands.

As for the Hellenist widows being neglected in the serving of food, that may speak to a problem between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. The Hebrews weren't especially fond of the Hellenists. There may have been other reasons as well.

Special note: The seven men chosen to oversee the task of caring for the widows had Greek names. They could have been from the land, but it is likely that they were part of the Diaspora. Much of the gospel going into the world was done by Hellenist Jews. Paul could be referred to as a Hellenist, but he also called himself a Hebrew. So the terms could be loosely applied depending on the circumstances.

Leadership Pattern of the Early Church

Vss2,3: "So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.'"

What we see being formed here is the office of the deacon. This office did not begin with Christians. It comes right out of the synagogues. Keep in mind that all these are Jewish believers. Their form of government would be set on the pattern of the synagogue.

Let's do a little lesson. Early on some of the Jewish believers began their own synagogues. The pattern was much the same as the traditional synagogue. In fact the Christian Church today is patterned after the synagogue.

According to research here is how the Jewish Christian synagogue was organized. First you had the presiding officer. He was sometimes called the chief ruler, or elder. He was also spoken of as bishop. The chief ruler was the executive officer of the synagogue. This was the office that James the brother of Jesus held in the Jerusalem Church. (Elders were also called 'overseers'.)

If you recall, it was after all the discussion concerning Gentiles coming into the church, that we hear James say, "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles." Why would James be the one to make the pronouncement? We will cover this more later. (Cf. Acts 15:19)

When James wrote his letter, he is the only writer to use the term 'synagogue' with regard to a Christian gathering. James says, "For if a man comes into your assembly (sunagoge) with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' [you] ... become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:1-4)

But there was a second level of elders in the Christian synagogues, who were simply called elders or rulers. But all the elders would be considered pastoring elders. It is this group that Hebrews 13:17, has in view, where it says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you."

Then there was a third level, and this is where we get our term 'deacon.' The deacon was sort of a sub-elder in the local assembly whose duties differed from that of the primary elders (overseers). We will cover more on this later.

What needs to be understood, however, is that while the apostles had primary oversight during the formative years of the Christian faith, they did not serve as elders in local congregations. They were unique in their calling. Their job was to lay the foundations. But when they established a church in any locality, the church was established on the order of the synagogue. This is why when the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the issue of Gentiles, it says, "When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them."

One other point for now -- The idea of there being a five-fold ministry in a local church is without Biblical precedent. There is a reason that the local Church ended up largely with three primary ministries; pastors, deacons, and evangelists. We will also cover this in a later study.

Devoted to Prayer and Ministry of the Word

Vs4 continued: "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

The apostles knew that their calling was not to be primarily to the local Church. They needed to be in the temple area and in every place that the Lord directed. The ministry of the word spoke of their calling to spread the gospel among the peoples.

Vs5: "The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch."

Bear in mind that these men were not chosen by issue of democratic vote. The selection was by consensus. The apostles left it up to the congregation of believers to select their deacons. But they gave the qualifications.

Vs6: "And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them."

These men received their credentials so to speak through the hands of the apostles. In this way they were given both authority to carry out their task of 'overseeing', and their due recognition. In fact this group also became unique in its own right. They were later referred to as 'the seven.' (Cf. Acts 21:8)

There is a wonderful lesson to be had here. While these men were given an important task in helping care for the widows, some of them actually went on to other things. Philip became a noted evangelist. He had four daughters who prophesied. Stephen became the first Christian martyr. (Their stories are yet to be told.)

Vs7: "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."

Notice how the priests are turning to Jesus, and disciples are multiplying. Another confrontation with the authorities is in the making. We will take a closer look at this in studies to come.

Let's complete this study for now. It is open for sharing.

Previous: #14 (Acts 5:17-42) Second Encounter With Temple Authorities
#16 (Acts 6:8-15) The Face of an Angel

This study on Acts was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, Founder and Senior Pastor of Christian Challenge International.

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