When we read the exciting story of the growing church in Acts 6, the question pops up: What’s different, from back then to now?
Not human nature, for sure. Nor human need.
The new community of Jesus was made up of human beings and so…
“as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent” (vs 1)
Some people are easily discontented and critical. But… this situation is different. Some widows were being marginalised in a basic way—in their need for food. Oops!
In every society, there are going to be those who are not doing well, and who struggle because of discrimination. The Old Testament mentions widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor as needing special care. As followers of Jesus, we especially need to be aware of the vulnerable in our midst. That’s why Grief Share and Divorce Care reach out to the hurting, and why there’s a feeding scheme operating for those who lack nourishment. Others struggle with depression or disabilities.
The process of response to the neglect is noteworthy—it is practical, spiritual and consultative. All three combined.
The food program needed better management by reliable representatives. The job qualifications were ‘well respected’,’full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (vs 3). The solution commended itself—‘everyone liked this idea and they chose…’ (vs 5). Integrity, reliability, responsibility, wisdom…these are marks of the Spirit’s transforming work in us. We certainly need it! Of course, the apostles—the 11 plus replacement Matthias—needed to fulfil their calling to preach, teach, pray and lead (vs 2 and 4). They’d been with Jesus over three years as training and they must have realised what slow learners they’d been themselves.
Okay, that’s clear, then. A take-away is this: There’s no true spirituality without practicality and no godly management systems without openness to the Spirit and to one another. Here in Acts 6, the leaders listen and confer. They do not dictate. While those who belong speak up and they discern who rightly takes responsibility for what. Serving at tables is honourable. The Spirit is at work through all.
But why only men for the food program? Is this gender factor prescriptive for who runs the Westlake feeding scheme? Is 7 a magic number?
At the Jerusalem start-up, choosing seven candidates, male only, seemed a good move and was an agreed one (vs 5). It was a cultural fit. We need solutions to our management issues that are wise and appropriate and perceived to be so both by our leadership team and our church community members. Our church motto lines up with this: Together, we work to know Christ and make Christ known. It’s a lot to live up to. We too need the Spirit to fulfil this.
There’s a sequel (vs 8–15). Do you want a face like the face of an angel? It doesn’t come in a jar by the mirror. It seems that in-between serving meals, Stephen took time off to perform ‘amazing miracles and signs’ and to expound Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the Scriptures (vs 10) through the power of the Spirit.
For myself, given a choice, I’d opt for old age with wrinkles rather than being stoned to death. Which reminds us that some of our fellow-believers are being imprisoned and put to death for less than public debate, even as we sit in our favourite places at our services week by week.
We have so much to give thanks for.