Acts Chapter Six

 

Read Acts 6:1-4

 

v1.   “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.”

 

            We’ve read several places that the multitudes of Christians in Jerusalem grew by leaps and bounds from the first baptism:

 

“THEN THEY THAT GLADLY RECEIVED HIS WORD WERE BAPTIZED: AND THE SAME DAY THERE WERE ADDED unto them ABOUT THREE THOUSAND SOULS.” Acts 2:41 

 

            We read of other thousands being added later and most recently:

 

“AND BELIEVERS WERE THE MORE ADDED TO THE LORD, MULTITUDES BOTH OF MEN AND WOMEN.)” Acts 5:14 

 

            We also read about and have discussed at some length their generosity in taking care of those who had need:

 

“NEITHER WAS THERE ANY AMONG THEM THAT LACKED: FOR AS MANY AS WERE POSSESSORS OF LANDS OR HOUSES SOLD THEM, AND BROUGHT THE PRICES OF THE THINGS THAT WERE SOLD, AND LAID them DOWN AT THE APOSTLES FEET: AND DISTRIBUTION WAS MADE UNTO EVERY MAN ACCORDING AS HE HAD NEED.” Acts 4:34-35 

 

            But somebody is getting left out, so just like mankind has been since time began, that brews trouble.  Here the scripture indicates that some were actually being neglected.  Not because of any meanness or even intentional neglect but apparently because of a lack of organization.

 

v2.  “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.”

 

            Well now, what do we have here?  Are they saying that they’re too important to do benevolent work?  No, it’s a matter of what their priorities should be.  At the same time there are far too many elders in the Lord’s church who work at keeping house and spend all of their time tending to the commercial business of the church instead of tending to the spiritual needs of the congregation.  Others have had the same problem that the apostles had here; haven’t they, who remembers?  Moses got some good advice from his father-in-law didn’t he?

 

“AND MOSES’ FATHER IN LAW SAID UNTO HIM, THE THING THAT THOU DOEST is NOT GOOD.  THOU WILT SURELY WEAR AWAY, BOTH THOU, AND THIS PEOPLE THAT is WITH THEE: FOR THIS THING is TOO HEAVY FOR THEE; THOU ART NOT ABLE TO PERFORM IT THYSELF ALONE.” Exodus 18:17 

 

            And the same thing was happening at Jerusalem.  This work had just outgrown the physical capability of these men and they needed help.

 

v3.  “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.”

 

            The apostles solved there problem somewhat the same way that Moses solved his problem.  Moses (God’s ways are always consistent and practical):

 

“TAKE YOU WISE MEN, AND UNDERSTANDING, AND KNOWN AMONG YOUR TRIBES, AND I WILL MAKE THEM RULERS OVER YOU.” v15  SO I TOOK THE CHIEF OF YOUR TRIBES, WISE MEN, AND KNOWN, AND MADE THEM HEADS OVER YOU, CAPTAINS OVER THOUSANDS, AND CAPTAINS OVER HUNDREDS, AND CAPTAINS OVER FIFTIES, AND CAPTAINS OVER TENS, AND OFFICERS AMONG YOUR TRIBES.” Deuteronomy 1:13 

 

            Are these in Jerusalem our first deacons?   Not in the same sense as those appointed by the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 because the organization for the church had not yet been revealed.   But they were appointed to serve some of the same basic purposes.

 

v4.  “BUT WE WILL GIVE OURSELVES CONTINUALLY TO PRAYER, AND TO THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.”

 

            Simply put; the apostles needed to be spending their time praying, preaching and teaching the Word of God.  There were other men in the Jerusalem congregation that could handle the daily ministrations that were required by the many who were becoming destitute and who needed help.  We would point out one special circumstance.  The apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, watched over by God, protected from the Jewish rulers at this point without harm needed to give themselves “CONTINUALLY TO PRAYER” or as in that ASV “CONTINUE STEADFASTLY IN PRAYER”.  What does this tell us about what our prayer life should be like today?

 

Read Acts 6:5-8

 

v5.  “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 NICHOLAS A PROSELYTE OF ANTIOCH:”

 

            Seven men are to be chosen; of good report, full of the spirit and of wisdom.  Do we hear about these men again?  Stephen, of course, in just a few verses, but of the others we only hear of Philip and we find him preaching in Samaria, converting the Ethiopian, and greeting Paul at the end of his third missionary journey.

 

v6.  “WHOM THEY SET BEFORE THE APOSTLES: AND WHEN THEY HAD PRAYED, THEY LAID their HANDS ON THEM.”

 

            Are we told why they laid their hands on them?  Why do you think they did this, would they have had to impart the Holy Ghost since the congregation was to seek out those “FULL OF THE SPIRIT”?  It would seem that they wouldn’t have to lay their hands on them for that purpose but more likely it was just another way of confirming their appointment.  In Acts 8:17 we find the laying on of hands being done to impart the Spirit but in Acts 13:3 we’re told that the prophets and teachers in Antioch laid their hands on Saul and Barnabas before they were sent out to minister.  So we have examples of both, though most frequently the apostles laid hands on others to impart the Spirit, Paul and Timothy:

 

I Timothy 4:14  NEGLECT NOT THE GIFT THAT IS IN THEE, WHICH WAS GIVEN THEE BY PROPHECY, WITH THE LAYING ON OF THE HANDS OF THE PRESBYTERY.”

 

II Timothy 1:6  WHEREFORE I PUT THEE IN REMEMBERANCE THAT THOU STIR UP THE GIFT OF GOD, WHICH IS IN THEE BY THE PUTTING ON OF MY HANDS.”

 

v7.  “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.”

 

            We’re told by scholars that the word increased literally means “kept on growing all the more”.  It bloomed and blossomed, their numbers grew greatly and we’re told that even a great number of the priests were converted.  This was a turnaround from the time that Jesus taught isn’t it?

 

John 12:42  NEVERTHELESS AMONG THE CHIEF RULERS ALSO MANY BELEIVED ON HIM; BUT BECAUSE OF THE PHARISEES THEY DID NOT CONFESS him, LEST THEY SHOULD BE PUT OUT OF THE SYNAGOGUE.”

 

v8.  “AND STEPHEN, FULL OF FAITH AND POWER, DID GREAT WONDERS AND MIRACLES AMONG THE PEOPLE.”

 

            So we have Stephen, whom the Holy Spirit through Luke tells us is “FULL OF FAITH”, or as other translations read “FULL OF GRACE” or the favor of God.  Stephen is a powerful worker, pointed out here as being doing great wonders and miracles.

 

Read Acts 6:9-15

 

v9.  “THEN THERE AROSE CERTAIN OF THE SYNAGOGUE, WHICH IS CALLED the synagogue OF THE LIBERTINES, AND CYRENIANS, AND ALEXANDRIANS, AND THEM OF CILICIA AND OF ASIA, DISPUTING WITH STEPHEN.”

 

H. Leo Boles tells us that this verse has given commentators trouble for many years.  Historians report that there were 280 synagogues in Jerusalem at this time and this mentions five.  The Libertines were called that because they were freed slaves, the Cyrenians were from the city of Cyrene in North Africa, the Alexandrians from Alexandria, Egypt, Cilicia and Asia are Roman provinces in Asia Minor and Asia’s capital city was Ephesus.  They disputed with Stephen.

 

v10.  “AND THEY WERE NOT ABLE TO RESIST THE WISDOM AND THE SPIRIT BY WHICH HE SPAKE.”

 

            Stephen could not be overcome.  This ability was promised in prophecy:

 

Isaiah 54:17  NO WEAPON THAT IS FORMED AGAINST THEE SHALL PROSPER; AND EVERY TONGUE that SHALL RISE AGAINST THEE IN JUDGMENT THOU SHALT CONDEMN.  THIS is THE HERITAGE OF THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD, AND THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS is OF ME, SAID THE LORD.”

 

            And promised by Jesus himself in his teaching of them.

 

Luke 21:15  FOR IT WILL GIVE YOU A MOUTH AND WISDOM, WHICH ALL YOUR ADVERSARIES SHALL NOT BE ABLE TO GAINSAY OR RESIST.”

 

            Truly the words of Gamaliel are coming true aren’t they?

 

Acts 5:39  BUT IF IT BE OF GOD, YE CANNOT OVERTHROW IT; LEST HAPLY YE BE FOUND EVEN TO FIGHT AGAINST GOD.”

 

v11.  “THEN THEY SUBORNED MEN, WHICH SAID, WE HAVE HEARD HIM SPEAK BLASPHEMOUS WORDS AGAINST MOSES, AND against GOD.”

 

            What does the word “suborned” mean?  Well, if you will take a reasonably current dictionary and read you will find that it means 1.)  to induce secretly to do an unlawful thing, 2) to obtain perjured testimony from a witness.  They went out and hired themselves witnesses, witnesses that would testify as they were told or paid to testify.  Jezebel used this tactic to secure Naboth’s vineyard for Ahab:

 

I Kings 21:9-10  “AND SHE WROTE IN THE LETTERS, SAYING, PROCLAIM A FAST, AND SET NABOTH ON HIGH AMONG THE PEOPLE:  AND SET TWO MEN, SONS OF BELIAL, BEFORE HIM, TO BEAR WITNESS AGAINST HIM, SAYING, THOU DIDST BLASPHEME GOD AND THE KING.  AND then CARRY HIM OUT, AND STONE HIM, THAT HE MAY DIE.”

 

The rulers used this tactic against Jesus as well:

 

Matthew 26:59-60  ‘NOW THE CHIEF PRIESTS, AND ELDERS, AND ALL THE COUNCIL, SOUGHT FALSE WITNESS AGAINST JESUS, TO PUT HIM TO DEATH; BUT FOUND NONE: YEA, THOUGH MANY FALSE WITNESSES CAME, yet FOUND THEY NONE.  AT THE LAST CAME TWO FALSE WITNESSES,”

 

v12.  “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.”

 

            They took advantage of the mentality normally found in mobs and groups of people who are prone to become a mob, they stirred up the people and then used them to their purpose.  Not the people that were being converted, but the people in the synagogues that were not being converted, brought the scribes and elders into their uproar, caught Stephen and brought him before the council.  This would be the Sanhedrin, the same council that had turned Peter and John loose based upon the advice of Gamaliel.

 

v13.  “AND SET UP FALSE WITNESSES, WHICH SAID, THIS MAN CEASETH NOT TO SPEAK BLASPHEMOUS WORDS AGAINST THIS HOLY PLACE, AND THE LAW:”

 

            They bring forth their false witnesses and charged that he not only spake against God and Moses but against “THIS HOLY PLACE”.  That would be either Jerusalem or the temple itself.

 

 v14.  “FOR WE HAVE HEARD HIM SAY, THAT THIS JESUS OF NAZARETH SHALL DESTROY THIS PLACE, AND SHALL CHANGE THE CUSTOMS WHICH MOSES DELIVERED US.”

 

            Stephen may very well have prophesied or preached that the temple was to be destroyed.  Why would this be possible?  Through the Holy Spirit, just as Daniel prophesied.

 

Daniel 9:26  “AND AFTER THREESCORE AND TWO WEEKS SHALL MESSIAH BE CUT OFF, BUT NOT FOR HIMSELF: AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PRINCE THAT SHALL COME SHALL DESTROY THE CITY AND THE SANCTUARY; AND THE END THEREOF shall be WITH A FLOOD, AND UNTO THE END OF THE WAR DESOLATIONS ARE DETERMINED.”

 

            Apparently they raised the same accusations against Paul, after all if they worked against Jesus and against Stephen then why not?  We know this because of what Paul says in his own defense before Festus:

 

Acts 25:8  WHILE HE ANSWERED FOR HIMSELF, NEITHER AGAINST THE LAW OF THE JEWS, NEITHER AGAINST THE TEMPLE, NOR YET AGAINST CAESAR, HAVE I OFFENDED ANY THING AT ALL.”

 

v15.  “AND ALL THAT SAT IN THE COUNCIL, LOOKING STEADFASTLY ON HIM, SAW HIS FACE AS IT HAD BEEN THE FACE OF AN ANGEL.”

 

            Stephen’s face takes on a radiance, a glow, we’re read about that kind of thing happening before haven’t we:

 

Exodus 34:29-30  “AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN MOSES CAME DOWN FROM MOUNT SINAI WITH THE TWO TABLES OF TESTIMONY IN MOSES’ HAND, WHEN HE CAME DOWN FROM THE MOUNT, THAT MOSES WIST NOT THAT THE SKIN OF HIS FACE SHONE WHILE HE TALKED WITH HIM.  AND WHEN AARON AND ALL THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL SAW MOSES, BEHOLD, THE SKIN OF HIS FACE SHONE; AND THEY WERE AFRAID TO COME NIGH HIM.”

 

            So even though his face shone with the radiance, his enemies ignored this.  They couldn’t withstand his arguments, they couldn’t refute his teaching, they couldn’t stand against him any other way but to resort to violence.   But before they get rid of him permanently he provides one of the strongest sermons recorded anywhere, even in God’s word that we will study next.