ACTS CHAPTER SIX
Preparation for the wider witness
Suggested Teaching Objectives:
1. To show that the Holy Spirit is a person. John 14:16-18
2. To show the importance of organization in a church.
3. To show the sinfulness of murmuring and gossiping.
4. To teach the purpose and qualifications of deacons.
5. To show the importance of being dedicated to God and possessing great faith.
6. To show that God works behind the scenes to accomplish His purposes.
Introduction: The Holy Spirit, though unseen is working behind the scenes, working out the divine purpose as revealed in Acts 1:1, 8. How marvelous the Holy Spirit has been in charge of these witnesses throughout the preceding five chapters. That He is a divine person is a fact that has been clearly demonstrated.
He has filled these witnesses. 2:4; 4:8,13
He is lied to. 5:4
He is tempted. 5:9
He witnesses. 5:32
According to these facts, He is more than just a mere influence, He is a person. In preceding chapters, we have seen His ministration, but now, we shall see His administration. In Chapters 6 & 7, He is preparing the way, selecting leaders (different type leaders), to carry the testimony beyond Jerusalem and Judea. CF. 8:12.
I. Preparation by organization -- Vs. 1-7
Vs. 1 -- The Church had now grown to several thousand members. This naturally increased the burdens and responsibilities of the apostles. They were, in addition to other things, taking care of the needy widows of the church. This presented a problem. The Grecian widows were those who had been born and raised in areas outside of Palestine and had been under Grecian culture. The Grecians began to murmur and complain that their widows were not being treated fairly. Murmuring and gossiping are terrible sins. cf. Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 20:19; 10:18; Numbers 21:4-9.
Vs. 2 -- The apostles brought this matter to the whole church just as every major issue should be.
Vs. 3 -- They instructed the church to select 7 men who they could appoint over this business (business means need). The church was to select these men but the apostles were to approve. The Bible doesn't say these were deacons, but it is believed by scholars and has been so accepted through the years that these were the first deacons. The Pastor should always approve those who are to serve as deacons. Notice the kind of men they were to be. "Of honest report" by the congregation and by those outside the church. "Full of the Holy Spirit". In other words, yielded to God. "Wise men." "Full of faith" -- Vs. 5. cf. I Timothy 3.
Vs. 4 -- The purpose for deacons was that they might help the pastors with church duties so that the pastors (apostles) would have more time to spend in prayer and getting out the Gospel. This does not teach that deacons are to be a ruling board or body in a church. They are servants of the church and helpers for the pastor.
Vs. 5 -- The church agreed to this suggestion and they showed real Christian love and forgiveness by selecting not Hebrew Christian men but Grecian Hebrew Christian men.
Vs. 6 -- They laid hands on them, signifying their approval. This does not mean, they ordained them and that they were then deacons for life. Later we find two of them, Stephen and Philip, preaching. The Deaconate is an office held for a purpose and for a specific period of time. Deacons are not called to their office as pastors are.
Vs. 7 -- This organization was blessed of God and many more people were won to the Lord. If people in the church would do all they can to lighten the pastor's load, more souls would be won and a lot more people would be obedient to the Lord.
II. PREPARATION BY PERSECUTION -- Vs. 8-15
Vs. 8 -- Stephen was one of those elected to minister to the neglected widows. Experience in this service developed him into a mighty witness for God and his testimony was confirmed by the power to work miracles. Perhaps, he had more faith than the others at this point and therefore God used him in a glorious way. It says he was "full of faith." Faith pleases God. Hebrews 11:6. God honors faith. Mark 11:24; John 3:16. God now wanted to impress the whole city with the truth of the Gospel and He chose a layman who was pleasing to Him to do it. God will use in glorious ways anyone who will be devoted as Stephen was.
Vs. 9 -- In Jerusalem, synagogues were made for Jews from different areas. Thus, those from Cyrene had their own synagogue, etc. Some from these different synagogues began to argue vehemently with Stephen.
Vs. 10 -- They were, no doubt, learned men -- but they were unable to cope with a spirit filled, dedicated, faithful man as Stephen was. Such a man as this could only be silenced by death.
Vs. 11 -- Stephen's opponents enlisted men who gave false testimony. We don't know what Stephen had said, but, we know he didn't blaspheme God nor speak disrespectful of Moses. In his great sermon, he spoke highly of Moses. Chapter 7:20-38. When we take issue with Satan's crowd, we can expect great and terrible persecution.
Vs. 12-14 -- Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin. The same group that had tried Jesus and Peter.
Vs. 15 -- Note the martyr's manner, calm, cool, and collected. In the face of all this false testimony, Stephen was perfectly possessed and by a higher power. His manner must have been amazing, and in fact was, to the whole council that was looking steadfast on him. They saw no craven coward, but a bold courageous, Spirit filled man with the light of Heaven on his face. His manner is indeed remarkable. He does not speak until he is asked to speak. Chapter 7:1. And when he does, "WHAT A SPEECH"
Conclusion: In this lesson, we see God preparing the church and His people for getting the Gospel beyond the confines of Jerusalem and Judea. He has gotten a more effective organization together. He has shown the people the blessing and effectiveness of having an organized church. He has begun preparing certain men (laymen) for preaching the Word. He has allowed the stage to be set in Stephen's situation to show the multitudes the cost of an out and out position for Christ. In this situation, He will also show them that they can expect great persecution in the future. The situation is not much changed today. "They that live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." II Timothy 3:12. Stephen was a man that is a great example for us. We would all do well to have faith (Romans 10:17) and be as dedicated, devoted and daring as he.