May 2 – Acts 6:1-7
Here in Acts 6 we see the apostles get wind of a growing issue in their fledgling church. At this point in history, women who were widowed had very little economic access, so supporting themselves without the help of family or their broader community was next to impossible. So the early church, in an effort to take care of their most vulnerable members, created a registry for women to receive daily food distributions, which came from centralized resources that were donated by members of the church. This was just one example of how the church was “distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”(2:45) Unfortunately one whole group of widows was being ignored: the Hellenistic Jews. These women, and their Hellenistic community, spoke Greek as their primary language, in contrast to the Hebrews in this passage, who spoke Aramaic (a cousin language to Hebrew). Here was an issue that threatened the peace and stability of the young church; not only were those in need going without help, this pattern of neglect was falling along ethnic/linguistic lines, suggesting other issues were bubbling up.
Now, several reasons have been given to explain this oversight. The Hellenists likely lived in a separate portion of Jerusalem or the surrounding region, so perhaps these widows didn’t live geographically close to the food distribution. Or, since the Aramaic-speaking Jews couldn’t read or speak Greek, they couldn’t utilize the Greek widow registry and couldn’t communicate with community members to accomplish the distribution. But here’s the biggest rub with those explanations: they both assume that the Hebrews, who were leading the distribution program, knew about the problem. But who brought the issue before the apostles? The Hellenists. This tells us either a) the Hebrews had no idea about the issue (which assumes the Hellenists didn’t tell them and went straight to the apostles), or b) that the Hebrews knew about it but weren’t fixing it. Maybe that was due to scarcity of resources, community tensions, or ethnic/linguistic/regional bias (or likely a combination of things). Perhaps this was a precursor to the even bigger issue of incorporating Gentiles into the church (Acts 10-15), which clearly surfaced ethno-cultural biases within God’s people.
Either way, the passage doesn’t clarify why this was happening, though it’s safe to assume that other motivations were at work that threatened the unity of the church. But, healthily, the problem was brought to light, and equally healthy, a solution was proposed that retained the priorities of the early church while tasking the church itself, i.e. all of her members, with her own priorities. The apostles affirm the importance of continuing to preach and teach God’s word, “It is not right that we should give up preached the word of God.” All too often the church is harmed because a small group of people are tasked with accomplishing the bulk of the work of the church, and most often that harm is felt in the absence of the word among God’s people. Taking care of tangible needs is absolutely a necessary, honorable task—in fact it supports the ministry of the word. And yet all our ministry should be cohesive. Our clinging to the word of God should lead us to serve others, and our serving should lead us to hope all the more in the word.
As a quick aside, notice that the seven men who are called are all chosen based primarily on character. “Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who we will appoint to this duty.”(6:3) They didn’t just look for men with a good LinkedIn profile; they looked for men who were known by their character, which itself is the work of the Spirit. This reminds us that God’s kingdom operates not on the basis of worldly acclaim or standing, but on its own criteria with its own value systems.
Finally, this passage gives us a good opportunity to reflect on how these priorities of God’s word and service help us understand God’s calling on our own lives. The church today has similar needs, though often in new forms. We might not have a registry of widows, but we certainly have vulnerable people both in and outside our church body. And the need for God’s word is never decreasing. As much as we read of official church positions in this passage (apostle and deacon), these two priorities still speak to the general call of God on each of his children. As we think of how to relate to our church body and our surrounding communities, a focus on word and deed, never separated but always together, can help guide us, because at least one thing God saved us for is to be a blessing to others, and by our teaching and service to strengthen the wellbeing of God’s church. As you discuss, if folks are interested in serving in a specific capacity at Vintage, you can get all the information you need right here: vintagenc.com/serve
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Acts 6:1-7 for us?
• What stood out to you in this passage?
• What does this situation tell us about what was going on in the early church?
• What does this passage tell us about the priorities of the early church?
• Look at verse 3. Why do you think the apostles gave these specific criteria?
• How does this passage help us understand the way Jesus’ church functions?
• If you serve in a specific capacity at Vintage, why do you do what you do?
• How do you see the two priorities of God’s word and serving others working out in your own life?