Almost as famous as the twelve apostles were the seven “deacons” of the Church in Jerusalem:
“And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch” (Acts 6:5).
What do we know about these seven men? Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and this Philip overshadows Philip the Apostle. He preached to the Samaritans, baptized the Ethiopian official, and housed the Apostle Paul on his way to Jerusalem. But what about the others? This week, let’s spend some time exploring these good Christian men, but first, some background information.
Can you imagine the excitement of coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost? That Sunday morning, shortly after dawn, the age of the Holy Spirit dawned. The streets of Jerusalem were filled with the mighty roar of a wind – like the sound of a Kansas tornado – but not a leaf of a single tree was stirred. People fell out of their homes and followed the sound to find twelve Galileans praising God in a dozen languages from every corner of the Empire.
After hearing Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people were baptized, and in the days to come, no one wanted to return to their far-away homes. Their funds would have quickly run out, but the love of those first Christians made sure no one was hungry. It was a beautiful time, but it is said both guests and fish begin to stink after three days. It was only natural for squabbles to arise. In those days, there were two groups in Jerusalem: the native, Aramaic-speaking Jews who lived there and the Greek-speaking visitors from far away. Both groups had little, black-clad widows who stood in line awaiting the daily distribution of food. However, one day there was a misunderstanding, perhaps caused by a confusion between their languages. The rumor began, and it nearly split the Church.
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1).
Misunderstanding can quickly become a crisis! The apostles could have given up their ministry of teaching and preaching to make sure the widows were fed, but the wisdom of the Holy Spirit prevailed. The Church chose seven men to oversee this ministry. It is a measure of their love that they chose seven men with Greek names to tend these tables. It was as if the Aramaic-speaking Christians said, “We didn’t do this intentionally! Therefore, we will choose Greek-speaking Christians to take care of the Greek-speaking widows and our widows as well!”