Here in Acts 6, we have our first cultural conflict with the early church. The Greek-speaking Jews felt their needs were being ignored by the Hebrew speaking Jews. Two different cultures often don't mix much and sometimes the issue isn't a blatant disregard of the other it is just done through ignorance. The dispersed older Jewish widows, who were mainly in Greek-speaking territories, would often return to Jerusalem so they would die in the holy city and not in a foreign land. So here it was all the early believers were taking care of each other but there was a food distribution issue with the Hellenist widows.
The Hebrew Jews only knew the needs of the people they were accustomed too for the Greek Jews often live in different neighborhoods. Just like in New York City you have people from the Caribbean living in Brooklyn but Jamaicans will live in one area while Dominicans will live in another.
So things got heated and the Apostles reasoned together how to deal with the matter. They knew their primary purpose was to teach the Word of God so they needed to devote themselves to that and appoint what they would call deacons which means servant to help the widows.
So deacons were the first appointed service role in the early church outside of the Apostles. The qualification of being a deacon was, they were greatly respected, full of the Holy Spirit and had wisdom. Today deacons are often chosen because they make themselves available and are willing to do the physical work around the facility where they fellowship. The qualifications of Elders and Deacons as described in Timothy and Titus are very similar. So the church overall today has gotten the role of Deacon wrong.
The Deacons chosen first of all were fellow Hellenists so they could identify with the needs of those they were serving. Secondly, while they may not be teaching as often as the Apostles, they still needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in wisdom. That means they needed to be ready to do power ministry and give counsel.
The Apostles at this time were the ones who had been with Jesus the longest so they had a special grace regarding teaching but the appointed Deacons who were younger in the faith still had Jesus through the Holy Spirit and they were not to limit what God could do through them.
These seven men that were chosen had hands laid on them, how often do we lay hands on deacons that they would be empowered spiritually to serve in their role. Too often only a select few are expected to be the ones walking in God's power. But, the bible says "these signs will follow those who believe......," it doesn't say, Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, no, it says those who believe.
Deacons are closely involved with people they see the needs often before the Apostles they are not to drag a person to an Apostle to meet their need, no they are called to meet the needs of others through the power of the Holy Spirit themselves.
This early church dilemma was solved and it says many more jews believed as well as priests. These issues can halt the move of God, leaders need to quickly seek the Lord how to resolve it so that Kingdom growth doesn't stop.
The challenge: If you have limited how the Lord can use you because you have not been given a significant role such as an Elder or Pastor, repent! Then receive or re-receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit for it is for all who believe.
As we see at the end of this chapter and into chapter seven the Lord uses the deacon Stephen just like He was using the Apostles to do mighty wonders. Initially, it was the Apostles because of their extensive time spent with Jesus they had great faith but it wasn't long before faith increased in the early believers and they began to do the same works.
Acts 7 is a continuation of Acts 6 the focus being now entirely on the deacon Stephen. The leadership of the early church was no longer just designated to the Hebrew Apostles but now the Hellenistic Jews where seven deacons were appointed and out of those seven, Stephen stood out as it says in Acts 6:5 that he was "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." His measure of grace was further along than the other deacons at this point and therefore the one whom the Lord used in tremendous ways.
Hellenistic Jews were raised in the Greek culture and were typically more intelligent than the Hebrews and therefore able to debate and possibly lead the high-class Jews to accept the Gospel message. Peter and John were let go but these religious elites had to do everything in their power to stop Stephen for their livelihood was being threatened as the crowds continued to grow becoming more and more diverse.
In Acts 6:8 it says "Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." So we see here again the work of deacons is not just to do manual labor. We are all vessels of the Holy Spirit and capable of releasing miracles, all it takes is faith. It then says in the following verses that Stephen was approached by unbelieving Hellenistic Jews from the synagogue of the Freedmen. They tried to debate with him as those from the Greek culture often do but since they were outwitted they responded by spreading lies that Stephen was speaking blasphemous words against Moses and YHWH. The shakeup was now way beyond just the performance of miracles it was beginning to win over the sophisticated Hellenists. So they persuaded men to be false witnesses and to approach the high priest so that Stephen could be silenced.
Every attempt of the enemy to silence His church is an opportunity to spread the Lord's message to even a wider audience. We are not to back off but rather, seize the moment, not trying to defend ourselves but just simply speak the Words of Truth as Holy Spirit gives utterance.
Stephen shining with the face like an angel does exactly that in Acts 7. See the High Priests twisted and deceived believed that YHWH was only for the Jews and that the temple was the only place where one could hear from YHWH. The only way Gentiles could worship YHWH was by becoming Jewish proselytes, which meant they had to repudiate their native culture and practice the Jewish rituals including being circumcised.
Stephen answers the High Priest revealing through the History of the Jews the real truth to counter these lies. He reminds them that YHWH spoke to Abraham in a far off country. He revealed how YHWH was with him in the land of the Chaldeans and gave him the covenant of circumcision. Also, the Lord was with Joseph while in Egypt, and Moses from a burning bush on Mt. Sinai received a message from the Lord to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt through His help. He told him to remove his sandals for he was walking on holy ground.
He reminds them that offerings and sacrifices were given in the wilderness to the Lord. David asked that He could build a house for the Lord and his son Solomon was given the favor to do so. Stephen declared that YHWH does not dwell in man-made structures quoting Isaiah 66:1-2 "Heaven is My throne, and earth is my footstool."
He is saying to these leaders who do you think you are? How can you box YHWH into a designated place? He is the Lord of the universe! He is not just the God of the Jews limited to the temple in Jerusalem.
Stephen now takes it further and calls them "stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!" Those responsible for persecuting and killing the prophets who had announced the coming Righteous one! Hearing this, they forgot all about Roman law and took matters in their own hands unlike what they did with Jesus. Stephen kept his eyes on heaven and said to his murderers "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of YHWH!" They responded by covering their ears and rushing towards him, throwing him out of the city and stoning him, and like Jesus, he said "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" and "do not charge them with this sin!"
We learn here how to deal with persecution; we are to keep our eyes on Jesus, hopefully revealing Him to those who are against us, while holding no evil in our heart against them.
Martyrdom often leads to a greater move of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 it says that the Holy Spirit was given for the purpose of the church to be empowered as witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So far it was limited to Jerusalem, Judea, but after the death of Stephen, we are going to see in Acts 8, Saul was later known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles comes on the scene and the first evangelist also a deacon Philip was sent out by the Holy Spirit to Samaria and then supernaturally to spread the witness of Christ to an Ethiopian Eunuch.
The charge is to not limit our Christian service to a place or a certain group of people. Let's repent for our lack of witness and fear of persecution and ask Holy Spirit to take us to whom He desires; going wherever He wants us to go, doing whatever He wants us to do.