Just A Helping Hand?

The disciples – now the apostles – had been continuing their work of proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah and carrying their message from house to house and in the temple courts. They were also dealing with persecution from the religious leaders in the Sannhedrin as well as healing people as a miraculous confirmation of what they had been teaching.

And then comes a problem within their own ranks, within the church, where one group of believers, those from a Hellenistic background, began to complain against those from the Jewish background, that their widows were being skipped in the distribution of food and assistance.

The apostles realized that they now have a dilemma. They could stop the work that they were doing and address this issue, or they could trust others to take on this work and manage it well to make sure that it was done correctly such that all of those that were in need would be cared for.

This was a problem in and of itself, of course, but at the same time, they saw a significant number of people who were coming to faith. So there were pressures there as well. The needs for the Gospel to be proclaimed were great as well. In fact, this story starts and ends with a statement that the number of disciples was growing.

The apostles decide that they absolutely must not neglect their time in prayer and their time in preaching and teaching the Gospel. This is their priority. They see that there is a great need for the people to understand who Jesus is. They see that people are coming to faith, and this must be the priority.

Yet they are also concerned that the widows with needs would be taken care of. Yes, the physical needs are important as well, but they can be done by others. They can entrust this work to other people, so amongst them they choose seven men who can do this work.

And what is the result? The widows were fed and the word of God continued to be spread across the city and across the area. And what is more, the disciples multiplied even more, even spreading into the priests where several began to believe.

Catch the right message

I want to make sure that, in this conversation, that we don’t miss an important component of what we read in Acts 6. Yes, the apostles chose these other seven men to manage the ministry to the widows. Yes, they did it well and it allowed the apostles to continue to dedicate themselves to prayer and preaching and teaching the word of God. And finally, yes, it did allow the number of disciples to grow, a beautiful result.

However, does that mean that those seven men were limited to that work? That was their job and their work stopped there?

Absolutely not.

Take a look at who the first man was that the apostles chose to serve the widows. It was Stephen.

Now take a look at who is highlighted next in teaching and is now being persecuted and opposed by the religious leaders. Also Stephen.

Frequently in the church, people are assigned a service job to care for physical needs and their work, either by themselves or by the person assigning them or both, is seen as their work. That their ministry wouldn’t or shouldn’t go beyond that task. But of course, that is exactly the opposite of what we see here in this case.

Stephen is a man that is being opposed by the religious leaders, not because of the work that he is doing in feeding the widows, but because of the preaching and teaching that he is doing. He has learned about Jesus as the Messiah and now he is going on to teach others the same thing, and this is the reason that he is being persecuted and opposed.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Acts 6:8-10

Let’s make sure that we connect the dots here. Stephen is not one of the apostles. He isn’t considered to be one of the main ones who is teaching. But he is repeating and sharing what he has learned from others, and in fact he is doing it so effectively that he has drawn the attention of the religious leaders who are now persecuting him as well as the apostles.

So the moral of the story, at least in how I am reading Acts 6 is this: God may want to use you in one way, but that does not mean that you are, or should be, limited to that way of serving. God wants you to be able to also share with others, to learn, for example, how to share the Gospel, and then give it away. To share your testimony of a life changed in Christ. To make disciples, sharing with others what Jesus said to do and who he said to be.

You are not limited to physical service. That is not your only ministry. Every one of us is called to testify to, and to make disciples of, Jesus Christ. Step into that calling that Jesus has given us. Do not be satisfied to allow someone else to do it for you. You are called to do this as well. Each and every one of us.

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