1. Read verse 1. What two kinds of Jews were in Jerusalem? Why might food be distributed daily to widows? Some time later, as numbers of disciples increased, what problem arose?
2. Read verse 2-4. What did the Twelve propose? How did the Twelve want to serve the church? How were the Seven to be chosen? What were their qualifications? What was their task?
3. Read verses 5-6. Who were the seven men chosen? Why did they choose men whose names indicated that they were Greek speaking Jews? What else do you notice about them? What did the apostles do? What does it mean to lay on hands?
4. Read verse 7. What is Luke’s progress report on the work of God? What does it mean that the “word of God spread?” (Note also Acts 1:15; 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31.)
5. Read verse 8-10. How is Stephen described? What did he do? With whom did he begin to argue? How effective was he? Why? Why might his opponents become angry?
6. Read verse 11. What was their plot against Stephen? Of what did they accuse him? Before the Sanhedrin, what did the false witnesses say? Was there any truth in their statements? When the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen, what did they see?
Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one. He commanded them to love one another. When the 120 gathered in the upper room to pray for the Holy Spirit and for the evangelization of the world, they made a holy vessel of prayer. Jesus’ human family, his mother and brothers were there. His 11 disciples were there. A total of 120 believers were there. The were united in prayer. When they realized that Judas’ betrayal was a burden on everyone’s heart, Peter exposed the problem, and found a solution in the Scriptures. And true unity was restored. After the Holy Spirit came, the church was born. The believers had all things in common and exhibited genuine love for one another. The first thing that happened to mar that relationship was Ananias and Sapphira’s betrayal of trust. They lied to the Holy Spirit because of their greed. And they died. The problem was solved and the community of believers were even more closely united in the fear of the Lord. The next problem that challenged the unity of the believers was the problem that arose in Chapter 6. It had to do with the distribution of relief goods to the poor. The apostles also handled this problem wisely and true unity was restored. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in the Church and in the newly chosen stewards. And the stage was set for a devastating time of persecution. As a result of the persecution, the church spread to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The Sovereign God was in his Church and he was protecting it.
First, Grecian Jews and Hebraic Jews–the problem of food distribution
In Jerusalem, in addition to the native Jews who had been born and raised in Jerusalem and who spoke Aramaic/Hebrew, there were many Jews who had been born and raised in other parts of the Roman Empire. They spoke Greek, the language of the Empire. They were cosmopolitan in their outlook. Some were former slaves who had obtained freedom in one way or another and had come to Jerusalem. They were not so well established and there were a lot of poor people among them. Widows who had no man to depend on for support were especially vulnerable, so the church made special provision for them. The problem arose when the Grecian Jews felt that their widows were being discriminated against in the matter of food distribution. The Apostles gathered all of the disciples together and talked it over. Actually the job of administration was not a small job. Since everyone had everything in common, and people brought their offerings and good to the Apostles, the job of fair distribution was a big one.
Second, the problem solved–seven servants chosen
The Apostles told the gathered disciples, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” The seven stewards were not appointed. They were chosen by consensus by the body of believers. The seven who were chosen all have Greek names. One is not even a Jew by birth, but a proselyte from Antioch. This shows that the Jerusalem believers gave their trust and confidence to those who had complained, the Greek Jews. Unity and mutual love are built on trust. The love relationship of the believers was greatly strengthened by this event. The men who were chosen were Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Paarmenas, and Nicolas. They presented these men to the Apostles, who prayed for them and laid their hands on them. The potential rift was healed and the church grew. “The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Just as Jesus had said, the world could believe when Christians were united in love.
Third, Stephen and the others.
Stephen was one of the seven. He as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, a man full of God’s grace and power. He was not just a steward of material things; he was a powerful speaker and his testimony to Jesus bore fruit. He was a man of spiritual power and God worked through him to do great wonders and miraculous signs. Because of his fruitfulness, some of the non Christian Jews were jealous of him and opposed him strongly. Especially Grecian Jews from the so called “Synagogue of the Freedmen,” from Cyrene, Alexandra (Africa) and Cilicia in Asia. Paul was from Cilicia. These men could not defeat Stephen because Stephen depended on the word of God and on the Holy Spirit. When they failed to defeat him in debate, they decided to kill him. They plotted together and charged him with blasphemy against Moses and against God. Specifically, they charged him with speaking against Moses’ law and against the temple. They quoted the charge against Jesus, “He said he would destroy this temple and build it back in 3 days.” This charge against Jesus was based on an incorrect quotation. Stephen knew that the charge of blasphemy was a serious one. Jesus had been sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin because of this charge. Stephen knew where this was leading. But he was not governed by fear. When the Sanhedrin members looked at his face they saw no fear–only great peace and joy–like the face of an angel. Stephen answers these charges by teaching the Bible to them.