Acts 6-7
(Division of Duties)
November 13th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, 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.

- Acts 6:2-4 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters record a transition point in the growth of the church and introduce two new central figures.

The apostles decided to appoint a team of seven to focus on material needs for the people, thus freeing the others to focus on prayer and teaching. Stephen was selected to head this group. Stephen performed admirably and attracted the attention of the religious leaders known as the Sanhedrin, who brought him to trial.

In his defense, Stephen summarized the words of the Law and the Prophets from the books that we now call the Old Testament (providing many details from Genesis and Exodus and summarizing the books of History and Prophets). He then explained how all of this history and prophecy pointed to Jesus, who became the Temple. Stephen explained what had happened in recent years, as recorded in the books we know as the Gospels. He emphasized that the current generation continued the pattern of ignoring the messages of the people sent by God:

    And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!”

    - Acts 7:51-53 (MSG)

The Sanhedrin took umbrage regarding these comments, so they decided to drag him out of town and stone him. As they carried out this punishment they placed their cloaks at the feet of a “young man named Saul (Acts 7:57 - NIV)” who “gave approval to his death (Acts 8:1 - NIV).” Stephen followed the model of his Savior by forgiving these men with his last breath:

    While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

    - Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

The transition for the church at this point is similar to ones experienced by other successful organizations. The church had begun with a small group of twelve leaders and other followers, but then rapidly expanded by the thousands. Gradually the people in the organization realized that it made more sense for the staff to become more specialized. They figured this re-organization would be more efficient than asking everyone to be a jack-of-all-trades as they were when the organization was new.

In this case, the church defined two roles: Those of care-givers and those of preachers. This division of duties worked at the beginning and continues to work for many churches today. Many congregations have a group of people called Stephen Ministers who are special care-givers, and if resources allow they have a pastor or other leader dedicated to this particular area. Note that the care-givers were ordained by the laying of hands (Acts 6:5-6 ). This tradition began with Moses putting his hand on Joshua (Numbers 27:18-23) and was used when the church of Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas, as we shall see described in Acts 13:3. This tradition also continues today in many churches when new members are ordained to perform specific roles.

Which group was more important for the early church, the care-givers or the preachers? It’s fair to say that they are equally important, as are the different duties in our church today.

Why did the Sanhedrin decide to kill Stephen when the other apostles had been dismissed with lighter punishments? Maybe his acts of healing were more threatening than the preaching by the others in the organization. Or maybe they did not like how Stephen preached chapter and verse to them and then accused them of killing the Son of God.

Note that one of the themes of Stephen's speech was that the heroes of the faith were adventurous in their faith, willing to follow God into unknown lands, as demonstrated by Abraham, Moses, and others who trusted the Holy Spirit more than their own rational minds. By contrast, the current leaders were afraid to come out of their comfort zones and accept the truths in front of them (1). Maybe they knew Stephen was correct, but refused to back down and confess. The explanation for their actions and God's willingness to let Stephen become a martyr may not be readily apparent, but what is clear is that Stephen was prepared to die and never lost his focus, praying for salvation for his tormentors to the end. We can do the same.

Did you notice the young man who collected the coats of the witnesses to the stoning? He is the second important person to be introduced in today's study. This subtle mention of this young man is a foreshadowing of someone who becomes a central figure for most of the remaining parts of the New Testament: Saul, later known as Paul. In fact, as pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI, “Stephen’s vision was brought about in St. Paul’s mission(2).”

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What organizations have you been involved in that started small and then grew to a point where duties had to be divided up?
    2. To which area would you feel more called? Preaching with Peter and John, or serving with Stephen and the others?
    3. What action can you do today to respond to your specific call?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you have a specific mission in mind for each of us. Help us to understand your plans for each of us.

    Prayer Concern
    Stephen Ministers


    (1) Barclay, William, The Acts of the Apostles, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1975, pp62-63
    (2) Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church, Libreria Editrice, Vatican City, 2007, p.138

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 8-9 (Chief Adversary Becomes Chief Advocate)

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