Many people believe that Acts 6 is the account of the first deacons of the church. They may be right. However, the word deacon does not exist in the chapter, although the similar word for “service” does. (For example, in verse two it makes a reference to “serving” tables.) I am told that what the church does here in Acts 6 was based upon how the Jewish synagogues operated. In other words, we may or may not see in this chapter the first official deacons. It may be that the Apostles were simply using what they were familiar with to meet a particular need. However, even if that is the case, it is easy to see how this paved the way for the later office of deacons in the church.
But the choosing of these first “deacons” contains many spiritual truths. Most are familiar with the story. Part of the church felt that their widows were being neglected when food was passed out. Since the church was growing by leaps and bounds at this time, this was no small problem. It threatened to disrupt the unity and growth of the church.
The Apostles felt that they could not devote the needed time to address the issue, so they asked the church to choose 7 men to take care of the problem. Since the widows who thought they were being passed over belonged to a specific cultural group, this was a very sensitive issue. From the names of the seven chose, it seems that that the seven men belonged to that cultural group. (In verse 5 we see that all had Greek names and the women being passed over were Hellenistic women.) This was also a wise decision as this would lessen the likelihood that they would be accused of favoritism or insensitivity to these particular women.
This was not a glamorous job. There was murmuring going on. These men had to organize the distribution of food, no doubt including the times of the day, etc, when the distributions would take place. It also included the actual handing out of the food. They were, in that respect, waiters.
But the passage tells us that these men were men of great character. They were full of the Holy Spirit, and they were wise men (verse 3). In other words, it would have been easy for these men to feel that they were too good for such menial tasks. It would have been easy to feel that the Apostles, who did not belong to the same cultural group, were looking down on them.
However, these men responded in a completely different way. Not only did they perform this needed service, we see in this list of men that God can use those believers who serve in ways we cannot imagine.
One of the seven was Stephen. Here in chapter six he is introduced, but what a great man of God this servant was. Even though he is introduced as a servant and was given a seemingly demeaning responsibility, he was greatly used by God.
Through Stephen, God performs miracles (v. 8). He became a teacher of God’s word, demonstrating great wisdom (v. 10). Because of his bold witness for the Lord, he encountered opposition. Those opposed to him brought forth false witnesses to accuse him of being against the Jewish Law (vv. 11-13). Eventually, he paid for these things with his life.
It is easy to see that Stephen was like his Lord. He was a servant. He denied himself. He followed in Christ’s footsteps and experienced many of the things that the Lord experienced.
Another things about Stephen that stands out is that he sees things that even those who had more important titles did not. In chapter seven he understood very clearly that Christianity was going to make a complete break with Judaism in the sense that the new Church was something different than the nation of Israel. His ministry and death paves the way for the preaching of the good news to go outside of Israel and eventually to the rest of the world.
What is amazing about this is that the Apostles were slow to see this. Later, when Peter was told to go to the home of a Gentile (Cornelius; Acts 10)), he was hesistant. My guess is that Stephen would have jumped at the chance!
What a breath of fresh air to read the account of this man. He was not concerned with titles. It was not beneath him to serve others. Often times, within even our churches, Christians are caught up in such titles. I remember one church I attended where a family actually left the church because he was not appointed to be a deacon.
Stephen shows us that God is looking for servants. He can use such people in great ways, regardless of the title they bear or the work they are called to do. May we be like Stephen. Like him, that we will be like Christ.