Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2] The the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3] Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4] but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
5] And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6] whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
7] Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (NKJV)
This is the last reference to the communal sharing of the early church. Though things may have changed since then, there are still several references in the NT outlining the responsibility of Christians to show compassion and charity, cf. Acts 11:27-30. At the same time, there is no Scriptural support the idea that the communalism of the early church is to be the pattern for the churches. It did not work, as we see in our text. Cultural differences had not been erased and we are not sure they are supposed to be. The purpose of preaching is not to impose Western culture on other peoples, but to bring them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. One of the earliest missionaries, Hudson Taylor, was greatly criticized because he understood this. He adopted the dress and the customs of the Chinese among whom he served, even to the pigtail the men wore.
There were two groups in the early church, the “Hebrews” and the “Hellenists.” The Hellenists were Jews who had, to varying degrees, adopted Greek customs and the Greek language. The Hebrews were Jews who refused all such doings and who steadfastly clung to their own traditions and heritage. Naturally, there were tensions between the two groups, which crept, perhaps unconsciously, into the church.
The Apostles’ responsibilities were great and they could not personally take care of the situation, 6:2-4. So, seven men were chosen who would be able to oversee the fair distribution of aid to those who needed it. Too many preachers are involved in secondary matters in their churches. Perhaps this can’t be avoided in smaller churches, but the preparation of sermons and lessons, and of the preacher himself, is a matter of great, even eternal, importance. If at all possible, nothing should be allowed to interfere with that.
There is some discussion as to whether these seven were “deacons.” Perhaps they were, but they are not so named. The Greek word itself is one of several which mean, “servant.” There is no evidence that these men were given any authority anywhere else, or even in this matter. The phrase, “whom we [that is, the apostles] may appoint over this,” seems to indicate this. Certainly, there was no authority over the church itself, much less over the apostles. Whatever they were, some of the seven later rose to greater usefulness, as Stephen and Philip.
Whether these men were deacons or not, to be a deacon is a good thing, 1 Timothy 3:13. Sadly, the diaconate has been greatly corrupted and perverted by men like Diotrephes, 3 John 9, who like and seek preeminence in the assembly. By no means is this to say that all deacons are “bad,” nor all elders “good,” but “office” in the assembly is not a place of superiority, the phrase, “to rule” notwithstanding, but of service to it.