Luke continues with his realistic portrayal of the Christian community. At this stage, the early church consisted of believing Jews both from a Hebrew-speaking background as well as from a Greek-speaking background. The Greek-speaking Jews complained that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of the welfare, which favoured Hebrew-speaking widows.
In verse 2, the apostolic response is both swift and public. They recognise the priority of their own ministry, “the word of God”. But they are not implying that the ministry of the table (that is, distributing food) is beneath them because they show that this is a ministry to be undertaken by men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3).
The apostles gladly delegate this serving ministry so that they can focus on prayer and the word, which is their key ministry. The good is the enemy of the best. Thank God that the apostles recognised God’s call to the best in their own ministry of the word and prayer, and made sure that it was not disrupted by the good, that is, waiting on tables.
The whole community (v. 5) chose seven men who they set apart for this ministry (v. 6). In a community culturally divided like the early church, there is great sensitivity to the potential disruption, which could flow from the complaint that the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked (v. 1). Seven men, all having Greek names, were chosen; not five Greek-speakers to two Hebrew-speakers, or four to three, but seven Greek-speakers to nil.
This shows the early church’s determination “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The apostles’ clear thinking and their commitment to this God-given unity is blessed by God. The result (v. 7) is the rapid increase of the church, with the gospel reaching deeply into Judaism and a large number of priests becoming believers. The gospel continues on its march to the ends of the earth. The threat of prison, and now internal dissent, do not frustrate its progress.
What can we learn about handling disruptions in the local church by what the apostles do here?
How does the apostolic conviction evidenced here encourage you in your ministry?