Study 8: Opposition from all sides – Acts 6
It is important for us to notice just how far the church had come from its establishment at Pentecost. It had started with just one hundred and twenty frightened people praying and waiting in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, Acts 1:15. They were being obedient to Jesus who had instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come on them.
Jesus was eating with them and He gave them the command ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised …… Acts 1:4-5 So on the Day of Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter preached his first sermon that day, and 3,000 people were added to the church, then people were added on a daily basis until addition was not enough and they had to use multiplication to describe what had happened to the church, Acts 6:1 LB
There was persecution of the Apostles, so much so that other people would no longer join them as they spoke in Solomon’s Porch, but that did not stop many becoming Christians. There were amazing healings so that even Peter’s shadow falling over a person would bring healing. All that came or were brought to the Apostles were healed and/or delivered of evil spirits. They went and preached and taught from house to house until all Jerusalem had heard of the Name of Jesus. Even the High Priest who was certainly no fan of the apostles was not pleased that his orders were not being followed, Acts 5:28;42. The apostles were flogged by order of the Sanhedrin, ordered again not to preach in the Name of Jesus, and yet when they left, they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name!
And now as if persecution from outside was not bad enough; the fledgling church began to experience unrest from within. The Greek speaking Jews (possibly those who had been in Jerusalem at Pentecost from other countries) claimed that their widows were not being provided for as well as the Hebrew-speaking (or more likely Aramaic-speaking and therefore probably indigenous to Jerusalem) Jews at the daily distribution of food.
The Apostles saw this as an opportunity rather than taking it as a criticism and decided to do something about it. Up until this time, the twelve had been doing and managing everything, now they realised that the work was taking them away from their roles of the ministry of the Word – preaching and teaching, and above all, prayer. Acts 6:2
When God places a calling on our life, it is very easy to become side-tracked, working for God but not at the right things. Everybody will suddenly want us in their ‘ministry’, doing the things that are important to them, whereas we should be doing what is important to God. It is at a time like this when we should STOP, go back to what we KNOW we should be doing, then allow God to work again in our life. We will never be successful doing the wrong thing.
Now, these twelve knew what they should be doing, so they instructed the rest to select seven men, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who are well thought of by everyone; and we will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer, preaching, and teaching, Acts 6:3-4
Administration of the food programme is just as important in the body of Christ as preaching God’s word. The job is for someone who was capable of doing that. Just as in today’s church, administration, finance and helps should be done by people who are gifted in those areas. Food distribution, needs ministries, ministries for children, arts ministries and others should also be handled by people with appropriate gifts. Those with specific leadership qualities, who have the direction of the church in
their remit from God, should devote themselves to prayer, preaching and teaching and using the gifts God has given them, Ephesians 4:11-13
If there is no corporate prayer and no group prayer amongst the leaders, or even private and personal prayer amongst the leaders, they will be like blind guides, floundering around and the church will wander aimlessly in smaller and smaller circles, having less and less real effect on the community it seeks to serve.
In the absence of teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit along the lines that He is leading the church, there will be no growth amongst those attending the church. After initial salvation experiences, the “sheep” will wander away looking for better pasture, more “excitement” and experiential Christianity. Whereas, if the leaders of today’s churches were to take heed to the biblical pattern of what Jesus desires of them and for them, we would see people no longer being all over the place with ungodly doctrine. Instead, they would speak the truth in love. We would grow up into Him who is the Head; that is, Christ. We would grow in love as each part did its work, Ephesians 4:14-16. There would be unstoppable growth. The very gates of hell would not prevail against a church so empowered by Jesus Himself.
What about us? Where do we fit into the church? A leader in the church is not one because he says he is; he is only a leader if he is led by the Holy Spirit and has followers. If you know that you are empowered by and filled with the Holy Spirit, and think you are a leader, then look behind and see if anyone is following you!
Once they had made their decision, the apostles left the choice of whom to appoint to the Food Programme up to the members of the church. Advising them that it should be those wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who is well thought of by everyone. Acts 6:3
As the task of feeding people seems to be so menial, we could think it can be for anyone to do. It is so important to understand that this is not the way God sees it. All jobs in the Church should be done by people empowered by the Holy Spirit for that job. If we choose to do a job just because it needs doing, then there is no anointing for us doing that job and so it is easy to lapse into a state of burnout. We need to constantly review what we are doing with our time and energy as all life has seasons and we need to be in God’s season for our lives in order to walk in the blessing.
* Luke 4:1 Jesus needed to be full of the Holy Spirit.
* Acts 2:1-4 120 people in the Upper room needed the Holy Spirit.
* Acts 4:31 The Holy Spirit gives power to speak boldly.
* Acts 7:55 The Holy Spirit gives revelation at death.
* Acts 11:22-24 Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, making him a great soul winner.
* Acts 13:50-52 Do you want Joy? Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
They elected the following: Stephen (a man unusually full of faith and of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus of Antioch (a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith, who had become a Christian). Acts 6:5
These men were, therefore, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, as the apostles had instructed the people and as such were considered capable of administering the Food Programme. They were presented to the apostles who laid hands on them in blessing and commissioning. What about you? Are you wise? Are you full of the Holy Spirit? Are you in the place that God wants you? It is very beneficial for all jobs to start off with the laying on of hands and sending out by the leaders who are showing the people that they agree with the person’s appointment. It reminds us all that any job we do we are doing for a higher authority and we are there only to serve the King of Kings and not for our own elevation.
When the Holy Spirit is evident in people’s lives, there can be no effective resistance to Him, we shall be able to see the Word of God spread, and even religious people will be born again, Acts 6:7.
The attention of Acts now turns to Stephen, one of these seven men chosen to serve. Stephen is described as a man full of grace. Grace really means the unmerited (or undeserved, unearned) favour of God. If you have been born again, you too have felt the grace of God in your life, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, Ephesians 2:8-9.
You are now a Christian, a Believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, but Stephen was also full of power. How did he obtain that power? – through the Holy Spirit. He was chosen to administer the Food Program because he was full of the Holy Spirit. In addition to this, he did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. This tells us that he believed what Jesus had said, that ‘these signs will accompany those who believe’, Mark 16:17-18.
We also see that he was an evangelist and that he was wise. His wisdom was one of the characteristics that led the people to choose him to serve in the first place, one which the apostles had guided the people to identify in the people they chose. We now see how necessary this quality was in Stephen and how important it will be in our lives.
Up to now, we have seen that persecution had arisen from the Sanhedrin and from the ruling priestly class. Now we see that opposition to the Word of God came from the members of a synagogue. To be precise, it came from the members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen. This Synagogue had been established by, and was made up of men who had once been slaves but had been freed by their masters, and who were Jews or had converted to Judaism, Acts 6:9. These men picked an argument with Stephen but they picked on the wrong man. They were not able to stand up against Stephen’s wisdom, but more importantly, they had picked a fight with the Holy Spirit whose wisdom it was that Stephen spoke. So they skulked away and persuaded some men to lie, Acts 6:11.
The Sadducees, the dominant party in the council (the Sanhedrin), accepted and studied only the writings of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). In their view, to speak blasphemy against Moses was a crime. So their lies were a calculated attempt to bring Stephen before the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court in the land, and another attempt to stop the spread of the Gospel.
Of course Satan was behind this move. Up to now he had tried to stop the Gospel at what he saw as the root of the problem – the apostles, but now, he tried a different tack. If he could attack just an ordinary Christian early in his ministry, just maybe he could frighten the rest into running away, leaving the apostles exposed and open to be picked off at a later date …………. Moreover, if he used the same trick he had used against Jesus that had got him crucified, well, he might just squash this whole New Covenant teaching anyway! Acts 6:12-14
The tactic seemed to be beginning to work. The Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the Law. They dragged Stephen in front of the Sanhedrin. But this time they were not going to rely on the Sanhedrin conducting the investigation, as had happened with Peter and John (Acts 4) and the Apostles (Acts 5), so they brought in their false witnesses. Acts 6:13-14.
Satan is nothing if not predictable. He was a past master at this lie, as he had used it before at Jesus’ trial,
Matthew 26:59-61. This time it again produced a change in the courtroom that none of the people had expected, Acts 6:15. Stephen was, humanly speaking, in deep trouble. He was in front of the same court that effectively persuaded Pilate to sign Jesus’ death warrant. For what he had been charged with, even though false, if he was found guilty the penalty would be death by stoning.
Yet Stephen knew his God. He knew that when he was brought before kings and governors, the Holy Spirit would give him the words to say.
17 Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say 20 for it will not be you speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Matthew 10:17-20
So Stephen was living at the most exciting time of his life right there. His face did not show fear or shock; he did not shout out that the witnesses were liars. He just looked back at his accusers and the religious authorities and his face became like that of an angel.
What about you and me? When we are confronted by people who ask us if we are Christians, what do we say ? Dare we admit to it or do we try to avoid the issue? Or worse do we, like Peter at Jesus’ trial, deny we ever knew Him? Titus 1:16. For you and me, this is not a court of law; it is most probably a situation we have not expected or anticipated, so we have no ready response, so what do we do? Do we deny Jesus or risk the consequences? And it is at that moment that Satan’s sidekick who has been assigned to us stirs up our mind to show us how much we have to lose if we admit to being a Christian.
The battleground for this type of situation is in the mind, (Proverbs 23:7) and the battle is won in the mind as we allow our spirit, guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit, to speak the wisdom that only the Holy Spirit can bring into the situation. As we speak His words, they may unlock a situation that we may know nothing about in the other person’s life, allowing them to become a Christian too, Matthew 7:7-8. At the very least, you will have overcome Satan’s plan in your life once again, and you will know the joy of the Lord as He declares your name before His Father in Heaven, Matthew 10:32-33.
Study 8: Opposition from all sides – Challenge Questions
1. Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you.
2. Are you sure that you are doing what God has called you to do? Are there any changes that you know you should be making?
3. Is there any encouragement we should be giving to our leaders? Do we see leading the Church as the most important job in the Body of Christ? Give reasons.
4. How do we feel when people ask us about Church or our faith? Do we find it easy to speak up for Jesus?
Read Acts Chapter 7 – the potted history of the Children of Israel.
5. What was Stephen full of? What did this enable him to do?
6. Moses transferred his leadership of the Israelis to Joshua. The record of this is in Deuteronomy 31:6-8. What did Moses instruct Joshua twice to be in these verses? Why do we need to know this today? Explain.
7. In his explanation of the Gospel, why do you think that Stephen started with Abraham? And why do you believe that the Jews were not safe in relying on Abraham as their father for their salvation?
8. What did God tell Abraham to do when he was living in Ur of the Chaldees? Was he obedient in what he did? Did God bless him?
9. Do you expect God to speak to you? If so, what about? Are you prepared to obey Him whatever He asks you to do?
Read Ephesians 5:25-27.
10. When Jesus returns for His Church, what word does the Bible use to describe it? Do you think that if we are going to be described in this way we are going to have to be ‘cleaned up’? In what way do you think this?
11. When Joseph was in prison after Potiphar’s wife’s false accusation, how do you think he must have felt? Acts 7:9-15; Genesis 39:19-23. How do you think Moses must have felt in the desert in Midian? Acts 7:29; Exodus 2:15-24. Explain what differences there may have been in their attitudes.
12. Did either Joseph or Moses know what their calling in life was? Do you know what God’s calling on your life is? If not, how do you think you could discover it?
13. Both Moses and Joseph had ‘ONE DAY’ experiences. Can you describe them? Do you think that could happen to you? Explain.
14. After Stephen had finished speaking, he laid the blame for the death of Jesus on the Rulers of Israel, the Sanhedrin. What was the result?
15. Who was the man who looked after the coats and consented to Stephen’s death? What eventually became of him?
16. What changes will you make in your thinking as a result of studying this Chapter?