And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews…
These opening verses prove to us that a condition of exceptional virtue may abruptly pass into one of common infirmity. From the height of holy enthusiasm the Church falls down, by steep and quick descent, into the depth of unlovely wrangling. From all the verses of the text we gather -
I. THAT PROSPERITY BRINGS DANGER TO A CHRISTIAN CHURCH AS WELL AS TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. "When the number of the disciples was multiplied there arose a murmuring" (ver. 1). Enlargement often brings with it pride, or false confidence, or sloth, or worldliness. It is a "slippery place," where there is great danger of falling. It is frequently the condition of disagreement and even serious discord. When the number is small and the band feeble, each member of the community feels that he must stand by the rest, and let all his strength be put out in advancement of the common cause; but when there is a consciousness of strength, the sense of responsibility is lessened, and men permit themselves to indulge a spirit and to manifest signs of impatience, querulousness, complaint. But no Christian Church can afford to have any of its members introduce the discordant note. It may, indeed, be lost and silenced in the harmonies which prevail; but it may throw everything out of tune and be the beginning of endless dissonance and dire confusion.
II. THAT THE HARMONIOUS ACTION OF THE CHURCH IS LARGELY DEPENDENT ON THE WISE APPORTIONMENT OF ITS FUNCTIONS. It is not reasonable that we [the apostles] should leave the Word of God and serve tables" (ver. 2). It was altogether undesirable that the apostles of Christ, who were charged with such high functions, should expend their strength and time in small monetary arrangements. They would probably do that ill when they might be doing their own proper work admirably. They wisely divided the duties of the Church into two different parts, of which they would take one, and leave the other to those whose habits and faculties made them suitable for its discharge: then all went well. If we do not assign functions with discretion, all affairs will speedily be out of joint; the machinery will work with the maximum instead of the minimum of friction. Let the minister take his post or posts, and there be found in full activity; let the other officers have theirs, and keep them. Let activity be well directed, and there will be peace as well as fruitfulness.
III. THAT THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH OFTEN DO WELL TO CONSULT THE COMMUNITY INSTEAD OF SETTLING EVERYTHING THEMSELVES. "The twelve called the multitude... and said,... look ye out," etc. (vers. 2, 3). The members of the Church should remember that affairs are greatly expedited, order maintained, and peace preserved by their delegating much business to a few chosen men; on the other hand, the leaders should remember that even the inspired apostles of our Lord did not stand upon their dignity as such, but consulted "the multitude of the disciples," and that what they did with propriety we may do with advantage.
IV. THAT EVEN FOR THE HUMBLER DUTIES OF THE CHURCH SOME STERLING CHRISTIAN GRACES ARE NEEDFUL. The seven men now appointed "to serve tables" were to be "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom" (ver. 3); i.e. they were
(1) to enjoy a good reputation;
(2) to be spiritual men in whom God dwelt by his Spirit;
(3) to be men of prudence and capacity.
They who do not possess these qualifications have no right to expect any position in the Church of Christ. Without the confidence and esteem of their brethren they could not make a good beginning; without Christian character they would be out of place altogether; without requisite gifts of the understanding and disposition they would certainly not make a good ending.
V. THAT WE MAY EXPECT MINISTERIAL FIDELITY TO BE FOLLOWED BY ABOUNDING AND EVEN SURPRISING TRIUMPHS. When the apostles were relieved of other more secular duties, and "gave themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word" (ver. 4), then "the Word of God increased" (ver. 7); then came abounding success - "the number of the disciples multiplied greatly;" surprising success - "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." It does not necessarily follow that ministerial faithfulness will be attended with such results; prayerlessness, or discord, or inconsistency on the part of the members may defeat the exertions of the holiest and ablest minister of Christ. But, nothing being in the way, the Church itself being in sympathy, an earnest, faithful ministry will witness very blessed spiritual results -
(1) some that will rejoice,
(2) and some also that will surprise the hearts of the holy. There will be added unto the Church many, and of these some who seemed utterly and hopelessly removed, by their prejudices, their temporal interests, the heinousness of their wrong-doing, or their long continuance in sin. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.