And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews…
I. THE SPIRIT OF STRIFE.
1. It arose between the Hellenists and the Hebrews, members of the same nation, of the same blood, of the same Church, but of different places of birth, education, and, above all, of different languages. Language is, perhaps, the greatest divider between man and man. So many of those associations which govern the mind are rooted in the sound of our native tongue. We may notice that Christianity reconciles the difference of the Palestinian Jew and the Greek-speaking Jew; the Book, the New Testament, is the thought of the Jew in the tongue of the Greek.
2. It was on a question of pecuniary benefit. Most disputes of the bitterest kind in the family life turn on questions of money - property and its distribution. Hence the Christian duty of strict justice and exactitude in all dealings with the goods of this world.
3. Jealousy was at the root of the strife. No feeling more painful than the sense of neglect and of the preference of others. All Christian principle is rooted in love, which alone can conquer jealousy. All Christian graces are but forms of the "love that seeketh not its own." Love must seek to remove this "root of bitterness," which otherwise will trouble many and pollute the pure flow of peace in the Church.
II. THE CALLING TOGETHER Or THE CHURCH. To the sense and piety of the multitude the appeal of wisdom and of justice may ever be safely made. But without strong leading, even Christian congregations may become scenes of anarchic passion. It is composed of many wills. If none is present to represent with conscientiousness and firmness the will of the Head of the Church, nothing but confusion can be expected. When that will is clearly apprehended, and the duty thence arising firmly laid down, the majority, if not the whole, will be found ready to obey. Such was the case at Jerusalem.
III. THE COUNSEL OF THE APOSTLES.
1. The division of Christian functions is necessary. It is not "pleasing," either to the Head of the Church or to the judgment of its enlightened members, that callings and duties should be confused; above all, that the higher calling should suffer in efficiency from being joined with a lower. The "Word of God," or thought and utterance in the Church - the Christian ministry in the special sense - was the special function of the apostles. The "serving of tables" was another kind of function, evidently important and necessary. Bat for the two to be fixed in the same persons would have been a want of congruity, or of harmony. For the ministry of the Word freedom from the distractions of business is peculiarly necessary.
2. The central function in the Church is that of the teacher. If this languish or be in any way fettered, the life of the congregation must suffer. It demands a whole man and whole energies. The resolve of the apostles is, therefore, to persevere in prayer and in the ministry of the Word. These two words sum up the life of the preacher. By prayer he draws from the fountain of truth and Divine strength; and in preaching he gives forth that which he has thus received. Without the inner communion with God there can be no power to prevail over the hearts of men.
3. Directions for the appointment of deacons. Seven are to be selected; the number has sacred associations, which were doubtless helpful to the mind. A sevenfold band symbolizes strength, Divine presence and assistance.
(1) They are to be "full of the Spirit " - an expression which cannot be defined, but the meaning of which can be felt. Divine presence in the soul is ever indefinable, and is known by its effects on the tone of the man, and on the energy, the gentleness, and persuasiveness of his speech and action.
(2) They are to be wise men - who are always needed for tasks so delicate as that here assigned them. Goodness and sense: these are the great qualities needed in Church officers every day. Neither weakly good men nor merely shrewd men fulfill the desired qualifications.
IV. THE ELECTION. The counsel of the apostles is approved unanimously; and seven brethren are chosen out and presented to the apostles, who ratify the choice of the Church by the devout ceremony of the imposition of hands.
1. The eminence of Stephen. He is specially mentioned as "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." Faith, a most comprehensive word in the New Testament, may mean here either constancy, fidelity, or the habit of the living and strong believer. But really the two meanings unite. The believing man in the genuine Christian sense is alone the true, the steadfast man. The trustworthy man is so because he himself is a truster in God. He who has no certain faith in the Divine is no object of human confidence.
2. The obscurity of useful lives. Except of Philip, of whom we have an after glimpse, nothing is known of these worthies (Acts 8:5, 26; Acts 21:8). "He has not lived amiss whose life and death have escaped the notice of the world," said the Roman poet. The "path of a hidden life" is the lot of most Christians. A niche in the temple of fame is not set as an object of Christian ambition; but the approval of the Divine Master is.
3. There may be good service without the title of servant. These men had no official designation of "deacons." They were simply "the seven." It is good to resist the weakness for titles and for status in the Christian Church. Good men and useful are sometimes spoiled when these imaginary distinctions are placed upon them. So susceptible is our fancy that, as dress seems to magnify our personality, so does the consciousness of office and rank. We cannot crush vanity by the singularity of dropping titles; it will nestle just as well under the affectation of plainness. But the simplicity of this example may remind us that there is a danger in vanity for the ministers of Christ of every degree.
V. THE SUBSEQUENT CONDITION OF THE CHURCH. It is sketched in three features.
1. The growth of the Divine Word. The Logos, or Word, of God is a very wide expression. It includes all spiritual activity and all expressions of it. The meaning, then, is that there was a great growth of spiritual thought and life. And this by the Divine favor as human means. When the affairs of any Church are conducted in the spirit of wisdom and love, this blessing may be expected. It is foolish to expect manifestations of growth and prosperity where these have not been sought and wrought for.
2. Growth of numbers. Which is one of the most obvious marks of success. The popular reception of a new creed is a mark of its adaptation to the wants of the many. But we must not infer that the unpopularity of a principle, or a person, or a teaching condemns it. There is a popular and an unpopular side to all truth. The divinely winning aspect of Christianity is not always to be seen; and there are days when the faithful must struggle with discouragement. The prophets with their lofty teaching complained that their report was not believed. The gospel, when seen to be the source of peace, prosperity, and wealth, is readily believable; not so widely so when it asks for sacrifice and leads to suffering.
3. The submission of the priests. This was most significant of all. Ecclesiastical orders are the most stubborn in resistance to change; priests the most conservative of religionists, as prophets are the friends of advance and of freedom. The giving way of the priests was indeed a remarkable triumph of Christ and his gospel. The evidence of the facts, the present facts, was too strong to be resisted. The evidence of a religion lies at last in its power to help and Mess the life of society. So long as this evidence is presented by the Church "apologies" for Christianity will for the mass of men be quite unnecessary. - J.
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.