Here we find a brief mini-series on the disciple known as Stephen. Now, keep in mind that he was not one of the original twelve who had walked with Jesus, but rather he is chosen in these very specific verses to be a deacon. That’s right, I said a deacon. Let’s go ahead and talk through these verses and try to understand what is happening. As we mentioned before the early Christian church was composed of primarily Jewish believers, but there were some who came from a culturally Greek background which was prevalent among the Roman Empire in those days. Those who came from a Greek or pagan/gentile background were called Hellenists. If there were a pecking order in the early church then the Hellenists would have been at the bottom of this order simply because they did not come from a Jewish background. They were the newest arrivals at the church. If we used First Presbyterian as an example then we could say that the Jewish believers were those who had been members of FPC for generations while the Hellenists, the newcomers, are those who have just started coming with the advent of the second service. It is a bit of a stretch but I have to make it relevant somehow.
Well, the widows who had come from the generational believers and the widows from the newcomers all had a chance to eat at church in order to have their needs met. They needed this meal to survive. But, as tends to happen in most cultural settings, those with preferential treatment were getting all of the food while those widows who were the newcomers were being overlooked. The Apostles noticed this and wanted to put an end to it. They needed to appoint 7 people in order to ensure that everyone behaved and everyone got the same amount of food. The reason why I said that Stephen is the first deacon is because these verses are referenced as the first time the role of the deacon is mentioned in Scripture. The Apostles were responsible for the preaching of the Word and for prayer while the deacons, these seven people, were responsible to make sure that no one was overlooked. So the origin of the office of deacon is found here in Acts 6.
But once we get past the beginning of this chapter we see the role of Stephen changing, and we see him in chapter 7 become the first Christian martyr. But from verses 8-15 he no longer is serving table, the task to which he was assigned, but rather preaching the Word of God. It is important to not see a progression of roles that goes deacon is the preliminary step in order to become an elder. No, they are two separate offices with two separate and distinct callings. But here in these verses Stephen moves from being called to be a deacon to that of being the preacher of the Word, which we call an elder.
It is interesting to note that the author specifically lifts up the fact in vs.7 that many priests came to believe in Jesus as Savior and so were added to those who were of the Christian faith. The message of Jesus continues to spread.