These emissaries of Jesus inspire us with their passion to serve Jesus and advance the gospel in the face of torture and abuse. After a night in prison and a public flogging, they moved forward with smiles on their faces. Believers in the Western church often enjoy the benefits of social and political power and are unwilling to suffer persecution for their faith as these men did. At the same time, many believers throughout the world face daily pressure to renounce their faith but choose boldly to remain faithful despite social, economic, and even physical persecution. These believers follow closely the path trodden by the Anointed One and His early followers.
6 Things were going well, and the number of disciples was growing. But a problem arose. The Greek-speaking believers became frustrated with the Hebrew-speaking believers. The Greeks complained that the Greek-speaking widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. 2 The twelve convened the entire community of disciples.
The Twelve: We could solve this problem ourselves, but that wouldn’t be right. We need to focus on proclaiming God’s message, not on distributing food. 3 So, friends, find seven respected men from the community of faith. These men should be full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom. Whomever you select we will commission to resolve this matter 4 so we can maintain our focus on praying and serving—not meals—but the message.
Life in the new community isn’t perfect. However, the believers don’t allow their linguistic and social barriers to divide the church; instead, the emissaries seize this opportunity to create greater unity between disparate groups. They appoint seven leaders, mostly Greek-speaking (based on their names), to oversee the distribution of food. This movement toward unity will be a challenge to the future church that will so easily be divided by any problem, real or perceived.
5 The whole community—Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking—was very pleased with this plan, so they chose seven men: Stephen (a man full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit), Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (a Greek-speaking convert from Antioch). 6 These men were presented to the apostles, who then prayed for them and commissioned them by laying their hands on them. 7 The message of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples continued to increase significantly there in Jerusalem. Even priests in large numbers became obedient to the faith.
8 Stephen continually overflowed with extraordinary grace and power, and he was able to perform a number of miraculous signs and wonders in public view. 9 But eventually a group arose to oppose Stephen and the message to which his signs and wonders pointed. (These men were from a group called the Free Synagogue and included Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asians.) 10 The Holy Spirit gave Stephen such wisdom in responding to their arguments that they were humiliated; 11 in retaliation, they spread a vicious rumor: “We heard Stephen speak blasphemies against Moses and God.”
12 Their rumor prompted an uprising that included common people, religious officials, and scholars. They surprised Stephen, grabbed him, and hauled him before the council. 13 They convinced some witnesses to give false testimony.
False Witnesses: This fellow constantly degrades the holy temple and mocks our holy law. 14 With our own ears, we’ve heard him say this Jesus fellow, this Nazarene he’s always talking about, will actually destroy the holy temple and will try to change the sacred customs we received from Moses.
15 The entire council turned its gaze on Stephen to see how he would respond. They were shocked to see his face radiant with peace—as if he were a heavenly messenger.