We have here the makings of the first church split. Every now and then, a dispute pops up that causes people to become disgruntled with the church. They air their dissatisfaction. And then a faction of the church splits off and goes another direction.
The Hellenists were feeling neglected by the Hebrews. It was an issue of caring for the widows of the church. Those who spoke Greek and who were more assimilated to secular culture felt they weren’t being treated fairly compared to the Hebrew widows.
Fairness is an issue worth fighting for, isn’t it? The apostles heard the complaints and asked the Hellenist Christians to appoint seven men from among them to care for the widows in need. Seven is a number of completion. It also has a biblical connection with the Gentile people (Deuteronomy 7:1; Mark 8:8).
And so there were 12 apostles – representative of the 12 tribes of Israel. And there were seven deacons – representative of the Gentile world.
The dispute appears to have been quelled. We hear no more of it.
Instead, what we hear is the deacon Stephen performing miracles and preaching the gospel. Sometimes, deacons don’t stay deacons. Sometimes, they start doing the work of the apostles.
What shall we learn from this text? The local church has an uncanny ability to take care of its own needs. It does not need high-level denominational authorities to tell it how to act. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is in charge. It rendered Stephen invincible in the face of his critics.
Meanwhile, the bridging of cultures is a difficult thing – even in the kingdom of God. The reception of the Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily mean all difficulties in the life of the church will come to an end. But it does mean we all have the patience with one another to seek a good solution. And it does mean we listen to our leaders.