Acts 6:1-7 The First Diaconate.
Now that the church had settled into a ministry of giving to those in need, it was not surprising that problems would inevitably arise. In particular, the Hellenists, who were Greek speaking Jews, complained that their widows were being forgotten by the other Jews (v. 1). In one sense this was a good problem to have-it at least showed that they were carrying on the practice of helping those in need. But it also showed that there must be men who should be appointed for this work, so that the apostles could dedicate themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (vv. 2, 4). These had to be “men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). This role would eventually find a more permanent form in the diaconate (Cf. I Tim. 3:8-13).
Three things were necessary, beside the obvious one that these persons must be men. Firstly they must have a solid reputation, being doers of the word and not hearers only. Secondly, they had to be spiritual men. It was one thing to have a good reputation, but were they true believers? Was their reputation that of also being spiritual? Finally, did they have the wisdom that comes from the Spirit and one’s experience? This case before the church showed the need of selecting men who were wise in dealing with such disputes. The apostles let the people decide who they wanted to occupy these roles based on the criteria given. When they made their selection the apostles then prayed for them, and “laid hands on them,” setting them apart for this work (v. 6).
Now that the apostles could dedicate themselves to the word and prayer the number of disciples “multiplied greatly,” including some priests (v. 7). It should be obvious that for the church to grow and evidence the marks of a true church, it would require more leadership than the apostles could give. This leadership would be required in both the ministry of prayer and the word, and in the meeting of the physical needs of the church members. Among these seven chosen, Stephen in particular is noted as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). The same things would be said of Barnabas, the encourager (Cf. 11:24). In both cases, the ministry of these men led to the growth of the church. Sadly, in the case of Stephen he would soon suffer as a martyr for the faith.