The early church took care of widows. A lot of them. They had a daily feeding program.
Acts 6 (NIV) The Choosing of the Seven 6 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip,Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
A few things to note:
- The Twelve understood the need to set priorities.
- It was vital that they pass on what they had learned from Jesus.
- They recognized that they didn’t have to do everything.
- This was still important work, and it needed strong leaders. They looked for men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
- Without wisdom and the Spirit’s leading, the argument could continue. This is the kind of thing that can destroy churches.
- Their decision to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word did not mean they looked down on those who waited tables.
- The result of their ministry was that the word spread and a large number of priests became Christians.
God used one of the 7 “waiters” to set off a chain of events that causes the message of Jesus to expand beyond Jerusalem for the first time.
Acts 6 (NIV) Stephen Seized 8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Stephen’s job was to wait tables, but he was a follower of Jesus, full of the Spirit. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what your job is. God can use anyone who gives themselves fully over to Him.
Acts 7:54-8:3 (NIV) The Stoning of Stephen 54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the cityand began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. 8 And Saul approved of their killing him.
The Church Persecuted and Scattered
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Stephen’s death is the catalyst that causes the church to expand past Jerusalem. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy right before His ascension.
Acts 1:8 (NIV) 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Lessons we can learn from the story of Stephen the Waiter:
- The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
- What are your priorities? What do you put first?
- We all can have an important role to play
- What has God put in front of you? How can you serve Him?
- Spiritual growth isn’t just for pastors and professionals
- Are you growing in your faith? Will you be ready when someone full of the Spirit and wisdom is needed?