As the early church came into being and more people came to Christ it began to encounter the problems of an institution. Caring for those in need has always been a God thing. To care for those less fortunate than us is not a point thing. It is a command, given by God to his people. It is common in scriptural writings in the OT as well as the NT. Deuteronomy 15:11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
Giving is not a thing of tradition or a precept but an important block in the foundation of the Church. In Acts 6 verses 1-6 we are reminded how much of a part of our faith and our church is the command to give aid to those in need. We also see the creation of the first real office-bearers. We are privy to the problems that develop when people of different station, real or imagined must learn to share. We also see the importance of God led people in determining thy will be done with the appointment of Stephen and six others to oversee the distribution of goods. The Jewish nation had always been generous to the less fortunate in their community and accepted the responsibility with much zeal. I do believe that we can say that our Christian communities do the same even now in the present day. This responsibility of caring for the less fortunate among us was a routine custom in the Jewish synagogues. The early church as it grew had a very large percentage of Jews who had heard the message, believed and some even heard and saw Jesus and it is clear that the early church had taken over this custom as it grew. But among the Jews themselves a rift developed over the distribution of goods among the people. This chapter, Acts 6, is rich in topics that show not only the efforts of the new christians to reach out but also the impending opposition to them, even to the point of extreme and violent acts. Today we will look at the first six verses. Other research will show that there was a well thought out understanding by the church to acknowledge that some needs were greater than others. There were two collectors that went around to the private houses and to the market every Friday morning. They took up a collection of goods and money, that would be distributed later in the day. This was known as the Kuppah or Basket. They even took care to access the level of need. There were those who were given enough to enable them to carry on. Then those who were permanently unable to support themselves received enough for two meals a day for seven days. Along with this program was another house to house collection made daily for those whose needs were more pressing. This was called the Tamhuri, or Tray.
In the Christian Church we are all of one faith, one God but we are different people. The early church saw an influx of gentiles as well as Jews. The Jews who at this point were of the larger number were involved in a dispute among themselves. They found themselves divided by language and country of origin. The Jerusalem and the Palestinian Jews, spoke Aramaic, a form of their ancestral language. They took pride in the fact that there were no foreign elements in their lives. There were also Jews from foreign lands, they had come up for Pentecost, heard about and discovered Christ and decided to stay. These had been gone for generations and spoke only Greek. The spiritually snobbish Jews looked down on the foreign Jews.The crux of the problem was a belief that there was an element of unfairness toward the Greeks in the distribution of food to the needy. This disrupted the harmony and spiritual togetherness of the community, resulting in complaints to the leaders, specifically the apostles. They set about to pick seven men from among the people to find a solution and get things in order.
It is interesting that William Barclay noted that these were the first office-bearers to be appointed. They were charged to not talk but provide a practical service to the growing church. Here is an interesting fact. In looking for a quote or bible verse to close with I remembered that famous quote of John Wesley. So I looked it up to be sure I got it right and immediately found myself in the middle of a dispute among scholars and such. Seems there is some disagreement that John Wesley ever said or wrote this. I am going to use it anyway, it says it all in few words.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
Come by next week, I will be here in the Pew.
Life is Good