The new Christ-following Church formed the first ministry support team. (Interesting how the structure got so complicated over the years.) But outside opposition began early as well. ◊
As the early Christian church was growing and blossoming in those first weeks and months in Jerusalem, we tend to think that all were happy in their fellowship and worship and sharing with their fellow new believers.
Recall that this is all just a short time after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus right before the eyes of the apostles and early devotees.
In ACTS Chapter 5 we read about the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and the great fear that spread throughout the whole church. I’m sure it impacted anybody watching cautiously from the outside as well.
Nevertheless, the signs and wonders demonstrating the new power of the Holy Spirit in the form of physical healings of many sick and afflicted were real and exciting. Everyday more and more believers were added to the fold. (Acts 5:14-16)
The new Christians met in private homes. Any physical church buildings were Jewish synagogues that were hostile to The Way, as Christianity was being called. This new faith was certainly changing the local Jewish communities as well as the Gentile (non-Jewish) communities.
In ACTS Chapter 6 we see how the church begins to form some administrative structure to address the logistical needs of the growing set of believers:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews [Jews that adopted the Greek language and culture] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 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. 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 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 5:1-4)
This is simply people being people. There is grumbling about apparent favoritism being shown to Hebraic Jews who converted over those Jews who were more assimilated into the local Greek culture. A wise solution is proposed by the apostles to have a select 7 men fairly oversee the daily distribution of food. This would free up the teaching and preaching apostles to focus their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Essentially a simple church support team is developed. Interesting how this is the origin of all the formal structure that evolved over the years in the Roman Catholic Church as well as protestant churches. Thirty years later the Apostle Paul will write out more delineated expectations of leadership and ministry roles of bishops, deacons, and elders in his letter to Timothy and Titus.
Deacons – Ministers of Charity
But in ACTS Chapter 6 the logistical needs of the early Church call for good men to serve as ministers of service. Seven men are listed. One particular man named Stephen is further described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5)
We will hear much from this man Stephen in the next chapter where he is brutally murdered. But here we see the growing hateful opposition who were no spiritual match for this man filled with the Spirit of God.
So they conspire to lie and arrest him:
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. 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. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” (Acts 6:8-14)
Even so, like Christ, Stephen, a deacon minister of charity, was like a mild lamb about to be slaughtered.
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
Good vs. the Spirit of Antichrist
Once again evil men plot evil against good men. This has happened all throughout human history. Religious men even, in this case religious Jews who hate and oppose the name of Jesus. Already in the early days of the Christian Church, sides are being taken. Evil is represented by the spirit of antichrist (against Christ) as mentioned only by the Apostle John in his brief letters written late in his life, decades after the start of the Christian church:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (I John 4:1-3)
As we’ll soon see in Chapter 7, Jerusalem and the world is dividing up between those aligned with the pro-Christ Holy Spirit and the anti-Christian spirit of evil that opposes or shuns Jesus Christ.
Even so, the growing body of Christian believers continue to serve in roles of ministers of charity for others and as ministers of prayer, preaching, and teaching the Gospel message of Jesus.
Are you a believer? What roles do you play?
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…. 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.. – Acts 6:5,7