This section of Acts sounds suspiciously like notes from a board meeting, but turns out to have some surprisingly profound insights.
It begins with an administrative dispute between the Hebrews and Hellenists, two groups within the Jewish Christian community. Most likely the Hebrews were Jewish converts to Christianity that had been born in Jerusalem and spoke Aramaic (A middle eastern language closely related to Hebrew). The Hellenists were likely Jews who had moved back to Jerusalem from other parts of the Roman Empire and thus spoke Greek.
It’s not entirely clear what the dispute is about, all we know for certain is that it has something to do with the “distribution” of resources or benefits. Both the NRSV and NIV identify the issue as “the daily distribution of food”. NT Wright simply leaves it as “the daily distribution” which is closer to the actual Greek word which is “diakonia”.
Basically one group suspects the other of getting more than their fair share of the community resources. This is the third time that Luke has directed our attention to the fact that the believers shared all their resources (Acts 2 & 4 are the other examples). But, the conflict demonstrates that all forms of human community (even the idyllic Acts Church) remain fallen and imperfect.
The Apostles respond to the crisis by appointing a group to sort out the dispute, allowing them to remain focused on their task of “prayer and the ministry of the word” (NT Wright). But it seems that their response to the conflict was successful because Luke concludes the section by saying that “The Word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
But when we look more closely at the text we see that Luke doesn’t actually attribute the community’s growth to the Apostle’s ministry skills. He says that ”the Word of God” continued to spread, in other words, the power of the word was responsible for the spread of the Gospel. The Apostle’s are to be commended not for their skills but rather for their commitment to prayer and service of the Word.
When it comes to ministry (whether lay or ordained) it’s tempting to fall into the delusion that it’s all up to us. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love reading leadership books and talking about ministry strategies just as much as anyone, but if we see ministry as simply a set of skills or qualifications we’ve drastically limited our effectiveness. Before we start worrying about skills and qualifications we should follow the Apostle’s example and become servants of the Word.