As the early church was growing, they experienced the kinds of things most growing churches experience. All growing churches have people who feel left out, on the fringe, or on the sidelines.
The hungry widows had every right to feel that way.
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. 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.”
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, Eddie, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
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.
Eddie really wasn’t a part of the original list of names. I added it just to see if you were really reading the whole thing or not. I know the Bible has strict warnings about adding or subtracting from the Bible, and I hope this doesn’t qualify. I just hope you laughed when you read it.
To be a widow in that day was as close to a death sentence as a woman could get. It wasn’t this way if you came from a family with means, but those families did not represent the majority. The primary culture class, for whatever reason, seemed to prohibit women from working for a living. As a result, they needed a man to make a living. So when a woman became a widow, her options for income disappeared quickly. Unless she had a marketable trade that created products sold through men to the public, there was really only one other option for a widow.
And there always seemed to be a market for that. Sex sold then just as much as it sells now. They just didn’t have the internet.
So for a widow, the issue of where her next meal came from was a big deal. A really big deal. And that’s the backstory for the passage from Acts 6. If you want to see someone’s world crumbling down around them from a front row seat, then simply look at that world through the eyes of a woman who had lost her husband in that culture, at that time.
As the story unfolds, we discover that there’s a decision to make. The option to withhold food from the Hellenistic Jewish widows is an option that’s not on the table (pun sort of intended). No one even remotely suggests that the church should stop feeding the widows. The question isn’t if, but who.
There’s a subtle assumption that the leaders of the church – the Apostles – should be the ones to do the feeding, and there’s an even more subtle whisper of institutional racism underneath the entire discussion. In our modern churches today, many of us would look to our pastors with the expectation of doing the work of the ministry, especially the work of feeding the poor. But the Apostles don’t see it that way. They see their role as making the best prayerful decision, then implementing that decision in the best way. Paul would later call it “equipping” (Ephesians 4:12).
Now here’s the real point of decision. And it’s a decision you and I are faced with every day. They either keep doing the good thing (which was feeding widows), or they commit to only doing the best long-term thing.
I’d like to suggest to you that the very thing the Apostles forced themselves to come to grips with is the exact same thing that we all need to come to grips with.
WE ALL NEED TO MOVE FROM DOING THE GOOD THING TO DOING THE BEST THING.
Don’t get me wrong. We always need to be doing good things every day, whether we feel like it or not. Welcome to a life of sacrifice. But that’s short-term stuff that we don’t sign up for long-term. The best things are tasks and commitments that we feel really good about committing to over the long haul, maybe even over our entire lives.
We are at our best, and the Kingdom of Christ is at its best, when we do the hard work of figuring out what our best thing really is. Because when we do that, a crumbling world is offered hope in the middle of a decay that seems like it’ll never end.
WHEN WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO SAY NO TO SOMETHING GOOD, WE FREE OURSELVES TO SAY YES TO THE VERY BEST. AND WHAT IF THAT IS WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS MOST?
In Acts 6, the Apostles said no to personally distributing the food to the widows so that they could continue ministering the word of God to people. They not only gave their very best to the world, but in doing so, they also helped other people give their very best to the widows who desperately needed to be fed. They found people with wisdom, and who were full of the Spirit. That doesn’t sound like second best to me. And in the end, I’m sure the widows ate better than they ever had before.
The world needs your best. It really does. Please don’t let the voices of doubt cloud that single truth. You are a part of God’s answer to a world that’s crumbling down. And don’t miss this.
WHEN WE SAY NO IN ORDER TO SAY YES, EVERYONE FEASTS.
It may be your vocation, or where you volunteer your time during your retired years, or the passion underneath the donation of your finances. It doesn’t matter. The world needs you at your very best.
So if you’re ready to further discover this, I’ve developed three questions that will push you into all the right places.