Relevant Verses: Acts 6-8
Leading Question: Were there racial tensions in the early church?
1. In our previous lesson, we emphasized the close fellowship of the early church. But Acts reveals that this happy state of affairs didn’t last. In Acts 6:1-7, we read about a dispute between two factions: Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews who were now followers of Jesus.
Is this controversy a sign that the believers weren’t fully converted, or can converted people still carry prejudice against people who are culturally or racially different than themselves? If conversion doesn’t remove all prejudice, what will? Are there practical steps that can be taken to decrease or remove our cultural biases?
What were the key actions the apostles took to resolve the conflict? What can we learn about resolving church conflict from them?
The seven men chosen were not given the title of “deacon,” as is often supposed The word deacon does appear multiple times in this account, however. This word is associated with Jesus, his disciples, as well as women. So, what does this word actually mean?
As was the case earlier in Acts, we see that the church functioned as a sort of “social security” system for believers. Does the church still have this responsibility?
2. Acts 6:8-7:60 provides an amazing account of Stephen, one of the leaders selected to deacon the church who is seized and brought before the Sanhedrin. He responds to his accusers with the longest speech in the book of Acts. Rather than calming his accusers, he stirs them up into a frenzy, and they kill him.
In Acts, we find a variety of responses to opposition. Sometimes, God’s people flee the area. Sometimes, they stay. Sometimes they are diplomatic in their defense; sometimes they are more confrontational, as Stephen was here. (Stephen concludes by calling the Sanhedrin “stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears” who “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). So, how should we relate to false accusations? How do we know when to provide a soft answer to turn away wrath, and when to directly confront and even accuse our adversaries?
What was the essential message of Stephen’s sermon? How does this message apply to us today?
Who did Stephen see as he died? Why was Jesus standing? Did Stephen die a horrible death, or was it glorious? (See Acts 7:54-55.)
In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen’s dying words echo the words of Jesus on the cross. What is Luke, the author, trying to show by this?
Finally, Acts tells us that Saul was present at the killing of Stephen, and he approved of it. Reflect on the gruesome nature of death by stoning. What sort of person could, for theological reasons (Saul believed Stephen was a heretic) witness this brutality, and stand by, approving of it?
3. The death of Stephen sparked a time of great persecution against the church. Was this persecution destructive or beneficial (see Acts 8:1-4)?
4. The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is significant for a number of reasons.
What does his acceptance into the body of believers signify about differences of race?
In this account, the man’s status as eunuch is repeatedly referenced. Does this story contain a message for us today, as we reflect on issues of gender identity in our society, or would that be stretching the story beyond its appropriate application?