Commentary on Acts 6:1-4: prioritizing teaching vs. care for the poor

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.[a]3 Therefore, friends,[b] select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”

Acts 6:1-4, NRSV

1-4 During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines. So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples. They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor. So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task. Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”

Acts 6:1-4, The Message

The gospels are replete with examples of Jesus stopping what he was doing to give attention to those who were in need, especially those who were hungry. My strong hunch is that if Jesus would not have approved of the early leaders of his movement saying that their desire to preach and teach was more important than basic compassionate care for the poor, however well-intentioned their motives were.

Of course it is important for disciples to both preach/teach and minister to the needy, and it is perfectly reasonable to come up with a plan where both can be accomplished. But I do wonder what Jesus would have said at that moment about the priorities that the Twelve were signaling to their community here.

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