"Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them" (Acts 6:1-6).
As the number of Christians continued increasing rapidly, some growing pains were bound to arise. In this case, the Hellenistic Christians (i.e., Jews of foreign birth with Greek education) complained against the Hebrew Christians because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of goods. Luke informed us previously that the apostles were in charge of distributing to those who were in need (cf. 4:35). Certainly, the oversight was not intentional. It probably resulted from the apostles being exceedingly busy. Regardless of the cause, it was a serious problem that needed to be dealt with quickly. If the problem wasn't resolved satisfactorily, some would start concluding that these widows were being neglected on purpose and that the apostles were guilty of favoritism. Such would have devastated the early church!
The solution the apostles proposed was diplomatically brilliant. They dealt with the problem quickly by asking the disciples to pick seven godly men from among themselves whom they could count on to take responsibility for the daily distribution. They needed to be men who were "of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom" (cf. I Tim. 3:7). What does it mean for these men to be "full of the Holy Spirit"? In this context, I do not believe it means that they were miracle workers (cf. Acts 5:12,13). Prior to this passage, there is no evidence that any non-apostle in the church was able to work a miraculous wonder. Thus, I understand the phrase to mean that these men needed to have the indwelling of the Spirit (i.e., they needed to be genuine Christians or godly men who were influenced by the Spirit's word). Additionally, they needed to be well known for their outstanding character and integrity (especially since there would be certain temptations involved in handling the money and resources involved in the distribution). Having the people choose was much wiser than simply appointing men for the job themselves. If the apostles choose men to fulfill the duty and they failed for some reason, it would reflect poorly on the apostles.
Why didn't the apostles just decide to work harder themselves to make sure oversights such as these didn't happen anymore? Although such would have been an option, it was not the best one. The apostles wisely understood that there is only so much that can be done in a day. If they devote more time to doing a better job serving tables, so to speak, then they will have less time available for working miracles, preaching, and praying. Again, such would not have been wrong, but it would not have been the best use of the apostles' time and abilities. They were not above distributing food and supplies to the needy (which they had been doing to a large degree, though evidently ineffectively as of late), but the Lord would be better served if they focused their work in harmony with their unique abilities (such is still the best course of action for us today, also). Thus, delegation was the preferred solution. Additionally, to delegate this good work would provide opportunity for other men to continue to grow as both leaders and servants.
The apostles' solution to the problem is embraced by the church. The people then proceed to wisely choose godly men who were also Hellenists (such is implied by their names). What better choices could be made to solve a problem in the church involving Hellenists? Of these seven men selected, two of them will play a prominent role in the next several chapters in Acts. The men who were selected were then brought before the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them. Why was this done? It appears that there were two reasons: (1) To set them apart for their special work (cf. 13:1-3), and (2) To enable them to work miracles (cf. 8:12-19). We will say more about this in the coming verses.
Many have debated for centuries about whether or not these men were "deacons" in the official sense of the term (cf. Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8). Does it really matter either way? Regardless, this context provides an apostolic precedent as to an expedient manner of choosing church leaders.