In Acts 6:1–7, we learn that through inspiration, the original apostles called seven men to help with the work of organizing Christ’s Church. Since the restored gospel has been organized in modern times, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has followed the organizational pattern set forth in ancient times, and these seven men are now called the “First Presidency of the Seventy.”
These seven men were needed to minister unto the widows and generally administer the affairs of the Church, allowing the apostles to do what they were called to do—witness that Christ is the Creator and Redeemer of the world, and testify of His crucifixion, atonement for our sins, and resurrection. Notice that once these seven men were called, they were “set apart” for their duties by the laying on of hands by those with the keys to the kingdom, the apostles. This process has been restored in these modern times, as well. The laying on of hands by one in authority is necessary to bestow the “keys” to one’s calling, the right to receive revelation for that calling, and the gifts necessary to perform past one’s weak abilities.
Stephen was one of these seven men. In Acts 6:8 – 7:60 we read that Stephen bravely testified before the Sanhedrin, and that he was taken out of the city and stoned to death. This is where we are introduced to Saul, who stood as a witness against Stephen and persecuted the Church.
In Acts 8:4–40 we read about Phillip, another of the seven. Like Stephen, others of the seven, and the apostles, he performs miracles in the name of Christ. As Saul is doing his best to eradicate the Church, the seven and the apostles are enlarging not only the membership of the Church, which was originally perceived of as a sect of Judaism, but are enlarging the idea of who could qualify as a member of Christ’s Church. The men of the Church proselyted in Samaria. The Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be mongrels as far as their Israelite lineage was concerned, and mongrels as far as their adherence to the Mosaic faith was concerned. The Samaritans had fought against the construction of the temple after the Babylonian captivity, too, but the Savior and His servants found them suitable as Christians.
Then, Phillip taught and baptized an Ethiopian Eunuch. Eunuchs were men who had been neutered in order to perform some sorts of duties where castrated men were more trustworthy, as in the guarding of the king’s harem. They were considered unclean by the Jews, and they were denied many of the rights normal Jewish men enjoyed.
There were in the Holy Land, people from many different backgrounds and lineages. Many cities in Israel were Greek, and the Greek members of the Church had some disagreements with the Hebrew members. The Jewish converts were adamant about following Mosaic law in certain circumstances, even though it had been fulfilled by Christ. They were especially attached to the law of circumcision and the dietary laws. The Greeks found these unnecessary and difficult.
Late Mormon President and Prophet Howard W. Hunter said:
“It is in understanding and accepting [the] universal fatherhood of God that all human beings can best appreciate God’s concern for them and their relationship to each other. This is a message of life and love that strikes squarely against all stifling traditions based on race, language, economic or political standing, educational rank, or cultural background, for we are all of the same spiritual descent. We have a divine pedigree; every person is a spiritual child of God” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1991, 22; or Ensign, Nov. 1991, 18).
In Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–31 we read the amazing story of Saul, who became known as Paul. Saul was a strict Pharisee who had bitterly persecuted the Church, traveling far and wide to seek out followers of Christ and destroy them. On the road to Damascus to further his work of disrupting the Church, Saul received a jarring experience, hearing the voice of Christ, and the Lord’s famous words, “Why persecutest thou me?”
Paul’s answer is the very heart of conversion: “Lord, what would ye have me do?” Unless we are willing to change our lives in accordance with the knowledge of Christ that we obtain, we are not truly converted. We must turn ourselves over to God and respond in all aspects to His will for us. Late Mormon prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, said that Saul’s question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” is the most important question we can ask in this life (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 53; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 57).
Saul was struck blind, and those with him took him into Damascus. The Lord prepared Ananias to minister to Saul. One can understand his initial reluctance even to meet the famous persecutor of the early Christians:
Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized (Acts 9:13-18).
Paul became as zealous in forwarding the work of Christ as he had been fighting against it. We, like Stephen, Philip, and Saul, are living in a time when the Church is growing rapidly. Each believer must find his or her own unshakable conviction that Jesus is the Christ and then forward the work of the kingdom of God on earth with his or her God-given talents and abilities.