Friday, December 26, 2014

Lessons from the life (and death) of Stephen

Illustration of the stoning of Stephen - Acts 7:58-60
The stoning of Stephen - Acts 7:58-60
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 6:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. … And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." Acts 6:5a,8

Stephen has always intrigued me. Here he is, the quintessential post-Pentecost Christian, fairly sizzling with Holy Spirit gifts and power, picked to be a food-bank administrator and table server! The result of his service (and the work of the others appointed to serve in that way) was that the gospel spread and the number of disciples multiplied so that even Jewish priests came to belief in Jesus (Acts 6:7).

It didn't end there, however. Stephen's prominence led to a dispute in the synagogue where he distinguished himself with wisdom. In fact he was so persuasive that his adversaries got people to lie about him. His sermon of defense, where he outlined Jewish history and denounced the Jews for killing the prophets and the "Just One" (Jesus) of whom the prophets spoke, eventually got him stoned to death (Acts 7:1-60).

What lessons can we learn from Stephen's cut-short life? Here are three that come to mind:

1. There are no big or little jobs in the Kingdom of God.
They're all big jobs. The Apostles' ministry of teaching and prayer was essential to the gospel's spread, but so was serving tables and the fair administration of relief to Greek-speaking widows.

2. Holy Spirit giftings are various—and practical too.
The apostles looked for men full of the Holy Spirit to do these service jobs. Of course that makes sense because the gifts of the Spirit include "helps" and "administrations" - 1 Corinthians 12:28.

3. God's plans often differ from ours.
But the right man in the right place at the right time turned out so badly for the early church when Stephen was martyred. It gave the Christians' persecutors a shot in the arm and started a new wave of arrests and killings. We may be tempted to ask, wasn't it all a big mistake?

No. Because the threat in Jerusalem caused the Christians to disburse. They carried the gospel with them, a "virus" that then "infected" regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1) and led eventually to the conversion of Saul/Paul (who, we know, became the early church's main church planter and who wrote large chunks of the New Testament).  And so we see that God's ways consume people and move events according to a higher purpose than the long and stress-free lives that are often our goal (Isaiah 55:9).

Let's learn from and be encouraged by Stephen's life and death today.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Stephen, whose life is an illustration of Your ways. Help me to open myself to the working of Your Spirit through me—no matter what the cost—as Stephen did. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Stephen

Today is the church focuses Stephen, Deacon and Martyr.

The liturgy for the day begins with this Collect prayer:

"We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen."


New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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