And Stephen

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

The Church Is To Give And To Love

Up to now in the Book of Acts, we’ve seen how God has used the Apostles (in particular, Peter and John) in a powerful way. As we come to this chapter, we see God using not just the Apostles, but believers in general. As the Church grows, and takes on more responsibility, problems come into the house.

One of the first internal problems the Church dealt with was how to take care of the helpless.

As we learned this morning, our God is a good and faithful Father to His creation. God cares for those who are in helpless places. The Scripture says:

Psalm 68:5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.

God fathers those who are orphaned, or without fathers. God judges widows in the sense that, if they are widows indeed, then they are to be cared for by His people. In the Age of Israel under the Old Covenant God had half of Israel stand on Mount Ebal to hear what God required of His people. One of the things the Levites were to say was, Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:19).

If you a Child of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26) God expects you to care for the fatherless, the widows, and the stranger. When the Church began, it was filled with Jewish Christians who knew these requirements. The stepbrother of Jesus Christ wrote:

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

There is a special blessing God places on the giver in Christ. Jesus specifically taught that it is MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE (Acts 20:35). Though many have relegated care of widows and orphans to the state, originally it was God’s people who were supposed to do this. The early Church fed widows and orphans. This was a good thing. But as humans we are often terribly imperfect. The second problem the Church encountered was preferential treatment.

Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

The Church is still primarily reaching out to the Jewish population. Among the Jews,

There were “Hebrews” who spoke Aramaic and came from Palestine. But there were also “Grecians”, or Jews that spoke Greek, because they had at one time been exiled from their homeland.

Word Study on MURMURING: The hometown Jewish widows were given preferential treatment over their out of town relatives. This led to the Grecian or out of town Jews to begin “murmuring” (γογγυσμός gongysmós, [pronounced gong-goos-mos’]), grumbling and muttering. Murmuring is a very dangerous thing to occur among the children of God. The site notes:

Why is it so dangerous to murmur? It does nothing but cause unneeded stress. You forget all the {good} things God has done for you. The {Old Covenant} Israelites were killed because of it. It deteriorates your faith. It gives Satan an opportunity to sneak in {to the family of God}. It opens us up to {Satan’s} many lies. It gives a poor testimony.”

The stepbrother of Jesus, James (5:9) said, Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door (James 5:9, ESV)”. Murmuring is like a cancer that, once it invades the local Body of Christ, it can grow until it kills the fellowship entirely. The Apostle said in 1 Corinthians 10:10, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

We are to love one another as Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us (John 13:34). When murmuring starts we need Godly men to rise up and, as the beloved Barney Fife of the Andy Griffith Show used to say, “Nip it in the bud!”

That’s what the Apostles did. They asked that the CHURCH call out Godly Men to oversee the ministry of the weak. Note:

Acts 6:2-4 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

The preachers called the Church together, and asked the Church to choose seven men of honest report. Why did they choose 7? Because they thought that number would be sufficient to tend to the ministration of widows and orphans.

Word Study on The QUALITIES Sought: These were to be men of honest report. They needed to have the reputation among their peers of being honest, incorruptible men. These men also were to be full of the Holy {Spirit} and wisdom. These men were not FULL of THEMSELVES, but FULL of God. They were surrendered to Christ, willing to serve as Jesus served. They followed the example of Christ in washing the feet of those in need.

John 13:15 … I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

The men chosen were GIVERS not TAKERS. They were surrendered to Christ and to the Kingdom of God. They lived their lives not to please themselves, but to please God. These were men who cherished the Word of God. They were wise because they loved God’s Word. The Psalmist said:

Psalm 19:7 (ESV) The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

And Paul told Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:15 (ESV) … from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

By putting these men in charge of ministering to the widows and orphans, the preachers were freed to focus on prayer, and … the ministry of the Word. The Church agreed to this, and chose seven men who met these qualifications.

Stephen Was A Standout Among The Seven

The very first man the Church chose was called Stephen (vs 5). Stephen and these other six men did what they were supposed to do. As they MINISTERED, the MURMURING ceased. Rather than the cancer of murmuring killing the Body, we are told:

Acts 6:7 … The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”

The Church began to reach even the hardest to reach. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. The priests were part of the group that called for Christ’s crucifixion. Now, through love, these “enemies of the Cross” became “children of Christ”.

At this point the narrative in Acts focuses on the standout named simply Stephen. A lot of time is taken with Stephen, because Stephen would have the privilege of being the first martyr of the Church. We saw earlier that Stephen was full of the Holy {Spirit} and wisdom, and now read:

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

Stephen refused to allow anything in his spiritual walk that was negative or degrading. Stephen would not allow himself to be filled with FEAR, nor CONFUSION. Stephen refused to entertain notions of darkness. Stephen did this by staying busy in Christ, giving to others as Christ gave to him. The Apostle said:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Where the mind goes, so goes the body. Stephen rejected the darkness, and embraced the light of Christ. Stephen did not seek a comfortable faith, but like Jesus and Daniel, willingly walked into the lion’s den.

Acts 6:9-10 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake.

Word Study on The Synagogue: A Synagogue is like a local Church, a place where the Scripture is read and studied. Though Jews went to the Temple to make sacrifices and perform certain rituals (like circumcision), they needed a local area where they could gather and worship. This could be one Synagogue with a variety of Greek speaking Jews, or it could be 5 Synagogues. It is impossible to know for certain based on the text. We do know that Stephen was known to them all, as he visited the Synagogues, and shared Christ as resurrected Lord and Savior with them all. We read:

Acts 6:10 … they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake

The Christian Is To Walk FILLED With God’s Spirit

In the King James the word translated spirit is in a lower case, but I believe this is incorrect. I believe the word should be upper case Spirit, a reference to the Holy Spirit of God. When you return to Acts 6:3 you see that Stephen was full of the Holy {Spirit} and wisdom. The Bible says:

Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

It is Jesus Christ Who paid for our sins by His death on the Cross, and Jesus Christ Who represents us before the Father as our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15; 8:1). It is also Jesus Who said, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). When you receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, He sends God the Holy Spirit into your life. It is the Holy Spirit that causes the believer:

To be ADOPTED into the Family of God: Romans 8:9-16
To be SEALED or preserved for Heaven: Ephesians 4:30
To be BAPTIZED spiritually: 1 Corinthians 12:13
To be INDWELT forever: 2 Timothy 1:13-14
To be FILLED with the Spirit’s empowerment: Ephesians 5:18
So that we WALK in the Spirit: Galatians 5:16, 25

Stephen was not standing up to these unbelieving men in his own power. He was standing in the power of God. The Holy Spirit of God was in full and willing control of Stephen. Stephen knew the Word of God, and surrendered to God daily. These unbelievers could not stand against the power of God the Holy Spirit, so they:

Acts 6:11-15 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. 12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, 13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: 14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. 15 And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

Word Study on The Evil Of Unbelieving Religion: We are told that these unbelievers suborned men. The word translated suborned is the Greek ὑποβάλλω hupŏballō, [pronounced hoop-ob-al’-lo], which means “to bribe others so that they will be stealthy with you, commit conspiracy”. The unbelievers could not win an argument with a Spirit filled Stephen, so they paid liars to say what they wanted them to say. Evil men did the same thing at Jesus’ trial. We read:

Matthew 26:59-61 the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; 60 But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, 61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.

They did the same thing with Stephen. Their accusations against Stephen are very similar to the accusations made against our Lord Jesus. But Stephen did not try and defend himself. He kept his eyes on Jesus, so much so that the enemy saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. In the Old Testament when Moses came down Sinai after speaking with God, his face glowed (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7). On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ face glowed (Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29). Stephen’s face was glowing because he was not focused on the liars and the friends of Satan – He was focused on serving God with all his heart!

Christians, Let God’s Spirit and God’s Word Guide You

Acts 7:1 Then said the high priest {Caiphas}, Are these things so?

The devil will always give you an opportunity to cut your own throat with your tongue. After these lies were told about Stephen, the High Priest demands that Stephen speak in his own defense. At this point, Stephen could have went on the defensive, saying “I never did that!” Under the control of God’s Holy Spirit, Stephen does NOT address the accusations leveled against himself. Instead, Stephen relies on the teaching of Scripture.

The Holy Spirit empowers the believer, but Scripture is the Spirit’s weapon against evil.

Ephesians 6:17-18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance …

If you do not read and study your Bible on a regular basis, the Spirit has no weapon to yield in battle for you. The Holy Spirit came to GUIDE US INTO ALL TRUTH (John 16:13). God’s Word is TRUTH (John 17:17). Stephen had studied the Word of God while in Synagogue and while outside Synagogue. Being attacked, he allows the Spirit of God to yield the Word of God by telling the story of salvation. Stephen started with how God graciously called Abraham to salvation:

Acts 7:2-8 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, 3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. 4 Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. 5 And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet {God} promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. 6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should {wander} in a strange land {Egypt}; and that they {the Egyptians} should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. 7 And the nation to whom they shall be in bondage will I judge, said God: and after that shall they come forth, and serve me in this place. 8 And {God} gave {Abraham} the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day;

Stephen continues with the beginning of Israel in Jacob, and the story of Joseph, Jacob’s son who began co-regent in Egypt:

Acts 7:8-19 … and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. 9 And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, 10 And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and {God} made {Joseph} governor over Egypt and all his house. 11 Now there came a dearth over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction: and our fathers found no sustenance. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph’s kindred was made known unto Pharaoh. 14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. 15 So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, 16 And were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulcher that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sychem. 17 But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, 18 Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph. 19 The same dealt subtly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.

The Stephen continues with the rise of Moses, and how God blessed Israel through Moses.

Acts 7:20-38 In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months: 21 And when he was cast out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. 22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. 23 And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian: 25 For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. 26 And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? 27 But he that did his neighbor wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday? 29 Then fled Moses at this saying, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begat two sons. 30 And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sina an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he wondered at the sight: and as he drew near to behold it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, 32 Saying, I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Then Moses trembled, and durst not behold. 33 Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground. 34 I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee into Egypt. 35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush. 36 He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. 38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount {Sinai}, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:

I am running out of time! As Stephen tells the story of Israel, from it’s founding in Abraham to the building of the Temple under King Solomon, he is teaching them a pattern.

Over and over again God was gracious to Israel. But over and over again, Israel rejected the Grace and Mercy of God our Savior!

The Holy Spirit through a willing Stephen gives a very detailed history of Israel. Then abruptly, Stephen drives the main point home:

Acts 7:51-53 Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy {Spirit}: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

Stephen, under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit, tells these religious unbelievers that they have always – from Israel’s founding until this day – stood in opposition to the Holy Spirit of God. They resisted God in the wilderness when they murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2), and murmured against God Who promised:

Numbers 14:29 Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.

These leaders of Israel were not Spirit led, but led by their flesh and by Satan. As Stephen levels charges against them, we read:

Acts 7:54-58 … When they {of the Synagogues} heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy {Spirit}, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him

Evil stood up to kill an honest and Spirit filled believer. But Jesus stood up and applauded Stephen as his life was beaten from him. As they stoned Stephen with stones, Stephen cried out to God:

Acts 7:59-60 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stephen loved God His Father and Jesus Christ his Lord to the very end. As we read this, we might be tempted to say, “What a waste of a wonderful life!” But it was no waste. There is a small snippet of text in verse 58 that notes, the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. Because Stephen kept his eyes on God, God would plant a seed in Saul’s heart that would cause him to run into the arms of Jesus on the Damascus Road.

Saul would become Paul, the Apostle to us who are Gentiles!

Beloved, live your lives for the Lord. Walk in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and feed daily on the Sacred Scriptures, the Sword of the Spirit. Your lives have great meaning, and can do great things for Christ, if you but stay the course. God help us all to follow our Lord surrendered. In Christ’s precious Name I pray. Amen and Amen!

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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