Summary: Stephen’s example of forgiveness amidst persecution
Stephen’s Example of Forgiveness – Acts 7:34-60
Illustration:Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day!
Today in the Word, March 1989, p. 8.
How can we learn to forgive as Stephen forgave those who stoned him for preaching Jesus Christ?
Stephen gives one of the greatest examples of forbearance, fortitude and forgiveness in Acts chapter seven.
Full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen exhibited supernatural self-control and said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Even while the men of the Sanhedrin were stoning him, Stephen prayed for them saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Only the power of the Holy Spirit can give a person the ability to forgive in such situations.
Let us learn to help people realize that the Lord knows how to control our fears, anger and self-destructive vengeful feelings with His power of forgiveness.
Trust the Lord to help everyone in your group grow in their ability to forgive all persecutors.
Stephen is a great example of a man who allowed himself to be controlled by the Holy Spirit regardless of the provocative situations he faced. Stephen spoke the truth in love, but was persecuted by so called religious leaders of the Sanhedrin.
Sometimes the people who we think would be most responsive to God’s truth become our worst critics. No doubt, Saul, who later became known as Paul the apostle, used Stephen as an example, for refusing to be overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.
Only the Lord is able to know the reasons why He allows persecution to come into our life.
However, Paul wrote, “All those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12)
Let us examine this important passage to learn how the will of God often directs us to speak the truth regardless of the ramification it may have on us personally.
Ask the Lord to help you imitate the forgiving attitude of Stephen who knew that God’s purposes are worth dying for regardless of whether people recognize it or not.
What are some of our human reactions to provocation? Hurt, anger, and frustration are usually at the top of the list.
We all need the Holy Spirit’s love, peace, patience and self-control when we are persecuted.
It is significant that Dr. Luke focuses on how the Holy Spirit helped Stephen love his enemies.
The Holy Spirit provides speakers of truth with a gracious attitude in the face of harsh persecution, criticism or rejection.
What do you do and how do you feel when someone throws a rock at you or accuses you of doing something wrong?
What do you think Jesus would do if someone throw a stone at Him?
Why does Jesus want us to turn the other cheek when we are abused?
How did the Holy Spirit helped Stephen love, forgive and pray for those who were stoning him? Let us examine the text.
First, it is impossible to forgive another unless we are empowered by the Holy Spirit’s power.
Jesus Christ is our chief example for one who knew how to forgive those who nailed Him to the cruel cross on Calvary. Stephen learned how to follow the example of Christ who said, while hanging on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
2. Stephen learned how Christ like love enables one to love people who abuse us, scorn us and say all kinds of evil against us. When we speak the truth in love we are apt to be misunderstood and criticized.
By acknowledging the fact that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution we prevent ourselves from being caught off guard when we are persecuted.
Prior preparation tends to prevent poor performance in the face of adversity.
3. Stephen’s demonstration of a forgiving attitude in the face of a hostile attack shows how the Holy Spirit can help us not over react to provocation.
Instead of returning evil for evil, Stephen chose to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
4. He blessed those who persecuted him by the leading of the Spirit’s poise. Meekness does not have to be a sign of weakness.
5. The Holy Spirit gave Stephen the courage to speak the truth when he said, “You stiff necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your Fathers. You resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51)
Few people are bold enough to communicate the truth in a prophetic manner, but God directed Stephen to speak the words that many needed to hear.