Summary: The would-be servant of God, whether waiting at table, ushering at the door, distributing to the poor, or preaching the gospel, must be of a blameless character and reputation.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER OF STEPHEN THE MARTYR
It is interesting to commemorate one particular saint who gave his name to a Street, a Road, a Church, and a bench (!) in Norwich, and I dare say in other cities too.
Stephen is rightly acknowledged as the first Christian martyr, a witness who went all the way to death speaking of the Lord Jesus. This man was not an apostle, and yet he possessed the power to work miracles, and exercised authority in proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Stephen's death was the spark which lit the flame which ignited the taper which led to the explosion of world evangelism which continues to this day.
I. THE CHARACTER OF STEPHEN (Acts 6:1-8)
We first hear of Stephen when he was elected along with another six men to administer the daily distribution amongst the poor widows in the Jerusalem church. All seven men were chosen on the basis of their being of a sound reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), who might be entrusted with the task set before them. Stephen heads the list as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5).
After the apostles had laid hands on them, we again hear of Stephen as full of faith and power, doing great wonders and signs amongst the people (Acts 6:8).
It is worth pausing to look at these epithets.
1. The would-be servant of God, whether waiting at table, ushering at the door, distributing to the poor, or preaching the gospel, must be of a blameless character and reputation (Acts 6:3).
2. Even for the more mundane tasks, if we may call them such, evidence of the Holy Spirit's indwelling is a basic requirement (Acts 6:3). Stephen possessed this quality in a measure which singled him out at the head of the list (Acts 6:5).
3. And obviously, given the fraught and fractious occasion which gave rise to the appointment of the seven, it was necessary for them to possess the wisdom of Solomon (Acts 6:3) - as administrators in all walks of life will attest!
4. Furthermore, Stephen is singled out as being a man full of faith, fully trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 6:5). The man of God is also seen exercising his faith in relation to the grace of God, with the divine blessing and favour (Acts 6:8).
5. Stephen tapped in to the resurrection power that we all possess, the power of the Holy Spirit within us (Acts 6:8).
6. Wonders were performed by Stephen, and miraculous signs followed his ministry to the people (Acts 6:8).
II. THE ACCUSERS (Acts 6:9-10)
Stephen found himself in dispute with certain members of the synagogue of the libertines (Acts 6:9). It is probable that these were Jews who had formerly been slaves, who upon gaining their freedom had settled in Jerusalem. The exiles scattered amongst the nations often speak out the hope at the end of their annual festivals that it will be ‘next year in Jerusalem!’
These freedmen were unable to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke (Acts 6:10). There's that basic quality of the servant of God once again! We have to remind ourselves time and again that ‘Greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world’ (1 John 4:4).
Now they used the liberty of which they were so proud as a licence to sin. They concocted a story against Stephen which was based only in half-truths and lies. They raised a rabble, a lynch mob, and dragged him before the council.
III.THE ACCUSATION (Acts 6:11-14)
They argued that he had spoken against Moses and God (Acts 6:11), and against this holy place and the law (Acts 6:13). When the devil and his minions can bring no other accusation against God's people, he is left with only lies – so it is very important that we live a blameless life (see 1 Peter 4:14-16).
After raising up false witnesses, they twisted the words of Stephen as saying that Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses delivered us (Acts 6:14). This was similar to what Jesus had been accused of (John 2:19-21), but Jesus had been speaking of the temple of His body (Mark 14:58 compares favourably with Mark 15:29). Far from wishing to destroy Moses or the law, Jesus said He came to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17)!
IV. THE FACE OF AN ANGEL (Acts 6:15)
When Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses, his opponents saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Moses had experienced something similar (Exodus 34:29). Stephen's defence in Acts 7 showed him to be loyal both to the God of the Temple, and to Moses, and to the law.