Summary: In anti-Christian environments, mature Christians must be willing to remain steadfast in their beliefs about God and His Son Jesus Christ, and be bold in speaking the truth in love with compassion.
SPREADING THE WORD DESPITE THE ODDS - FIVE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESSES
STEPHEN EPITOMIZED BOLDNESS . . . (Acts 6 and 7)
After the little band of believers in Christ received power associated with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak up and spread the story of God’s love - personified by His Son, Jesus Christ. These followers of “the Way” had been told by the authorities to shut up; but of course, they did not obey the voices of men because they had received their orders from above.
There come times in the lives of Christians when we are called on to take a stand for that which is right. Some do and some don’t. It is not up to me to judge whether a person should or should not take a stand; that decision rests in the minds and hearts of individual Christians. I - and I alone - am responsible to God for my actions, or, as the case may be, my inactions.
During the decades immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus, to witness was not an “either-or” proposition. Christians were pretty well identified by their open discussion of the life and ministry of Jesus, and by their meetings in homes for fellowship and prayer.
The apostles were vocal about their relationship to Christ and the need for all people to repent of their sins and receive the risen Son of God as personal Savior and Lord – the result being that many converts were added to their number – a response that displeased religious authorities.
It is not difficult to imagine that, as the body of believers grew, there began to be disagreements within the body as to how they ought to proceed organizationally and what should be their doctrinal positions on various matters of faith and practice; and, too, as they grew, problems arose within their ranks about Christian behavior. Do we not have the same problem today when it comes to beliefs versus behavior?
One very important practical problem in the early church had to do with the procedure for pooling possessions and sharing the proceeds from sales of property. Luke relates the incident of how a couple named Ananias and Sapphira deceived their fellow believers by holding back some of the money for themselves rather than turning it all over to the apostles for distribution. The damaging part of their deception was that they lied to God and tried to trick the Holy Spirit.
Folks, we must come clean with God; He knows everything about us anyway. You can’t fool God; so ‘fess up when you mess up; ask God to forgive you – and He will. To try to pull one over on the Lord God is too risky, and always invites trouble – if not for you, for someone else.
The task of distribution was so great that the apostles devised a plan for selecting seven helpers to minister with the left helping hand, so that the apostles could devote themselves to ministering with the right helping hand.
Just a reminder at this point that in our previous study we figuratively described the task of helping folks receive the essentials of everyday living in terms of the left helping hand – the five fingers representing food, clothing, shelter, medical and social needs.
Then we likened the task of helping folks with their spiritual needs in terms of the right helping hand – the five fingers representing love, prayer, personal testimony, Scripture, and God’s plan of salvation.
Remember that “left hand” ministries must be coordinated with, or at least lead to, the opportunity for “right hand” ministries . . ..
The seven associates of the apostles would take care of meeting the daily material and social needs of the band of believers, while the apostles would devote themselves to the more important spiritual matters of prayer and doctrine. This was a plan that worked well.
However, this plan did not preclude the associates from continuing to be vessels through which acts of the Holy Spirit could be performed.
Stephen was one of the associates through whom the Spirit ministered - in such a way that his actions got the attention of a certain “union” of locally powerful people who were very strong politically and wielded a great deal of influence in the community --- Acts 6:8-10 . . .
Stephen had met the qualifications for becoming a “deacon” by being looked upon as a person “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (verse 6:3) . . . His resume also included another very important description of who this man was – “he was full of grace and power.”
Think about it: a man of wisdom . . . faith . . . grace . . . power – one whose life manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit. He was one of those exceptional believers who are well equipped for Christian service.