Summary: Love is free to those who receive it, but it can cost the giver a great deal.
Acts 7:55-60 “The Cost of Love”
There’s an old saying, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” How true this is. This fact of life is what fuels garage sales, thrift stores, and institutions like Goodwill and St Vincent de Paul. Most of us have also been in that situation where a friend has bragged about the great deal he or she got on a specific item and when we see the item we mutter to ourselves that we wouldn’t have paid a plug nickel for it.
We’re very cost conscious. We know the price of gas, the cost of vegetables and steaks, and perhaps the sale price on a shirt at Kohls. There are some intangibles like loyalty, bravery, or love where the costs are less well known. Sometimes there are hidden costs.
As we read about the first Christian martyr, Stephen, we catch a glimpse of the cost of following Jesus and the cost of love. There is much for us to consider in this story.
THE SACRIFICE OF DREAMS
We don’t know much about Stephen. We first meet him at the beginning of chapter six. We do know that Stephen was a Jew born outside of Israel. He was called a Hellenist. When a disagreement arose in the church—the Jewish/Greek Christians felt neglected by the Jewish Christians—Stephen was elected to help solve the problem. He became a deacon. Stephen is identified as a man who was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
I doubt that it was Stephen’s goal to be a deacon. It was a position of service—not a very glamorous role. Stephen probably had a vocation that he would have liked to have pursued, but he was asked to serve and he did.
Stephen seems to also have been a skilled debater. When he conversed with fellow Greek Jews he would win arguments, which made those he defeated angry. They trumped up charges against him and brought him before the authorities. In many ways, Stephen’s story mirrors that of Jesus.
I’m pretty sure that it was not Stephen’s intention to be executed. Still, he did not hesitate to share his faith in the face of severe persecution.
Stephen understood that he was a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus was leading and guiding him. Because of this, he could rest knowing that he was walking in God’s will. Stephen was willing to give up his goals and his dreams, because of his love for Jesus and also for God’s people.
LOSING ONE’S LIFE
Stephen paid the ultimate price because of his love for God and God’s people.
We offer our lives for a number of reasons. Some spend their entire life accumulating possessions and gathering wealth. Others give up their lives on a quest for knowledge. Love is not necessary the worst thing that we can end up spending our lives on.
I am reminded of the classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart’s character had great goals and dreams, but he always seemed to have something come up that caused him to put them on hold. He spent his life serving others. In the end, he discovered that such a life brought him more fulfillment and abundance than he could have had any other way.
Love costs us our lives.
LETTING GO OF REVENGE
Stephen’s last words were similar to Jesus’ when he was on the cross. Stephen cried out to God, “Do not hold this against them.” Stephen’s love enabled him to give up his revenge.
We, like Stephen, have been wronged. Unlike Stephen we often spend a great deal of time holding grudges and seeking revenge. At times we rationalize to ourselves that we are justified in being unforgiving. We might struggle at other times to forgive and realize that forgiveness is not an easy one time action. Stephen’s example challenges us to forgive even the most unforgiveable words and actions. Such forgiveness is the price of love.
Forgiveness is an essential part of discipleship. In a conversation with Peter, Jesus tells him to forgive seventy times seven. Forgiveness is a petition in the Lord’s Prayer. It is impossible to escape the realization that forgiveness is what God wants for us—not only for the other person’s sake, but for ours as well.
Lutherans have always been accused of emphasizing God’s grace so much that we practice cheap grace. This is the theme of the Christian classic The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonheoffer. Salvation is free, but living life as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ has its price. It is the cost of love.