Stephen was one of the seven, appointed as a Deacon in the early Church. We are told that he was full of the Spirit and wisdom and in addition described as being full of faith. In this passage he is described further as being “full of grace and power.” So, there are 5 aspects of Stephen’s life and ministry: the Holy Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, and power. The source of his power was his relationship with God and the faith that he practised and professed.
Have you ever noticed that God’s power, manifest through truth is almost always accompanied by grace? We see this in Jesus: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
I think it is very easy for us to lose sight of that; we may become fervently convinced about the truth, but speak it (at least as we see it) in an absence of grace. When you have been convinced that you are speaking the truth, has it always been accompanied by grace? Think about times when you have spoken the truth as you see it but in an ungracious way. If you have, then there is a clear need and call for repentance.
Grace is transformative. It is the redemptive love of God reaching out to the lost and bringing them to conversion. It is manifest when we show love to those we struggle to love, when we seek to journey with people we disagree with or have little in common with. We have all fallen short, but God gives us grace and power to accomplish His will. And when we think about a hallmark of God’s truth we should remember that God’s truth sets us free.
When advocates of error are defeated in discussion and don’t get their own way, they often resort to slander, or to violence. They tried both against Stephen. In the face of malicious persecution and back biting, it would have been very easy for Stephen to respond in an ungracious way that would have been unedifying to the Church and to God. Stephen responded to persecution by forgiving his enemies.
If we enter in to a discussion with people, we should not try to ungraciously beat them into submission with words that undermine or ridicule. We should seek to exercise grace and truth and bring out transformation and freedom.
All Stephen wanted to do was bring glory to God and invite people into a relationship with his Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. He wanted to help people. He was living in obedience to Jesus and was sharing the good news of God’s forgiveness with everyone he could. Unfortunately, he was falsely accused, just like Jesus was. Unfortunately, he upset the people he was seeking to serve. It wasn’t because he said things in a deliberately provocative way, it wasn’t because he said the wrong things, or that he was ungraciously trying to undermine people; it was more because the receivers of his message felt threatened by what he shared. Their response, rather than listening and seeking to understand his heart, was to make false accusations against him.
Have you ever been falsely accused of something? How did that make you feel? People generally feel indignant when they are accused of something they did not do. It is a difficult thing to deal with when you are misunderstood and misjudged
How should we deal with false accusations? How we deal with faults in other people and face our own faults reveals our character and whether we have the mind of Christ. Different situations may call for different reactions, but I believe we can find some principles to guide us as we look more closely at the verses we read. We should seek to:
- Maintain our integrity;
- Be faithful to keep on doing what we genuinely believe God has called us to do;
- Be discerning; is the accusation from someone who clearly has issues and does not speak in grace and truth? The people who Stephen brought his message to “stirred up the people” against him, and engaged in back biting and false and malicious allegations. The way in which people make accusations or handles a disagreement is in itself a clear indicator of where they are in their faith and in their heart. We know that “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them”;
- Rebase ourselves by always coming to the foot of the cross and to be refilled with the Holy Spirit;
- Keep our eyes focussed on God
- Be willing at all times to forgive those who wrong us
Maybe we’ve had trouble forgiving someone for something they’ve done to us in the past. Maybe it is still going on, so we really don’t feel like forgiving them. But let me share something with you which I have learned in life and ministry; our lack of forgiveness probably doesn’t affect them all that much, but it will destroy us. If we continue to allow bitterness to have a hold in our life, it will ruin our life. Bitterness and unforgiveness will eat away at our spirit until there is nothing left but the shell of who we were. That is precisely why we are invited to be in unity and to make our peace with one another in a way that brings glory to God. Again, grace and truth at work.
Even though Stephen was full of wisdom and the power of the Spirit, it did not keep opposition or false accusations away. What his tremendous faith and conviction achieved helped him to remain constant and true to focus on what the Lord wanted him to do.
We will face times when people hurt us, misunderstand us, mistreat us, falsely accuse us, and so on. How should we live in response? Live with integrity. Be faithful to keep on doing what God has called you to do. Ask God to give you wisdom and to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Entrust your future with the One who holds tomorrow, because nobody can lay a hand on you without God knowing. And finally, forgive those who hurt you.
Maybe God is talking to you about one or more of these areas. If you are feeling like you need His help with something we’ve talked about, would you ask God to help you? Be honest with Him and let Him know how you feel, but submit yourself to Him, and tell Him you want to do things His way. Ask the Lord what He wants you to do about the area He is talking to you about. Ask the Lord to bless you with His grace and power. Then, step out in faith and do it. Obey the Lord.