This week the cover to cover reading took us through the first 11 chapters of Acts and the first 3 chapters of James. There is so much that happens in the book of Acts but in the interest of space and time…I wanted to share what stuck out to me this week.
The numbers of new believers was increasing each day, however, there arose a problem in the early church. The Greek speaking believers felt that their widows were being overlooked in favor of the Hebrew speaking believer’s widows. The Twelve gave immediate attention to this problem and appointed seven men who would take care of the needs of this group of widows. The Twelve knew the importance of delegating so that they could keep preaching the Good News…their primary focus and calling.
Job Description: Daily distribution of food to the Greek widows. (Acts 6: 1)
Qualifications: Seven men who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. (Acts 6:2)
The Seven: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas. (Acts 6:6)
About Stephen: Stephen is described in these terms…”a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”…”a man full of God’s grace and power”…”full of the Holy Spirit”.
Released: The seven were presented to the apostles who laid hands on them and prayed over them.
(Acts 6: 6)
Initial Results: The word of God spread…the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priest became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6: 7)
More about Stephen: Stephen did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. He was opposed but they could not stand up to his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. The only way they could attempt to stop him was to spread lies against him. He was brought before the same Sanhedrin as Jesus faced…and when they looked upon Stephen to speak they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. When asked to answer the bogus charges, he spoke boldly of Israel’s rocky relationship with God. When he finished, his accusers were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen being full of the Holy Spirit looked up to heaven and saw the glory of the God and Jesus standing at His right hand. The people began to cover their ears and yelled at the top of their voices, they rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. They must have tore his clothes off him because they were laid at Saul’s feet. During this horrible stoning, Stephen prayed for the Lord to receive his spirit…he then collapsed to his knees and cried out for the Lord not to hold this sin against them…then he fell asleep. Saul was there…giving his approval to Stephen’s death. On that very day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. We are told that godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. The intensity of Saul’s destruction against the church went full throttle. (Acts 6: 8-8:3)
Thoughts: There are no menial jobs in the kingdom. There are not big jobs and little jobs…important and trivial ones. The seven men that were chosen to “wait tables” were not chosen because they had strong arms to carry trays or possessed gourmet expertise…they were chosen because their lives showed that they were men that were wise and Holy Spirit filled. The physical needs of others is just as important as the spiritual needs of others.
Stephen was asked to fill a role and he submitted to this position. On his “off time” he performed wonders and miraculous signs…when you are filled with the Spirit…it will show in your life…it can’t be hidden. He didn’t feel that he was burdened by taking care of widows that he needed some down time…he used what he had received from the Lord. When he spoke, he spoke as a man of faith and wisdom…words that could not be refuted by others. He knew the Word. He was prepared in and out of season to give testimony to the hope that he had. He pointed others to God but they only wanted to cover their own waywardness. The truth hurts as it is said…so much so that the people could not bear to hear his voice. Stephen’s viewpoint was in heaven even before the heavens opened up…in living or dying he would be a sacrifice…a sacrifice that caused believers to be scattered and preach the word wherever they went…perhaps Philip who served with Stephen became more courageous in his faith walk as he also performed miraculous signs and healed many…he opened up the scriptures to an Ethopian and baptized him…this sacrifice was witnessed by Saul and despite his threats to the early church, it ultimately would impact his life. Saul, who would become Paul would lose and regain his sight as he came face to face with the One in whom Stephen’s life was committed. Although I do not read this section until Monday, Acts 11: 19 tells how far the gospel spread as a result of the persecution in connection with Stephen…to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Barnabas took Paul to Antioch and for a whole year they met with the church there and it was here where the disciples were first called Christians. (11:25-26)
How fitting to read these verses in James today!
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1: 2-4
“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.”
James 1: 9
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
James 1: 12
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
James 3: 13, 17-18
I learned a lot from Stephen this week. His life displayed what being completely surrendered to the Lord can look like…
I have struggled the past few weeks with that age old question of “what is my purpose?” You see, I make lists…I can tend towards looking at the checked boxes as a direct relationship to my worth. But today, I am a bit ashamed by my superficial and me-centered question. I want to be like Stephen…I want to be known not by my supposed position in life or the roles that I fill but that I am a person of faith, wisdom, grace and most importantly filled with the Holy Spirit. So that wherever I go, whoever I encounter will know that they have seen Jesus…whether I am washing dishes, preparing a meal or praying over someone who is in need of healing. I want my life in Christ to splash onto the toes of those around me and in turn the Word spread in their footsteps to the next…to the next…to His Name be praised.
Join others at Bev’s for more lingering thoughts on this week’s reading of the Word.