What I learned from Stephen…

cover-to-cover

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.”

James 2:14-18

“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.

Helen

7 thoughts on “What I learned from Stephen…

  1. Karen there was a lot to absorb this week…just being in Acts means that there was so much going on…I wonder if our attachment doing stuff to make us worthy is like the Martha syndrome…I don’t know…

    Nise’…this account of Stephen really made me see like you that we need to do all things cheerfully before the Lord and that EVERYTHING has importance and value to the kingdom…it truly opened my eyes.

    Annette…isn’t it funny…I hadn’t thought about Stephen in this way either…I think I just had bits and pieces of his life…that he preached boldly, got people mad at him, had the face of an angel, was stoned and then he echoed words like Jesus…don’t know why I didn’t put together the rest but I am glad that the Lord helped me to read slower and take it in more fully. Haven’t you been doing that as well…trying to slow down over familiar parts of the New Testament.

    You are sweet…not any particular Bible study method…just taking it slowly…reading it over and over again…I looked at a couple Bible handbooks to find out more about Stephen but didn’t find a lot…I prayed about it and then I wrote it out…the section in James I didn’t even see the parallel until I was almost done…I organized it the way I did because I feel like these posts can be so long and who would want to read them…I know you struggle with that as well…so I thought headings would make it a little easier to read and helped me to keep things focused. Thanks for the encouragment…

    Ann…I love your own family story about Stephen…I love that…oh how your children have such a heart for the things of God…gosh, I wish I had written that…preaching to an audience of One…precious and priceless.

    Cynthia…
    It’s my desire as well…to do all to the glory of God…that was the aim of Brother Lawrence and his finding joy in doing the pots and pans…may I rejoice in all the pots and pans and dirty clothes and fallen leaves and messy rooms of my life.

    Hey Angie…
    May we all have a bit of Stephen in us now that we have seen his example.
    I do hope you love the book as much as I have…it came into my life at a time where it just seemed like it was the cry of my heart that someone else had written…and so I have been surprised that each time I have read the little book again…it still speaks to me so strongly and tenderly and beckons me to want to sit at His feet alone or with others…I hope you get it soon…and that you devour it or savor it…but mostly that it will minister to you!

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  2. Oh, Helen… You did a wonderful job describing Stephen. I read through too quickly and I would have missed so much had you not done this well written post. I understand so much better now and I, too want to be like Stephen in my ordinary life. I hope people see Christ when they look at me. Thank you so much for walking through the Bible with me!
    Much love,
    Angie xoxo

    p.s. Thanks again for the book! I can’t wait until it gets here! 🙂

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  3. Cynthia says:

    Helen,

    What a wonderful writing. I never looked at Stephen as such a powerful disciple. I want to impact peoples lives for Christ. I don’t want to do things because they bring me self-worth (which I do and have done). But because they bring glory to God. This is my desire. Thanks.

    Cynthia

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  4. Hi Helen!

    About two weeks ago, I was also deeply touched by the example of Stephen. When I was sharing my heart-out to my kids about what I was gleaning, my 8-year-old Philip said, “Mom, it’s so cool. Stephen was preaching to an audience of One.” (We had talked to the kids about ministering first of all to the Lord quite a while earlier, but it blessed me so much that he pulled it up right at this moment.) It hit me how Stephen had PURE religion. God cares to much about the orphans and the widows; and Stephen was willing to do whatever God wanted . . . no matter what anyone else thought.

    But then it “hit” me later how God honored Stephen’s obedience. Even though he never saw the “results” of his work and preaching, one seemingly closed-ear listener, Saul, later converted and wrote much of our New Testament. And Stephen’s “rejected” sermon was recorded . . . and has now gone ALL over the world, translated into who-knows how many languages.

    I want to be like Stephen. I want to do whatever God asks of me . . . . and get to that point where I will only care for the response of that “Audience of ONE.”

    I appreciated your insights, Helen. Thanks for sharing your heart on this blog.

    Blessings to you!
    Ann

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  5. Helen, I never had thought about Stephen in this way at all. I always just hear that Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen and that is about it, except that he was martyred. So appreciating Stephen’s work taking care of Greek widows points me to appreciate my own assignments big or small that they may glorify God. I also admire the way you put this post together–so many facets to think about and you have a great way of organizing your thoughts. Is this a particular Bible study method or did you create this yourself? I really like the category titles as well as what you say in content. I needed this reminder today especially, as I have many menial jobs, but truly one important one in serving Him. Love, Annette

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  6. so much to absorb this week. I love the fact that God has no menial jobs. Too many times we attach our self worth to what we do. I want to see things (and people) with God’s eyes.

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