Stephen

Cliff Jones, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

A Man full of the Holy Spirit

In the early days trouble arose from within

There was trouble in the early days of the assembly at Jerusalem. The trouble arose not from pressures from outside the assembly but from within. It threatened to disrupt the unity, peace, service and blessing of the assembly. The devil, in an attempt to hinder an assembly’s work for the Lord and prevent the spiritual growth and development of individual believers, will use his wiles and devices to stir up trouble for, and among, believers.

In the assembly at Jerusalem it was the practice to disburse money to poor widows who were in fellowship. As the assembly grew in size, administrative matters became more difficult to handle and there came a time when the Greek-speaking Jewish believers complained that those who were widows among them were not being treated as well as the Aramaicspeaking Jewish widows. In order that the disciples might be free to devote themselves to prayer, and study and ministry of the scriptures rather than administrative matters, they said that ‘seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom’ should be appointed to carry out the necessary work, Acts 6. 3.

Godly believers are needed to carry out every task in an assembly in order to ensure that all work is done graciously and in accordance with the will of God and to His glory. In the management of the affairs of an assembly, absolute honesty and transparency are essential. Wisdom is required, not simply earthly wisdom but the wisdom God gives generously to those who ask Him, Jas. 1. 5. This wisdom will be shown in the manner of life of the one who has it, in his good works and absence of jealousy and selfishness, Jas. 3. 13- 16. This wisdom is ‘pure . . . peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy’, Jas. 3. 17. This is the wisdom which is needed in administering the affairs of an assembly, and this was the kind of wisdom possessed by the seven men who were chosen to manage the affairs of the assembly at Jerusalem.

Full of faith and the Holy Ghost

It may well be significant that the seven men chosen all had Greek names, for it was the Greek-speaking Jews who had complained of unjust treatment. The apostles prayed for the seven men and identified themselves with them by laying their hands on them, Acts 6. 5, 6. Stephen, whose name means ‘a crown’, was one of the men chosen. He was described as ‘a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost’, v. 5. Stephen, and the other men chosen, responded readily and served God in what some might have regarded as menial and routine tasks. Peace and unity were restored in the assembly and the number of disciples in Jerusalem continued to increase, v. 7.

Great wonders and miracles

Not only was Stephen wise, reliable and honest in administrative matters but we read that ‘Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people’, Acts 6. 8. Having worked well and faithfully within the assembly he was empowered and used by God outside the assembly among people, the majority, if not all, of whom would have been Jews.

Saw the glory of God

Once again, the devil attempted to prevent the work of God from prospering. Men from the synagogues disputed with Stephen. Stephen, a man who was full of the Holy Spirit, spoke with God-given wisdom and power which his adversaries could not resist or withstand. They suborned men who claimed that Stephen had blasphemed against Moses and against God. The men who opposed Stephen were vicious and they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes so that Stephen was brought before the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin. False witnesses were brought and Stephen was charged with speaking against the temple and the law and saying that the Lord Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses had handed down to them. As the members of the Council looked at Stephen, his face appeared to them like the face of an angel. God gave Stephen’s face a supernatural brightness and it shone, as had the face of Moses after he had been speaking with God, Exod. 34. 29-35. Despite what they saw, the Council pursued the charges falsely brought against Stephen, Acts 6. 9-15.

Stephen, empowered by the Spirit, presented to them a clear, logical survey and outline of the history of the people, bringing out their opposition and resistance to the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. He accused them of persecuting and slaying the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 7. 2- 53. Stephen’s calm, reasoned defence brings to mind the Lord’s promise, ‘I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist’, Luke 21. 15.

The men of the Council were filled with anger by Stephen’s words, but he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up into heaven and saw the glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ standing on His right hand. Stephen had started his courageous defence by speaking of the ‘God of glory’, Acts 7. 2, and after the Council had reacted against his words he saw the ‘glory of God’, v. 55. Stephen spoke and said ‘I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God’, v. 56. The infuriated men of the Council rushed at him, cast him out of the city and stoned him, vv. 57, 58. On the cross, the Lord had first prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him and later commended His spirit to God His Father, Luke 23. 34, 46. Stephen first called on the Lord, asking Him to receive his spirit, Acts 7. 59, and then, with the stones raining down upon him, kneeled down and showed that all he had said had been said in love and with grace, for he prayed for his tormentors saying, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep’, v. 60.

Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, was Christ-like in his behaviour, and, as is evident from his defence before the Council, he knew the scriptures. He showed no fear at any time but was empowered by the Spirit to behave and witness graciously, calmly and with dignity to the glory of God. He saw the risen, living, ascended, exalted and glorified Lord, not now seated ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high’, Heb. 1. 3, but standing to receive and welcome him, Acts 7. 55.

Stephen glorified and served the Lord in his life and in his death, and devout men carried him to his burial, Acts 8. 2. He was enabled to do all that he did for the Lord because he was a man who was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and was consequently full of courage, wisdom, power and the peace of God. He was totally surrendered to, and devoted to, obeying, the will of God, and he witnessed, without compromise, in the power of the Spirit.

Unbelievers who watched the brutal way in which he was killed could hardly have believed that God was working all things together for Stephen’s good and His own glory, Rom. 8. 28. Stephen went immediately to eternal bliss, Ps. 16. 11, and standing, watching and listening to all that happened was a young man named Saul, Acts 7. 58. He was watching over the clothes of those who executed Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul, ‘who also is called Paul’, Acts 13. 9, was consenting to, and supporting, Stephen’s execution, but God, in His sovereignty, was later to use Saul as the great apostle to the Gentiles. Paul’s verbal and written ministry was to glorify God and have an immeasurable influence on believers down through the centuries, and Paul himself would die as a martyr.

For our guidance and blessing, the Holy Spirit has caused to be recorded in the scriptures the lives and experiences of godly men and women, Rom. 15. 4. If we prayerfully study and meditate on these things and obey the teaching and leading of the Holy Spirit then we shall be blessed and God will be glorified.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Cliff Jones is an elder in the fellowship at Heath Gospel Hall in Cardiff and has retired from his secular employment as a university lecturer.