by: Matt Alexander
I have always been intrigued and somewhat convicted by the story of Stephen. In Acts 6 the disciples find themselves in a predicament. There are more needs to be met than hands to meet them. The church is growing at a fast pace and there is no way the disciples can prepare sermons, spend time in prayer, and be available to minister to everyone in need at the same time. They are simply spread too thin. Anyone who has ever served in vocational ministry has certainly felt this struggle at some point.
The disciples decide to choose 7 men of upstanding moral character, full of the spirit & wisdom, and willing to serve. Seven men who will help the disciples minister to the needy while the disciples devote their time to prayer and preparation for teaching the church. What we find in this context is the calling and ordination of the first deacons, of which Stephen was numbered.
Throughout the rest of chapter 6 and the entirety of chapter 7 we find certain "religious" folk at a point of contention with Stephen. We are told that Stephen was "full of grace and power" (6:8) and that the religious-political groups "could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking." (6:10) Wow! Stephen was so filled with God that it was not only evident but it was a powerful tool for the kingdom and threat to the worldly establishment.
In chapter 7 Stephen gives an excellent exposition of Old Testament history which ends not with a flood of people coming forward to repent but instead a mob coming forward to stone him to death. The text says "when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him." (7:54) Talk about upsetting the status quo! Stephen is chosen as a deacon and he takes his calling and commitment so seriously that it actually costs him his life not long after his ordination. That is Christian service worthy of the Gospel.
We may not serve as a deacon but the application is for us all. We need more Stephen's in the church today. Men and women who understand what God has called them to and who un-apologetically live it out even when it costs them everything. If the church today is going to not only survive but thrive in a world of contention we have got to forsake religious tradition and mere talk and truly live in the footsteps of Jesus. Today, it seems as if everyone wants to be in charge and get the applause when things go well but no one wants to serve and give up their life for the calling of God. True Christianity is about service that comes with a price.
I fear that for far too long our prayers in the church have been for God to make us great in the line of some "successful" spiritual hero who has thousands of followers and has sold millions of books. Somehow we think that if we speak the Word of God that it will make us popular and well liked. Most often, the contrary is true. The Word of God is offensive to man because it reveals sin and man's need for something he doesn't have. Stephen was faithful to not only speak the Word but live the Word and it cost him his life. Yet, they could not take his soul. Earthly ridicule can never rob you of heavenly rejoicing.
There have been times in my ministry were I selfishly feared how certain 'key people" (as if that's a real thing in God's eyes) in the church might respond negatively to my stand on the Word of God. In those moments the Spirit quickly reminded me that the only approval that comes from being asked to leave a ministry is when you are asked to leave because you stay true to the Word of God. May we never serve God for man's applause. May we always stay true to the Word of God for heaven's applause.
It may just be that greatness in the kingdom of God is for God to make us like Stephen - everyday men and women called by God to do things that cost us everything we have on earth but the payoff is all of the rewards of heaven.
Simply put - Lord, make me a Stephen today.