“So they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”Acts 6:5a
In the Book of Acts, Stephen is described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5a). The short encounter we have with this man in Acts 6-7 undoubtedly leads us to agree with this moniker. Stephen, being empowered by the Holy Spirit, displayed inspiring courage to stand firm in the faith regardless of the outcomes. This should strike a chord with our hearts given the context of our culture. We are obsessed with outcomes, results, and success. Using our own cultural lens, what would we say of Stephen?
First, Stephen was a man who didn’t stand up for himself. When asked if the false testimonies about him were true, he didn’t speak up in his own defense. Instead, he begins a sermon detailing Israel’s history and how God was calling them out of their rebellion toward repentance through Christ. If you’re looking for good outcomes in dire situations, you stand up for yourself.
Second, Stephen accused his accusers and was killed. At the end of his sermon, Stephen turns the tables and calls out his accusers. In Acts 7:51, he calls them, “stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you.” The Sanhedrin may have been more lenient with him had he not spoken so pointedly, but because of his continued failure to acquiesce in the trial, he was killed. If you’re looking for good results when your back is against the wall, you don’t accuse others instead of defending yourself.
Third, Stephen’s murder disbanded the Christians and sent people running for the hills. Acts 8:1 tells us that after Stephen was stoned to death, “a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.” If Stephen had stood up for himself and not flipped the script against the Sanhedrin, persecution and forced relocation of Christians wouldn’t have occurred. If you’re looking for success in a movement, you don’t disband everyone in fear right as it begins.
But praise God that the culture of the kingdom of God is not the same as our culture. God uses everything for His glory and to draw us closer to Him—we only need to adopt His cultural lens to see it. It’s not that Stephen was a man who didn’t stand up for himself; he was just so concerned with preaching the gospel that he didn’t care to waste time in his own defense. He trusted God to lead him. It’s not that Stephen accused his accusers and was subsequently killed; he displayed a courage unrivaled by many of his contemporaries to speak out against the national and religious systems in place that had hindered people’s hearts from seeing Christ when He was right in front of them! It’s not that Stephen’s murder disbanded the Christians and sent people running for the hills, but his martyrdom created opportunity: “those who were scattered went on their way preaching the message of good news” (Acts 8:4). Jesus’ command to take the gospel into the world began here.
The culture of the kingdom of God is not like ours. Success isn’t determined by looking out for yourself, but rather is defined by courageous obedience to God. Stephen is a hero of the faith because of his courageous faith, but remember the only remarkable quality of his life was that he was full of the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit that lives in you. The courageous faith to walk in obedience to God is available for you today just as it was for Stephen. So, what are you waiting for?