a man called stephen – ready, willing and available for the work of the holy spirit through his life
At this point in the newly born church we see the need for organizing man-power (the body of Christ) to accommodate the power and work of the Holy Spirit. It is critical to grasp the meaning of this statement. We are not to organize man-power to do something we want God to do, but to accommodate and facilitate what He is already doing. Here we see the church growing rapidly (something God wants very much- saving His people) and now God wants to make sure the needs of His people are being met. God cares about the poor and needy as we see throughout the OT and NT and especially widows and orphans (James 1:26-27). Hellenistic Jews were Jews who were part of the Diaspora and were born outside of Israel and spoke Greek. The ones here in Acts 6 had returned to Jerusalem and felt overlooked in the distribution of food by the Hebrew Jews (who spoke Aramaic). Evidently this had some merit as the apostles quickly took care of this problem and the new Christian community chose seven Greek-speaking Jews, showing their sensitivity and desire to avoid any prejudice. Later on in the NT epistles, Paul shows how the church needs to organize in other ways (teaching and ruling elders, deacons and deaconesses) so as to teach and preach God's Word, to exercise spiritual authority (discipline) and to care for the needs of God's people. In verse 4 we see the call to full-time vocational ministry where the apostles "devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:14) In Ephesians 4:11-13 we see that vocational ministers are "to prepare/equip God's people for works of service"- to train businessmen, moms and students for evangelism, discipleship and for meeting the material and spiritual needs of God's people. So all believers are called to be in full-time service for the Lord and vocational ministers are called to equip them and serve with them. This is what happens as church leaders remain focused on prayer and the ministry of the Word – they multiply themselves exponentially by equipping the saints. And look at the results: "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."
Many of you are serving the Lord in various places and capacities; your church, here at our men's group, mission trips, street witnessing, giving, praying, etc. As we grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord He may call us to do something new and the attached Life Map is a good tool to use to help you discern God's calling. Here are some of the questions in the Life Map to pray about and write down so the Lord and some trusted friends, pastors, mentors can help you discern how the Lord may want to use you in new ways. Central Beliefs of Who God Is To Me; Core Values Which I Live Life By; Overarching Life Purpose-How I want to daily respect and honor God; My passion, vision and mission for God; Innate Talents and Strengths/Acquired Skills/Spiritual Gifts/Personality Characteristics; Experiences From Which I Have Gained Insightful Wisdom-This wisdom could be used to benefit others; Area(s) Of Weakness (What, if not managed well, will be detrimental to my well-being?); Where Do I See Myself Three Years From Now; Five Years from now?; Ideal Work Schedule; What Legacy Do I Want To Leave? [See "My Story" attached as it relates to discerning God's calling.]
Now let's look at the seven men they chose here in Acts 6 and especially Stephen as our model. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." (VV. 3-5; 8)
["Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." (v.5) "When it says he was full of faith it means that, that which totally controlled him was faith. The idea of filling is control. Now there is in the balance of every man a scale and on one end believing God (faith) and on the other end is doubt. Stephen was full of faith. There wasn't any doubt around. You know what dominated his life? Trust. He believed God. He was dominated by that. You say, "Well what specifically did he believe in." If you study his sermon in Chapter 7 it tells you everything he believed in, basically. Now there are many Christians who have faith, but they're not full of faith. They have faith and doubt. 60-40? 70-30? 80-20? Stephen was 100-0, all faith. Now he knew that the only person controlling his life was God. He absolutely believed it so he did whatever God told him to do and didn't worry about it. Now secondly look at verse 5. He was full of the Holy Spirit. That's just terrific too. It means that he was under the control of the Spirit. He was not only totally dominated by faith, but he was totally dominated by the Spirit of God, which meant he trusted and he obeyed. Full of faith is to trust and to be full of the Spirit is to be obeying his control. The two greatest words in the Christian life: trust and obey, and Stephen had them both. He believed God and did what the Spirit told him to do. If you're filled with the Spirit you're just doing what He tells you to do. I use the illustration of a hand in the glove. You put a hand in the glove, the glove doesn't say, "Oh hand, show me the way to go." The glove just goes because the hand is in it. The Christian is a glove. That's the balance of the Christian life, trust and obey. Very simple. "And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." ( V.8) Now there are several kinds of grace, but all grace comes as a result of faith. For by grace are you saved through faith. I believe that when a martyr comes to the place where he dies for his faith in Jesus Christ that God dispenses to him divine dying grace. And so there's grace that comes in salvation and it comes by faith. There's grace that comes in persecution (I Peter 3) and it comes by faith. Then there's the grace of loving kindness toward others. That also comes by faith. And I think that may be the dominate kind of grace he's talking about here. He was full of grace toward others. The only way a man can ever really graciously love everybody else is when he's not trying to protect himself. So, trust and obey equals grace and power. It's a simple spiritual principle outlined for us right here. You see when the man is right in his own heart, when he is full of faith toward God and obedience toward the Spirit he will then be gracious toward man and express the power of God in their behalf." John MacArthur – Acts]
Incomplete faith/trust in God leads to incomplete obedience to God. And incomplete faith/trust in God minimizes our graciousness and kindness to others and minimizes God's power flowing through us to help them. Jesus was the model for Stephen and for us as we see in these passages: Complete dependence and trust. "Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:19) Complete obedience. "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matt. 26:39) Complete grace/forgiveness. "Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34) All power: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matt. 28:18)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) Think of some people in your life who have inspired you to grow in your faith and obedience to God and list some of their qualities.
2) What are some things that you think make God sad or angry or something that would bring Him great joy that touch your heart and emotions?
3) If God spoke at your funeral what would you like to hear Him say about your legacy for Him and His work?
4) What could you do for God, even in a small way, that excites you and would bless Him and His people?
5) When do you think you could start doing this?
6) What are some ways we can grow in faith, in obedience, in grace and in power?