“8 Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some from what is called the Freedmens Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking.
11 Then they persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
When the Holy Spirit is at work in someone, it should be obvious that there is something greater at work in them and through them than is naturally available to that person, and that is exactly what is happening with Stephen here in Acts chapter six. “Full of grace and power,” “performing signs and wonders,” “having a face like the face of an angel,” these attributes show that Stephen had submitted himself to the work and authority of God. He was being used, alongside of the gifts that God had given to him, preaching, reason/logic/wisdom. He was being wholly used by God, in the ways that God desired to use him. Stephen was not superhuman in his ability to reason, but he became so much more than the sum of his parts when he became a follower of Jesus Christ, when he was baptized and received the Holy Spirit.
God used Stephen’s natural ability to speak, paired with the wisdom and reasoning that the Holy Spirit had imparted to him, to speak His truth, to communicate His message, and the result was a man of God that was powerful in word and deed. He was so passionate, so well spoken, that the authorities didn’t know what to do with him, and so they employed the same tactics they used on Jesus just a few months earlier. They drummed up false witnesses, threw out libelous accusations and did whatever was necessary to rile up the crowds against him. Oftentimes, we will find that living in the plan and desire of God is going to make us anything but popular with those who oppose His will and desire. The truth that we speak will not go down smoothly, and so they fight back, they press against it, and violence has been a common method that they employ to drown out the truth of the Word of God and to quell the movement of the Holy Spirit of God.
But we see something distinctive here, and in the coming chapter, from Stephen. Stephen does not lash back at them as the world woudl expect. He speaks from reason, he speaks from knowledge and understanding. He doesn’t fly off the handle. Instead, he becomes even more plain in speaking the truth. The Holy Spirit uses the knowledge that was already planted in his prepared heart and mind, and presents an undeniable argument to this crowd of accusers.
As Christians, we have all been given ample resource through the Scriptures to have reasonable answers for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. As Christians, we know that we have the evidence that the world needs to see to help bring their hearts and minds around to the glorious truth found in the Gospel message. But we must engage with it, and internalize it, not just trust in its proximity to us. “Sure, the Bible has answers, I just don’t know what they are or what it says.” is not a valid answer for a mature Christian. We have been given a wealth of information, of reason, an apologetic that cannot be beaten by any argument the world can present to us. But we must engage with the Word, we must examine the Word, we must know the Word in order to be able to use the Word and to be used by the Holy Spirit in defense of our faith.
Too many Western Christians spend too much time watching television & movies, wasting time on the internet, rather than engaging with the Word of God intentionally, daily and growing through it. Many of us are like hammers with no handles. We can drive the nail in, but it takes so much more time and effort to accomplish what needs to be done. Something that should have been a simple task becomes a deep labor because we are not prepared. And from a ministry perspective, so many simple daily problems could be faced and taken care of if more people would just open the Word and take time to digest what they read and find there. If they would just meditate on what is being presented to them by the Holy Spirit, pray for an increased wisdom, and then put that desire into practice, bettering themselves through a thorough examination of the Word.
Stephen was a powerful voice of Biblical reason in the face of strong adversity, and he passed the test of effectiveness and still today stands as a witness for us. But it wasn’t the might and power of Stephen that won the day, it was the Holy Spirit at work in him that prevailed, and that would keep him strong in these last few moments of his life, given over in service for Christ who saved him.
As we GoLove, we should desire to become ever more effective witness for Christ, and that must begin with prayer and a thorough examination of the Word.