Today: [Acts 6:] Stephen’s Face Shines like an Angel: When accused and misrepresented how do you respond? Does your face shine like an angel, as Stephen’s did in Acts 6? Stephen was a man minding his own business when he was chosen to manage the finances of the early church. The grace of God that came on him at that moment resulted in tremendous persecution against him for his testimony.
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[Act 6:1-15 KJV] 1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples [unto them], and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: 6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid [their] hands on them. 7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. 8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. 9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called [the synagogue] of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. 11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and [against] God. 12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon [him], and caught him, and brought [him] to the council, 13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: 14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. 15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Acts 6 includes the narrative of the appointment of deacons for the first time and the arrest of Stephen. As the early church grew exponentially, there were demands made upon the apostles that they had not anticipated. The people came and laid their gifts at the apostles’ feet, and the apostles though not under compunction to do so, directed that these resources be distributed to the needs of the impoverished and marginalized in their midst. These distributions were made every day and included caring for the widowed believers among them both of native Judeans and the Hellenized, or Greek-speaking Jews as well. We are not told who was assisting with the distribution, but we can assume that the apostles weren’t doing this all by themselves because the church at this point numbered well over 10,000 believers. There were problems due to the vast numbers of those eligible for assistance, and it is noticed that the Hebrew speaking believers are being preferred over the Greek-speaking Jews and complaints are lodged. Up to this point, the communion of these saints was described regarding being in one accord and absolute unity. The apostles are so concerned about this disruption in their ranks that they immediately act to restore order and maintain the quality of harmony and oneness in their midst.
Could this happen in the church culture you are a part of? Not likely, given the fact that taking care of the elderly is an infrequent activity in the average church in the Western world. There may be an occasional benevolence, but you would be hard pressed to find any local church that is measurably committed to taking care of the poor and needy in their midst. Is it because we don’t care for the poor? The fact of the matter is that we are conditioned in our society to say that is the government’s job and not the role of the church to take care of those who are dependent or in need of ongoing entitlement programs to maintain their quality of life. When did this shift take place? Is the church better off leaving the care of the elderly and the disadvantaged to the state? Does the state do a better job of taking care of our elderly and our poor than we could?
Do we not care for our own because there is no money to do so? We certainly have money for our staff and our full-time ministers. We absolutely will make financial provisions to buy the latest smoke machine or addition to our sound equipment. How is it that the church can receive offerings without blushing for these things and not take up the scripturally mandated responsibility to do for their elderly and the poor those things that we so dismissively leave to the government? Are there accountability issues here? Will we answer to God for completely abandoning the ancient traditions of the early church regarding the poor and needy? The early church cared for those in their midst. They did so individually, and they did so as a people group. In most churches when an impoverished person requests assistance, they are given one night at a seedy hotel on the back side of a bad neighborhood and enough gas to leave town the next day. All of this without blushing or considering for one moment that this constitutes institutional, systemic and gross negligence on the part of the membership of our churches and our churches as an institution. Every believer should make it their responsibility to directly do something for the impoverished on a regular basis. Every church that dares to call itself by the name of Christ should have at least as much commitment to taking care of the poor as it does to maintain its own programs and purposes. To fail to do so is to be something other than a Christian.
When you take care of the poor and the marginalized, there will be problems. They won’t always kiss your hand and genuflect before you in appreciation for your kindness. You have to get past that. These people may be poor, they may be elderly but they have opinions, and they have egos that can be bruised regardless of your efforts to care for their needs. Make up your mind not to get offended when they are not grateful. Determine that when complaints and demands come you will handle yourself with grace and unwavering constancy toward their needs. When the Grecian widows complained, the apostles didn’t dismiss their protests. The people were called together, and a solution was provided for. Seven men full of the Holy Ghost were set aside for waiting on tables. The tables they are talking about are not where people would sit down to eat. These were tables such as the money changers in the temple made use of. The tables the deacons took charge of were the money tables required to administrate and account for the income and distribution of the finances of the early church donations and gifts. You don’t need to be full of the Holy Ghost as these deacons were to bring someone a glass of water. They required men full of the Holy Ghost to properly manage the growing wealth of the church as a whole in a manner in which the vision of the apostles would be successfully carried out.
The true and scriptural function of deacons is very much needed in the church today. Deacons are not intended to be self-appointed watchdogs over the pastors who lead them. Neither are they intended to be “yes” men who rubber stamp every decision their leaders make. They are called by God and appointed in the church to manage the successful carrying out of the vision of the church. They are there to see to it that no one is left out and all are having their needs met in a fair and equitable fashion. It is important to note that the names of these seven deacons so appointed are not classical Hebrew names. Every one of the deacons chosen had Hellenized names. In other words, they were not classical Hebrews, they were Greek-speaking Jews. This tells us that there was a schism between the Hebrew and Grecian Jews of the early church that had to be addressed. Greek-speaking widows were being neglected; therefore Greek speaking deacons were chosen to solve the problem. I wonder if the people who benefited by the preference given to the Hebrew speaking believers were concerned that they would now be neglected? Another observation is that the original complaints against the apostles about the neglect of the Greek-speaking widows no doubt originated from the same ranks of Greek-speaking Jews who were afterward chosen to solve the problem. Let that be a lesson for you. If you have a godly leader and you lodge a complaint be prepared to be put in charge. If you have a vision that the church must take on a certain responsibility, if your pastor has any wisdom, he will place that burden upon your shoulders. If you are not willing to accept this, then you shouldn’t complain in the first place. Complaining in church is a veritable art form today. Complainers don’t really want to see a problem solved; they just want their voice to be heard. See to it that you never rank yourself among those that lodge contrary viewpoints but never want to be a part of the solution.
After appointing the deacons, the apostles intended to give themselves over continually to prayer and the ministry of the word. Notice that prayer is mentioned first before the preaching of the word. I remember a day when I told my congregation in Louisiana that I felt more called to pray for them than to preach for them. People quit the church. The deacons confronted me. I almost lost my job as their pastor. They weren’t interested in their pastor praying for them; they wanted entertaining messages. They wanted snappy sermons served fast in 30 minutes or their tithe back. Things are the way they are because of what we are doing. We need to choose leaders whose priorities reflect the character of these leaders of the early church.
Why? Because they were the first leaders of Christianity? No, rather because these leaders and the people who followed them were used by God to bring the civilized world to its knees at the foot of the cross in a scant three generations. You don’t need a pastor with a polished sermon delivery. You need a man who has an on-time connection with God that will labor over you in prayer until the purpose of God shakes your city to its foundations and the world around you is confronted with the claims of Christ by the quality and spiritual depth of the local church you are a part of. Because this was the commitment of the early Christians v. 7 tells us that the word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied even more than the significant growth that had occurred up to this point.
One of the deacons by the name of Stephen was so impacted by the laying on of the apostles’ hands that great wonders and miracles began to manifest in his life. People were affected. The synagogues of Jerusalem were scandalized. A dispute ensues, and several witnesses were prevailed upon to perjure themselves so as to bring Stephen up before the same council that had beaten the apostles and before that the same group of men who just a few months before conspired in the crucifixion of Jesus Himself.
The one accusation brought against Stephen was that of changing the traditions of the religious crowd. They were committed to the status quo. They didn’t like change. The wanted things to remain the same as they had always been and they were willing to assassinate Stephen’s character even at the peril of his life in order to maintain their control over what was happening around them. What about you? Do you like change? When the familiarity of your life is assaulted by the anointing and Spirit of God moving upon someone in your midst, are you challenged? We all say that we want to experience the days of Acts once again and see God’s glory in our midst moving in great power. Make no mistake about it – when this happens, if it happens there will be complications. Your schedule will be preempted. Your priorities will be challenged. Your family members will complain. They want things to go back the way they were. They won’t be on board, and they will put pressure on you to opt out of what God is doing in your midst. There will be accusations made as is the case now with Stephen. Stephen was accused of malicious intent simply because he was full of the Holy Ghost and getting results that no one could gainsay. How will you handle this when you are in the same position? Will you be standing with Stephen or will you be on the council of those who think enough is enough and let’s not get carried away?
As this council of hypocrites and liars rallies together to destroy the life of Stephen, he just sits there apparently in total silence, oblivious to what is happening around him. People are upset, but Stephen attention is elsewhere. The Spirit of God is sustaining him for what happens next. The grace of God is filling him with joy, and when his accusers look upon him, his face shines like that of an angel.
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