Stephen – The Full Man
Written by Donald R. Alves
Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3), full of wisdom (Acts 6:3), full of faith (Acts 6:5), full of grace (Acts 6:8); and, probably a result of possessing these virtues, he was full of power (Acts 6.8). Power is not an end in itself – it is result of a proper spiritual condition. This man stands as an excellent example of how a Christian can be a force for God.
We cannot excuse our weakness on the grounds that the Spirit has not chosen to fill us. He has, but we can prevent it. We do not acquire the Spirit by degrees. He lives in us and fills us to the extent that we do not extinguish his light (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or cause Him grief (Ephesians 4:30). We who are born again, live in the Spirit; the question is whether or not we are willing to walk in Him (Galatians 5:25).
Ephesians 5:18 is the verse that exhorts us to be filled with the Spirit, and the verse is surrounded by instructions on how to behave so this can be a reality. The chapter does not talk about exotic and sensational experiences of superconsecration; but rather of everyday matters such as walking carefully, not wasting time, being humble, and treating one another respectfully in the home. Stephen must have practised what Ephesians 5 teaches, and that is part of what the Jerusalem Christians meant when they held him to be of good report (Acts 6:3).
Stephen was also full of wisdom. We could expect as much, because when he was asked to serve as a deacon, it pleased the whole multitude, even though he and his fellows were apparently Greeks among Jews (Acts 6:5). 1 Timothy 3 does not require that the deacon be apt to teach, as is required of the elder, but it says he has to be a person of good character and pure conscience. Stephen was able to be fair and understanding at a time when the Lord’s people were sensitive to possible partiality between them (Acts 6:1).
His wisdom was shown not only amongst the Christians but also before the ungodly that railed on him. A lesser man would have answered these fools according to their folly, but Stephen carefully calls them brothers and fathers (Acts 7:2), before he proceeds to show their sinful condition (Acts 7:51). He walked in wisdom toward those outside; he knew how to answer every man (Colossians 4:5,6).
His wisdom showed out in his command of the Word of God, as we see in chapter 7 where he recounts Israel’s history. Stephen must have spoken for fifteen minutes at least, but he limits his message to the Scriptures. A dozen times or more he quotes directly and at all times he gives the sense of the Word, as did Ezra years before. Stephen was wise in applying the Word to his particular audience.
Stephen used the double-edged sword of the Word in such a way that it cut to the heart as soon as he applied the message to Christ (Acts 7:54). He knew Christ as the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:25).
He was full of faith (Acts 6:5). A deacon in the Jerusalem assembly needed great faith to care for the material needs of a group that was growing so rapidly! His faith went far beyond the question of how to feed God’s people. It extended to the valley of the shadow of death, when evil men accused him in circumstances remarkably similar to the trial that led to Christ’s death only a few months before. And Stephen before those evil men? Why, his face was angelic! (Acts 6.15). Then, in the moment of death, this man of faith looked steadfastly into heaven and commended himself to a faithful Creator.
Stephen was full of grace. The King James Version reads in Acts 6:8, “full of faith and power,” but a more common translation is that he was full of grace and power. He was gracious in caring for widows and in doing great wonders and miracles among the people. His speech was certainly with grace, seasoned with salt, when he appeared before the council. And, as Hebrews 13:7 says, consider the end of his manner of life. Stephen leaves the stage of the Church’s written history with a gracious prayer that the Lord would not lay to the charge of his murderers their terrible sin.
God gives grace to the humble and Stephen qualified right to the end. God’s purpose for Stephen, as far as is recorded in Scriptures, was that he wait on tables (Acts 6:2), so that others would be free to preach. Stephen’s fullness of power was manifest among the common people before it was made evident in the council chamber! God’s ways are not ours, and we will never know power in our lives as long as we imagine that we can define our own ministry.
Stephen’s ministry was different from what we would have expected it to be, and brief. Nevertheless he, the first deacon, stands as the ideal fulfilment of the promise in 1 Timothy 3:13, which says that the faithful deacon purchases good standing (before God?) and great boldness (before men?) in the faith.
If you and I were filled with the Spirit, wisdom, faith, and grace, the power would be evident to others even if not to ourselves. Stephen’s light burned brightly and not in vain; devout men lamented his death and then went abroad to continue what he started in the power of God (Acts 8:2,4).
© Copyright 2017 by Donald R Alves. Please do not copy or distribute this content without the express written permission of the copyright owner.