The Faith to Stand
Devotional Reading: Proverbs 8:1-11
Lesson Scripture: Acts 6:8-7:2a
Lesson Aims: To recognize that faith empowers believers to act; to explain the charges against Stephen; and to seek the power and wisdom to stand-up/speak-out on current issues facing society.
Background: Rome viewed the early church as a sect (part) of Judaism. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body, didn’t care for that reference. After all, they were the ones who forced Rome to execute Jesus. At times the high court was cordial to the church but they basically felt that the church was their enemy. The church was growing so fast that the court needed to watch them to keep them. The close knit community of believers faced problems within and outside their ranks. Whatever the believers had, they shared with one another.
They had the concern for the body like Jesus had. Internally, hypocrisy raised its head but God dealt with it (Acts 5:1-11). A dispute developed between the Hellenist (Greek speaking) Jewish converts and the Hebraic (Aramaic speaking) Jewish converts. It appeared that the Grecian widows were not receiving their fair share of the daily distributions. Brought to the Twelve (Matthias replaced Judas) for resolution, they decided to allow the assembly of men to choose seven of their own to carry out these duties. The chosen had to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom.”
Their selections included Stephen and Philip. All seven are named in Acts 6:5-6. The Twelve ordained them to serve, and the church continued to grow.
Lesson: Stephen’s boldness is the focal point for today. This deacon not only ministers to the needy, but also performs mighty works of God. Highly respected in the community, his actions bring him into direct conflict with the Jews in the Synagogue of the Freedmen located in the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. They opposed Stephen’s teachings. Their arguments against him couldn’t match up against his wisdom. Falling back on their tradition, they came up with some “false witnesses,” charging him with blasphemy. The people get riled up; they apprehend Stephen and take him before the Sanhedrin.
The trumped up charges remind us of Jesus’ trial years earlier that led to His death! Why were the accusations so serious? First, the witnesses skewed his statements. For the Jews, Moses, the Law, and the Temple (only one) were sacred. Their identity is associated with them as well. The great deliverer led them out of Egypt; prepared them to become a nation and to enter the Promised Land.
This legendary leader also served as their mediator with God. The Law (Torah) set them apart from all of the other residents in the area. The Law covered the morals, social institutions and religious practices. To defy or alter any of them was an abomination! During their exodus, the portable Tabernacle was where God would meet them. Hundreds of years later, Solomon built the permanent Temple. The Israelites still believed that God met them there. The witnesses make their charges against Stephen to the high court. In Jewish culture, the accused can defend himself. All eyes are on his as they notice that his face looks like an angel’s (reflecting God’s holiness). Stephen begins his defense by retelling their history. By all means, read chapter 7 for next week.
Application: Stephen’s boldness comes from his faith, love of Jesus, and his wisdom. Standing for right means his witness is strong. The charges were not about him per se but about Jesus and their attitudes. As leaders, do we often times take our eyes off the prize? How important is wisdom? You did read the devotional reading, right? Wisdom directs us went speak and when not to speak. That is important. Wisdom will also direct you as to “how” to approach an issue, and wisdom will give you the words to say. Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost knew exactly how to present his case. Do we?