One of the outworkings of the gospel is that it will inevitably reorder your value system. This is exactly what we find in the book of Acts, in the life of an ordinary man name Stephen – he realized the value of the gospel and was willing to risk everything to preach it. It’s because of common guys like Stephen—much more than through the apostles—that the early church grew. I think there are 5 lessons we can learn from the life of Stephen.
1. The core of Christian commitment is service.
Our desire at the Summit is to be a place characterized by service. And our people really seem to get it. It’s humbling to pull into in the parking lot and see guys with doctorate degrees serving on our parking team. Is that the best use of their specific talents? Not exactly. But the reason these guys wear goofy vests and stand in the freezing cold, is because they understand there is a need—and they stand willing to serve.
We should all make room in our life to do things we aren’t necessarily thrilled to do, so we might maintain the role and attitude of “servant.” Nothing is below us as Christians; we should approach every service opportunity in the same manner as Stephen: “It’s not about me, and if this is how I can serve the body of Christ, I’ll gladly do it.”
2. Nothing is more important than the Word of God.
Nothing is more important than teaching the Bible. When it comes to my schedule as a pastor, I am indebted to my church for allowing me to focus primarily on preaching. By taking care of other needs in our church, they free me up to teach the Word of God. That’s what you find Stephen doing in Acts 6.
But it’s not enough for pastors to prioritize teaching it; you have to prioritize learning it. All Christians should “be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The Holy Spirit can only bring things to your memory that you have already committed to memory!
3. God does his greatest work through “ordinary” people.
This comes up again and again and again in the book of Acts. It’s not the famous apostles who primarily spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. It’s the average, everyday Christians. We’ve got to remember this, because it’s easy to look at Acts and think, “They did some amazing things, but they were apostles!” But ordinary people filled with the Spirit can do everything an apostle can do. Jesus said his followers would do “greater works” than him, because he was going to the Father and sending his Spirit to us. That means that some of God’s greatest miracles are supposed to happen through you.
4. Christians are a befuddling contradiction to the world.
Christians should be confusing to the surrounding world, because they speak with both grace and truth. You see that in Stephen’s life: one minute he’s pointing his finger at the religious leaders and calling them heartless murderers (truth), and the next—as they’re stoning him—he prays for their forgiveness (grace). It’s not usual to find somebody switch gears like that. Our society has no category for someone speaking prophetic truth with tender grace. So when Christians embody both, the world scratches its head.
Sadly, even if you speak truth graciously, the world will hate you. Jesus flowed with grace and truth, as did Stephen, and the world killed them both. Some people will always throw stones at Christians, but others, like Saul, will see the sweetness of Jesus and be converted.
5. Sometimes God’s will for us is martyrdom.
Stephen did everything right and he ended up dead. What happened? Why didn’t God rescue him? Honestly, we don’t know always why God allows his people to suffer. But we do know that the sermons we preach in our pain are louder than the ones we preach in our prosperity. Stephen’s most effective contribution to the kingdom of God came through his martyrdom.
It may be that God’s will for our life isn’t one that takes us from blessing to blessing, but one that follows Stephen on the road to martyrdom. But in the end, we will, like Stephen, look up to heaven and see Jesus standing in affirmation. Only when we know that Jesus stands before us, in love and victory at the right hand of God, will we have the power to endure the scorn of the world. And though earth may reject us, we can endure knowing that heaven will accept us.
For more, be sure to listen to the entire sermon here.