|Volume 21 Number 2 February 2019||
Can you imagine yourself in Stephen’s situation? From among the thousands of Christians in the city, the Christians in Jerusalem had chosen him and six other men to serve in a very special way (Acts 6:1-6). The apostles themselves had appointed him to his new work as one of the deacons. Along with the other six men, it was his responsibility to supply food to poor widows every day; and he had to be careful to do it in a way that was fair for all of them. His faithfulness in this work helped lighten the load of responsibilities that the apostles were carrying. It helped them give their full attention to teaching and preaching the Word of God. As a result, many more people were led to Christ (Acts 6:7).
Now, the enemies of the truth were throwing stones at Stephen (Acts 7:57-59). The pain was terrible, and death was near. He had served God well in relieving the suffering of other people, but God did not choose to spare Stephen from suffering and death at the hands of these wicked men.
It is reported that an atheist once asked a Christian, “If there is a God, why didn’t He help Stephen when his enemies stoned him to death?” The Christian replied, “God did help Stephen—by giving him the grace to pray for his murderers.”
The Lord does not promise to totally protect Christians from all problems and pains on earth. Sometimes, He does remove the trouble, and yet, at other times, God lets the trouble remain and provides His grace to help us endure (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The stones of enemies were able to destroy Stephen’s physical body, but they were not able to destroy his faith and love. In his dying moment, “…he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep [died]” (Acts 7:60).
God did not abandon Stephen. At the end of time, God will raise Stephen from death and bring him to His home in Heaven to live forever. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). God does promise to totally protect Christians forever in Heaven. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Let Go of Self and Let God Control
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In one congregation where I served, there was one individual who had convinced herself that what she wanted was what should be no matter what, and that everyone should make sure it happened for her. An example of this regarded her attitude toward an older member, who had Raynaud’s Phenomenon, which affects blood flow to the arms and legs in reaction to cold. Even in summer months, she had her coat and gloves with her, and many times had to sit in the entry way to the building, that the sun might shine on her to help her be warmer. This younger member, who layered the clothes she wore beyond what was either fashionable or reasonable, demanded the thermostat be set to 60 degrees for her comfort. When it was pointed out everyone else would basically freeze, and that this older member would be unable to worship with us under such conditions, her response was, “I don’t care about anyone else! This is what I want!”
Even though most everyone knew her selfish disposition, it was giving verbal expression to it that was shocking. A lack of love and concern for a fellow Christian, simply to accommodate oneself, and one’s sense of fashion, seemed outrageous. However, it shouldn’t be surprising what happens when one allows such attitudes to take control of the heart. The Hebrew writer warned, “But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Hebrews 3:13). The writer understood the principle expressed by Stephen Covey. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Sin settles in the mind and in the heart, becomes a lifestyle, then defines one’s character and determines a person’s eternal destiny. Yet all the while, its deception keeps one from realizing what it has done to one’s life.
Paul understood both the danger and the consequences sin brings to life. He encouraged the church at Corinth to test themselves to make sure they were still in the faith, to examine themselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). More than a suggestion, it’s a command, something we should constantly do, because our soul’s salvation depends on it! Just because one wants something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. It’s amazing how King Saul of Israel could deliberately rebel against the command of God, yet argue he had done God’s will, when instead, it was his own heart’s desire (1 Samuel 15). That was not an isolated incident of the past, but it is a problem that can exist at any time when temptation captivates a person’s heart and sin bears its fruit. We, too, must constantly be willing to examine our motives, but not by themselves, as they will always be deemed pure and noble. Everything we say and do must reflect the will of God at work in us. Do our motives, and the actions that spring from them, conform to God’s Word? “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
How does one do this? Spend time in God’s Word, not just in a mechanical manner where it goes in one ear and out the other, but really listening, setting it in one’s heart, seeking to find the application and then fitting it in to one’s daily life. Seek out others who can honestly, lovingly, help one see both strengths and weaknesses to overcome. Pray each day for God to keep one’s heart and mind open and tender, that His will can be the direction one takes for life. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).