Throughout Acts, we see the early church living beyond its walls, reaching into the places people lived and worked with demonstrations of the gospel. Some of that looked like public prayer and teaching, but much of it centred around more practical aspects of life.
Chapter 6 starts with a problem: some of the Greek widows were missing out on the daily food allocation, along with allegations of favouritism. It was too serious to ignore. With the apostles tied up in their God-given calling of preaching, the decision was made to create a team of deacons to take responsibility for the social needs. Before long, the gospel reach had been extended, through the caring actions of the new team.
It was St Francis of Assisi who reputedly said, ‘Preach the gospel at all times – and, if necessary, use words.’ We make a huge mistake when we confine our Christian activities to what we might call the “spiritual” ones. We pray for more of the Holy Spirit, perhaps to help our prayers and to understand the Bible better; and we’re not wrong to do so. But we read here about Stephen, one of the new team of seven, described as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” and we see that he used that infilling and empowering to get stuck into a ministry of help.
It wasn’t long, though, before Stephen found himself in trouble of his own. Despite his reputation for wisdom and hard work, he was accused by senior religious officials of blasphemy. It was all nonsense, of course; the case cobbled together and relying on corrupt witnesses.
How did Stephen respond? It’s hard not to compare him with Jesus before His accusers, seeing that same sense of serenity which comes from a life surrendered to the Father. ‘His face was like the face of an angel.’ He was about to embark on a robust defence of his position from the scriptures, but he gives the impression that he was peaceful whichever way it might go.
His account of God’s people is filled with references to rescue. Abraham was plucked from his home and enabled supernaturally to become the father of the Jewish people. Joseph was sold as a slave but eventually established as a leader at a crucial time in his country’s history. Moses had committed murder but became the saviour of the Israelite slaves in Egypt. Stephen was in deep trouble of his own; but we’ll have to find out tomorrow how that went…
Lord, may we be as ready to get our hands dirty as we are to pray – and always in Your name and for Your glory.