Full Of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom
Men and women of good character are needed for the church to do its work. There were seven men of such exemplary character in the early church at Jerusalem. They were selected by the brethren to serve the local church in a special way. Two of these men began preaching the gospel. They preached the same gospel, but the results of their preaching were different. Consider:
Seven Chosen To Serve (Acts 6:1-6)
The number of disciples in Jerusalem was growing rapidly. Greek speaking Jews believed their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of benevolent aid (vs. 1). To fix this problem, the apostles called the whole church together and told them it was not desirable for them to leave their work to serve tables (vs. 2). The apostles wanted to be able to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (vs. 4).
So the apostles told the disciples to choose seven men "full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom" whom they could appoint over this business (vs. 3). This pleased the disciples and they chose seven such men. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. When the seven were presented to the church and the apostles prayed and laid their hands on them, appointing them to the task.
It is interesting and revealing that problems arose so quickly in the new church. But it is not so surprising. There was a varied group of people trying to meld into one body. They were having to learn patience and brotherly consideration and tolerance. One lesson that ought to be clear is this: problems that arise in the church must be dealt with quickly. Murmuring can destroy fellowship. Fair and righteous solutions must be sought (1 Corinthians 6:4,5; Philippians 2:3-5).
Also, the church needs to exercise care in choosing those that will serve. Those with proven character, faith and commitment should be given responsibility accordingly; those without such should be given time, opportunity and encouragement to develop their characters in a godly way.
Stephen (Acts 6:8-8:2)
Following the laying on of the apostles' hands, Stephen is said to have performed great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). After some time, apparently rather short, those from the synagogue of the Freedmen disputed with Stephen, but they could not resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke (Acts 6:9,10). These Jews secretly induced men to accuse Stephen of speaking blasphemy against Moses and God. They accused him of speaking against the temple and the law, saying that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple and change the customs of Moses. This was not true, of course, but it had also been a charge made against Jesus.
Stephen was seized and brought before the Council (Acts 6:12). Stephen answered the charges by reviewing Jewish history (7:1-53). He discussed Abraham (vss. 1-8), Joseph (vss. 9-16), Moses (vss. 17-44) and Joshua, David and Solomon (vss. 45-50).
Then, Stephen brought the lesson home. After talking of the persecution and mistreatment of the ancient prophets by the people, he condemned the Council by saying, "You are doing the same things your ancestors did." (Acts 7:51-53).
The Council members were cut to the heart. They gnashed at him with their teeth, stopped their ears, ran at him with one accord, cast him out of the city, and stoned him to death.
As he was being murdered, Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." and "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." (vss. 55-60), How similar these two requests are to the ones Jesus made to the Father as He was being crucified. Stephen died and was buried by devout men (8:2).
Men cannot really defeat the wisdom of God's word. They can ignore it, mock it, refuse to listen, and hate those who speak it; but man has no good answer to it nor a good alternative with which to replace it (Isaiah 55:8.9; 1 Corinthians 1:18-21,25).
False accusations are weapons used by the enemies of God's people. It happens often. If and when such happens to you... follow heaven's advice: first, keep your behavior excellent among the unbelievers (1 Peter 2:11-12); second, do not fear their intimidation but set up Jesus as Lord of your heart and prepare yourself to give good and righteous answers for your faith (1 Peter 3:14-16) ; and glorify God in the name "Christian" (1 Peter 4:16).
Philip (Acts 8; 21:8,9)
Philip, another of the seven, preached and performed miracles in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8). It was there that Simon the sorcerer and the Samaritans believed and were baptized (vss. 9-13). Peter and John came to Samaria and laid hands on them so that the Samaritans could receive the Holy Spirit as Philip had received Him back in Jerusalem (vss. 14-17). This was necessary because Philip was not an apostle and so could not pass on the gifts himself.
After this, Philip was sent by an angel to meet an Ethiopian nobleman. He preached Jesus to him and baptized him (vss. 26-40). Then, Philip was "caught away" and was found in Azotus. He preached in the cities until he came to Caesarea (vss. 39-40).
Many years later, Paul stayed with Philip in Caesarea. At this time, Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8,9).
Like Stephen and Philip, we must teach others the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). This was a common attribute among faithful and growing Christians in the first century. Also. Note that if we preach the same gospel that Philip did, we will preach baptism in Christ (Acts 8:12; 36-39; cf. Acts 2:38).
Stephen felt his faith was worth dying for. Philip felt his faith was worth living for. They are both right... faith is worth living for and dying for. Stephen faced his final hour's ordeal with confidence and hope because of what he had found in Jesus. Philip lived his life with the same degree of confidence. Faithful children of God share this same confidence with these early brethren. Is this living hope yours today as well?
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 15.4; April 2008