Stephen: Grace and Serenity in Suffering
“And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
Stephen’s excellent character teaches us much about responding to suffering and death.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is one of the most inspiring biblical examples of faithfulness in life and ministry. But his personal excellence shines forth most through the familiar account of his death by stoning.
As one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen was recognized early on as a man of great faith and spirituality (Acts 6:5). And a few verses later Luke describes him as “full of grace and power” (v. 8). That was a grace of loving-kindness toward others, which he displayed in a most powerful way just before his death.
In Acts 7:60, as the Jews were pelting him with rocks, Stephen was able to look up to Heaven and say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” That kind of faith-filled, grace-filled reaction to those who were hatefully killing him was possible only because Stephen believed in God’s sovereign control over his life and death.
At the very start of his encounter, Stephen manifested another amazing response to his horribly unjust treatment: his enemies “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). It’s impossible for us to know precisely what such an expression would have been like, but it denoted a supernatural tranquility and joy that comes from being enveloped by the Lord’s glorious presence. Stephen’s awesome expression must have been an extremely forceful rebuke to the Jewish leaders who claimed to know God.
The typical reaction from many of us in the same situation would have been to exhibit much anxiety, stress, and anger. But Stephen demonstrated no such response. Instead, he is a role model for how any believer ought to behave during the most challenging trial. He had more than adequate grace to cope well in every circumstance (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; James 4:6), which is true of all genuine Christians—those “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord for Christian friends who are role models to you. Pray that your behavior today would be special and Spirit-filled, not ordinary and man-centered.
For Further Study
Read Exodus 33:7-11, 17-23; 34:29-35. What does Moses’ experience reveal about the power of God’s glory?