Tonight, I had the privilege of preaching at my church, Mount Calvary Baptist, in Greenville, SC. I preached from Acts 6-7.
This passage reveals at least four ways that we are to honor God by being filled with the Holy Spirit:
The record of his initial selection to his ministry shows emphasis on Stephen’s being filled with the Spirit (6:3, 5). His being first on the list of exemplary men among the multitude of disciples shows that he was a man whose life openly honored God (good reputation; full of faith, wisdom, and power). He thus first exemplifies the truth that God wants us to honor Him by being filled with the Spirit in our daily living.
Stephen honored God in his subsequent ministry because he was filled with the Spirit (implicit in the miraculous ministry that he had [6:8] and explicit in the irresistible ministry that he had [6:10]). His irresistible ministry through the Spirit was a fulfillment of promised help from Jesus (Luke 21:15; Mark 13:9).
Like Stephen, second, God wants us to honor Him by being filled with the Holy Spirit in our ministering for Him. The gospel is to come to people through us not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thess. 1:5).
Because of his faithful ministry for God, Stephen faced persecution by unrighteous authorities (6:11-8:1). He honored God in how he faced such persecution.
Stephen faced his persecutors by confronting them with a lengthy message (7:2-53) that showed that he had allowed God’s words to dwell richly in him. The Spirit guided him as he defended the faith, using the truths that he had no doubt stored up in his heart over the years.
Stephen bore abundant testimony to God and Christ by speaking of God more than 30 times. Through a lengthy recounting of Israelite history, he challenged these people about their always resisting the Holy Spirit, even as their fathers had (7:51). His doing so implies his being filled with the Spirit.
He then bore testimony to the chief way in which they had resisted the Spirit: they martyred the Just One of whom the prophets had spoken (7:52). They were persecuting Stephen for his testimony to Jesus about what He would do to the temple and the Law; Stephen turned the tables on them by showing how God does not dwell in temples made with hands and that they therefore had a misplaced focus on the physical structure (7:48-50) and how they had not kept the Law themselves (7:53).
His testimony climaxed with testimony to Christ as the One standing on the right hand of God. Luke’s record emphasizes that truth through two successive statements (7:55-56).
Stephen’s Spirit-filled identification and glorification of Jesus as the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God was another fulfillment of Jesus’ promise (Mark 13:11). His use of both Daniel 7 (passage from the OT that is the most used by the NT writers) and Psalm 110 (passage from the OT that is the most quoted by the NT writers) shows strong emphasis on Jesus as the Judge at the right hand of God (cf. “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man” [John 5:27]).
In the midst of gross injustice, Stephen bore Spirit-filled Christlike testimony to Jesus as the Judge at the right hand of God. Powerless to resist their perversion of justice, Stephen entrusted himself to the One who is ready to Judge the living and the dead.
From his Christlike example, we see, third, that God want believers who, for their faith, face persecution to honor Him by bearing Spirit-filled, Christlike testimony to Jesus as the supreme judicial Authority at the right hand of God.
Because he honored God in defending the faith in the midst of official persecution, Stephen was martyred (7:57-8:1). From his example, we learn fourth that God wants believers who face martyrdom to honor Him by Spirit-filled Christlike prayer.
Jesus had prayed, “Father into Thy hands I commend My Spirit” (Luke 23:46). He thereby entrusted Himself to the One who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23). Stephen’s first prayer (7:59) displayed his entrusting himself to the One whom He believed judges righteously, Jesus as the God-exalted Son of Man.
Stephen’ second prayer honored God by displaying his Christlike desire and request that his persecutors would not have their sin laid on them (7:60). Jesus had prayed for His persecutors, “Father forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed to Jesus, the Son of Man, who, even when He was on the earth did supernatural works to prove to people that He had authority on earth to forgive sins (Luke 5:24-25). Having been given all authority in heaven and earth, He now is the Son of Man at the right hand of God who forgives people’s sins.
Stephen’s unnatural prayer—he did not pray for vengeance—revealed the control that the Spirit exerted in his life so that he was what Jesus wants us all to be: people who “pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44).
His prayer displays the heart of God who does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked and does not want anyone to perish; in fact, He is a God who delights in mercy!
Through the account of Stephen’s life and martyrdom, God wants us to learn to honor Him by being filled with the Spirit 1) in our daily lives, 2) in our ministering for Him, and 3) in our facing persecution (and perhaps even martyrdom for some) for the faith by bearing Spirit-filled Christlike testimony and praying Spirit-filled Christlike prayers.
Let us all honor God by being filled with the Holy Spirit!