A Godward Life

A Godward Life

Robert Murray McShane, a 19th Century pastor, wrote a letter to a missionary friend concerning the necessity of a Godly character in ministry. He asserted, “In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talent that God blesses so much as a great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

In writing this, he could have been describing a man that we meet in Acts 6. We are introduced to a Greek-speaking Jew by the name of Stephen. He was chosen and approved by the church as one of the seven men fit to address the problem of distributing food to the Greek-speaking widows. Stephen seems to be the leader of the seven as his name is listed first in that list given to us in Acts 6, and his story is told in great detail. Stephen acts as a transitional figure in the Book of Acts. He spans the gap between the two great apostles that written about in Acts: first, Peter, who is introduced from the very beginning as preaching the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost and his ministry is primarily to the Jews in Israel; but then, after Stephen appears and he is eventually martyred, another apostle emerges. In fact, this apostle is introduced in the story of Stephen, and that is the apostle Paul who spread the Gospel throughout the whole world and whose ministry was primarily to the Gentiles.

Stephen’s fearless proclamation of the Gospel positioned him to become the first martyr of the church. As important as Stephen is to the history of the church and its early formation, Stephen is also important because of his character and that is what is emphasized in the story. Stephen reminds every person who serves Jesus Christ that it is not great talent that God blesses so much as it is a great likeness to Jesus. If you and I are to be effective in our service to God, in whatever sphere that might be, it is not our natural talent or intellect that God needs, so much as it is a character and a life of Godliness that will be used. Holy living is necessary for the effective of service of every member in Christ’s church. This is particularly essential for those who God’s flock, as Stephen did. The modern church needs to sit at Stephen’s feet to be reminded of this vital lesson. No person can effectively lead Jesus’ church who does not reflect Jesus’ character. Sadly, the church often gives up on this principle.

Not long ago, a secular newspaper printed an article of a well-known pastor who resigned under pressure when his moral and financial failings became public. Immediately after his resignation, 400 people from his church left that church and called this man to be the pastor immediately. They said that they loved the fact that he was, “So human!” In fact, one woman in this congregation felt that this scandal had equipped her pastor to be, “A better pastor.” I wish such twisted reason was a rare anomaly in today’s church, but it has become common place.

Acts 6 brings us back to the principle that only Christ-like leaders are equipped to lead Jesus’ church. This does not mean that such leaders approach sinless perfection. All Christians, leaders or not, still sin, but this qualification means that God’s grace has been humbly and actively received so as to produce a Christ-like character; that is a life that is oriented toward submission to God in all spheres, in everything of life, a life that is Godward.

Every believer yearns to live to the glory of God. That is what God does. God’s grace causes us to desire to live a life that would bring Him glory. Stephen encourages us with a very real-world model of a Godward life and this is a model for each one of us. We look closely at the life of Stephen to be encouraged to live the kind of life that God has designed for us, as His redeemed people, to live.

From Stephen we are going to observe four specific character traits that mark a Godward life. These aren’t the only character traits, but these are the one’s that dominate Stephen’s life and that we can learn from him that are the best. First, the Godward life is a life full of the Holy Spirit. The second characteristic is that a Godward life is a life full of Grace. Third, the Godward life is a life full of courage and boldness. Fourth, the Godward life is a life full of mercy, love, and forgiveness.

As we look at this first character trait that a Godward life is a full of the Holy Spirit, we look at the brief biography of Stephen and three times Stephen is described in this way. In Verse 3, he is described indirectly in this way:

“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit…”

Even in this administrative task of distributing food to Greek-speaking widows there was a requirement of “Godly character”. It is not so much the great talents that God blesses so much as it is a Godly life. In Verse 5, we read:

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…

As we continue on in Verse 10, we read:

Opposition arose, however… 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.

As we move to Acts 7:55, we read:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

God doesn’t want us to miss this specific character trait of the life of a man or of a woman who is oriented toward God in everything and in everyway. We might argue that every other character trait of the Christian flows from this one; that apart from having a life full of the Holy Spirit it is impossible to have any other Christ-like character for it is Christ’s Spirit, God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit that enables us. This trait reveals the power source needed in order for you and I to live a Christ-like life. No one can life like Jesus did simply through the sheer act of will power. There is not one of us strong enough to stand up against the enemies of God. We are not able to overcome God’s enemies simply through our own personal desire, will, and “want to”. The world in her influence would squeeze each one of us into her mold, apart from a supernatural power. The flesh that is inside of us would wear us down and we would ultimately succumb. The evil one, Satan, would crush us in his power; we wouldn’t stand a chance if we were left to our own devises.

The good news is this: we are not left on our own. We have been given the Spirit of God, Jesus Himself, who, when He ascended into Heaven, fulfilled a promise He had made to His people: “When I leave you I will send you another comforter, another like Me”, so it is God’s Spirit that resides with us and in us to provide us with God’s power, a power to live a different kind of life. This is the reality of the Christian.

Martin Luther well understood the nature of the spiritual battle and the necessity of God’s power through Christ, as He gives us His Spirit, as he wrote the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. We need a mighty fortress, we need a castle to run into, because left outside the castle of God we will be overrun by this enemy that is more powerful and numerous than we. This God is:

…a bulwark, never failing, amid the flood of mortal ills, prevailing…

Have you ever sensed the flood of mortal ills?

For still our ancient foe doeth seek to work us woe
His craft and his power are great…

Awesome is the power and craftiness of the evil one, and he is

…armed with cruel hate…on earth is not his equal…

Not one of us can stand up and say, “I will fight the Devil. I will kick him to the curb.” There is not one of us that would dare to utter those words. In fact, Scripture warns us never to say such. Instead of rebuking the Devil, we say, as the Scriptures say (Zechariah 3:2a):

The Lord rebuke you…

Martin Luther went on to write,

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus it is he…

The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth…

He understood that Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, provided God’s Spirit so that we might live a Godward life. Without God’s Spirit our lives will be bent away from God and we will continue to walk further and further, with each step, away from the Holiness of the One who redeemed us.

Only those in a right relationship with Jesus can be full of the Holy Spirit. It is important to understand that. To be full of God’s Spirit is not to be simply full of some impersonal force that is religious in nature and that many “spiritual people” have this aura about them, but the Holy Spirit is a real person that comes to us through our vital union with the living, Lord Jesus as we trust in Him by faith.

Believers still ask, “Can I be full of God’s Spirit like Stephen was full of God’s Spirit?” The answer to that is, “Yes, in fact, you and I are commanded to be.” In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul would write (Ephesians 5:18):

…do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit…

We then ask, “How can I be filled with God’s Spirit?” There are two words that may help us to understand how we might be filled with God’s Spirit. The first word is dependence and the second word is submission. Dependence means that we embrace the truth that our own strength, wisdom, skill, and our own might is inadequate to live a God-honoring life. Dependence doesn’t stop there with the recognition of spiritual poverty, spiritual inability, and spiritual inadequacy. It begins there and that is why Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by saying (Matthew 5:3):

“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit…”

He is saying that blessed are those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt, beggars before God, because when we know that then we will rightly respond rightly to that spiritual inadequacy and bankruptcy, as He continues (Matthew 5:4),

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

Dependence doesn’t embrace the truth that our own strength is inadequate, but it embraces the fact that everything we need is found in Jesus. There is a great picture of dependence, a recognition of spiritual inadequacy, and an embracing of the sufficiency of God in all things for us in the Old Testament. It is the Old Testament story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. David had ascended to the throne and the nation of Israel is united behind him. Saul died in battle against the Philistines and most of Saul’s children were killed as well. Jonathan, with whom David had such a tremendous, covenant friendship, is spoken of as we being 2 Samuel 9:

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

This is rather remarkable in itself in that Saul tried to kill David, and any descendents left over had the potential of seeking to usurp the throne back from David because they were still connected to the first king, yet here is David, in his grace, saying, “Is there anyone left in Saul’s family to whom I can show kindness?” A servant in Saul’s household by the name of Ziba told David that there was one by the name of Mephibosheth (Verse 3b),

“…a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”

Earlier we are told that he became crippled because his nurse dropped him as a young boy and both his legs were broken. There was no medical treatment for that, at that time, so he was a cripple. As a cripple, in that day, we need to understand, you were viewed as completely useless. This certainly disqualified you for any important role in your culture or society. You were cast outside the realm of the cultured world and you were left to beg for subsistence. This is the plight of Mephibosheth. Who does Mephibosheth symbolize? He symbolizes you and me; that we are lame and crippled and we are cast outside the realm of the right order of God’s household. We are unable to be a part of the royal family anymore. There is no hope that we would ever be able to enter back into the royal family because the condition was such that we could not amend it ourselves and it continued to stick to us. We are unable to change that condition.

David was requested to show kindness, specifically to Mephibosheth, again indicating that David symbolizes God in the initiation of grace upon mankind. In Verse 7, David says,

“Don’t be afraid for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Here is this tremendous grace that David is providing for Mephibosheth to be able to enter back as the rightful heir of royalty, even though he had been disqualified through something that had happened to him. Mephibosheth is nonplussed and he says in Verse 8,

“What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Again, there is an initial sense to reject this offer of grace because of the overwhelming sense that Mephibosheth had of the vileness of his position. This is a picture of dependence. Mephibosheth would not have been able to enjoy anything that was being offered except as he received it by grace, the graciousness of the king. In recognition of his condition that he was inadequate in his own, yet, he opened himself up to this king who was gracious and willing to provide for him that which he could have never provided for himself. Verse 11 (NIV) reads,

“Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Dependence is a recognition of our inadequacy, but it doesn’t stop there. It is also a trust and a willingness to receive the sufficiency of God for everything that we need. I wonder, are you depending upon God or have you become self-sufficient in your life, particularly your spiritual life, with God? Do you believe that you somehow have a rightful place at the table, or do you recognize every day that you come to that table as Mephibosheth did; “I recognize that I don’t belong here and yet I am willing to receive that which this gracious King is offering me. He is sufficient for this. He has a right to offer me what He is.”

We need to depend upon God, first, for the acceptance from Him so that we might be received as a child of the King, as a part of this royal family which is lead by Jesus. Also, we need to depend upon God not only for acceptance into His family, but so that we might live as sons of the King; so that we might now reflect the nature of this new family, so that we might live a Godward life dependence. Do you wish to be filled with God’s Spirit? It begins with childlike dependence.

The second word we want to observe is: submission; that it the active attitude of obedience toward God. It is the earnest pursuit of obedience. It is not a half-hearted, lukewarm affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus when we say, “We come and we sing some songs and we talk about Jesus being Lord,” but rather, it is a zealous, vigorous engagement of one’s heart to yield all to God. It is no weak-willed wish that this would happen, or take place, so that we could be like that, but it is saying, “I must be like this and I am going to organize the priorities of my life around the pursuit of a Godward life; a life that will reflect the person of Jesus. Christianity is not to be s spectator sport. We must be actively engaged so that every morning that we get up we are actively, zealously pursuing the Godward life; the life that would reflect the character of Jesus.

This is the kind of submission that God calls us to: first, dependence, and then active submission and active yieldedness. These are the two conditions of a life that is filled with God’s Spirit. They sound so simple, but so often they are so difficult because, first, we, in our pride, want to think that we aren’t completely inadequate; that we are not completely unable. Furthermore, we, in our willfulness, certainly do not want to yield everything, every area, and every aspect. We want to hold on to some, but we will yield most of life, but we say to God, “This is what I want to hold onto.” One who has such attitudes and heart desires is unable to understand what it means to be full of God’s Spirit.

Is there anything hindering God’s Spirit from being fruitful in your life? You cannot resist the authority of God’s Spirit and be full of Him at the same time. It is possible to externally conform to some external standards without internally submitting. It is like the boy who was made to sit in the corner, who gritted through his teeth, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside.” So often there are pressures that come to bear that cause us to externally conform to “sort of” a Christ-likeness, but all the while in our heart we are standing up in defiance of God.

The second trait that Stephen reveals to us is that he was full of God’s Grace, as we see in Verse 8 (NIV) of our study:

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

Two ideas emerge as to what it means to be “full of grace”. In the pre-Christian times the word “grace” was used to describe the characteristic of charm, elegance, beauty, and a loveliness of life that winsome that drew people naturally to it. This certainly was a character trait of Stephen. Even those who rejected Stephen’s message noticed his winsomeness; some charming, beautiful, and elegant about his person. In Verse 15 we read,

All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Understand that these were the opponents of Stephen. These were people who didn’t like him. It is interesting that they saw that because a majority of them didn’t believe in angels, and yet they considered that Stephen looked like and angel if angels existed; that is to say, they didn’t look at Stephen and say, “An angel! I don’t even want to look at that guy. He looks like an angel.” No, they don’t say that. They say, “There is something about him that, even though I hate what he is saying and I am going to hate even more what he is going to say, is winsome, that wants me to look upon him. There is something about his countenance that reflects the beauty of God.”

We, as Christians, have been so graced that there isn’t any reason why we should not be full of grace. Our countenance and our attitude of life should reflect the person that has been so super-abundantly graced – graced beyond belief. We, as Christians, must not be difficult to be around. We, of all people, have no right to go about being grumpy and grouchy. If we have a reputation for being tough and being stern, stingy, critical, grouchy, and grumpy, it is probably because we are not walking with Jesus and we are not full of grace. A person full of grace doesn’t reflect those characteristics. Are we to be radical? Yes, we should be wildly radically. Are we to be angry? No, sometimes we can ruin our witness for Jesus because there is not winsomeness, no gentleness, no kindness, no elegance, no beauty, no charm, or no forgiveness in our lives.

When I think of winsomeness I think of Kimberly’s grandfather. He is a man who is abundantly generous and complimentary and so encouraging. People around him recognize that there is something about this guy that is interesting to be around and that draws us to him. We will go into a restaurant and we will hear, as the waitress comes up, “Hey, Ray! I have seen you for awhile. Come on in we have a special table for you.” We sit down at this special table and guess who we see next: the chef comes out in his big chef hat and says, “Ray, we got this special fish in for you and I am going to cook it up for you even though it is not on the menu.” Let me ask you, how is it that this guy gets such a response from so many people as we are out and about with him. I will tell you, he is a man full of grace, and this is who we are to be – people who reflect Jesus and there is something about the beauty of Jesus that rubs off on us and we reflect that, even as Stephen did.

Full of grace certainly is to be full of the loveliness of Christ, but grace is also used to describe a spiritual strength that comes from God; a strength to live a holy life. It is the evidence of something supernatural that is happening inside. This grace of God that we receive as salvation not only brings about to us acceptance by God and forgiveness from Him, but it is also a grace that transforms us from the inside out. Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10, NIV) and be full of grace. How can we, as believers, become full of grace? It is through faith; that is how we get grace, if we are trusting and depending and leaning on Jesus day-by-day.

Acts 6:5 says,

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith…

Stephen is described as “a man full of faith”, and I think this “full of faith” and “full of grace” are intricately connected. This is how Stephen became a man full of grace because he was a man full of faith. He believed in God and he trusted in His promises. He believed that God is Sovereign and he counted on the sovereignty of God to care for him and to protect him so that he didn’t have to fight and scratch on his own throughout life. I believe Stephen modeled how to become full of grace through faith for us. Ephesians 2:8 (NASB) says we have been

…saved by grace…through faith…

That not only is the initial justification of being forgiven, but it is also the ongoing sanctifying work of God’s Spirit. We are saved from the power of sin, from its corrupting influencing our life by grace through faith. If you wish to be full of grace you must say, “Lord, I want to believe you and I am going to focus my life on believing you.” You may ask, “How did Stephen do that?” Chapter 7 reveals so much of how this faith in God emerged and grew in Stephen’s life so that he became a man full of grace.

Do you know what you read if you read the next fifty verses in Acts 7? You will read a story of the Bible. Stephen didn’t have a scroll in front of him as he begins his extemporaneous sermon. You must read it and ask, “Could I give this description of what God was doing in the Old Testament on the fly? Could I give this level of detail about the stories of Abraham, of the patriarchs, of Moses? Could I give this level of detail on the fly?” Then you have to ask the question, “If I can’t, why not?”

Stephen is an ordinary guy. We are not told what Stephen did in his labor, but he is not a professional pastor. He hadn’t been to seminary. How was it that he knew this stuff? He committed himself to the study of the Word of God. Faith? Do you want faith so that you can have more grace? Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God.

We don’t read the Bible so we can check of a list and say to God that we read the Bible today so that He can be pleased with us. That is wrong. That is a works orientation of Christianity. Do you know why we read the Bible? We read the Bible because we need more grace in our life and we need the winsomeness that we do not naturally have. We need the strength to overcome sin that otherwise would defeat us. We need more grace in our life and the Bible is a tremendous resource that God has given us and it is a resource that is more available to us now, in this present century, than ever before in the history of the world. We need this resource that God says is His instrument whereby we can receive more grace as we learn of God and respond to Him through it. The Word of God is a source of power to strengthen our resolve and it is a source of encouragement and wisdom to direct our life. It is a source of correction to turn us back when we stray and God invites us to feast upon His grace. Someone may say, “I just don’t have time to be in the Word lately!” That is not true. You should confront yourself. What you are saying is that you don’t need grace right now and you don’t need to be a person full of grace.

The third trait is: full of Holy courage and this is described in Verses 9 through 11 (NIV):

9pposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”

Does this remind you of anything? It is the same strategy from the same group of men in the same place. What was the outcome of the first? Jesus died upon the cross. Stephen is sitting in the temple and he sees the same men doing the same thing, making the same accusation against him. What would you think? You are a Christian minding your own business, distributing food to widows, thinking this is great preaching the Gospel, and suddenly this group of men accost you and accuse you of these things in this context. What are you going to think? Are you going to be afraid? Yes, you are going to be afraid. Was Stephen afraid? Yes, Stephen was afraid.

Eddie Rickenbacher was a World War I flying ace and he was the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. This is what he said about courage: “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.” Stephen would have been a fool not to be afraid, but he didn’t let his fear overcome his actions. What did he do? Verse 2 of Chapter 7 (NIV) tells us:

To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!

Then he went on to tell them the story of the Old Testament and in Verse 51 (NIV) he cuts to the chase and says,

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist (God’s) Spirit!

Understand that Stephen didn’t say these things because he was angry with these people. No, he loved these people and he said this because out of the zeal for the Lord he understood these people needed to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The church needs more brave men and women who engage their culture with the Gospel among fearful friends who are afraid of a negative response. The church needs more Christian students who speak up in class against professors and classmates who would blaspheme Jesus’ name. We need more Christian politicians who would act in accordance with their faith and less in accordance with popular opinion. We need more Christian lawyers who seek out justice and not simply a way to work the system. We need more Christian business men who act upon their convictions honestly and with integrity in order to glorify God in their work and not just to make a dollar. We need more Christian nurses and doctors who love and care for their patients and who are not caught up in the medical machine. We need more brave and courageous Christians who will stand up against the flow of this world and say, “No, this is what God says and this is what we will do.” Too many Christians are backed down by peer pressure and by the culture that is openly hostile to the Lord Jesus. We have the Truth about life. Why are we so quiet about this Truth? Why would we back away and why would we be afraid?

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of an interesting test conducted by a university. Ten students were placed in a room and they were given a card with three lines. They were simply asked, “Tell us, which line is the longest?” It was obvious which line was the longest, but they told nine of the other students that it was a trick because it was really only a test for one of the students. Nine of the other students were told that when they were asked which line is the longest, “When we say line ‘A’, we want all nine of you to raise your hand even though it isn’t the longest line on the sheet, and then watch what happens.” The question was asked and all nine raised their hands. The other guy looked at them and seventy-five percent of the time, the tenth person would raise their hand and say, “Yes, that is the longest.”

What does this tell us? The researchers concluded that many would rather be present than they would rather be right. Let us not be afraid to put our hand up for the Truth. Indeed, some will be very hostile to us when we do, but Godly, Holy courage must overcome our fears.

How is it that Stephen was so courageous? He trusted in God’s Sovereignty as we read in Acts 7:55-56 (NIV):

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen’s courage was girded with the Truth of the resurrection and the certainty that God rewards those who diligently seek Him. On that day, God rewarded him. Then we read in Verse 59 (NIV) we read:

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Stephen had the courage to speak up for God and the courage to do what was right because he knew that God was true and eternal and that God would reward him as he was faithful to Him. I am wondering if we will be courageous this week for the glory of God. Ask God for such courage and focus on the future which is certainly yours in Jesus Christ, even in death. There is no greater fear that a person has to face in their life than the prospect of death, but even in death Stephen had courage not because of his own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Jesus. He wasn’t looking up into heaven and saying, “See, look how much I have honored You in my life.” No, he looked at Jesus and he recognized that He had ascended to the right hand of God, that is to say that the sacrifice that was paid for on the cross of Jesus Christ was accepted by God, and that was his confidence.

The last truth that we want to look at is the Stephen was full of mercy and forgiveness. Notice what he says in Verse 60 of Chapter 7,

Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

This reminds us of Jesus’ similar words on the cross (Luke 23:34, (NIV):

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Beloved, the refusal to forgive past wrongs paralyzes the Christian soul and it keeps us from serving and enjoying God. Someone might say, “You don’t understand I much and how deep I have been wronged.” They are right. We don’t understand the details of their life, but we do know that they have Jesus on their side and His grace will be sufficient.

Are you harboring some bit of resentment and some bit of a lack of forgiveness or some bit of bitterness over some wrong that you have suffered? I urge you to do as Stephen did; humble yourself before God. This is a spiritual issue. It is not a psychological problem. It is a spiritual issue. It is not between you and that other person. It is first, and foremost, between you and God and God’s grace will be sufficient for you if you yield yourself to Him.

Someone may wonder, “That forgiveness of Stephen, what good did that do? He died. Nobody seemed to be changed.” Nobody? Verse 1 of Chapter 8 says that Saul was there holding the coats.

How do we know that Stephen uttered these words? How do we know that the Sanhedrin thought that Stephen’s face looked like an angel? Do you think any of the other apostles got into that secret room with the Sanhedrin and heard what they were discussing? How do we know that this is what the Sanhedrin was saying about Stephen? We know because there was a man by the name of Saul there who was angry with Stephen and hated him and wanted to kill him.

There is an old phrase that says: “Rome was not built in a day” and so often we think the first time we bring the Gospel, mercy, love, and forgiveness to a person that they had better change or we will walk away from them and say, “I told you once!” Sometimes God does that in a dramatic way, but most often He does it by driving us against that wall time and time again and finally breaking down and breaking open the castle of one’s heart so that Jesus Christ can invade it.

“If we didn’t have the forgiveness of Stephen,” Augustine would say, “we would not have the preaching of Paul.” Were it not for Stephen’s prayer we would not have Paul’s preaching. Are you glad that someone, some brother in Christ, forgave? Are you glad? Where would we be without that?

Full of God’s Spirit, full of Grace, full of courage, and full of mercy – how about you? God does not call all of us to be martyrs but He does call each of us to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1, NKJV):

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, (this) is your reasonable (act of worship).

The church, she doesn’t need men and women with great talents. She needs men and women with great likeness to Jesus. This will be the church that God blesses. This will be the life that God blesses.