Chapter 6 begins with the church establishing the office of deacon. The growing church was experiencing conflict over the distribution of help to widows. Organizing this mercy ministry threatened to take the apostles away from prayer and the ministry of the Word (verse 4). So, the office of deacon was created. Seven men, “full of the Spirit and wisdom,” were selected. One of them was Stephen.
Stephen was a man “full of faith” (verse 5). He was also “full of grace and power and was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (verse 8). That he was full does not mean he was perfect. It refers to his maturity in the faith. He was emptied of self and full of Christ, reflecting the image of Christ (See John 1:14).
The sanctification of Christians means to be set apart from the rest of the world for God’s use and service. God has sealed his people for himself and distinguished them from the rest of men. Stephen had prepared himself for every good work in the Master’s use. He will be the first martyr.
In Christ, we are purged from the guilt and the power of sin that pollutes the soul. All Christians have the Spirit of God, but Stephen was adorned with sanctifying graces in fullness to prepare him for what God was going to use him for.
Whatever gifts we are given by the Lord, we are to be ready to use them in his service. Stephen valued Christ highly, unlike the world, which lays a low value on Christ. Judas valued him at 30 pieces of silver. Stephen valued the Lord to the extent that he lost his life for him. He gained life in the end (verse 59). Stephen was zealous for the glory of Christ, who saved him from his sin.
In verse 9, we see that Jews from many different countries rose up to dispute with Stephen over his teaching about Christ. The confrontation began with an objection to Stephen’s teaching, but when the opposition couldn’t withstand Stephen’s wisdom (verse 10); they resorted to digging up false witnesses. They accused Stephen of blasphemy, a charge that carried the threat of the death penalty.
Stephen is charged with speaking against the Law of Moses and the temple. He is brought before the council to stand trial (verses 11-12). The apostles taught that Jesus fulfilled the symbols of the temple and the law. The sacrifices and the presence of God among his people in the Old Testament represented the work Christ would do to save sinners and give them peace in the presence of God. Stephen was teaching the same: the good news of salvation in Christ as prophesied in God’s word.
The Jews who objected to the gospel believed they could attain a righteousness of their own before God. In doing so, they were rejecting the true teaching of Moses and the Law of God. Ironically, they are the ones speaking blasphemy against God.
We need to learn from this that Christ came to save sinners. We are in great need of salvation. We cannot attain it of our own doing. It was man’s guilt that rendered the cross necessary. If that guilt is not removed, all else is in vain. God is holy and just; he does not overlook sin. We have to account for our sin. And only in Christ can it be blotted out.
We may think God is like us, but he is not. He is angry with sin every day. He is angry with the sinners who commit it. He shows no partiality, and he will not compromise his holy nature. The men opposed to Stephen believed they were righteous before God. They didn’t understand the Scriptures.
God’s standard, however, is not that of man. God will indeed judge men according to his law, but no one has the righteousness to meet that demand. The Jews judging Stephen were the men God was most angry with among all men. They thought God was pleased with them. They were wrong, blind to their own sinful hearts and God’s disposition toward that sin.
We may have a tendency to look at our decadent culture and the perverseness in it, and think a holy God surely is offended. And God’s wrath is coming because of it. But none of us have any standing before God without Christ’s death on the cross. If we aren’t truly united to Christ by faith, we will perish.
God’s mercy and justice are united. Christ was given for sinners because he alone can meet the justice of God. Stephen’s wisdom was from God’s Spirit. He points us to Christ and the grace of God.