Filled with Fullness
This biographical sketch of Stephen by our Associate Editor places before the minds of young and old an example of apostolic Christianity. May we not only admire, but by the grace of God emulate it. The Church and the world are both in need of such spiritual men. —Ed.
“I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19).
With the stones of his captors still beating upon him, Stephen kneeled down and prayed for his foes (Acts 7:57-60). His final message and his dying prayer must have made a lasting impression upon Saul of Tarsus standing by (Acts 8:1; 22:20. Cf. Acts 7:48.51, 53 with Acts 17:24, Rom. 2:29; 4:9-12, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:10-13, Gal. 3:19). Years later, as Paul the Apostle, the latter also bowed his knees and prayed in effect that the Ephesian Christians might become like Stephen (Eph. 3:14-19); for if anyone was ever filled with all the fulness of God, it was surely the faithful witness who died at the feet of Saul.
Full of Faith
Luke described Stephen as a man full of faith (Acts 6:5) and this no doubt was the secret of his unusual likeness to Christ. It is by faith that Christ indwells the human heart (Eph. 3:17); and this was so true of Stephen at his trial that even the council thought he looked like an angel (Acts 6:15). The great heroes of faith were mentioned prominently throughout his defence; beginning with Abraham, the father of the faithful (Acts 7:2-53. Rom. 4:16. Gal. 3:7. Heb. 11:1-12:2).
Faith is the key to answered prayer (Matt. 21:21-22. Jas. 1:6; 5:16), and apparently Stephen’s dying request was granted, at least in the case of Saul (Acts 7:60. 1 Tim. l:13). The measure of Stephen’s faith was never more clearly evident than in this final petition, this heart-felt supplication of a truly Christ-like saint (Luke 23:34).
The sinner is saved and justified by faith (Eph. 2:8. Rom. 1:17; 5:1). However, even the Christian cannot please God without faith (Heb. 11:6), for “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We know “that our old man is crucified” with Christ, but faith is required to reckon it so (Rom. 6:6-11. Gal. 2:20). Without faith, we cannot realize the practical effects of Christian doctrine in our daily lives and we cannot glorify God as we should.
Full of The Holy Spirit
Being a man of faith, Stephen was also filled with the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39. Acts 6:3, 5, 10; 7:55). Faith gave the Spirit of God the necessary freedom to work in the man’s heart and life, and thus to produce the fruit of the Spirit — that likeness to Christ which pleases and glorifies God the Father (John 15:8. Gal. 5:22-24). The branch bears fruit while joined to the vine (John 15:4); but the Christian can enjoy the practical benefits of his union to Christ only when he grasps by faith the reality of this vital relationship (Eph. 1:3, 12-13).
Paul envisaged the filling of the Spirit as the normal experience of every believer, and not as a special blessing for the favoured few (Eph. 5:18. Gal. 5:16). When any Christian reckons by faith that the old man has been crucified with Christ, then he walks in the Spirit, and does not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; rather he then bears the fruit of the Spirit so evident in the character of Stephen. Likeness to Christ is here again displayed in the Spirit-filled man of God, for Jesus Himself was annointed and filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:1,18. Acts 10:38).
In his defence, Stephen also referred to another great man of faith; namely, David — a man after God’s own heart (Acts 7:45-46; 13:22. Heb. 11:32); a man who feared that his sin might provoke the removal of the Holy Spirit Who had come upon him (1 Sam. 16:13. Ps. 51:11). Although the believer today need not fear the removal of the Holy Spirit by Whom he has been sealed, yet he can fail through the sin of unbelief to experience the fulness of the Spirit and His divine blessings (John 14:16. Eph. 2:13. Heb. 3:7-11, 17-19).
The Holy Spirit is the Divine Teacher (John 14:26; 16:13); He makes it possible for the Christian to lead a righteous life (Rom. 8:4); He is essential to the proper functioning of the gifts in the Church (1 Cor. 12:4-13). How crucial, therefore, that we should endeavour to follow the example of Stephen who was full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.
Full Of Wisdom
Stephen needed wisdom for handling the ticklish problem of ministering to the neglected widows (Acts 6:1-4). From his excellent knowledge of the Scriptures, he was no doubt well aware of wisdom’s value to Solomon in dealing with the people of God (1 Kings 3:5-12. Acts 7:47. Jas. 1:6). In one way or another, practically all of the great men of faith were blessed with a wisdom whereby they could glorify God in their service for Him (e.g., Joseph, Gen. 41:46-57; Moses, Deut. 34:10-12).
Paul too realized later that wisdom was a vital necessity in the spiritual experience of the Ephesian saints (Eph. 1:17). He had learned the secret of divine wisdom, perhaps as no other man has ever done: he knew that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3); that Christ is the wisdom of God unto His people (1 Cor. 1:24, 30).
Such wisdom was granted to Stephen in abundance, for he was a man of faith (Jas. 1:6). Through wisdom, he served his God well, not only in the material affairs of the Church (Acts 6:3,7), but also in the preaching of the gospel which was making such an impact at that time (Acts 6:10).
A man full of faith, he believed all of God’s revelation in His word and through His servants (Acts 7:2-53); he entrusted himself completely to God’s care (Acts 7:59). A man full of the Holy Spirit, he was fully yielded to this Divine Person dwelling within his heart and controlling every aspect of his life (Acts 6:10; 7:55). A man full of wisdom, he possessed a God-given gift whereby he rendered acceptable and Christ-honouring service to his God, to his fellow Christians, and to his fellow men. The wisdom with which he ministered was irresistible because it was the wisdom of God, and because he served in the power of the Spirit of God (Acts 6:10).
Full of Power
A man full of faith is invariably a man full of power (Heb. 11:33-38). To this principle Stephen was no exception (Acts 6:8); nor was God’s servant Moses, whom Stephen discussed at some length in his defence before the council (Acts 7:22. Heb. 11:27).
Being righteous by faith, any child of God can experience abundant power through prayer (Jas. 5:16), even power to remove mountains (Matt. 21:21-22). Faith is also the key to healing (Matt. 9:22, 29. Jas. 5:15), and Stephen demonstrated this power in the wonders and signs which he performed (Acts 6:8).
By faith, we are justified (counted righteous) before God: in Christ He sees us guilty of no wrong. By faith, too, we are enabled to live righteous lives; for when we reckon the old man to be dead with Christ, then the Holy Spirit fills us and Christ too indwells the heart. How tragic that we should fail to take advantage of this infinite power with which we should all be filled (Phil. 3:9-10. 1 Cor. 1:24; 2:4-5).
The power and effectiveness of Stephen’s ministry was quite evident to all. Immediately following the choice of Stephen as a deacon, the word of God increased and the number of disciples was multiplied. The context surely implies a connection as between cause and effect (Acts 6:5-7). He was capable too of working wonders and signs, another evidence of indwelling spiritual power (Acts 6:8. 1 Cor. 12:9-10). His ministry to the foes of the gospel also struck a telling blow (Acts 6:10). Towards the end of Stephen’s address, they were cut to the heart by his powerful message (Acts 6:54). His prevailing power in prayer was possibly the prelude to the subsequent conversion of Saul (Acts 7:60. 1 Tim. 1:13).
It is evident too that in all the exercise of his God-given power, Stephen acted with a wisdom which enabled him to use the gift of God with discretion and with Christ-exalting results.
Full of Grace
His spiritual power, however, was tempered with spiritual grace. The Corinthian Christians were greatly gifted but painfully proud (1 Cor. 1:7; 4:6, 18; 5:2); what a striking contrast to the grace and humility of Stephen who was full of grace as well as full of power (Acts 6:8. R.V.). In this respect, he was very much like Joseph, who at the height of his power, ministered grace to his undeserving brethren (Acts 6:9-14. Gen. 45. Heb. 11:22).
This no doubt was another reason why Stephen was chosen to minister to the needy widows (Acts 6:1-5). The gift of healing which he possessed was also the result of God’s grace ministered to him, filling him, and flowing out through him (Acts 6:8. Rom. 12:6. Eph. 4:7).
Full of faith; full of the Spirit; full of wisdom, power, and grace, Stephen died like his Lord, with forgiving grace upon his lips (Acts 7:60). One of the most Christ-like characters this world has ever known, Stephen is an outstanding example of what every Christian should strive to be in every age.
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Stay firm; He has not failed thee in all the past,
And will He go and leave thee to sink at last?
Nay; He said He will hide thee beneath His wing;
And sweetly, there in safety, thou mayest sing.
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And when there seems no chance, no change
From grief can set me free,
Hope finds its strength in helpfulness
And calmly waits for Thee.