SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Church Leaders Need Loving Support Not Criticism
Acts 6:8 -7:60
Key Verse: Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. – Acts 6:8
The name “Stephen” has been a respected name since the early days of the church. Judas, by his betrayal of Jesus, disgraced his name. Stephen, by his courage in the face of persecution, enhanced his name with lasting honor. The name is Greek (Stephanos) and signifies “crown.” Evidently Stephen was a Jew who spoke Greek and a brilliant man well versed in Jewish history.
Today we study the biblical account of Stephen to help us appreciate the leaders God raises up for our churches. God’s People should be thankful that God provides faithful men and women to guide the work we do together for Christ.
Unfortunately, our churches often struggle because of internal strife. Leaders must contend not only with Satan but with unreasonable criticism leveled at them by jealous fellow church members. God raises up leaders while some church members are hell-bent on tearing them down. Divided churches wither and die. When unity prevails, the church has the power to break the strongholds of sin.
Stephen had more to offer than waiting on tables. He enters the stage shortly before the conversion of Saul. We know nothing of Stephen’s conversion. We do know he was a devoted follower of Jesus for he is described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
As the young church grew, the Apostles needed help. Preaching and prayer took all the time they had so they turned to the faithful to elect seven men of character, “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” Stephen was the first of the seven chosen and thus the first of those ordained as deacons.
Stephen quickly emerged as a wise and capable leader. Though he did “great wonders and signs among the people,” we do not know the details of these wonders. When he spoke about Jesus he was obviously anointed for his critics “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.”
His martyrdom was similar to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Unable to stand with Stephen in debate, his opponents persuaded false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy before the council. Allowed to speak, Stephen offered a long defense, refuting lies with the truth and with Scripture (Acts 7).
What took place is remarkable. As Stephen spoke, the members of the council “saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” They forgot his angelic look, however, when they heard Stephen’s stinging rebuke. They were enraged, ground their teeth, covered their ears, and insanely angry, rushed toward Stephen like a mob thirsty for his blood.
This ugly scene explains why the church elevated Stephen to sainthood. There are few more inspiring stories of noble courage in all literature than this penned by Doctor Luke:
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 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. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60, NIV)
As we reflect on Stephen’s courage, we can pray for the grace to follow his example whenever we are persecuted or criticized. We can also ask God to help us not serve on the stoning committee when our church leaders are attacked by fellow church members. There are times when we could stop the “stoning” of a leader if we had the courage to stand against the criticism.
If our leaders are to serve effectively, they need the affirmation and encouragement of their brothers and sisters in the fellowship. Without our loving support, our leaders cannot fulfill their mission to serve God where He has placed them. They will all make mistakes from time to time, but God is forgiving and understanding – and we can in this imitate God.
If we are willing, we can all work together without allowing criticism to hinder the work of our leaders. Satan grins when we work against each other but he flees in disgust when we pull together in unity, celebrating God’s power to use our leaders to strengthen the work of Christ.
+ + + + (Contact Walter at email@example.com)