The Lord has taught me a great deal over the many years that I have been involved in local church ministry. One of those things is the fact that there is always opposition. Sometimes that opposition will come from those from outside the church. People who are oppose the Gospel that come against the church with accusations in an attempt to destroy the church. Unfortunately, however, most opposition comes subtly from within the church. Satan will use various circumstances to try to hinder the work of God in the local church. As we study the book of Acts we find that the things that we face today are the same things that the early church faced many years ago. There were times of opposition and division within the church. There were also times of attack from outside the church. Stephen was one who experienced opposition first hand. Stephen’s experience ultimately led to his death. As we study the account of the first martyr, there is some very valuable truth that we can learn on how to respond to opposition.
The man Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven chosen to serve that we see in Acts 6:1-7. These men chosen are what we refer to as the first deacons. They were to be men who were filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. They were appointed to oversee the business of caring for those in need; more particularly, the widows. This is the primary responsibility of deacons. It should be noted that according to the clear reading of scripture and the overall pattern seen in scripture, deacons are not to be a ruling body in the church. They are servants, chosen by the church, for the specific duty of serving and helping those in need. Stephen was one of those men. In verse eight, it mentions that he was full of faith, power, and he did great works among the people. Stephen was a very unique and special servant in the church. He had a very special gift of power and of wisdom. He was a great teacher and was very knowledgeable. Stephen was performing his duties as a deacon and also a teacher. In verse nine, we see that there some who attended the Synagogue of the Freedmen who had some disputes with Stephen. This was a Synagogue that was made up of people that were former slaves or descendents of slaves. Its membership included Jews from North Africa and Asia Diaspora. There were some in this synagogue that opposed Stephen. Yet, Stephen remained a man full of faith and power.
The opposition. Those who opposed Stephen could not argue with him. In verse ten it says that they could not resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Now, be careful here. This does not mean that there is an irresistible spirit of grace. These people did resist the message of Stephen; because they went on to persecute him. What this verse means is that they simply could not argue with him. They wanted to accuse him, but they could not find anything to accuse him with. They could not win the debate. Therefore, in verse eleven, they used very deceptive tactics in order to attack Stephen. They induced people to falsely accuse Stephen. Then they ‘stirred up’ the people to come against Stephen. I find some very interesting parallels here with what we often face today. First of all, there is always opposition when God is at work. In verse seven, we find that the church was growing. There were a great number of disciples being made. In the midst of all this, there is this great attack against Stephen. I have been in fulltime ministry for over ten years now. I have also been involved in a lifetime of ministry, growing up in a pastor’s home. One thing that I have learned over the years is that there is a pattern that when God is doing a great work and the church is growing and lives are being changed, there is always an attack. Satan will do whatever he can do to destroy the work that God is doing. Sadly, his most productive tactic is to bring attacks from within. He will use circumstances to plant seeds of destruction in the minds of people within the church. Before you know it, people are being ‘stirred up.’ This is why we must always be on guard. We must put on the whole armor of God and protect ourselves from these deceptive attacks from Satan. We must also guard ourselves so that we do not become a victim of Satan’s tactics, allowing him to use us to ‘stir up’ problems within the church. Another parallel is that the opposition is always subtle and secret. Most problems that occur in the church begin with very subtle and secretive things. The opposition is often very quiet. They begin by going to people behind the scenes and questioning them and planting seeds of doubt in them about what God is doing in the church. They will grab a hold of every compliant and make it out to be bigger than what it really is. Often times, it is a personal thing. They have something personal against someone else, so they try to deceive people to get them to agree with them. If we do not want to find ourselves a part of the opposition, we should make sure that we do not listen to those who try to deceive us. If someone comes to you and starts talking about all their complaints and problems, you should turn the conversation around toward Christ and His Word. If there is a real problem, encourage the person to go and talk to those that they oppose, rather than talking behind their backs. The tactics that Satan used to bring down Stephen are the same tactics that he uses today.
The response. In chapter seven, we see the response of Stephen to those who opposed him. Notice how he did not say anything until they asked him. This is a very valuable lesson for us today. Do not address the opposition unless the opposition demands it. If you begin to respond to those who oppose you without being asked by them to do so, you will then put yourself into the position where you are the attacker. God will deal with those who come against you. There is no need for you to attack them or judge them. You allow their own words to condemn themselves. Another lesson we see here is that you should never attempt to defend yourself. Now, we are not talking about a physical attack. We are talking about responding to those who oppose what you believe and teach. There is really no need to defend yourself. Jesus did this same thing. When He was being questioned, He spoke very little. He did not have to defend what He did. When you start trying to defend yourself, you start to make the situation personal. Basically, you are stooping down to the level of those who are opposing you. Another lesson we learn about how to respond to opposition is that we must be faithful in proclaiming the truth. This is what Stephen did in Acts chapter seven. He did not give excuses or attempt to defend himself, instead he just preached the Gospel. Stephen went through the scriptures in order to point them to Christ. He began in verses 2-8 by talking about God’s promises to Abraham. In doing this, he was reminding his hearers that they were the same. They were fellow Jewish brothers. He stressed how that God was in control of Abraham’s entire movement. The thought here is that change is a part of God’s plan. Stephen then goes on in verses 9-16 and talks about the deliverance through Joseph. Stephen stresses the importance of God being with Joseph and how the people were delivered from famine by Joseph. Not only is God in control and He brings change, but also He is with those who believe in Him. In verses 17-34, Stephen talks about God’s deliverance of the people through Moses. It is pointed out that God always fulfills His promises. It mentions in verse 35 how that Moses was rejected by the people. Stephen is pointing out the pattern of the children of Israel in their rejection of those whom God sent to them to lead them. Then in verses 35-50, Stephen deals with the apostasy of Israel. In all that God did for the people of Israel, they continually turned their back on God and followed after false gods. Then, in verses 51-53 we see the rejection of the Messiah. Stephen very plainly tells them that they are continuing in that same pattern of turning away from God as they rejected Jesus. In all of this, the principle lesson here is that Stephen just preached the truth. He knew that his opposition would not go away. He knew that he could not win. So, he remained faithful to preach the truth. This is what you and I must do today. There is something to be said about faithfulness. As we face opposition, we must never go on the attack in an attempt to defend ourselves. Instead, we must simply stay faithful to give people the truth. In local church life, when opposition arises and there are those who attempt to ‘stir up the people’, the key is to not make it personal. When we start to go after those who oppose us, all we do is cause more trouble. We cannot allow the opposition to deter us from what God has called the church to do. The best way to respond is to stay faithful to obey God and His Word.
The result. In verses 54-60, we find Stephen being stoned to death. This was not the result we were hoping for. There are few lessons we can learn from this. First of all, it may appear as if the opposition has won, but God will reward your faithfulness. There are times when it seems as if we have been defeated and destroyed. But, in God’s eyes we are victorious. There is a special reward in heaven for those who are faithful in the midst of persecution. Secondly, God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes things happen that seem so bad. Sometimes we will go through great pain. But God; had a plan. He will use those difficult circumstances to turn them around for His glory. Finally, the church will prevail. No matter how many leaders they took out, the church still grew mightily. The Gospel still spread around the world. If we stay faithful and trust in God’s ways, in the midst of all the opposition, God’s Word will never return void. Great things will be accomplished for His kingdom.
Are you facing opposition? Are there those that seem to do everything they can to discredit you and tear you down? Learn a lesson from Stephen. Don’t try to defend yourself, but allow the Gospel to defend you. Stay faithful to doing what God has called you to do. Don’t be deterred by the crafty deceitfulness of men, but stay true to God’s Word. It may be hard. You may want to give up. But, He will be with you and one day, you will receive a great reward!