As the early church grew, so did the needs among the people as they would in any growing population. This group of like-minded believers were made up of both Hebraic Jews and Hellenistic Jews, the difference being their language and their culture. The Hebraic from Hebrew and the Hellenistic from Greek language and culture. The Hellenistic people were concerned that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution and brought it to the attention of the Twelve. They summoned all the disciples and held a discussion as to what to do in order to more effectively serve the needs of the widows and those who had needs. Clearly this was very important, but so was the continuance of ministering through prayer and the Word. One should not be neglected for the other, so they gathered together to choose seven men full of the Holy Spirit, with a good reputation, and full of wisdom. They would be put in charge of food distribution, serving and making sure those in need were no longer neglected.
The disciples selected Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas. Now they were set apart for this purpose by going before the Apostles for prayer and the laying on of hands. With this concern now addressed, the Word of God continued to be taught and the number of followers continued to grow in Jerusalem.
Today’s grace verse focuses on one of these men, Stephen. We know that Stephen was one of the men chosen to oversee serving by the disciples which indicated that he was of good reputation, wise and full of the Holy Spirit. The first we hear of Stephen is in Acts 6:5 and we are told Acts 6:8: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” One would look at this and believe that Stephen was a good man, living his life, serving God and the people around him, and he was. There was just one problem, some men from the Synagogue of Freedom could not bear the wisdom and Spirit of what he was speaking. They not only stirred up an argument against Stephen, they incited some people against him, drug him before the Sanhedrin and encouraged false witnesses to testify against him. Press pause on Stephen’s story…
“Where is the grace in what happened?” I am tempted to ask. Maybe you have been tempted to ask that same question. We all have times in life when we are living the best life we know how; juggling maybe, but keeping it balanced and steady, then out of the blue a “suddenly” moment happens. One minute all seemed perfect…ok maybe that should be all seems normal and then suddenly it’s not. If we live long enough, we all have these “suddenly” moments. Some are small; others much bigger. The question is what do we do with those moments? How do we survive false accusations? How do we get past a betrayal? What do we do with a big loss; when we feel as if the world is against us; when hopelessness threatens us? The questions are endless when a “suddenly” moment happens and the answers in that moment are few. Often we either go on blind instinct or shut down for a while until we begin to be able to process what has happened.
Personally, I have experienced a number of “suddenly” moments, some were unexpected losses. I would love to be able to say I have handled them well but it wouldn’t be true. What is true, however, is there was always grace because whether or not I realized it at the time God was always there with me! His Word says He will never leave us or forsake us, and His Word is truth. I might not “feel” Him there or that His grace is with me but that doesn’t change the reality. Looking back on those times, the ones best navigated were the ones that I neither shut down, nor acted on instinct, but those that I hit my knees and immediately turned to God in prayer. There grace met me. It was the times that I immediately turned to Him being totally helpless in the situation that I found the strength to take the next breath; the next step. Being told that my Mom had died suddenly when she was in good health and still young; seven years later to the month, my Dad gone suddenly-no major known illness-just gone in a moment; still I will say… He has never left or forsaken me. Where He is there is grace and His grace is always sufficient!
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10