Sunday, March 31, 2013


Acts 6:8 —7:2a

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

—Acts 6:8

6:8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us." 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. 7:1 Then the high priest asked him, "Are these things so?" 2And Stephen replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me.


Luke, the author of Acts, wants us to learn the faith given in the gospel of Christ and to understand Christ's care for those who are poor, alone, or oppressed. If we are formed into the people of God through our faith in Christ, then we are a people of faith formed for the sake of the world.

If you've ever seen a catechism, you'll have a sense of how Luke values learning. A catechism articulates in question-and-answer form what a group of people believes. Catechisms are used in different churches to help people learn the theology of their faith.

Catechisms help us to learn the language and theology of our faith. For example, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (in the Reformed tradition) is "What is your only comfort, in life and in death?" The answer begins, "That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ."

In today's passage, Stephen declares what he believes by reciting the salvation history of the people of God by heart. His courage comes from knowing that he belongs to his loving and faithful savior in life and in death (centuries before the Heidelberg Catechism was written!). There is no separation between learning the faith and living the faith for Stephen. He has become part of the people of God. While his speech about the history of God's people is not a question-and-answer session, it has the same effect: teaching what we Christians declare to be true.

Toward the end of the passage, Luke shares the way that Stephen stands firm in this tradition of learning and living. Stephen shares with his accusers what he has learned and what they haven't. Like the people of God in previous generations, they too have turned away from God and even against God.


Some Bible stories seem impossible to emulate. How could I ever have the strength of character that Stephen had? Do I have half his courage to say what I believe, even if it would get me killed? What makes a person strong enough to stand up against adversity to proclaim Christ's gospel?

We already know from Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost, and at the beginning of Acts 6 we are given to understand that Stephen's strength and grace are from the Holy Spirit at work in him. Indeed, Stephen has the power of God through the Holy Spirit: "Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8). Not only that, but Stephen's speech is a recitation of the history of salvation. He tells the stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, among others, to be clear that those who claim to be people of God often turn away from God and against God. Yet God comes back again and again, giving us new grace. Stephen claims his place in history as part of God's people.

We are God's people too, full of the Spirit. We may turn away from or against God, but God does not leave us. We can make a difference in spreading the gospel of Christ in word and deed because we are part of God's people.

Who you are matters, and where you are matters. God has not called you to be Stephen or Peter or Paul. God has called you to be you, part of the people of God, and God's Holy Spirit will be upon you in your daily life.


One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that we are able to see ourselves in Scripture in many different ways. Scripture is like a mirror: we can see how we are reflected in it and what it shows us about ourselves. John Calvin referred to the Bible as "spectacles." Scripture works the same way eyeglasses work. They help us see clearly when everything used to be blurry. If we read this story a couple of times, each time as though we were one of the characters, we see ourselves from a different perspective. What do we learn about ourselves when we are one of Stephen's accusers? When we are Stephen?

There is often conflict in leadership; sometimes we cause the conflict. This passage also helps us to see that we, like Stephen, are given our faith by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Even though his accusers lie about Stephen, note that he doesn't stop to correct them or defend himself— even when they seize him and drag him to face the high priest and the council.

The challenge for Christians is to live our lives for and through and in God rather than for our own self-interests. The accusers couldn't beat Stephen in an argument; that must have been embarrassing. The event could have stopped there if they had gone home to lick their wounds and ponder what they had learned from interacting with Stephen. That isn't what they did. Instead they chose a route of petty behavior that used the power of their numbers (there were several of them but only one of Stephen) to set him up for a fall and even for death. They were looking out for themselves. They weren't interested in truth or learning more about being the people of God. No one who sees Stephen's face "like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15) asks him, "Can I receive such faith as yours? Can I too be filled with grace and power?"

We can characterize the difference between Stephen and his accusers in this way: some get things right; others would rather be right. Stephen wants to get things right. Those who stand with him are willing to make mistakes and to learn. It's the truth they're after, not their own superiority or security. Stephen's accusers want to be right. Their disciples will often try to rationalize why things aren't going well (as Stephen's accusers did). Stephen shows us selflessness and integrity as he stands firm in witnessing to his faith in God.

We belong to a people who have been formed by God and who have been given life and faith through Christ by the power of the Spirit. This means we belong, just like Stephen. Would you be surprised to be told that your face looks like the face of an angel? It does, because you are also messengers of God, sharing your heritage and inheritance with others.



Do you have favorite passages of Scripture or church writings that help you to remember your heritage of faith?

How does understanding your faith, at least to some degree, encourage you to act with integrity and selflessness?

Are there particular ways that studying Stephen can help you live out your faith in your current circumstances?



Mighty God, we thank you for the promise of your Spirit. We thank you for Stephen, our brother in faith, who showed us what we all have been given by you: courage, grace, power, integrity, and love for others. Help us to open ourselves to these parts of our lives that we might declare your gospel in word and deed, rooted in your Spirit. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2012 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

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