When They Can Stand It No Longer

We need to know what to do in our secular age.

What We Must Do (1)

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Acts 6.10

The message, not the man
We need to understand the times in which we live, so that, like Paul, we can communicate the Good News effectively, and so that, as Jesus taught, we may sow good Kingdom seed throughout the world.

Understanding the times is essential for knowing what we must do to fulfill our calling as witness to Christ and citizens and ambassadors of God’s Kingdom (1 Chron. 12.32; Acts 1.8; 1 Thess. 2.12). Many people in our secular age are losing patience with the Church, and with those who profess faith in Christ. In the view of many Christians, the world is becoming a hostile place for those who believe. And if this is the case, it behooves us to search the Scriptures, so that we might learn from them what we must do to fulfill our calling in this age in flight from God. Stephen provides an excellent focal point for such a consideration.

Stephen had a good reputation among the people of Jerusalem. He seems to have been a deeply spiritual man, full of practical wisdom, and ready to help others wherever he was needed (Acts 6.3). He is described as having been filled with the Holy Spirit.

Full of grace and power, Stephen was also outspoken about his faith – not in a brash and blaring way, but calmly, speaking with wisdom and sound reason to everyone who would listen.

In spite of his gentle and reasonable manner, however, some of his contemporaries chose to dispute with him – members of a local synagogue, and clubs of foreigners who were staying together in Jerusalem (Acts 6.9). They could find no fault with the man: he was as good, wise, and kind a person as any of them had known. But they found his message offensive, probably because he insisted that a relationship with God depends not on one’s heritage, associations, attainments, or efforts, but on repenting from all sin and believing in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

Such a message implied that their views were wrong and their morality was not what it should be. They chafed at the thought that he – a lowly synagogue servant – should presume to tell them what they ought to believe and how they ought to live.

What to do?
Nevertheless, our text tells us that these opponents could not withstand the wisdom Stephen demonstrated or the grace and power of the Spirit working through him. He effectively rebuffed their objections and set their views aside. They were left with nothing else to say against him.

What should they do? How would they protect their cherished beliefs and practices and save face among their peers?

Our passage continues, “And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council” (Acts 6.12). And just to make sure he wouldn’t frustrate them there, “They also set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us’” (Acts 6.13, 14).

That line had worked once before to secure an unjust conviction of an inconvenient Evangelist; perhaps it would work again.

Just what you’d expect
I have a friend who helps local believers in Muslim and other nations to proclaim the Gospel, begin house churches, and train the pastors those churches require. God has laid His hand on this ministry in a special way. Scores of thousands are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and thousands of house churches are cropping up, right in the thick of Muslim traditions, culture, and followers.

As we might expect, my friend receives reports that it is not uncommon for believers to be martyred for their faith.

Which is only what we should expect in an environment committed to a secular, material, and narcissistic worldview, and hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When people can no longer stand to hear the Gospel’s challenges to their settled way of life, and they no longer have anything reasonable to say in defense of their worldview, they may express their hostility in more overt ways.

It happened to Jesus and to Stephen, and if today it is happening in various parts of the world beyond our American shores, we must not be naïve to think that it cannot happen here as well. A strong undercurrent of deep antipathy toward the Gospel runs through our culture and society, and we see its ugly, angry face flaring in threats and vitriol from time to time.

Do we understand the possibility of such a threat becoming more overt in our times? Do we know what we must do? Are we ready, like Stephen, to face this threat, confront this challenge, and stand firm in the face of whatever consequences may ensue?

If we as Christians have not yet addressed this question, and if we’re not prepared to take our stand before a hostile age, then it’s time – nearly past time – that we do so.

For reflection
1.  What indications do you see in our day of real anger, perhaps even hostility, against the Christian faith? What’s the source of this?

2.  Do you think most of the Christian you know are prepared to deal with this anger? Why or why not?

3.  Summarize the Gospel as you understand it, and as you might share it with a friend or colleague:

Next steps – Preparation: Meditate on Acts 17.32-34. Here are three responses you can expect whenever you share the Gospel with someone. Talk with some Christian friends about this passage. Outline your approach to each of these different responses. What would you do?

T. M. Moore

We must be ready with the Gospel as the Lord gives us opportunities in our Personal Mission Field. Our little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you to be ready to give an answer and explanation for the hope others see in you. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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