Some time ago, I received an email from a health website that I used to order products from. Usually, when I receive those emails, I would quickly glance, and then trash it. But this particular email caught my eye. What it entailed were several pictures of men and women of different ages and what they did to get to the level of health they were in now. When you clicked on the one you hoped to look like one day, it detailed their previous weight, their age, what they ate, what exercise plan they followed, and for how long. I chose the guy in his forties who seemed to have the same problem that I have: anything that has carbs goes to the mid-section! Now the real question is whether I actually will follow through!
As I was looking through the site, I was thinking about how great it would be if there was a website that helped you to grow spiritually. I imagined a website with all the different Biblical characters – Moses, Abraham, David, Isaiah and others – and when you click on the person of choice, it would give a detailed list of how they became great men of God.
The truth of the matter is, if you look closely enough and pay attention, the Bible does just that. Consider the life of a man that is only mentioned within two chapters of the book of Acts: Stephen. According to the text (starting in Acts 6) the apostles needed some men to take care of serving tables while they concentrated praying and ministering the word of God. They looked for seven men to become the first deacons. However, these men had be of reputable character, and full of the Spirit and wisdom. Of the seven men chosen, Stephen was the first mentioned. It is this man that the rest of the text concentrates on, and for good reason. This man was truly a holy man of God!
– Stephen was a man that had complete trust in God, which meant that He knew God. The text says that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). The idea of being “full” is that he was overflowing of both God and his faith in Him.
– Later on, it says that Stephen was “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). He did not rely on his own strength, but on God’s grace and power. Grace and power belong to God and is given by Him through Christ. Stephen obviously was continually abiding in Jesus. He probably remembered the words of Jesus who said, “ I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
– The scriptures then say, “But they [his accusers] were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). Stephen was a wise man and able to debate the most learned of them. This was most likely from his deep study of the Scriptures and with the help of Holy Spirit to bring up the correct response. He probably remembered God’s command to Joshua when He said, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for them you will make you way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).
And that is the “holy workout” we need to be effective for God. We see the results in chapter 7 of Acts, where he was brought before the religious court and was able to give a complete exposition of the scriptures, starting with Abraham, and revealing that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah whom they killed (Acts 7:1-50). His response to them showed incredible courage, which can only come from spending time with God, ““You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53). The guy had guts!
However, the leaders were not impressed, and dragged him off to be executed by stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-59). And it was here that we see the greatest act that Stephen did; in fact, his most Christ-like work: He forgave his killers! The scriptures tell us that “They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60).
Before we look at Stephen as if he was some type of “super-saint” please remember that he was a sinner who at one time needed Jesus to save him, just like the rest of us. What he had and what he did to grow in Christ is available to all of who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. We just need to take the time to read and meditate on those who were before us, and pay attention to their “workout plan” for spiritual growth.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).