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Godliness Meets Opposition From Friends

Acts 6:8-11
Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, 'We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' (NIVUK)

Stephen was a godly and wise man. He had been selected to oversee the daily practical work of distributing food to widows (Acts 6:1-5). But he was not just practical. After the apostles laid their hands on him (Acts 6:6), God used him to perform miracles in the Name of Jesus. We do not know what Stephen did but people were excited by God's powerful intervention in their lives, drawing more attention to Jesus and stirring up opposition.

Trouble came from Greek-speaking Jews who were, or were descended from, slaves who had received their freedom under Roman law. They were not fully accepted into Jewish society and some worshipped in a synagogue for their own social class and culture. Until this episode, they had been insulated from much of the excitement about Jesus and the debates with the Hebrew-speaking religious leaders. But now the power of Jesus was disturbing the Greek-speaking Jews. Stephen had a Greek name and was appointed to ensure that Greek-speaking widows who believed in Jesus should be properly cared for. The Freedmen feared that Jesus would disturb their religious sub-group through Stephen.

So they debated with Stephen. But whatever they said, Stephen insisted that Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah (Christ). Stephen's wisdom was obvious and the Holy Spirit guided his words in such a way that his opposition fell silent. Then, as with Jesus previously (Matthew 26:60-61), they found people who were willing to lie about what Stephen had said in order to accuse him of blasphemy, a crime which deserved death (Mark 14:64).

Usually, opposition and persecution come most viciously from the people who we would normally call our friends; people we know in the same social or family groupings, or who share our cultural or religious background. When we believe in Jesus, it is those people who feel most threatened. As they find ways of ridiculing Jesus or excluding us, it hurts - as the people we have trusted accuse us of betraying them and their beliefs. And yet that is exactly what Jesus said would happen (Matthew 10:21). So we need His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, guiding our words and enabling us to keep going by the grace of Christ. If you are in that situation, let God use you. If you are not, pray for those who are.

Father God. Thank You for every opportunity to speak about Jesus, even when I must answer malicious comments. Forgive me for shying away from the people I know well, when they feel threatened by me because I love Jesus. Please give me the confidence I need to stay strong and allow Your Spirit to speak through me. I also pray for others whose persecution is worse than mine. May their lives and words lead some of their accusers to put their faith in Jesus. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams