Study 11 STEPHEN: A SPIRIT-FILLED MAN
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 4 – 7)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 6:8 to 7:60
In Acts 6:5 Stephen is spoken of as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Undoubtedly Stephen was one of the outstanding characters in the early Church, but the important thing to notice is that he was full of the Holy Spirit. This was the secret of his life and ministry, and this is God’s plan and provision for every Christian - for new or mature Christians, for ministers or missionaries. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, we read that “all of them were filled…” (Acts 2:4). This is to be the normal experience for God’s children - compare Acts 2:39 with Ephesians 5:18. As we look at Stephen let’s see what a man is like who is full of the Holy Spirit.
1. A Spirit-filled Christian is available to the Lord for whatever He appoints
This is where the narrative begins (Acts 6:2,3,5). Seven men were wanted, not for preaching or for any prominent task, but for a hidden ministry of “waiting on tables” - that is, to keep and administer the benevolent fund of the Church. The seven men selected were ready and available, and the first one who is mentioned is Stephen. Notice this point: a Spirit-filled Christian will be available to the Lord and to the Church for whatever task the Lord appoints. It may not be prominent work - perhaps a ‘backroom’ job! Are we available for whatever He wants? Can we say, with those men of old - look up 2 Samuel 15:15?
2. A Spirit-filled Christian is a channel for God’s power
In Acts 6:8 we are told of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit through Stephen. Notice it says, “Now Stephen… did great wonders”; but of course it was not Stephen who did the wonders - it was the Holy Spirit working through him. Stephen was just the channel, and this should be true of every Christian. God may not perform miracles through us in the same way that He did through Stephen, but He will give evidence of His power through our transformed lives and in many other ways that His sovereign will decides (John 14:12). When we are filled with the Spirit, God will touch other lives through our words and works.
3. A Spirit-filled Christian reacts gracefully under provocation
In Acts 6:9-14 we read of the terrific onslaught made by the religious people upon Stephen. They disputed with him, secured men to be false witnesses, they hatched up a wicked plot – but all this failed to overthrow and discourage this Spirit-filled man. Perhaps you have had this kind of experience - false statements have been made about you, unkind and untrue words have been spoken. How did Stephen react? Acts 6:15 gives the answer. If he had become riled and angry and had retaliated we would have well understood his feelings; but he did not. Even under this tremendous provocation his face was ”like the face of an angel” - compare Acts 4:33, particularly noticing the last part.
4. A Spirit-filled Christian is mighty in the Scriptures
Practically the whole of Acts 7 is taken up with the record of Stephen’s defence before his accusers, and the important thing to notice is that his speech is packed full of Scripture. Read it through and see!
- 1. Obviously Stephen knew the Scriptures well to be able to quote them so freely.
- 2. He believed the Scriptures - the historical, poetical and prophetic parts.
- 3. He preached the Scriptures. His sermon was ”all Bible”!
- 4. He presented the Christ of the Scriptures. He preached the Cross (verse 52).
- 5. He applied the Scriptures to his hearers - fearlessly (verse 51).
What is a Spirit-filled Christian like? He knows, loves and preaches the Bible, presents Christ in all the Scriptures, and applies them to his own life and to the lives of those to whom he ministers (Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:15).
5. A Spirit-filled Christian is sustained in the hour of adversity
In Acts 7:54,57,58,59 we read of a further great trial which befell Stephen. Picture the scene: this intrepid follower of the Lord - hated and being stoned to death - was doing what? Feeling sorry for himself? Overwhelmed with it all and crying out for mercy? No, the amazing thing is that Stephen kept his peace and dignity; he did not go under, but he rode out the storm of trial victoriously - see verses 55-56 for the explanation. It is that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit”, and being full of the Holy Spirit he looked up and saw the glorious vision! This is the way to know victory in trial, testing, sorrow and suffering. A Spirit-filled man endures because “he sees him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
6. A Spirit-filled Christian is like his Lord and Master
Acts 7:59-60 tells us that when Stephen was stoned to death he prayed a two-fold prayer, just like the two petitions that Jesus offered when He was dying on the Cross (Luke 23:34,46); compare Acts 7:59-60. If a Christian is full of the Holy Spirit he will be like the Lord Jesus - Acts 4:13.
7. A Spirit-filled Christian is greatly mourned when he dies
We learn this from Acts 8:2. What a loss it was to lose a man like Stephen! It was a great loss on earth, but a great gain in heaven - look up Psalm 116:15, and compare Philippians 1:21 and 23.
What are Spirit-filled Christians like? We have seen in the above study, and in order to be filled with the Spirit we must be emptied of sin, self and all that is displeasing to the Lord. Then He will come to fill and to flood our lives.