Study 9 STEPHEN’S PRAYER FOR HIS ENEMIES
GREAT PRAYERS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
by Francis W. Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Acts 7:59-60)
In order to gain the significance of Stephen’s prayer for his enemies and for himself, which he offered during his martyrdom, it is necessary to make a careful study of Acts 7:54-60. Stephen is the first known Christian martyr, and down the centuries many others have followed him and have died out of faithfulness to their Lord. Stephen was a very remarkable character, and in Acts chapter 6 we have an account of this and of his ministry. In Acts chapter 7 we can read of his address before the Council, of the fury of his hearers, and of the subsequent suffering that he endured. Stephen was a man habitually ‘full’ of the Holy Spirit, and this was the secret of his life and testimony in the hour of death – compare Acts 6:3 and 5, and Acts 7:55. Stephen was so intent on being faithful to his Lord that when he saw Him in His glory he declared the fact, and this only roused the greater fury of his enemies (verses 55,56,57); for we read in verses 57 and 58 that they rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him. We will now consider Stephen’s prayer, and there are four questions which we need to ask and answer:-
1. HOW DID HE PRAY?
- (1) He prayed to the Lord. He addressed his prayer, not to the Saints, or to the Virgin Mary, but to the Lord – as verses 59 and 60 show us. This tells us about the direction of Stephen’s prayer, and it shows us to whom we should pray. It is not wrong to pray to the Lord Jesus, for He is God – look up and compare Acts 12:5, noticing the words “to God”.
- (2) He prayed through the Spirit. In Jude 20 we find the expression “pray in the Holy Spirit”. How is it possible to pray in this way? – only by being filled with the Holy Spirit – compare Acts 7:55. Because Stephen was full of the Spirit he was able to pray in the Spirit – compare Romans 8:26-27 and James 5:16. The Holy Spirit is the Inspirer of all true prayer.
- (3) He prayed in faith. Stephen’s quiet confidence, even in the midst of such terrible suffering, is an evidence of his complete trust in the Lord to sustain him and to see him through, and so in faith he lifted up his eyes to Heaven, saw the Lord Himself and spoke to Him – see verse 59. Faith is a condition for successful praying – look up Mark 11:24.
2. WHAT DID HE PRAY FOR?
- (1) He prayed that the Lord might be glorified. We cannot escape the fact that this was the whole intent and emphasis of his prayer when we read verses 55 and 56. The desire and passion of this man’s heart was the glory of God; his prayer was a heart-longing for the glory of God, and that should be the motive in all prayer.
- (2) He prayed that his enemies might be forgiven. We are told this in verse 60, which reminds us of Luke 23:34. We are also reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:38-44 and Matthew 6:14-15. An unforgiving spirit will always be a hindrance to answered prayer.
- (3) He prayed that he might be released. That is, released from the body, as verse 59 tells us. Here again he prayed like his Master (Luke 23:46); and his prayer tells us that he was confident about death. He had no doubts or fears; he knew the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:21, so he prayed like Simeon – look up Luke 2:29-32.
3. WHEN DID HE PRAY?
- (1) He prayed while he served the Lord. We can be quite sure about this. His whole life was a prayer, and it is certain that while he preached and pressed home the truth he prayed; he prayed continually – look up Hebrews 5:7; and he prayed effectually – look up James 5:16.
- (2) He prayed as he suffered for the Lord. While he was being stoned and while the blood was flowing he prayed, and this was surely the secret of his radiant testimony and of the fact that he was so marvellously sustained in the hour of trial. There is a special promise given to us for the “day of trouble” – look it up in Psalm 50:15.
- (3) He prayed as he was dying for the Lord. Verse 60 tells us this, and his spirit went to be with Christ, as verse 59 tells us – look again at 2 Corinthians 5:8.
4. THE RESULTS OF HIS PRAYING
- (1) He was faithful to death. How absolutely true and unflinchingly loyal to his Lord this man was, even in the face of such provocation and suffering, even when he was being stoned to death! How many have suffered, and how many more will suffer even to death out of love and loyalty to the Lord! Look up Revelation 2:10 and 7:9-17!
- (2) He was fearless in the face of death. Please notice this carefully. There is no need to have any fear about death if we know the Lord as our Saviour, our great High Priest and our Mediator (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16 and 1 Timothy 2:5); and if we know Him as the one who is there at the right hand of God in the place of power and authority (Hebrews 2:9-10).
- (3) He was fruitful in his death. God used his death in a wonderful way. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” – compare Acts 7:58 (last part) and Acts 8:1 (first part) with Acts 22:20, and then look at Acts 8:2 – what a funeral service! But God used it all, for, as Augustine said, “If Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not have had Paul!”