Recently at Providence we had the privilege of studying Acts chapter 7. It is in this chapter that Stephen answers the false claim of the unbelieving religious authorities that he has blasphemed Moses and God (Acts 6:11; 7:1). If found guilty, this would of course mean the death penalty for him. In a time such as ours, when opinions are forbidden and deemed Fascist even if they are true, I thought it might be helpful to write a piece entitled, 'Surviving In Ministry.' After all, our beloved brother Stephen was murdered by what was an apostate ecclesiastical court. Here are several things to do, to ensure a life of ease as a layman, and especially as a pastor.
1. Don't try to reason with people about truth. What was true about Lt. Kaffee years ago, according to Col. Jessup, is true about people today: 'They can't handle the truth!' This definitely got Stephen into trouble. He was obviously a man of 'wisdom' and full of the Spirit (6:10). The Synagogue of the Freedmen was unable to resist his line of reasoning (6:9-10).
2. Don't use or appeal to the Bible. Surely this was Stephen's second mistake (7:2-50). After all, those religious leaders were more concerned with their status among the community than this 'Jesus.' Perhaps for them, the Old Testament was an outdated book, only to be used when it was convenient for their own cause and agenda.
3. Don't preach against human traditions not ordained by God. After all, the leaders to whom Stephen preached had latched on to the Temple and the City of Jerusalem, as if God only adored the people in those places. Stephen's main argument was that God had appeared to the patriarchs long before God's people settled into Jerusalem, even in pagan lands such as Mesopotamia, Haran, Egypt, and the wilderness, and so Jerusalem was not the only place where God had met with His people. In fact, Abraham was from the land of the Chaldeans. This must have hurt their pride, and that would not make things easy on Stephen.
4. Don't preach about one's need for Jesus (7:52). Preaching about the biblical Jesus reminds men that they are sinners and that Christ came to save men from their sins. Men don't like to be told they are sinners, and doing so will no doubt lead to anger on the part of the hearers.
5. Don't include application in your sermons or gospel presentations (7:51-53). Stephen's sermon was bound to make life hard on him. After all, calling someone 'stiff-necked' and 'uncircumcised in heart and ears' is the equivalent to telling someone that they are not born again and that they are rebellious. Oh, wait, Stephen said that too (7:51).
I think you get my drift. Stephen was a man of God, and his concern was for biblical truth and the souls of those who heard him. He held nothing back because he knew that he had one shot with these people, and that they needed to repent of their sins and trust in Christ. As M. Lloyd Jones used to say about preachers, Stephen was 'a dying man preaching to dying men.' Surviving in ministry wasn't really on his radar. Faithfulness to Christ was his concern. May the Lord give us boldness along with our humility, so that we might speak truth into the lives of those the Lord has put into our path!