23. Grace & Power

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 23 : Living with Grace and Power

Acts  6:8-10    Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous 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. These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.

We have considered opposition several times in these meditations in Acts and those who know this story will know that basically it was Stephen’s goodness that drew him to the attention of the authorities and contributed to his death as the first Christian martyr.

Of course when we say his goodness, what we are referring to is God’s power and goodness in him. Earlier on, as one of the first chosen deacons, he was described as, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) Can that description be applied to us? Am I one who is known for my faith and for the presence of the Holy Spirit energizing and flowing in and through me? Well that was Stephen.

Now observe that he was not described as one of the apostles. He had not had that call, but yet we find he was someone who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”  Now we aren’t told what those things were but he was clearly someone who was flowing in Jesus’ words, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) However we put it, he was a man fully energised by the Holy Spirit for there is no other way these things could happen.

But he is not merely a man of power; he is also a man of great grace. Now often we use that word to mean ‘God’s resources in us to enable us to fulfil God’s will for us’, but grace here is more likely to have the more general meaning (as per the dictionary) ‘a pleasing quality, attractiveness, winsomeness, charm’, i.e. he was a nice person to know and be with. Moreover, we find that he was able to speak with his detractors with a wisdom that they could not withstand.  What an all-rounder!

Yes, just pause up with this for a moment. What an example to us. He is a man full of God’s goodness in such measure that he’s a delight to be with, he has all the answers and, more than that, he is open for the Lord to flow through him in power to bless others.

Now in passing I would suggest that the description I’ve just given of him, which I hope corresponds exactly with the Bible’s description of him, is exactly what the world (and God) would like to see of the church as its description, so let’s repeat it: full of God’s goodness in such measure that they are a delight to be with, they have all the answers and, more than that, they are open for the Lord to flow through them in power to bless others.  Isn’t that something to pray for and work for?

But these are meditations about motivation, what it is that makes men and women do what they do. There are, therefore, three things to note here. First there is Stephen’s motivation. He is a man who, for whatever reason, is given over to God and open to God and who is, therefore, energised and empowered, led and guided by the Holy Spirit. See his example, this is, if for no other reason, one reason why we should be praying, “Lord, here am I; fill me with Holy Spirit and take and use me.” The motivation of Stephen has to be twofold: first there is his own commitment to God and then, second there is the responding power of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing to note is that this outworking of the Holy Spirit in him, opens the door for others to see and respect and respond to this by saying, we want this man to be one of those who oversee the administration of our church life.  When you are looking for deacons in your church, are you looking for those who can be described as full of God’s goodness in such measure that they are a delight to be with, he have all the answers and, more than that, are open for the Lord to flow through them in power to bless others? Anything less, is substandard! So, all of this opens doors for Stephen to serve the church.

The third thing to note, and this is clearly a negative thing, is that such goodness etc. attracts the attention of the enemy who is upset by this obvious manifestation of Jesus in his people. This attention will come in the form of attacks by people who do not like being shown up by other people’s goodness. That, for the moment, is all we need say about this. As it was with Jesus, and so it will be with us!  Godly goodness attracts unpleasant opposition. It is a strange thing but darkness is upset by light.

John, speaking of Jesus declared it: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:9-11) Jesus was rejected, largely because of his goodness, largely because he was light shining in darkness.

The reality is that our godly goodness will both open hearts and close hearts, and will motivate people accordingly. The latter is not for us to worry about, just trusting that the Lord with guard us and keep us. For the former, we simply need to seek the Lord daily for the empowering of His Spirit and do all we can to be those gracious people we have been considering.

10. The Persecuted

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 10

Mt 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In the last meditation we said that this and the previous verse go together in that they are practical outworkings of the Christian faith. Verse 9 was about how we express our relationship with God by reaching out to others to bring them to the place where they can receive the same peace with God through Christ that we have received. This verse is about how those who do not want to know about that peace respond hostilely to us.

Nobody likes the thought of persecution yet it is a part of the Christian experience. Jesus told his disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (Jn 15;20). The apostle Paul taught, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12). Persecution is purposeful opposition and the reason for it is given in our verse today and the verse we’ve just quoted. We will be opposed because we live righteous and godly lives and that righteousness and godliness shows up the unrighteousness and ungodliness in the people of the world who have set their hearts against God. In the same way they rejected Jesus’ goodness, so they will reject ours. However when we read the New Testament, we should also note that as much as there were times of persecution (Jn 4:1-, 5:17-, 6:12-, 8:1, 9:23, 12:1- etc) there were also times where, with the blessing of God, the church knew favour with the people and peace (Acts 2:47, 9:31).

Is it possible to win the favour of the people? Yes, it clearly is, by expressing God’s love and power and goodness to bring blessing to the world. Nevertheless there will be those who, despite this, will rise up against God’s people because that love and goodness shows them up for what they are. There will be those who are open to the enemy and will be used by him to make life uncomfortable for believers. However, the worst that they can do is kill God’s people and in both the early church and today there are martyrs for the faith. Some people God does allow to walk through death – Stephen (Acts 6 & 7) was an example of this. Others the Lord delivers miraculously – Peter was an example of this (Acts 12) though tradition has it that he was eventually put to death for his faith, as did ten of the eleven remaining apostles – John being the exception, who died of old age in exile.

How should we view persecution? Well not as something we should bring upon ourselves by our insensitive and careless speaking or behaviour, for we should always seek to express the love and grace and humility of God. The apostles considered it something that should not hinder them (see their prayer in Acts 4:23 -30) and in fact they rejoiced that God trusted them to cope with it (Acts 5:41). Rather than be negative about it, Jesus instructed that we should be positive and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Note, pray FOR not against. Paul added, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Rom 12;14) How powerful is that! Don’t curse people the enemy uses, but seek God’s blessing on them. Pray for them to come to know Christ. Ask God to bless them. That is the instruction of the New Testament.

You want a reward? Yours is the kingdom of heaven! Yes, when we suffer for Christ, he comes close and manifests his presence, manifests the presence of heaven, the rule of God from heaven, here on earth. This is both a now and then thing. It is ‘now’ in that we will know the sovereign move of God in whatever way He decides to come in the present circumstances (e.g. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31), and it is ‘then’ in that there is a place reserved for us in eternity. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(Heb 12:3).

How did Jesus endure the persecution of the Cross? Well, one way was to look beyond it to what would follow. Similarly for us, history shows us that often those who were being persecuted looked beyond what was happening to what they would receive at the end. In the meantime the apostle Paul coped by the knowledge of God saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.(2 Cor 12:9). In the trial of persecution, the word and history testify to this truth, that whatever God puts before us, or allows to be put before us, His grace will be there for us to help us see it through. Until it happens we can’t imagine it, but it WILL be there. Fear not, the Lord said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5).