People of the Bible: Stephen

Stephen was one of the first prominent members of the church of Christ in Jerusalem, and was also one of the first to die for being Jesus’ follower.

The primary text about Stephen is Acts 6 through 8. Consider three stages of his life as revealed in Scripture:

Stephen the Minister

We first read about Stephen as a servant in the church (Acts 6:1-7). From the beginning, Christianity has been about community and helping others.  However, it is challenging to meet every need in the context of a variety of different demands and an array of personalities.  It is no surprise that a problem arose, in which some Christian widows expressed criticism that they weren’t receiving fair attention from the church.

The apostles announced a solution:  Select seven men who would be specially assigned to this task.  Stephen is the first name mentioned on the list, and he is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). His name is Greek, which lets us know that he had a Grecian background, which would be helpful in addressing the situation.

Based on the other descriptions provided, we also know that Stephen had a good reputation in the community (6:3), was “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3), and was capable of tending to the job at hand.

Like Jesus, Christians should be servants.  Jesus said He came “to minister” (Mark 10:45), and He left us an example of humble service when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13).

Stephen the Messenger

Next, we see Stephen as a spokesperson for the gospel (Acts 6:8-7:53). Stephen’s natural and supernatural abilities led him to a more public role in the church, particularly in leading Jews to Christ.   Those who wanted to protect Judaism were disturbed that they were unable to rebut Stephen’s teachings (6:10).

The contention between Stephen and the Jews became so intense that some of the Jews paid witnesses to make false statements about him, and he was placed on trial for blasphemy (6:11-15).

Christianity is an aggressive religion.  Jude said that we should be prepared to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

Despite the likely adverse consequences, Stephen delivered a powerful summary of God’s people under the Old Testament, and continued with a pointed application to his hearers (7:1-53).  They were turning from God’s plan in the same way God’s people had in the past (7:51-53).

Stephen the Martyr

The crowd was furious with Stephen (Acts 7:54). In the face of death, Stephen remained committed to Christ and entrusted the keeping of his soul to Him (7:55-60).

Jesus promised us that if we were “faithful unto death,” He will give us a crown of life (Rev. 2:10). “Stephanos” in Greek means “crown.” Stephen was stoned to death, and was buried by some of the devout men in the church (8:2).

The event sparked intense persecution of the church by the Jews, including Saul. Paul never forgot the day Stephen died, later reminding the Lord that he guarded the robes of those who threw the stones at Stephen and didn’t do anything to help him (22:20). Stephen’s death became a catalyst for others to look to Jesus.