Jack Graham - A Life in Full
One of the great truths of the Bible that transforms our lives is the work and witness of the Holy Spirit in us. And we've been talking about this witness, this work, this mission and ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives over the last several weeks. We know that we are made brand new. And when Christ comes to live in us, His spirit is alive in us. He never leaves us. And that means we're never alone. Even when trials come, even if we are persecuted for our faith, even if someone tries to cancel us or shut us up or shut us down, we can always look to Jesus who holds us and who keeps us. And we are secure is safe in him. And whether it is stones or arrows that are in flight, he has everything in his control. And today we're looking back at a sermon that I preached nearly 15 years ago. And the fact is, what I said 15 years ago is more important now than ever before. So we're not going to go back just 15 years. We're going to go all the way back to the Book of Acts in the beginning of the church. And we're going to see how God uses us, how we are never in trouble when we are with him in the fire. You are not alone. God is with you, it’s true then and it's true now.
Take God's Word and turn with me, please, to the sixth chapter of the book of Acts, the sixth chapter. I want to speak to you today on the subject: "A Life in Full". A Life in Full. And that life in full is demonstrated by a man known as Stephanos whose name means crown, or the crowned One. And Stephen lived a life as a beautiful example of what that life really looks like. We’re going to see some of his story today beginning in chapter 6 and verse 7: "And the word of God continued to increase". I love that. God’s Word is increasing and the church is growing, "and the number of the disciples multiplied".
Previously they would have been adding numbers to the church at 20 to 30 a day scholars estimate, but now they are multiplying. Ultimately they are a gathering too multiple, multiplied to count. They are a multitude. As a result the church was organized to meet the needs of people and deacons were chosen. Among the deacons was a man named Stephen, for verse 8 tells us: "Stephen was full of grace and power, and was doing great wonders and signs among the people". We don't know the exact kind of miracles and wonders of signs that were being taking place but we assume like Jesus who was given the power of the Spirit to touch people at the point of their need, and lives were being transformed; supernatural signs and wonders that authenticated the power of the Spirit in their lives.
And then verse 9 says: "Some of those who belonged to the Synagogue of the Freedmen as it was called, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could", watch this, "they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he was speaking. And then they secretly instigated men who said, 'We’ve heard Him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.'" Now Stephen was not speaking insulting or blasphemous words against Moses or God, not at all. But these are lies and slanders that were produced to stop the message of Christ, to shut up the Man of Christ.
Verse 12: "They stirred up the people of the elders and the scribes and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council". The word here means they pounced upon him. They seized him. Literally they threw him under. Stephen is about to get thrown under the bus. "...they brought him before the council. And they set up false witnesses and said, 'This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law'", again, a lie, "'for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs of Moses delivered to us.'"
The revolutionary faith of Jesus Christ spoke of the resurrection, the tearing down of the temple of His body and the rebuilding of it to the glory of God. But you see these are turning the words of Christ and now the words of Stephen around to be something totally different. But notice verse 15: "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel". Angel face, a man with a message, a powerful, persuasive message of Christ and the Gospel! A man with courage to match his convictions! A man who fearlessly and selflessly stood for his Lord filled with the Spirit of God. A man in full! The kind of man, the kind of woman you ought to be, we ought to be.
What is a life in full? Well, one, it is a life full of character. You cannot speak of Stephen without speaking of his character because his character is described in the passages of scripture that we've read and also, earlier as I mentioned to you because the church was growing. While the church was a very powerful church, it was not a perfect church. And so dissention was rising among the church over the administration, the distribution to the needs of the people, and some were beginning to complain and murmur against the leadership of the church. And the Apostles, the preachers as it were, of the church were concerned about this, as the people were concerned. And they said, "What we need to do is to get organized in order to effectively meet the needs of the congregation and of the community".
And so they were told to choose out seven men who would serve as deacons, diakoneos. They were the servants of the church. They were the assistants to the apostles, and while the apostles were to focus upon preaching the word and prayer, these men, these seven deacons were called and chosen to take care of the physical ministry of the church. And you have here in Acts chapter 6 the embryonic form of the deacon. Every deacon is to be a man of character. If you will just back up to the sixth chapter of Acts, earlier in that passage of Scripture we're told that these were chosen as deacons and Stephen was of the seven the draft choice. At least he's the first one mentioned.
And down at verse five: "And they were pleased at the gathering. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith", there’s our word full again, "and full of the Holy Spirit". So here's what we learn about Stephen, about his character. He was a man of good reputation in the church and in the community. Of the thousands of men who had come to faith in Christ in the early church, he was one of seven men who were especially called to this very particular and strategic ministry. And because of his good character, his strong reputation in the community, and the fact that he was full of God's Spirit and full of faith, that he was full of grace.
Verse 8 tells us that he was "full of grace and power". So his life exemplified a Spirit-filled life. Full of grace and power. And because he knew the Word of God, because he was living in obedience to God his life was marked by extreme wisdom. And this wisdom is for everyone, not just for a select number as Stephen and the others, but God says to every Christian, "Ask if you need wisdom and you will receive it". We do need wisdom today, don't we? We need wisdom in our relationships, how to live with one another. We need wisdom for our careers. We need wisdom in making good choices, daily choices each day. We need wisdom when we face problems and pains, struggles in life. We need wisdom in every circumstance of life. And God's wisdom comes from above. Human wisdom fails, but God's wisdom is forever.
And so here is a man full of wisdom, but not only that, he is full of grace. There is a winsome grace about his life. Something so appealing, something so refreshing. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, the joy of His presence in us is reflected in our lives, in our character, and even our countenance. For when these looked intently at this man it appeared as though he had the face of an angel. In other words, if you’re full of Jesus it ought to show up on your face. And this angel-faced man, this man aglow, aflame with the presence of God, is demonstrating the beauty of Christ. And in this face to face confrontation with religious establishment, guess whose face demonstrates and defines the glory of God. It is this man Stephen, full of faith, trusting in God.
We know he was full of faith because when you read the sermon that he delivers, it's the longest recorded sermon in the book of Acts, Acts chapter 7. You read something of his faith and what he believed. He was a man well equipped in the Old Testament scriptures. He knew the stories of the bible. He was obviously trained as a young man in his Jewish home to know the Scriptures. And now that he knows Christ he is proclaiming Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. He preaches and teaches the word of God because he is a man full of wisdom and full of winsomeness; this winning spirit. When it says that they could not resist his wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking, we really don't know if the Spirit referenced here is the human spirit of Stephen or the Holy Spirit of God.
In other words when it speaks of his spirit that could not be resisted, is this God's Spirit or is it Stephen's spirit? Well, the answer is yes. God's Spirit is so filling Stephen's life that his spirit was a different kind of spirit, a dynamic spirit. There was a charisma, not the charisma of human personality but the charisma of God's Spirit living in his life. A man of character. A life in full is a life full of courage. Well, Stephen is in hot water now because the accusation, the lies, the slanders are flowing and he is being accused of blasphemy and insulting God, none of which was true. When you read this passage of Scripture you realize that this sounds very familiar.
The same kind of lies and innuendoes and accusations were leveled against Stephen’s Savior, the Lord Jesus. And history is beginning to repeat itself and opposition is rolling in. Opposition and resistance that would demand extreme courage and faith. To follow Jesus is the most challenging thing you will ever do in your life and it will require the courage that God gives you. This is why we need spiritual power. This is why we need the Spirit of God filling us; to resist the enemy, to overcome tests and temptations! And by the way, it’s your testimony that always requires tests. You can’t have a testimony without tests. And God has given some of you today tests in order to strengthen your testimony for Him! But we need spiritual power to overcome temptation, to defeat the enemy!
We need spiritual power to pray! We need spiritual power to forgive! We need spiritual power to build our family! We need spiritual power to face trials and struggles in life! We need spiritual power when it comes time to die! And that power emboldens us with the courage of Christ. Courage to match conviction! Stephen had it! And so rather than making a quiet or quick exit, he stands up and he proclaims Christ. And that's what you have in Acts chapter 7. But while we could, I would encourage you to read this message when you can, just read the seventh chapter of Acts and you will read this powerful message that Stephen delivers. But through it all he's standing up for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus against opposition. I want to challenge all of us today to stand up for Jesus.
What are you doing to stand up for Christ and the Gospel? Too many of us think the Christian life is walk in the church and sit down and sit still and listen up. But the Christian life is more than that, isn’t it? It’s not just for "listen up", it’s to stand up. How are you standing up? You know in the Christian life there are things that we stand for and there are things that we stand against. And there should be a beautiful balance. We shouldn't be known just for the things we're against; we should also be known for the things that we're for. But the fact is we are against some things. We are for righteousness but we are against those things that destroy righteousness.
What are you doing to stand up? To answer the call of God for Him? Are you standing in the gap for people? How about helping people who are hurting? Helping people who are homeless? What about the addict? What about the orphans and the widows? What about unwed mothers in a crisis? Are you standing for Christ with these who need your help? Do you stand to support a just cause? A righteous cause? Are you pro-life? Are you pro-family? Are you willing to stand against the tide of secularism that is sweeping the nation? Are you willing to stand up in truth and righteousness and purity amidst a secularized and sexualize culture? Will you be willing to stand against the wrong and stand up for what is right? When it is time to vote, as a Christian citizen will you vote your values, your principles over your politics?
We don’t tell people how to vote. We don’t endorse candidates. But we do counsel people to vote the values of the Christian faith when it comes to our voting and selecting the leaders who will lead this nation. How are we standing? Are we standing for the Gospel? Are we supporting missionaries around the world? The question is not how do you feel about the Gospel or what do you know about the Gospel; the question is what are doing about the Gospel? Are you standing courageously for Christ? I dare you to get out of your comfort zone, off the comfortable pew and stand somewhere in the gap for God; to stand up for Christ in a culture that is anti-Christ, in a world that has rejected Him! To stand, to take risks, to dream great dreams! And all the while not wondering or worrying about the risks or the repercussions, whether you win or whether you lose, but only whether you please God!
Ultimately Stephen lived for an audience of One! He knew he had nothing to prove, only Someone to please! And it didn’t matter if he pleased the world and if he displeased God. And so he chose to please God. And you have only one to please and that is your Lord. You don’t have to answer to anybody else ultimately but Him. So I challenge you to have courage that matches your convictions and your character; that you would rise to do the right thing regardless of the consequences. That’s what Stephen did. He was a man full of courage. There's one final word and that is a life in full is a life full of character, a life full of courage, and finally, obvious, isn't it? A life full of Christ. When you read the final paragraphs of Stephen's life, you discover after he preached, they were incensed and enraged at the words that he spoke. As a matter of fact look at verse 51 of Acts chapter 7. It says, this is his invitation; this is the conclusion of a message.
Now just suppose I am about the close the message and here is my conclusion: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit". Not exactly Gospel lite, not exactly the way to win friends and influence people who oppose you. And so when He speaks, these rise up to kill him. And they take him away, led by a young Saul of Tarsus who held the garments of those who stoned Stephen. He is stoned. They threw him into a pit above his head and rolled boulders and threw stones at him. It was brutal and bloody. And then I want you to see how this man died. Verse 59: "And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And falling to his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'"
Does this remind you of anyone? Does this remind you of anything? This man who is dying, so full of Jesus, so full of Christ that he not only lives for the Lord, he dies like the Lord! The Bible says: "And when he had said this, he fell asleep". What a beautiful and blessed picture this is of the death of a Christian. I don't know about you, but I sort of think when Jesus stands up as Stephen is finishing his dramatic, powerful life, Jesus is applauding, Jesus is affirming, Jesus is blessing this man! Blessed, precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saint! Death is not an enemy to the believer, but an entrance into the presence of the Lord. He fell asleep! And there’s one final word about Stephen that I want to mention. This blessed death exemplified a beautiful life and it reminds us that while he did not live a long life, he lived a full life.
When it’s all said and done it’s really not that important how long I live. I pray, as you probably do, for a long and healthy life. But we ought to pray more of what Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary once prayed and wrote in his diary: "Lord, I pray not for a long life, but a full life like Jesus". And it's not the duration of your life that matters most; it is the donation of your life. Not the length of your life, but the depth of your life that counts the most. And if you will live your life full of Christ, you will live and die in the fullness of His presence. A life in full: full of character, grace and faith and spiritual power and wisdom and good report! Full of courage, willing to stand up and speak out and to courageously testify of Jesus Christ in our lives. And then a life full of Christ. And that is my prayer for me, for you, for all of us who know and follow Him, that you would live a life in full.