Leadership To Stand Alone: Acts Series #14
I thank the Lord for the power that we have when we stand together. One will chase a thousand; ten will chase ten thousand. We thank God for the power that we have to stand together.
However, wait a moment, there are times when you may have to stand by yourself – when you don’t have your brothers and sisters in Christ ’round about you. We are going to have to also learn to stand alone. The title of this chapter is “Standing Alone.” I mean, there’s coming a time, when you are going to have to be one against the crowd, and you’re going to be all by yourself against great odds.
It may be at school, that you’re going to have to stand alone, and you may have, in your college class, an atheistic, agnostic cynic for a professor. You may be the only Christian in that class, and you’re going to have to stand up for the Lord Jesus.
Some of you businessmen and businesswomen, tomorrow, when you go back to the company and back to the office, you’re going to have to stand alone, because there will be pornography; there will be obscenity; there will be blasphemy; there will be dishonesty, and there will be materialism. And you, as a Christian, in the name of Jesus, will have to stand alone. Some of you, in your social life, will have to stand alone. I heard of two couples who were out double dating, and one of them suggested that they stop and go into a nearby bar, and the young lady in the back seat with her date said, “No, I don’t want to go in there. I have someone with me who would not enjoy that place.” The young man who was with her said, “Oh, I don’t mind going in there.” She said, “I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about the Holy Spirit of God that lives in my heart.”
There are times when we are going to have to stand alone because we’re twice-born people in a world of once-born people, and we’re going to find ourselves going against the tide. As we get closer to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re going to find that the opposition is sharpening and the hostility is emerging more vicious and more furious than ever, and we will have to stand alone. The Bible says that we are to stand. We’re to “take unto [ourselves] the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Our job, our duty, and our privilege is to stand for Christ.
The very name “Stephen” means crown—stephanos. What a man, this man was. He was one of the first deacons. The Bible says that he was full of the Holy Spirit and power, and he preached one of the greatest messages ever preached.
The synopsis of Stephen’s message is in Acts chapter 7. It was a message packed with spiritual dynamite and had such power and such wisdom in it, that the people could not resist—as we’re going to see—the wisdom and the power with which Stephen spoke. Now remember, he was a layman; he was a deacon, but he had mighty power. He had so much spiritual power in his life, that he was able to perform miracles. The people were infuriated at the message of Stephen, and they began to gnarl and gnash their teeth and to rush on him, wanting to take his life.
The above is the background for the passage of Scripture we will study in this chapter. In Acts 7:54, we read, “When they heard these things” – now, “when they heard these things” is talking about the religious leaders of that day – “they were cut to the heart.”
The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. “They were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” That means that they’re just grinding their teeth. They’re so angry, that they’re snarling at him. I want you to be able to see their contorted faces. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost” – and that’s the key; underscore that phrase – “But he” – that is, Stephen – “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice” – they just shriek; this is more than they can take – “and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.”
Saul, who’s mentioned here, is later to become the Apostle Paul. “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” just like the Lord Jesus when Jesus died and He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). As when they crucified Jesus, Stephen prayed for them when they stoned him. “And when he had said this, he fell asleep” – that is, he died. “Sleep” is the Biblical description for the death of a Christian. Stephen, who dies for his faith in Christ. Stephen became the first Christian martyr.
Now, how was he able to do this? The Bible says that he had a face like an angel – that’s the kind of a face he had. Stephen was a remarkable leader. If you go back to Acts 6:15, we read, “And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” What is there about this man Stephen that made him so remarkable? Remember the Scripture that I read earlier said that he was full of the Holy Spirit? As a matter of fact, the Scripture states three times, that he was full of the Holy Spirit.
I. We Need To Be Full OF The Holy Spirit To Have
Wisdom To Speak For Christ (Acts 6:10)
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? When we are saved, God’s Holy Spirit comes into us. There’s no such thing as getting saved and then, after you’ve been saved, receiving the Holy Spirit. You receive the Holy Spirit the moment that you’re saved. The Bible says, in Romans 8:9: “…if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” You don’t even belong to Jesus if you don’t have the Holy Spirit in you, because when you’re saved, you become a partaker of the divine nature, and that divine nature is the Holy Spirit in you, you see.
When you are filled, He comes in as resident, but when you are full, He becomes president. Now, it’s one thing for you to have the Holy Spirit; it’s quite another thing for the Holy Spirit to have you. To be filled with the Holy Spirit means, not only does He abide, but He presides – He controls your life. When He controls your life, there are three powerful qualities that you’re going to be full of.
Now, I want you to notice – in chapter 6, verse 3: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men…full of the Holy Ghost” – now, watch this – “and wisdom…” And wisdom. When you are full with the Holy Ghost, you’re going to have wisdom. In Acts 8:8, it states, “And Stephen, full of faith” – when you are full of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to have faith – “and power” – when you are full of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to have power.
In Acts 6:10, we read, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke.” Do you see this? As we study this seventh chapter of this Book of Acts, we will find out that he gave a tremendous message, and his message was a review of Bible history. It’s a short course on Bible history. Well, anybody can memorize the facts of the Bible if they have a halfway intelligent mind, but it is not his knowledge that they’re talking about – it is his wisdom.
Here was a man who had unusual, supernatural wisdom. Where did he get that wisdom? It was a supernatural gift that had come from God. I mean, they couldn’t withstand the wisdom. It’s not that this man had a Ph.D. from a university; he was just an ordinary man. These people were just common, ordinary people, but God gave them this wisdom.
In Luke 21:12, we read, “But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you” – that means that they’re going to treat you rotten; when they lay their hands on you, that means they begin to snatch you around – “they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.” That is, they’re going to come and get you. You’re going to be brought before the magistrates, and it’s because you love the Lord Jesus. It’s because you won’t bend, budge, or bow, that they’re going to bring you in.
Jesus said: “And it shall turn to you for a testimony” (Luke 21:13). This is going be your big opportunity. You, Mr. Average Christian, are going to have a chance to preach the Message. You’re going to be before the court; you’re going to be in prison; you’re going to be before the religious leaders; and you’re going to have to speak.
You say, “I am not ready. I don’t know what I’d say.” Suppose they say, “Deny Christ, or we’ll kill you. Deny Christ, or we’ll kill your children. Deny Christ, or we’ll put you in prison. Deny Christ, or we’ll take your goods.” You say, “I don’t know what I’d say.” Listen to what Jesus said: “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer” (Luke 21:14). Don’t go to bed and think tonight, Oh, what would I say, what would I say, what would I say? Jesus said, “Forget it. Don’t worry about it. Just settle it in your heart not to worry about it – ‘not to meditate before what ye shall answer.’” And, here’s the promise: “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom.”
Jesus said, “I’ll do it. When the time comes, when you need it…” – “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist” (Luke 21:15). This Scripture was fulfilled with Stephen. He was brought before the council, and Jesus gave him a mouth, and Jesus gave him wisdom, that all of his adversaries could not gainsay or resist.
You’re going to have an opportunity, perhaps sooner than you realize, to speak for Christ, and you’re not going to be prepared. There’s no university that can prepare you and there’s no seminary that can prepare you, but Jesus will supernaturally equip you and endow you. The Lord is going to give you the tongue of the learned, and you will hear things coming out of your mouth that are going to be supernatural.
I want to remind you that the life of this man Stephen was a supernatural life. God gave him wisdom to speak for Christ, and the Bible says that they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. We’re not here to outmaneuver the world and we’re not here to outsmart the world. We here to let Jesus live in us, and, when the time comes, to speak through us.
They may not like it at first, but still, we’ll give the Message. They didn’t like it when Stephen spoke with wisdom. It was his wisdom that they couldn’t stand. These people didn’t like it – not because what Stephen said was right or wrong, but because what he said was right. They couldn’t resist the wisdom that he had.
II. We Need To Be Full OF The Holy Spirit To
Have Power To Stand For Christ (Acts 7:51-53)
In Acts 7:51-53, we read “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have now been the betrayers and murderers.”
Can you imagine this scene? He’s standing before the council. He’s standing before those who have the right, or at least the power, to put him to death, and they eventually did put him to death; they stoned him. But here, he is with great courage.
He has the power to stand for Christ, knowing that he’s going to get in trouble, knowing that it’s not going to go easy with him. He’s not taking the easy way out. Well, you say, he had a lot of courage naturally. No, he didn’t. He’s just like you. Nobody likes the idea of being persecuted, being put to death, and having people to be their enemies.
Yet, we need to remember that courage is fear that has said its prayers. Courage is not so much the absence of fear as it is the mastery of fear. Here is a man who has supernatural courage.
Stephen is describing his audience. He says, “You’re stiff-necked; you’re uncircumcised in heart and ears; you resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. He is standing and he’s standing alone.” Again, like his wisdom was supernatural, his courage was supernatural.
In Matthew 10:28, we read, “And fear not them that kill the body but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Now, what did Jesus mean by that? Jesus meant that, if you kneel before God, then you can stand before any man. Don’t fear them. Don’t be afraid of them. “Well,” you say, “I’m not wired that way.” Well, neither am I.
If the devil can find fear in you, then he’ll know that you’ll never stand alone. You will fold up when you ought to stand up. Young Timothy was beginning to do that, and the Apostle Paul had to write to Timothy, in 2 Timothy, chapter 1, and verses 7 and 8, and says: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.”
If the devil can see fear in your eyes, then he’s going to intimidate you. You must not be afraid. Only when a man is no longer afraid to die is that man ready to live. Strangely, when you come to the place where Jesus said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…” are you going to be like Stephen, and you’re going to be able to stand alone (Matthew 10:28). I want to remind you that that was not because Stephen, in and of himself, was so great. He was an ordinary man, but he had extraordinary power. Because he was full of the Holy Spirit, he had wisdom to speak for Christ and he had power to stand for Christ.
III. We Need To Be Full OF The Holy Spirit To
Have Faith To Suffer For Christ (Acts 7:54-60)
There’s a third quality that we will need to stand alone. Not only did he have wisdom to speak for Christ and not only did he have power to stand for Christ, but he had faith to suffer for Christ. The Bible also tells us that he was a man full of faith, full of faith.
Sometimes we have the idea, that, if we’re full of faith, then we’re not going to suffer – that our faith will get us out of all kinds of difficulty. Faith doesn’t always get us out of difficulty—sometimes it gets us into difficulty. Jesus did not come to get you out of trouble; He came to get into trouble with you. Faith will not keep you from suffering. It will enable you to suffer.
In Acts 7:57-58, we read, “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Stephen understood that there’s more to life than this world. He saw another world and that enabled him to suffer. We cannot suffer for Jesus if we are not that intimately acquainted with Him. Some Christians have the idea, if we take a stand for Christ, then somehow God’s going to deliver us and we will not suffer. We need to remember that it cost to serve Jesus, it costs every day. It costs every step of the way. It cost Stephen his life.
Some Christians will say, “Stephen was a great saint – a great Christian – why did he suffer?” The great question is not why some Christians suffer—the great question is why some Christians don’t. For Jesus said: “Yea, and all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Iff you don’t suffer any persecution for Jesus, then it’s about time you asked why.
The word “witness” and the word “martyr” are the same word in the Greek language. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He did not die for his faith. He was not a martyr because he died for his faith; he died for his faith because he was a martyr. Jesus said: “Ye shall be martyrs unto me.” You are to be my martyrs. Now, whether you die or not makes no difference. Persecution does not make martyrs. It only reveals them.
You’re a martyr or you’re not, right now. I mean, what’s in your heart, right now? Do you have the spirit of a martyr in your heart? Jesus said: “You shall be my martyrs.” Stephen was not a martyr because he died for Christ; he died for Christ because he was a martyr. He had faith to suffer for Christ.
If you want to stand alone, the great question is not: Do you have faith to escape? The great question is: Do you have faith to endure? The great question is not: Do you have faith to be delivered? The great question is: Do you have faith to die? Stephen was a man full of the Holy Ghost and full of faith, and he died, and he died by faith. The great question is not: Do you have enough faith to be healed so that you can praise God? The great question is: Do you have enough faith not to be healed and to still praise God?
Let me tell you what faith is: Faith is not primarily receiving from God what you want—it is accepting from God what He gives. The time is coming when we’re going to have to stand alone. I mean, we’re going to have to stand for the Lord Jesus Christ. And, the way to do it is to be full of the Holy Spirit. When we are full of the Holy Spirit, we’ll have wisdom to speak for Christ; we’ll have power to stand for Christ; and we’ll have faith to suffer for Christ.
Look at the bruised, broken, battered body of Stephen. It wasn’t over then. He closed his eyes in sleep, and the next moment, Jesus is saying, “Welcome home, Stephen, my martyr. Welcome home. Oh, thank you, Stephen, for not denying my name. Thank you, Stephen, for being true to me.”
There was a young man there whose name was Saul who never got over what he saw, and Saul never found rest until he found rest in Jesus. And Jesus said, “It’s hard for you, Saul, to kick against the pricks, isn’t it? The greatest missionary and theologian that the world has ever known received life through the death of Stephen. Stand up for Jesus! Stand up Jesus when you have stand alone!