Jul 4, 2011

When They Can Stand It No More

Standing for Christ before a Hostile Age (1)
By T. M. Moore

But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. --Acts 6:10

Stephen had a good reputation among the people of Jerusalem. He seems to have been a deeply spiritual man, full of practical wisdom, and ready to help others wherever he was needed (Acts 6:3). He is described as having been filled with the Holy Spirit. Full of grace and power, Stephen was also outspoken about his faith – not in a brash and blaring way, but calmly, speaking with wisdom and sound reason to everyone who would listen.

In spite of his gentle and reasonable manner, however, some of his contemporaries chose to dispute with him – members of a local synagogue, and clubs of foreigners who were staying together in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). They could find no fault with the man: he was as good, wise, and kind a person as any of them had known.

But they found his message offensive, probably because he insisted that a relationship with God depends not on one’s heritage, associations, attainments, or efforts, but on repenting from all sin and believing in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. Such a message implied that their views were wrong and their morality was not what it should be. They chafed at the thought that he – a lowly synagogue servant – should presume to tell them what they ought to believe and how they ought to live.

Nevertheless, our text tells us that these opponents could not withstand the wisdom Stephen demonstrated or the grace and power of the Spirit working through him. He effectively rebuffed their objections and set their views aside. They were left with nothing else to say against him.

What should they do? How would they protect their cherished beliefs and practices and save face among their peers? Our passage continues, “And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council” (Acts 6:12).

And just to make sure he wouldn’t frustrate them there, “they set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:13, 14). That line had worked once before to secure an unjust conviction of an inconvenient Evangelist; perhaps it would work again.

I have a friend who helps local believers in Muslim and other nations to proclaim the Gospel, begin house churches, and train the pastors those churches require. God has laid His hand on this ministry in a special way. Scores of thousands are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and thousands of house churches are cropping up, right in the thick of Muslim traditions, culture, and followers. Increasingly, my friend receives reports of believers being martyred for their faith.

Which is only what we should expect in an environment hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when people can no longer stand to hear the Gospel’s challenges to their settled way of life, and they no longer have anything reasonable to say in defense of their worldview.

And if it happened to Jesus and to Stephen, and if today it is happening in various parts of the world beyond our American shores, we must not be naïve to think that it cannot happen here. A strong undercurrent of deep antipathy toward the Gospel runs through our culture and society, and we see its ugly, angry face burst out in threats and vitriol from time to time.

Are we ready, like Stephen, to face this threat, confront this challenge, and stand firm in the face of whatever consequences may ensue? If we, as Christians, have not yet addressed this question, and if we’re not prepared to take our stand before a hostile age, then it’s time – nearly past time – that we do so.

Download the series, "Standing for Christ in a Hostile Age." Click here: VP Hostile Age (pdf).



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