In Acts 6, the apostles looked for seven well-attested men to serve in the daily dispensing of material to supply the needy believers. Among the seven they appointed was a man named Stephen—a man the Bible says was full of faith, the Holy Spirit, grace, and power, and who did great wonders and signs among the people.
Verses 9 and 10 tell us that some Jews from the synagogue and various others disputed with Stephen, but “they were not able to withstand the Spirit and wisdom with which he spoke.”
Frustrated by this, they instigated some to accuse Stephen of blaspheming against Moses and God. This stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, who then came upon Stephen, seized him, and led him to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. There, even more false witnesses were set up to falsely accuse Stephen of saying certain things.
In Acts 7, verse 1, the high priest asked Stephen the question: “Are these things so?”
Stephen’s response is one of the most succinct summaries of the Old Testament recorded in the entire Bible. It recounts the entire history of the Israelites, from the calling of Abraham to the building of the temple. By this, Stephen clearly refutes the false accusation that he had blasphemed. He concludes by boldly stating that their forefathers had persecuted the prophets and killed those who announced the coming of the righteous One, the Christ. He then adds that they themselves have now become the betrayers and murderers of this Christ.
Stephen’s faithful and true words so enraged them that they rushed upon him and threw him outside the city. There they stoned him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Stephen’s final words echo those of our Lord on the cross: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit!” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
How could Stephen say such things as he was being unjustly stoned to death? And how could he speak so powerfully and eloquently of the history of Israel while being falsely accused and on trial for his life? How could Stephen testify for the Lord in such a marvelous way?
Letting the Word of God dwell in you richly
Luke 12:11-12 says,
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how or what you should reply in defense, or what you should say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that hour what should be said.”
Surely Stephen experienced this promise given by the Lord as he answered the high priest’s question. But was that all? Was his answer simply the miraculous, momentary work of the Holy Spirit? Or was there something about Stephen that allowed the Spirit to work in this way?
Even before he was brought to trial, Stephen spoke with wisdom and the Spirit. And from his exposition of the Old Testament in chapter 7, we can see that Stephen was very familiar with the Scriptures. Surely Stephen is a good pattern of one who lived out the words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to God.”
Stephen was not an empty believer. He was so filled with the Word of God that there was a deposit within him from which the Holy Spirit could draw to lead him how to speak.
Many of us have had the experience of wanting to speak for the Lord Jesus but being unable to find the words to say. Why does this happen? Did the Holy Spirit not want to help us in that instance? Actually, when we build up a deposit of the Lord’s Word within us, we give the Spirit a rich reservoir from which He can speak to and through us. And the richer the deposit, the richer His speaking can be. Because Stephen was richly filled with the Word of God, he was able to speak in such a profound and clear way.
These excerpts from footnotes 1 through 3 on Colossians 3:16 in the Recovery Version elaborate in this way:
Note 1 on word: “A normal Christian life should be one that is filled with the word, that the Spirit may bubble over with praise and lauding melodies from within the believers.”
Note 2 on dwell: “Lit., to be in a house, to indwell, to inhabit. The word of the Lord must have adequate room within us that it may operate and minister the riches of Christ into our inner being.”
Note 3 on richly: “The riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8) are in His word. Such a rich word must inhabit us richly.”
For us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly is more than our simply memorizing some verses of the Bible. For it to dwell in us richly, we must allow the word to get deep into our being, nourishing our spirit and affecting our very soul, our mind, our emotion, and our will.
How can we have the word of Christ dwell in us in a rich way? On the most basic level, we need to read the Bible consistently to get it into us and to be familiar with God’s speaking in the Scriptures. But we must move beyond this if we want a rich dwelling of the word of Christ in us. For this we must make time to take in the Word as food, to eat it, digest it, and even assimilate it into us by praying over it.
By daily seeking the Lord Himself in His Word, speaking His Word, and praising Him with His Word, we give the Word more and more room to dwell within us. Then, when we want to speak for the Lord, the Spirit can bring forth the rich Word from within us and allow it to flow out of us!
Our dear brother Stephen is a real inspiration and pattern for us all. May we all be ones who daily pray over God’s Word, receive it into our heart, allow it to make a home in our inward being richly, and as a result, speak the Word of God to those around us!
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