After Jesus died and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which we looked at last week, it took a while for the followers of Jesus to settle down and get organized. As we saw last week with the birth of the church, this movement began & the church was growing & big things were happening. The group that is gathering with the disciples and following Jesus is growing to the point where they need to appoint leaders to help care, support, train, and disciple these new followers.
One of the big problems that came up early in the game was how to take care of the poor, especially the widows who couldn’t support themselves. The apostles decided to appoint a group to handle this side of things, and one of the ones they appointed was Stephen.
And it is his story and his encounter with the Holy Spirit that we looked at on Sunday.
In Acts 6.5 Stephen is listed in a group of others who were chosen to take up a new leadership office called deacons. Stephen is listed as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 6.8 he is mentioned again, so just 3 verses later and he again called a “man full of God’s grace and power.” And that he “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” No one else in the list gets any extra mentions like Stephen.
This story is so FULL of information, but at it’s most basic Stephen by the power of the Holy Spirit is able to have courage to speak truth about the problems of power and injustice to the most powerful people of his time – the Sanhedrin. And through the text we see a bunch of echoes of Jesus’s story as Stephen says and does many of the same things he saw his Lord do in his lifetime.
This is a story of someone who is by the power of the Holy Spirit able to confront injustice with courage and who is insistent to love, and pray for the enemy. To be willing to show compassion grace, love, and forgiveness on those who are brutal, corrupt, unjust, and even abusive to others. To people at the very least that are against you.
And when ever I read a story like this I wonder to myself. Could I do this? If these believers back then could do this why couldn’t I? Could I? Do I love my enemies? Do I pray for my enemies? Am I courageous enough to speak truth to my enemies? Let alone am I willing to forgive my enemies? To get at the application and ponderings for this text we looked at and wrestled with two main questions.
The 1st question is this…WHO IS YOUR ENEMY? Noting that an enemy can be a lot of different things…
- Could be someone far away – like a leader of a rogue nation
- Could be a political enemy
- Could be someone who has personally betrayed, injured, or harmed you
- Could be someone who has injured, betrayed, or harmed someone that you love and you become allied with that victim and that becomes your enemy
- It could be a bully at your school
- It could be a teacher that seems to have it out for you.
Could be something even simpler then that… Could be even less personal…
- An enemy could be the person sitting next to you that doesn’t have the same theological views that you do
- It could be a person who doesn’t approve of the church you attend [lets hope not]
- It could be someone who doesn’t share your political persuasion
- If you are on wall street your enemy is occupy wall street
- If you are in the tea party you may say your enemy is the government
- If you are in the government you may say your enemy is the government…or whatever
- It could be the neighbor that doesn’t take care of there yard next door to you
The problem is that we tend to think of enemies more like this story. People who are out to kill us. Extreme situations. But enemies come in all shapes and sizes. We have to understand this before we can get to the next question. WHO ARE YOUR ENEMIES?
- your spouse can become an enemy
- your children can become an enemy
- your parents can become an enemy
- your inlaws
- your co-worker
- your boss
- a random shooter that enters a room and starts gunning at people
We all have enemies. Who are your enemies?
The 2nd question then, in light of this story, is to answer what does it mean to extend love to your enemies? When you have your enemy/enemies in mind…what does it mean to show love, grace, and forgiveness to that person or persons?
The only way Stephen is able to pursue justice and have the ability to speak the truth in love and actually have a heart of grace, love, and forgiveness in him while being stoned to death is by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. THIS IS A DANGEROUS SPIRIT OF LOVE THAT WE HAVE IN US… The ability to love our enemy is the hardest and highest virtue in the Christian faith and that is why so few of us do it . To love our enemies is HARD. It’s one thing to love our neighbors… which we aren’t great at… But to love our enemies…that is REALLY HARD.
I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS FOR YOU. What I’m saying is that we have to be able to wrestle with answering the question what does it mean to love our enemies, because it is going to look, feel, and be expressed and shown in different ways, in different ways, in every situation. AND NO ONE FROM THE OUTSIDE CAN TELL YOU WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU TO LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. It is a condition of your own heart as moved and convicted by the Holy Spirit within you. It is our willingness to orient ourselves to God and ask the question… “God you know who my enemy is, how do I go about loving them, in light of the situation and all the people involved? What do I do that best expresses love in this situation?”
I think the best way to start with all of this is to do what Stephen did as he was about to die from being stoned and that is that he prayed. He prayed for his enemy, he placed these wrestlings before God, and was informed & empowered by the Holy Spirit to respond. May we as OneLife Community Church learn from this as well.
1. Do you pray for your enemies? Yes/No Explain
2. What are the barriers that get in the way of you extending love to your enemies?
3. How might the Holy Spirit be moving you to extend love for your enemies?