1. SUSPICION STIRRED UP
a. As the Lord had made the church to grow, how did Satan stealthily sneak in fallen human nature to trigger discord and crisis? Acts 6:1.
“The hearts of those who had been converted under the labors of the apostles, were softened and united by Christian love. Despite former prejudices, all were in harmony with one another. Satan knew that so long as this union continued to exist, he would be powerless to check the progress of gospel truth; and he sought to take advantage of former habits of thought, in the hope that thereby he might be able to introduce into the church elements of disunion.
“Thus it came to pass that as disciples were multiplied, the enemy succeeded in arousing the suspicions of some who had formerly been in the habit of looking with jealousy on their brethren in the faith and of finding fault with their spiritual leaders, and so ‘there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews.’ The cause of complaint was an alleged neglect of the Greek widows in the daily distribution of assistance. Any inequality would have been contrary to the spirit of the gospel, yet Satan had succeeded in arousing suspicion.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 87, 88.
2. A SOLUTION FOUND
a. What should we learn from the step proposed to prevent the apostles from being deterred away from their task of carrying the gospel message to the world? Acts 6:2–4.
“A minister cannot keep in the best spiritual frame of mind while he is called upon to settle little difficulties in the various churches. This is not his appointed work. God desires to use every faculty of His chosen messengers. Their mind should not be wearied by long committee meetings at night, for God wants all their brain power to be used in proclaiming the gospel clearly and forcibly as it is in Christ Jesus. . . .
“It is a great mistake to keep a minister who is gifted with power to preach the gospel, constantly at work in business matters. He who holds forth the Word of life is not to allow too many burdens to be placed upon him. . . .
“The finances of the cause are to be properly managed by businessmen of ability; but preachers and evangelists are set apart for another line of work. Let the management of financial matters rest on others than those set apart for the work of preaching the gospel.”—Evangelism, pp. 91, 92.
b. How did the church respond to the idea—and what benefit do we see as the result? Acts 6:5–7.
“The appointment of the seven to take the oversight of special lines of work, proved a great blessing to the church. These officers gave careful consideration to individual needs as well as to the general financial interests of the church. . . .
“That this step was in the order of God, is revealed in the immediate results for good that were seen. [Acts 6:7 quoted.]”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 89.
“For years the Lord has been instructing us to choose wise men—men who are devoted to God—men who know what the principles of heaven are—men who have learned what it means to walk with God—and to place upon them the responsibility of looking after the business affairs connected with our work. This is in accordance with the Bible plan as outlined in the sixth chapter of Acts. We need to study this plan; for it is approved of God.”—The Review and Herald, October 5, 1905.
3. LIVING UP TO THE CALL
a. Explain the distinct qualifications of a deacon (a specific office requiring ordination, although sometimes this title is wrongly misapplied when referring to any usher or church property caretaker). 1 Timothy 3:8–13.
“The fact that these brethren [the seven deacons] had been ordained for the special work of looking after the needs of the poor, did not exclude them from teaching the faith. On the contrary, they were fully qualified to instruct others in the truth, and they engaged in the work with great earnestness and success.
“To the early church had been entrusted a constantly enlarging work—that of establishing centers of light and blessing wherever there were honest souls willing to give themselves to the service of Christ.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 90.
b. What can we all learn from the qualities that made Stephen especially effective in his calling as a deacon? Acts 6:8; 2 Timothy 2:15.
“Stephen, the foremost of the seven deacons, was a man of deep piety and broad faith. Though a Jew by birth, he spoke the Greek language and was familiar with the customs and manners of the Greeks. He therefore found opportunity to preach the gospel in the synagogues of the Greek Jews. He was very active in the cause of Christ and boldly proclaimed his faith. Learned rabbis and doctors of the law engaged in public discussion with him, confidently expecting an easy victory. But ‘they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake’ [Acts 6:10].”—Ibid., p. 97.
“In order to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, laborers must have a varied experience. This will be best acquired in extended labor in new fields, in different localities, where they will come in contact with all classes of people and all varieties of minds, and where various kinds of labor will be required to meet the wants of many and varied minds. This drives the true laborer to God and the Bible for light, strength, and knowledge, that he may be fully qualified to meet the wants of the people.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 642.
“The Spirit of God is working upon the minds and hearts of men, and we are to work in harmony with it.”—Ibid., vol. 6, p. 55.
4. PERSECUTION IS NO SURPRISE
a. Seething with the bitter gall of envy, how did the enemy of souls stir up deceitful opposition against Stephen? Acts 6:8–14.
“Stephen, full of faith, was doing great wonders and miracles among the people. The Jewish leaders were stirred to great anger as they saw priests turning from their traditions, and from the sacrifices and offerings, and accepting Jesus as the great sacrifice. With power from on high, Stephen reproved the unbelieving priests and elders, and exalted Jesus before them. They could not withstand the wisdom and power with which he spoke, and as they found that they could prevail nothing against him, they hired men to swear falsely that they had heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”—Early Writings, p. 197.
b. How has our Master warned of such things—and what words of the psalmist can bring us hope? Matthew 10:16, 17; Psalm 31:18–20.
“Men’s hearts are no softer today than when Christ was upon the earth. They will do all in their power to aid the great adversary in making it as hard as possible for the servants of Christ, just as the people did with Christ when He was upon the earth. They will scourge with the tongue of slander and falsehood. They will criticize, and turn against the servant of God the very efforts he is leading them to make. They will, with their evil surmisings, see fraud and dishonesty where all is right and where perfect integrity exists. They lay selfish motives to the charge of God’s servants, when He Himself is leading them, and when they would give even their lives if God required, if by so doing they could advance His cause.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 234.
c. What was remarkable about Stephen when accused? Acts 6:15.
“The glorious light of Christ’s countenance shone upon Stephen with such brightness that even his enemies saw his face shine like the face of an angel.”—Messages to Young People, p. 113.
5. WITNESSING THROUGH MARTYRDOM
a. Describe the council’s reaction after Stephen candidly concluded an extensive summary of the rebellious history of the Hebrew nation. Acts 7:51–57. How far did their fury lead them? Verses 58, 59.
b. Why can our hearts be warmed by the end of that story? Acts 7:60.
“In every age God’s chosen messengers have been reviled and persecuted, yet through their affliction the knowledge of God has been spread abroad. Every disciple of Christ is to step into the ranks and carry forward the same work, knowing that its foes can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. God means that truth shall be brought to the front and become the subject of examination and discussion, even through the contempt placed upon it. The minds of the people must be agitated; every controversy, every reproach, every effort to restrict liberty of conscience, is God’s means of awakening minds that otherwise might slumber.
“How often this result has been seen in the history of God’s messengers! When the noble and eloquent Stephen was stoned to death at the instigation of the Sanhedrin council, there was no loss to the cause of the gospel. The light of heaven that glorified his face, the divine compassion breathed in his dying prayer, were as a sharp arrow of conviction to the bigoted Sanhedrist who stood by.”—Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 33, 34.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How does the enemy try to intrude his ugly head even into acts of charity?
2. Why is the ordination of deacons so helpful to local churches?
3. Even if not called to be a deacon, what can I learn from Stephen?
4. In view of this lesson, why must I be very careful if talking about someone?
5. Although Stephen’s work was cut short, why was it still of great value?