WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO SERVE
(We are called to witness through our behavior)
Racial hostility and ethnic disputes are not problems of opposition that were born during the infancy stages of our nation’s existence, but rather, they are problems that have been around since the infancy of human existence. In Acts chapter 6, verses 1-7, Luke gives us a vivid description of just such a case of “ethnic opposition”, which led to the birth of the “Deacon concept” in the Christian Church.
Here in this particular passage, we see rumblings of discontent involving “Greek speaking Jewish believers”, who were being discriminated against by “Hebrew speaking Jewish believers”. The Hebrew speaking Jews were unfairly distributing food, showing favoritism toward their own respective “widow population”.
In order to resolve these disputes, the twelve Disciples of CHRIST, called a meeting of all the current believers. At that meeting they expressed how they, as Apostles, needed to spend their time preaching and teaching the Word of GOD, not administering a food program.
And so they called on the believers to choose from among themselves, seven extraordinary men, who were full of the HOLY SPIRIT and wisdom, and put those men in charge of the food distribution program in the Church. And so we see here, that, even when we work in a domestic capacity in the Church, we must still be as serious, faithful, honest, and hardworking as any Church leader is expected to be. We must exhibit the same good character as we would expect to see from the pastor of the Church. Here these seven men were known for exhibiting character comparable to the most respected of men in GOD’s house.
This idea presented by the apostles pleased the people of both groups, and they chose from among them, Stephen, a man full of faith and the HOLY SPIRIT, Philip, who later went on to preach the Gospel from Samaria to Caesarea, Procorus, Nicanor, Timmon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch, a Gentile convert, first, to the Jewish Faith, and then later, to Christianity.
The Apostles then ordained the men, and prayed for them while laying hands on each of those individuals. This action by the people of the early church, freed up a wealth of time for the apostles, and afterwards, GOD’s message was preached in ever-widening circles, and the number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem. Many Jewish Priests also converted to Christianity during this time and the Church began to position itself for greater growth throughout the Roman Empire.
With that said, let us now focus on one of those seven men, who was chosen that day to serve in the Church at Jerusalem, the one who is called, Stephen. Stephen, whose name means “wreath”, or “crown”, was a man who was full of GOD’s grace and power. He performed many amazing miracles and signs among the people of Jerusalem. In fact, his ministry, arrest, and trial are very similar to that of our LORD and SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST.
And just like anyone else whose life is patterned after JESUS in this world, opposition arose against Stephen one day in the form of a group of men from the “Synagogue of Freedmen” called “Libertines. They made their headquarters in a Temple in Jerusalem that was dedicated to the Jews who were former slaves of Roman citizens.
The majority of these “Libertines”, came from Cyrene and Alexandria in northern Africa, the province of Asia, and Cilicia, Paul’s home country, where Tarsus is located. They had all been converted to “Judaism”, probably by Saul (Paul) himself, following their release from slavery.
Now apparently, these men tried to debate against Stephen, and were not able to prevail against him in a public theological debate forum, and so, they began to conjure up lies about him, falsely accusing him of blaspheme against Moses, and, against GOD, both offenses punishable by “death by stoning”, in the Jewish communities.
Their accusations aroused the crowds, the elders, and the teachers of religious law against Stephen, and as a result, he was placed under arrest and brought before the high council. These “lying witnesses” spoke of the time when they heard Stephen re-iterate the misunderstood words of JESUS, when HE said HE would destroy the temple, and when HE tried to clarify the meanings of the laws of Moses. Of course these words that they spoke of were taken way out of context, and in fact, had been totally perverted and skewed.
Whenever we side with CHRIST JESUS, we automatically put ourselves in the position to be opposed by the world. JESUS HIMSELF warned of this in the Gospel of John (John 15:18-25), after HE had taken HIS twelve apostles into private teaching shortly before HIS crucifixion. He told them that, “When the world hates you, remember it hated ME before it hated you. The world would love you if you belonged to it, but you don’t. I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you” (John 15:18-19) - NLT).
JESUS went on to tell them, that, “Since they persecuted ME, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to ME, they would listen to you! The people of the world will hate you because you belong to ME, for they don’t know GOD WHO sent ME. They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates ME hates MY FATHER too….This has fulfilled what the Scriptures said: “They hated ME without cause” (John 15:20b-25) (NLT).
In the Greek, the word used for “World” is “Kosmos”, and it is from that word that we derive our English word “Cosmos”. In the spiritual sense, “it is that complex intertwining of sinful desires that shape our world of “lost humanity”. When we choose the “Christian Walk”, we automatically become strangers to “worldly behavior”. We are no longer permanent residents of this earth, but rather, we become citizens of Heaven, and therefore, the Laws of GOD, just as they were to Stephen and many other “true witnesses”, must become paramount to us, also.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website