"Stephen, brimming with God's grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them. But some men from the meeting place whose membership was made up of freed slaves, Cyrenians, Alexandrians and some others from Cilicia and Asia, went up against him, trying to argue him down. But they were no match for his wisdom and spirit when he spoke. "So in secret they bribed men to lie.’We heard him cursing Moses and God.'" Acts 6:8-11 (The Message).
It's amazing what people will do to get their own way! As then, so now, there are always those who think nothing of sabotaging the church to carry out their own agenda.
The apostles had so far safely navigated the challenges that had come from within the church when the old sinful nature reared up its ugly head in people. One of their issues, racism among the widows in Jerusalem, had brought a jewel of a man to the surface. Stephen was "discovered" when the Jerusalem church chose the first deacons. He not only did the job he was selected to do, but he also brought the power of God's presence into the church by his miracles and preaching.
This angered a group of "expats" in the local synagogue who were driven to jealousy by Stephen's superior wisdom and godliness. They could not get the better of him by arguing so they turned to lying and treachery, going the same route that took Jesus to the cross.
No matter how idyllic the early church seemed to be in its initial euphoria, it was made up of people then, as it is today. People will always be people; some will have honest hearts while others will conceal their true nature behind a veneer of "spirituality" which will deceive people for a while but, when they are crossed or can't get their own way, the real person will show up.
What was the issue with these men? Why was Stephen such a threat to them? We don't really know. Our only clue is that Stephen outsmarted them in discussion and they couldn't take it. They were part of the fanatical Jewish legalists who obviously could not stand the idea of a God who was kind, generous and merciful. They were provoked by the evidences of God's goodness through Stephen. They could not get rid of God but they could get at Him through His followers!
When Jesus was in a similar situation, up against His religious opponents and brought to trial for His life, Pilate was astute enough to recognize the real reason for their hatred. Envy! Envy and jealousy are not the same thing. Jealousy covets what another person had or is; envy goes a step further. Envy will ruin or destroy another person rather than allow him to be who he is. Jealousy covets; envy kills.
Was this the reason for these men's murderous hatred? They were willing to stoop to bribery and lying to get rid of Stephen because they hated what he was. It's amazing to what lengths people will go to fight against God!
We must not be surprised by the reaction of people. We are not neutral when it comes to the things of God. We were born with a built-in hatred for God. The Bible states that. "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!" Romans 5:10 (NIV).
It takes a miracle of God's grace to transform us from enemies to sons!
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