I heard a message by Clayton King while visiting the church our son and his family attend near Quantico, VA. His message was about Stephen, titled “Suffering and a Standing Ovation,” from Acts chapters 6 and 7. The things he said and the point of the message were probably different from what I heard, which is the case in a lot of sermons we hear. I say this because – 1. I don’t want you to think that I know more than I really do, and 2. that you don’t think Clayton King has lost his mind.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”The early church did not have the New Testament to read about Jesus and the things that he said. They relied on the testimony of the eyewitnesses who had seen and heard Jesus. In the same way, people today who are not Christians do not read the New Testament to know about Jesus, they watch our lives and hear our testimony (our witness) to formulate their opinions of Christ, either good or bad. It is like the saying goes, “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.”
In Acts chapter 6, Stephen is selected to serve because he was “a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” Clayton said, “One of Stephen’s greatest gifts was his boldness. It takes boldness to be a witness for Christ. We are bold about the things we are passionate about.” If we were as bold about our witness for Christ as we are about other things in our lives, we would probably be more successful in our witness.
When Stephen is falsely accused and brought in before the Sanhedrin, he boldly called them out for who they truly were – the ones who “betrayed and murdered” Christ. This angered the leaders so much that they dragged Stephen out and began to stone him. The scripture says, “Laying their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In Acts 22:20, Saul, who was by then called Paul, has this to say about the events of that day, “And when the blood of your martyr, Stephen, was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Paul saw firsthand how Stephen suffered and died; fearless, bold, and asking the Lord to forgive those who did this.
Stephen, in the middle of his greatest suffering, being stoned to death, asked God to forgive those who were doing this to him. Can you imagine the impact this had on Paul’s life? Clayton King said in his sermon, “…without Stephen, there is no Paul. Don’t miss your opportunity because you want to miss your suffering.” Because you never know who is watching, even in your suffering.