I remember when I was younger there was an expression of love that went beyond all other; sure you could like a person, you could even love a person, but could you love anyone enough to give them your last rolo? There was a long running line of television commercials built around the idea that these small chocolate treats were so tasty that you’d only give up your last rolo if it it was really love. In the last two posts we’ve looked together at the definition of church, and at the need for us to love the church. But there is more because Paul, describing Christ and the church, continues to say that He gave Himself up for the church. Not just his last rolo, but his last breath.
Luke gives us a great example of someone else who gave himself up for the church in the book of Acts. If we look at Stephen we have an amazing man of God who gives himself up for the church, and perhaps not in the way you might first think. We first meet Stephen when the disciples run into a bit of a problem; some of the Greek-speaking widows in the church weren’t getting a fair distribution of food and were in desperate need. The apostles couldn’t just give up what they were doing to supervise, so instead they came up with a solution.
And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
– Acts 6:2-5 (ESV)
You see the early church had similar logistical needs to us in many ways. Wherever there is a large group of people meeting you don’t just need preachers, you need organisation and people to serve. So they set up the first team. Ever wondered where the team based model of church volunteering comes from? Look no further than Acts 6. If you have criticisms of it then don’t level them at your pastor, talk to God because it was instituted by the disciples.
Stephen is full of faith and the holy spirit, he is the up and coming leader, the guy who people are watching out for. Brother could be the next Judah Smith, if he plays his cards right, bringing the word to the multitudes. The apostles ask him and like any young, passionate, guy in his position he says yes. What were his dreams? Was he blogging about his hope of planting a church in Alexandria, Brindisi, Gaul, Londinium? Was he tweeting his friends and telling them the church was going to go global and talking about his vision to lead? Perhaps he was, or perhaps he didn’t dream like that at all and was just looking for any way to serve, we don’t know. What we do know is that the apostles asked him to serve tables for the widows and that he did it. He didn’t tell everyone that he was kind of a big deal and should be doing something higher profile, he got down to waiting on tables and giving himself up for the church.
The next few verses become a whirlwind because Stephen gets down to putting all that faith and spirit into what he’s doing. He recognises that he isn’t just serving food, he’s serving God and showing Jesus to the Greek speaking widows. What he does, he does for God. As he goes about it with such a great attitude, things start to happen. Suddenly he is doing great signs and wonders among the people. Where does that even come from? He is waiting tables, and next thing we know there are signs and wonders? That comes from God at work in him. Our platform to reach people with Jesus is our daily life, wherever we work, wherever we socialise and wherever we serve.
Our platform to reach people with Jesus is our daily life, wherever we work, wherever we socialise and wherever we serve.
Soon some people were disputing with him and what did they find? He spoke with wisdom they could not refute. The first week I attended NCLC, Pastor Stephen Cook was encouraging me as I pushed chairs about at pack down; he told me that if the word of God was in you then God would bring it out of you no matter where you served within the life of church. This happens here, Stephen’s job is specifically to distribute food and yet the word of God flows out of him. Next thing you know Stephen is dragged to a show trial, his face glows like an angel, he gives a memorable defence of the faith and is then executed. Selah.
In the west it’s pretty unlikely anyone is going to come and execute members of the welcome team or the barista in the church coffee shop. But the thing is, Stephen didn’t give himself up at the moment he was stoned. Stephen gave himself up when he decided that he would do whatever he could to serve the church. Few people in our culture are asked to die for their faith but we are all asked to live for it. What can we do to serve? As Stephen found out, it’s when you give yourself up that Christ can work through you in a massively powerful way. Stephen’s life reached fulfilment in serving with the right heart. What God had put inside of him came out when he put his all into the task at hand; what can we do to give ourselves up for the church?