His Purposes

Monday, April 13, 2015, 9:11 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “No Less.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 6-7 (quoting selected vv. ESV).

Stephen Seized (chapter 6)

A need arose within the church of that time to choose seven men from within the body of Christ who were known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and to give them the responsibility of the daily distribution of food to the needy, so that the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word of God. A man named Stephen, who was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was one of the seven chosen. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Yet, opposition arose from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, a Jewish sect. These men began to argue (dispute or debate) with Stephen. “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” (See: Ac. 6:1-10)

Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. ~ Ac. 6:11-15​

These men who opposed Stephen were stubborn and unyielding, just like those leaders of the people who opposed Jesus Christ, and who put him to death, although he had done no wrong, but only good. Stephen’s opponents’ hearts must have been filled with pride and jealousy. Since they could not out-debate Stephen, they had to get ‘down and dirty’ and resort to making up lies about him. Amazing, is it not, although they saw that his face was like the face of an angel, that they ended up stoning him to death? Seeing his face like that of an angel should have instilled within them the fear of God, but apparently it did not.

I believe that many people today who oppose God, and especially those who know they are going against God’s will for their lives, and who may be caught in sin’s deceitfulness, do not want to hear the truth from God’s word, because it makes them feel guilty for their sin. So, they may devise plans against the Lord’s servants to try to break them down, or to try to get them to compromise the truth, or perhaps even to try to lead them into sin so that they don’t have to hear those messages from them anymore, and so they can live how they want with no one in their face telling them that what they are doing is wrong. Yet, if they cannot break us down, and if they cannot get us to compromise truth, they may resort to lies in order to try to discredit us so that no one will listen to us, hoping that will shut us up.

Stephen’s Speech (chapter 7)

The high priest asked Stephen if these charges against him were true. Stephen responded by giving them a synopsis of the history of Israel, beginning with God’s covenant he made with Abraham and his offspring. This was a history of oppression of God’s people, yet God used these difficult times in the lives of his people to accomplish his purposes. There were times when God allowed them to be persecuted, and times when he rescued them in their times of trial or from their tribulation and distress. There were times when this involved physically removing them from their oppressive situations, and where God called them out of those situations to follow him and to come under his protection. Other times he delivered them through their trials, but did not remove them from them. God rescued the children of Israel from captivity in Egypt, but he allowed Stephen to be stoned to death. In both cases, God accomplished his purposes, which were for the good of those who loved him.

Israel’s history was also a history of a people of God who rebelled against him and his appointed leadership, who grumbled and complained, and who took matters into their own hands when God was not acting on their behalf in the manner or in the timing they had expected. They turned their hearts back to slavery rather than to walk in freedom, and they chose to follow after other gods of their own making. Some things never change. Many of God’s people today have turned their hearts back to slavery to sin and to following after the gods of this world or of their own making rather than to obey God and to do what he says.

But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets… ~ v. 42​

I know that the New Testament teaches us that God disciplines, reproves and scourges those he loves, and that he calls his followers to turn from sin or to cast off (throw off) besetting sins (See: Rev. 2-3; 1 Pet. 4:17; Heb. 12:5-7). So, we may have to undergo painful discipline, at times, when we ignore our Lord and we refuse to follow his instructions. Some discipline is meant to mature us and to conform us to the image of Christ, while other discipline is meant to correct us and to scourge us in order to bring about repentance so that we may be restored and renewed in the faith.

Stephen concluded his speech by recounting the story of David and of his desire to build a dwelling place for God, but that it was Solomon who built the house for him. Then he said, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands,” for “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (quoting Isaiah 66:1). Paul repeated similar words when he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Ac. 17:24-25). Yet, so many who proclaim Christ as Savior today still follow after the notion that a building called “church” is God’s house. It isn’t! We, the body of Christ, are God’s house, and God, by his Spirit, dwells within those of us who have been saved by his grace.

Then, Stephen made personal remarks to those who were listening to him. He said,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” ~ vv. 51-53​

There are many such stiff-necked people resisting the Holy Spirit in the church today, I believe. They are following a religion of men, built on human foundations, and they are ignoring the Word of Truth (parts of it) in order to compromise with the world and to be pleasing to the flesh of man. They target the world with their worldly meetings and with their marketing schemes, while they cast aside many of those who are following the Lord in obedience and who hold to the Word of Truth. They tag us as out-of-date, legalistic, intolerant, bigoted, hate-mongers, disunifiers and the like, hoping to discredit us and to turn others away from the truth to follow after a gospel of human origin. Yet, we must remain faithful to our Lord and to his Word despite all persecution, for God is faithful, and his Word will not return empty. God will accomplish his purposes through it all, and for his glory.

No Less / An Original Work / March 19, 2012

I can do no less than praise You,
Lord, for all You’ve done for me.
You died for my sins to save me,
So I would be set free.
I adore You! Lord, I praise You!
Jesus, Savior, King of kings!
You provided my redemption.
Your grace has pardoned me.

I can do no less than serve You.
Lord, Your witness I would be,
Telling others of Your love,
And why You died on that tree.
Tell of how You gave of Your life,
So from sin we’d be set free,
So we could worship You forever,
And live eternally.

I can do no less than love You,
Lord, for You have first loved me.
You gave of Your life so willing,
Because You cared for me.
Turn from my sin! Obey freely!
Live for You each passing day.
Read Your word, and follow Your lead,
Lord, as I humbly pray.