I was considering Sunday’s discussion about a man in the Bible namedStephen. You can find his story in Acts 6-8.
Stephen’s story took place around A.D. 34-35, shortly after Jesus' crucifixion. He was a powerful speaker, and go into trouble with the Jewish authorities because he preached Jesus. He was also exceptionally brave, maybe audacious.
When he was summoned before the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court in the land, they asked him if the charges against him were true. Stephen didn’t even acknowledge their question, but launched on a 50-verse history lesson, reciting the long list of Jewish rejection of God in front of the very men who knew this material best.
It would be like lecturing your physics professor about Isaac Newton, or an Olympic athlete about training, or a Supreme Court Justice about the Bill of Rights. How long could you go before they shut you down? “Young man, don’t you dare lecture us on history.”
I don’t know why the proud men of the Sanhedrin let Stephen keep going, except for this: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15, NIV)
There was obviously something strange and powerful about Stephen, both in his appearance and in the way he spoke. People were drawn to him, and sensed an internal strength and power. Even his enemies recognized his spiritual depth. Maybe that’s what kept the Sanhedrin quiet during Stephen’s sermon.
However, Stephen isn’t famous for his sermon, but because he was stoned to death after preaching it. He was the first martyr recorded in the New Testament. And the narrative implies one of the ringleaders of Stephen’s death was a man named Saul. He later became a believer, and his name became Paul.
My real interest in Stephen is this: Was it Stephen’s purpose in life to make one grand sermon and then die violently in front of Saul?
And the follow-up question: Was that enough?
I write and talk a lot about calling and purpose, and about living intentionally, but I usually think of that as a life-long adventure. I never consider it to a one-time flash.
I realize that Stephen did more in his short life than preach this one sermon. The Bible tells us this about him: “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8, NIV)
So it isn’t fair to think his speech before the Sanhedrin was his only shot at life’s purpose.
Still, the question remains: Was dying in front of Saul worth it? Was it enough to score a life well lived?
You could argue, yes, it was enough, knowing that Saul would become Paul, write most of the New Testament, and personally spread the gospel and plant churches all around the Mediterranean. But at the time of Stephen’s death, he wasn’t Paul. And he was just beginning as Saul, the great persecutor. He didn’t become Paul until after Stephen died, so Stephen never saw the true impact of his death.
How about you? What if your grand purpose in life was to make an impact on one other person? Would that be enough?
We seldom know the true effect of our life. We may get glimpses, an occasional Thank You, maybe even a story or two. But I believe we never see most of the effect of our life beyond bits and pieces.
Is that enough? Can you give your life away with such little feedback?
The answer: Yes, it is enough. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry; God is responsible for the width. We are responsible to bravely live our calling in front of people, giving our lives away; God is responsible for the results.
Living for God with little feedback, fulfilling our purpose anyway, is the heart of faith. Faith that, if God gave it to us and prepared us for it, God will also protect it and make it have long-lasting impact.
Stephen’s life and death mattered more than he could have known. We still study him, 2,000 years later.
And so, your life matters more than you will ever know. Live it out, boldly, audaciously, in faith.
QUESTION: Are you giving yourself away? Is it enough?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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