Many people who are familiar with the Bible are not familiar with Stephen who was one of the first deacons in the Bible. In addition, Stephen was also the first martyr of the church . His story is wholly contained in two chapters in the book of Acts, but it provides a glimpse into life in the early church and serves as an example of how our faith in Christ can lead to great things.
Stephens’s initial calling (Acts 6:1-7)
Stephen is first mentioned in Acts 6:5 as part of a group of men that were chosen to be deacons. Local churches were beginning to be established and there arose some problems with Greek widows being neglected in their care. (Unfortunately, today, most churches continue to neglect widows that are the responsibility of the church. See 1 Timothy 5:1-16). This neglect resulted in the apostles spending their time taking care of the widows at the expense of their ministry of the Word of God and prayer.
The apostles addressed this need by tasking the local church members to choose seven men that could be appointed over the business of caring for the widows. They were told to choose men who were full of faith and the Holy Ghost. The tasking by the apostles pleased everyone and the brethren chose seven men who were full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.
Once the selection was completed, the newly chosen deacons were set before the apostles who laid their hands on them and prayed over them. The result of these deacons being ordained over the care of the widows was the Word of God increasing as the apostles had more time available for their ministry work. This resulted in the number of new disciples in Jerusalem increasing along with a large number of priests being saved.
Stephen’s testimony (Acts 6:8-7:1-60)
Stephen’s new role did not stop with the daily routine of helping elderly widows, he used his role to demonstrate wonders and miracles among the people. Likewise, he contented for the faith with those who were ultra-liberal in their beliefs. Using the God given wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit, Stephen was able to cut through their weak arguments. They responded by conspiring to lie about him in an effort to stir up the people and members of the local synagogue.
Their conspiracy resulted in Stephen being taken into custody, brought before the council of the synagogue, and charged with blasphemy. During this inquisition, false witnesses were set up. After their false testimony, the high priest asked Stephen if these things were true. Instead of disputing the accuracy of their charges, he took the opportunity before the large numbers of people there to share the Gospel of Salvation, beginning all the way back with the calling of Abraham out of idolatry.
Stephen explained how God fulfilled the promises He had made to Abraham through the events in history. He showed that time and time again when it looked like the promise of coming of the Messiah would be prevented, God intervened. Eventually, Stephen told how Jesus was the one who came as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Stephen then told how they, being set in their stiff-necked unbelieving ways, resisted the Holy Spirit’s conviction just as their fathers before them had resisted the preaching of the prophets who told of Jesus’ coming. He concluded by charging them with the murder and betrayal of the “Just One,” or Messiah.
When the counsel and others heard this they were furious and offended and began screaming and insulting him. However, Stephen did not back down. Instead, under the power of the Holy Spirit , he looked up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. He continued by telling them what he was seeing, which enraged them so much they attacked him.
As they attacked him, they drug him outside the city and stoned him to death. However, before he died, he called out to God, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.” Immediately after this, he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” and then he died.
Although we have only this two-chapter narrative of Stephen’s life, he has left a legacy that serves as something to consider by believers today.
- The fact that Stephen was chosen to be a deacon speaks to his public testimony as a man that was a believer that lived his faith openly: Acts 6:5
- Stephen took the humble position of a deacon waiting on widows and used it as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of God to do great things: Acts 6:8
- Stephen demonstrated that he was well versed in God’s Word and could argue its truth with the wisdom that only the Holy Spirit could provide: Acts 6:9-10
- Stephen did not back down when confronted by those who disagreed with the truth of God’s Word: Acts 6:11-15
- Stephen used the spectacle of the public inquisition to share the truth with a much wider audience: Acts 7
- Stephen received the strength he needed through faith to stand firm under the most extreme persecution one could suffer as a Christian: Acts 7:54-60
- Stephen, like Jesus just before He died, pleaded for the forgiveness of those who were killing him: Acts 6:60
Stephen was a great man of faith who came from nowhere, but because of his testimony, he was chosen by the church members to take on the role of a deacon. He used his role to minister both personally in ways that not only help the apostles, but was directly responsible for the growth in the church. Stephen also used his popularity to reach a broader base of people with the message of salvation. Stephen relied upon the Holy Spirit to give him the Words to say, the strength to persevere under persecution, and the heart to forgive those who were responsible for his death. Stephen’s story shows us that no matter how insignificant we may think our role is, we can use it to reach others for Christ and endure the persecution that is sure to follow.
Here is something else you might like to read: 10 Famous Christian Martyrs 
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version