The Bankruptcy of a Frustrated Judaism
Last week we began to look at the contrast between the bankruptcy of a frustrated Judaism and the fullness of a confident Christianity. Here is Stephen who is full of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, full of power and full of wisdom. And verse 10 says that they just were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. You see, truth can stand on its own two feet not only because it is true, but also because God backs it up. But frequently people aren't interested in the truth. They are interested in defending their position and defending their turf. And if they have to use unfair tactics to do so, they will do so. And we looked at several of the unfair tactics that were used against Stephen. And the application to the modern persecution of the church is pretty straightforward. We can understand when the world uses the methods of the world. But we didn't just want to point the fingers out there. We wanted to make sure that we aren't doing the same thing.
How many times do Christians go behind someone's back to bad-mouth them rather than openly dialoging with them? When we do that we are using the same ungodly method that these Jews used in their secret caucusing.
Second, just as they used inducements to pressure people into siding with them, Christians can use various forms of manipulation to get someone to side with their agenda. How many times do husbands or wives sleep out on the sofa rather than resolving a disagreement? You may have your rationalizations, but if you are using it as an inducement (whether by bribe, social pressure or punishment), it is not a godly method. You may have a godly goal in using various inducements, but that's not enough. On every one of these principles we saw that we've got to make sure that the method lines up with the goal. This was one of the things that Jay Adams kept harping on in his critique of psychology. It's not enough to have Biblical goals. WE must make sure that our methodologies that get us there are Biblical as well. Anyway, moving on:
A third unfair method that these Jews tried to use was a disinformation campaign, or what some people call a "smear campaign." And we saw that Christians have sometimes resorted to this sinful method of unfair play. Or, they have believed the disinformation that has been written in the web about somebody else (perhaps a politician), and they have believed it, not because they have truly investigated, but because they want to believe it. Proverbs calls us to not believe every accusation that we hear.
A fourth method that we are warned about is enflaming the emotions in order to get people to make decisions without thinking things through. The phrase, "they stirred up the people" has to do with stirring up emotions. Now not everybody is as prone to this type of manipulation as some are. And its not just lynchings where snap decisions are emotionally made and then later regretted. There are many ways in which the anger of a person has snuffed out his intelligence. We do stupid things when we think with our emotions. And stirring up others so that they emotionally act without thinking, is a sign that our position is really weak.
Resorting to violence to prove a point is a fifth sign of the bankruptcy of their position. Some people think that the violence in China, India and Indonesia is a sign of the strength of communism, Hinduism and Islam. But in reality, these countries are resorting to that because of the triumph of the Gospel and the frustration that they have of keeping their people. Their position is not standing.
Legal attacks, digging up dirt and intruding the power of the state into the debate were unfair methods 6,7 and 8. And we saw that these methods are not only used all over the world against the church, but Christians have on occasion fallen to the temptation to use them.
The last unfair method was the use of intimidation. And on all of these methods, if we do not understand how our flesh works, and how easy it is to use Satan's methods, we will not be on guard. And if we are not on guard, we will fall into the old habits rather than imitating Stephen. So that was last week.
In complete contrast to all of this, Stephen uses resources that are not fleshly in his arguments. And I think there is a lot we can learn from how he conducted himself. He demonstrates the fullness of a confident Christianity.
All of this is Luke's preparation of the reader for one of the most remarkable sermons in the New Testament (chapter 7)
The Fullness of a Confident Christianity
The concept of fullness
"Full of leprosy" (Luke 5:12)
"Sorrow has filled your heart" (John 16:6)
"Filled with fear" (Luke 5:26)
"Filled with rage" (Luke 6:11)
"Full of wine" (Acts 2:13), "full of darkness," "full of deceit," "full of fraud," "filled with unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness," "full of envy," etc.
David Yarborough tells the story from one of Max Lucado's books of a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was quite wealthy but she was also quite frugal. She did not like to spend her money. And people knew that. So the people were surprised when she was one of the first ones to have electricity wired into her home.
Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. And he said, "I'm wondering if you can explain something to me. Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?" "Certainly," she answered. "Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off."
And I'm wondering if that parable describes you? What does it mean to be full of the Spirit? What does it mean to be full of power? I have had Christians tell me that they have never experienced anything remotely like what Acts talks about. And I believe them. And it is a tragedy that Christians are as devoid of God's power and as bankrupt as the Jews of this chapter were. Well, not quite as bankrupt, because all Chirstians possess at least some of the reality that Stephen had. But there is a difference between possessing the Spirit and being full of the Spirit; there's a difference between having His power in your life (which every Christian does) and being full of power; having a little faith or being full of faith. Jesus complained about His disciples, saying, "Oh you of little faith." He is not satisfied with us experiencing anything short of fullness.
Before I get to any of the specific descriptions of fullness, let me try to describe what the word fullness means.
This word can be used of disease. Luke describes a man who was "full of leprosy" (Luke 5:12). You can picture that. A man who doesn't just have a few spots of leprosy on him, but one who is covered with leprosy; who is completely characterized by leprosy from head to toe. The process of this disease's dominion over the body has not just begun; it is well advanced.
This word can also be used of emotions. In John 16 Christ told His disciples that He was going to leave them and verse 6 says they became "filled" with sorrow. Sorrow dominated them and consumed them at that point. They were under the influence of sorrow so that it characterized the way they acted.
Luke 5:26 describes the disciples witnessing a miracle and being filled with fear. Have you ever totally panicked and been full of fear? You know how it can control you, right? You know that fear is one of those emotions that doesn't tend to share any space with other emotions. It can dominate you and influence all your actions. It can make you act irrationally.
Luke 6:11 describes what happened to the Pharisees after Christ healed the man with the withered hand. It says "they were filled with rage and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus." Instead of being controlled by indifference, complacency, and self-satisfaction, they were filled with rage. That anger controlled them, influenced them and motivated them to try to do Christ in. That's what filling means in the Grek.
Filling can also be used of control or domination by alcohol. The New Testament uses the phrase "full of wine" to mean someone who is drunk; someone who is under the influence or control of wine or dominated by wine (Acts 2:13).
So when you see phrases like, "full of darkness," full of deceit," full of fraud," etc. think of their being controlled and dominated by those things. They have a hard time resisting them. They are under the influence of those things, characterized by those things. There is not just the odd time when darkness, deceit or fraud is found. Their life is dominated by those particular sins. Romans 1:29 lists a whole series of things that can control and dominate people with the word "full." "being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy," [and he goes on to list other things]. Some people might be dominated more by one sin than another, but all unbelievers are said by Scripture to be under the dominion of sin.
With that as a background of what "full" means, let's apply the meaning of being under the influence of or controlled by or dominated by the things listed in our passage. And I want you to notice that though Stephen possesses each of these characteristics, they are all things that come from outside and move Him.
"Full of the Holy Spirit" (6:3,5,10; 7:55)
Verse 3 says, "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit…" Verse 5 says that Stephen was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit."
So, right from the get-go we see that our resources do not come from ourselves. That was the problem with all of the methods that we looked at last week. They were methods that any pagan can engage in. They were leaning heavily upon what our own flesh could produce. But Paul says, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." James says that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above. And the same is true of the Spirit.
And so this is the first and essential empowering that we have in our ministry. Right from Acts chapter 1:4 and on the filling of the Spirit is shown by Luke to be an essential part of the advancement of Christ's kingdom. He told them not to even bother to go into missions until they had received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me….. etc.
And I do not think we can overstate the importance of God's sovereign Spirit empowering and infilling us. Jonathan Edwards said that there has not been anything of any importance that has been accomplished from Adam to the present that has not been accomplished by the power of the Spirit.
OF course, he goes on to say that the flesh can produce counterfeits, but it cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit. The flesh can produce a counterfeit joy, a counterfeit peace, a counterfeit patience. So it's not enough to say, "We must have joy." Scripture says that it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength. And so it is the role of the Spirit to take of the things of Christ, in the plan of the Father and empower us for His work.
Now having said that, I think there are five clarifications that need to be carefully laid out, because there are so many errors with regard to the filling of the Spirit.
First, we cannot earn the filling of the Spirit. I think this is so important because there are several movements in the Christian church that think we must be sufficiently sanctified, and emptied and purified before the Spirit will indwell us. As one pastor worded it, "The Spirit won't indwell a dirty cup." Well, what does that imply?! It implies that we can clean the cup on our own, right? Sometimes Christians will agonize for months in trying to prepare themselves to be filled with the Spirit. But Scripture says that you can't be sanctified at all if you don't have some of the Spirit. You can't clean the cup. Only the Spirit can.
Here's how D. L. Moody opposed this viewpoint. One time he held up a glass and ask people how to get the air out of the cup. One man suggested using a suction pump. But D. L. Moody said that a suction pump would fracture the glass. And in any case, it would not be able to get out all of the air. He then proceeded to pour water out of a pitcher and into the glass and said, "This is how to get the air out of the glass. Pour in the water." And that is how we put off the deeds of this flesh which so characterize the pagan life. Galatians 3:1-5 makes it clear that we don't receive the Spirit by self-Reformation, but rather, by the hearing of faith. In Luke 11 Jesus asks the disciples what parent would not give good things to his child. Then He says, "how much more" [I love that phrase: "how much more"] "will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" He is there for the asking. There is no earning of the Spirit. Here's my question: Do you start every day asking your generous Father for the filling of the Spirit, and believing that He will fill you? In John 7 Jesus said, . He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…. It is simply faith that receives the Spirit.
Second, the filling of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time event. Too many people equate the filling of the Spirit with the baptism of the Spirit. Filling is something that is ongoing, that can be lost and regained. The baptism of the Spirit is a one time event that can never be lost. All believers are baptized into the body, but not all believers are filled. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." That's past tense. It's happened to every single Christian when they first believed. We are nowhere commanded to be baptized by the Spirit, but we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. And that's why Ephesians 5:18 commands us to continue on being filled with the Spirit.
Third, the filling of the Spirit brings the character of the Spirit into our lives. And that makes sense. We would expect that if He is present, things would begin to look like Him. 2 Corinthians 7:13 says "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Why? Because He is the Spirit of liberty, and there is a relationship of liberty between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that the Spirit ushers us into. We can't help but be ushered into liberty if we are filled with the Spirit.
Acts 13:52 says that when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit they were filled with joy. Why? Because the Bible calls the Spirit the Spirit of joy. As John Piper worded it, "the Spirit who fills us is the Spirit of joy that flows between God the Father and God the Son because of the delight they have in each other. Therefore, to be filled with the Spirit means to be caught into the joy that flows among the Holy Trinity and to love God the Father and God the Son with the very love with which they love each other."
Now he stopped at joy and love, but all the fruit of the Spirit will be present when a person is full of the Spirit. And the reason I mention that is that it helps to detect counterfeits. There are people who claim some remarkable filling with the Spirit who are happy, (no doubt about it), but they are carnal, self-centered, impatient. Some people mistake an emotional experience for filling. And the emotions can definitely be there. But some of the people who claim to be filled with the Spirit do not show any evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. He is the Spirit of holiness, so you would expect people to love holiness when they are filled with the Spirit. When you are full of fear, fear supplants the other emotions. When you are full of leprosy, leprosy supplants the healthy skin. When you are full of the Spirit He is supplanting the influence of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Fourth, the Spirit is sovereignly given. He is not a commodity that can be traded. He is a Person who does as He pleases. But (praise God!) it does please Him to fill those who humbly entreat Him. The ten times you find the filling of the Spirit mentioned in the book of Acts, you get the distinct impression that there were two things Luke makes clear:
- the Spirit comes when and where He wants (and He can't be scheduled), and 2) He comes in response to faith. How can both be true? Well, I guess the answer is that He is the one who gives the faith, isn't He?
The fifth thing that you find in Acts in connection with the filling of the Spirit is that every time a person is filled or refilled with the Spirit, it moves the person and empowers the person to be effective in service. And so I continually pray that the Spirit would fill me, dominate my thinking, characterize the way I act and feel.
Being full of the Spirit doesn't guarantee that you won't be persecuted or won't be martyred. It won't guarantee that people will like you. But it will guarantee that your actions will have the blessings and power of God resting upon them. They will count.
Full of Scripture and Gospel truth (v. 7)
Well, all the rest of these fullnesses are a necessary consequence of the fullness of the Spirit. We find that Stephen was full of Scripture and Gospel truth. The Spirit who inspired the Word and illuminates our minds to the Word has chosen to advance the cause of the kingdom through the Word. Anybody that speaks of the fullness of the Spirit while despising the word shows that they are full of something, but it isn't the Spirit. At the time of the Reformation, there were some radical Anabaptists who believed in common wives, common property and other strange things. And they rejected the Bible, saying that they had the Spirit to guide them. They kept chanting in opposition to the Word, "Spirit, Spirit, Spirit." And Luther said, "I slap your spirit on the snout." He knew it couldn't be the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can never be divorced from His Word.
And so, in this chapter, it wasn't merely Stephen's opinions that were spreading in verse 7. It says, "the word of God spread." It wasn't opinions that he was sharing in Acts chapter 7. When Stephen spoke, God's Word poured out. When you get bumped, you should be so full of the Word of God, that it is Scripture that comes forth. If it is, you will be an effective soldier in His kingdom.
Because God's Word is divine, it means that God's Word has a power that our words do not. We should never settle for winning arguments with our own reasoning and own words. Only the Scripture has the power to pierce through the toughest spiritual armour. Rather than getting frustrated with your child's spiritual blindness, pray for the Spirit's presence to accompany the Word, and trust that God's Word will do it's work in His perfect timing. Hebrews 4:12 says,
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Did you notice how he flowed so smoothly from talking about what God's Word accomplishes in our lives to what God does? It may not seem like it is grammatically proper to do so. But it is theologically quite proper because God's Word is not an abstraction from God. When the Bible speaks, God is speaking to you. What does the Hebrews passage say? It says that God's Word is living, and powerful. It is not a dead letter. It has all of the power of God behind it. It is Him speaking. And we need to trust that God's Word can do it's work now just as effectively as it did when God's Word spoke the worlds into existence on Creation week. No discipline of a child should be unaccompanied by the Word of God. One of the books that I really appreciate on child discipline is by Bruce Ray. It is called, "Withhold Not Correction ." But what is unique about it is the way in which the Word of God constantly comes to bear in the parent's discipline. I highly recommend it, as does Jay Adams.
When talking with politicians, bring the word to bear. It is the only offensive weapon listed in Ephesians 6. We are not to use the carnal weapons of the world. And why would we want to when we have got such awesome weapons of God? Why would we want to?
"Full of faith" (v. 8)
Next, verse 8 says that Stephen was "full of faith." Faith is a shield that enables us to charge into the deadly conficts that God calls us to. But faith is more than a weapon. It is a way of life. It is the means by which we access all the resources that have been purchased for us in Christ Jesus. So it is important that we understand what it means to be full of faith. There is a divine part of this equation and there is a human dimension. God gives it and we must exercise it. We will look at both sides.
First, faith is a gift of God. It's not something we drum up. And this corrects an error that has gotten people into many foolish situations because they were trying to stand in faith, but it was really presumption. In my footnotes here I have quite a few Scriptures which show that faith is a gift of God. Acts 3:16, "the faith which comes through Him." Acts 18:27, they "believed through grace." Ephesians 1:19, "His power toward us, who believe according to the working of his mighty power." And many other Scriptures. So it is divine in its origin. This is not a weapon of the world.
But there is a human dimension to faith as well. After all, it is we who believe; we who trust; we who exercise faith. And since faith involves the mind, affections and will, it means that all three must be engaged or we are not exercising true faith. According to Hebrews 11, there is no true faith without action. There is no true faith without knowledge. And there is not true faith without agreement. Calvin spoke of those three parts as the notitia (which is knowledge), the assensus (which is agreement) and the fiducia (which is trust).
I won't go into detail on how faith is lived out in this sermon. But let me quickly give you two things that are frequently missing from those who are not full of faith. These are two ways in which we exercise the faith God has given. The first is verbal affirmations. Over and over in the Bible our mouth is linked to the exercise of faith. If you believe in your head one thing but your mouth affirms the opposite, you aren't exercising faith. You are exercising doubt. You're like a wave of the sea, and James says God will not give anything to you. How many times do we pray for healing, and then as soon as we have finished praying, begin affirming and assuming that God won't answer the prayer. Romans 10:8 says, "'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith." Where is the word of faith? It's in your mouth. And it's expressed – it's a word of faith. So that the text goes on to say, "(that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Genuine internal faith grows and expresses itself in two ways. One is in action and the other is in word. And we are dealing with the word of confession here.
We confess what we believe. 1 Timothy 6:12 says, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." That's how you fight the good fight of faith. Hebrews 4:14 says, "let us hold fast our confession." Luke 6:45 says, "For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." And many times our mouths betray the lack of faith that is in our heart. Romans 15:6 says, that you may "with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Your mouth needs to back up what your mind is saying. Revelation 12:11 "And they overcame him" [that is, Satan] "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…" Yes, the blood of the Lamb is important, but so is the word of our testimony in overcoming Satan. And since he can't read our minds, that's the only time Satan needs to flee – when he actually hears us wielding this weapon – he hears us express our faith through the word of testimony. Silently affirming it in your head is not enough. They verbally affirmed their agreement with Scripture so that Satan has to flee. This is the way that Jesus resisted Satan in the desert. He verbally agreed with God's Word rather than with the temptation. And there are many other Scriptures which show that our mouth is a big part of whether we are full of faith or have little faith.
The second area is taking action. I won't take the time to cover this since I have preached on it many times before. But I will point you to Hebrews 11 which describes faith over and over again by action. You are not full of faith if you are passive. You can say that you are praying in faith for the salvation of someone all you want, but until you seek to win the person, your faith is dead. You can claim to have faith to overcome your fears, but until you step out in what Scripture calls the obedience of faith, your faith will not be a full faith. And it is a full faith which accomplishes much for God's glory. As Jim Elliott said, faith is designed to expect great things from God and attempt great things for Him.
"Full of … power" (v. 8)
Two more: Stephen was said to be "full of power" in verse 8. Though the authorities were in power from the world's perspective, Stephen was in power from a spiritual perspective. And his power did not depend upon Stephen's life. It was a power that produced results before and after his death. It was a power that these authorities could not stop. It was the power of God's presence backing up what Stephen said and did. And we shouldn't just think of this as relating to miracles. I think miracles are one manifestation of God's power in our lives. And I think they are an important manifestation of God's power. But Stephen's boldness and joy in the midst of his martyrdom were clearly a sign of God's power as well. You know, in the Old Testament, when Joseph was a businessman who seemed to have the Midas touch, everyone recognized it as God's power in His life. It's simply God backing us up.
This presence of power is what amazed the Jews about Jesus. It was a distinguishing mark of Christianity in the book of Acts. 1 Corinthians 4:20 says, "For the kingdom of God does not consist of talk but in power." This too flows from the first fullness – the presence of the Spirit. That's how the book of Acts starts. Jesus had said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses." It's power for witness. Do you have power? You know, there are some Reformed people who have been criticizing charismatics with the label power religion because of their preoccupation and overoccupation with spiritual gifts. And I can understand that part of the critique. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water. We want His power. Christ said, "without me you can do nothing." Galatians 3 says the same about the Holy Spirit's power. And I don't know what they would want as an alternative: powerless religion? 1 Thesalonians 1:5 says, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." He's talking about people who have the power of God to actually live the Christian walk, and not just endlessly study about it. The Bible describes those kinds of people as having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. God's power was not just for the apostles. This deacon had it, and Paul prays that we would all have it. He prays in Romans 15:13, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." What is it that makes some people to have endless hope even when everything goes against them? It is the power of God at work in them. What is it that removes fear from timid and fearful girls who are being thrown to the lions under Nero? It is God's power. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." It takes God's power to have that kind of boldness. And it's that kind of powerful Christianity that I pray God would anoint our congregation with. Miracles, yes. But far more importantly than that – the power to actually live out our faith.
Let me tell you brothers and sisters: without the power of the Holy Spirit, we will never succeed in this church. We will be playing church. We need to be endued from on high with power. This is why we need to be in continual prayer – to gain access for our needs moment by moment.
"Full of …wisdom" (6:3,10)
Finally, Stephen is described as being full of wisdom in verse 3 and as exercising that wisdom in verse 10. That is quite different from being full of knowledge. Knowledge is having right facts stored in our heads. Understanding is knowing how those facts are related together in a systematic way. Godly wisdom is being able to apply knowledge and understanding to life situations in a way that pleases God. There are liberal theologians who have far more knowledge than you or I will ever have, but they have no godly wisdom. Some of those scholars probably had more knowledge than Stephen did, but they had no godly wisdom.
Please turn to James 3 to see a brief contrast between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God.
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
Notice that wisdom is practical. It's not simply understanding. Systematic theology is understanding. But the so-what and ability to be transformed by it is wisdom. Verse 14:
James 3:14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. James 3:15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
There is the triad of the world (that's earthly), the flesh (that's sensual) and the devil (or demonic). All three have a kind of wisdom that knows how to apply knowledge and understanding. But they do it in ways that are self-serving. Verse 16:
James 3:16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Notice several things about this wisdom. First, it is from above. It is God-given. This is not something that any human can generate on their own. Five minutes before you don't have a clue, and suddenly God gives you insight into what to do. We call that illumination. But it really is wisdom from above.
Secondly, this wisdom that Stephen was full of is under the authority of God. Verse 13 speaks of the "meekness of wisdom." The word "meek" had the meaning of being tamed; like a tamed wild animal or a tamed wild stallion. When it learned to follow the master it was said to be meek.
Third, this wisdom is used in service. You can see that in the words "good conduct… works… sown." God doesn't give wisdom in the abstract. HE gives it when and where it is needed. And once it is given, it must be used, or God does not continue to pour out more wisdom. To be full of wisdom means to Stephen must have constantly practiced the wisdom that God had already given.
Fourth, this wisdom transforms us. And you can see this in verse 17. The wisdom of the religious leaders in Acts came from the flesh and the devil and it made them act badly. The wisdom of Stephen was from God and it produced several fruits. And here is a verse that you can test the source of your wisdom on. Verse 7 has seven characteristics. And some scholars believe that these seven characteristics of wisdom are the seven pillars of wisdom referred to in Proverbs 9:1. Proverbs 9:1 says, "Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars…" If these seven pillars are not in place, the house of wisdom will fall. Let's end this morning by looking at each one.
The seven pillars of wisdom
Purity (holiness of life)
The first characteristic is purity. "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure…" And the order is important. If we put "willing to yield" (the fourth pillar) before purity then we will never be interested in holiness because we will be constantly yielding to the wrong thing. When people pretend to have wisdom and they have no holiness of life and no purity, question the source of that wisdom. And we've already seen that there are three sources of counterfeit wisdom – the flesh, the world and the devil.
Peaceableness (a joy to be around)
The second characteristic is peaceableness. Some people are always looking for a fight with their theology. Now sometimes fights come to us and we can't help it. But Paul said, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:18). We shouldn't be delighting in fights. I think General Robert E Lee was a great example of this peaceableness. And yet some people who claim to be wise are incredibly pugnacious.
Gentleness (considerate, forebearing, not easily provoked)
The third word is a little harder to nail down. It can have the meaning of gentleness, but includes the ideas of being considerate, forbearing and not easily provoked. Based on this characteristic, you have probably met numerous people who were brilliant, but hardly forbearing. They were very easily provoked and were not gentle. Again, you need to question the source of such wisdom. Think of these seven pillars as the seven legs on which wisdom walks. If one or two legs have been amputated, it may still be wisdom. But if the person's wisdom doesn't have any legs, you might question whether the wisdom is alive or if it is real. James doesn't think so. Just as faith without works is dead, wisdom without works is dead.AN D so gentleness is the third pillar.
Willingness to yield (reasonableness)
The fourth pillar of wisdom is a reasonableness and a willingness to listen and if need be, to yield and admit wrong. James goes on to say "willing to yield." The Greek word means literally open to reason. Some people will not give up an argument even if their reasons are weak. It is a pride issue. The old saying goes, "A wise man changes his mind. A fool never." So, willingness to yield.
Full of mercy and other good fruits (helpful)
Fifthly, he will be full of mercy. Why? Why does he show mercy to people who are theologically messed up and who don't have wisdom to parent or to live in victory? It's because we know so profoundly that if it wasn't for God's opening our eyes, we would still be messed up. It's also a recognition that we potentially have other messed up areas that we still are not aware of. The person who regularly receives wisdom is so humbled at God's mercy in his life, that he has mercy on others who don't because he knows that only God can open their eyes. Can you see the logic in James' argument? But this pillar isn't just mercy. It says, "full of mercy and good fruits." If the Spirit's wisdom is powerfully present, the Spirit is powerfully present and all the fruits of the spirit will be manifested.
The next characteristic of wisdom from above is "without partiality." Literally it means, "undecided." We should be undecided until we have the facts. Otherwise it becomes a situation of "I've got my mind made up. Don't confuse me with the facts." Well, once again, it is so easy for us to treat other theological positions as idiotic without even reading them. Many people are partial against our position because they judge us as wrong without having read a single article on theonomy. But we need to make sure that we do not have the same partiality.
Without hypocrisy (sincerity)
And then finally, James says that it is without hypocrisy.
Back to Acts 6, the trouble with the Jews was not that they were sinners. Stephen was too. Their trouble was not that they had a low IQ, or bad upbringing, or anything other than that they were operating purely in the categories of below – the world, the flesh and the devil. Stephen in the Gospel had offered them the other resources that are so rich, but they refused them.
And the difference between Stephen and other Christians is exactly the same. He had a full confident Christianity because he appropriated by resources from above. There is no reason why every one of us cannot have the same fullness.
On June 6, 1981, Doug Whitt and his bride, Sylvia, were running late on the first day of their honeymoon trip. They were escorted into their hotel's fancy bridal suite in the wee hours of the morning. But they were hugely disappointed. In the suite they saw a sofa, chairs, and table, but there was no bed! They were going to call downstairs, but on further investigation Doug discovered that the sofa was a hide-a-bed. Everything else about the room was great, and they didn't have time to get another room, so they put up with a lumpy mattress and sagging springs. They spent a fitful night and woke up in the morning with sore backs.
The next morning they complained to the management about the bad accommodations. The clerk was puzzled at first and asked him, did you open the door in the room? Doug's eyes got big. He thought that was a closet. Chagrined, Doug went back into their suite and opened the door, and there was a huge spread of fruit baskets, chocolates and a beautiful bedroom. He had the resources. He just didn't open the door.
Here are five doors that Stephen had not only opened, but fully utilized in his life. I urge you to do the same. Every day you should come to God to seek the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of God's Word, a fullness of faith, of power and of wisdom. It is there for the asking. Don't shortchange yourself. When you go out into the world without first seeking God's resources, you are going out in your own strength. You are not much different on those days than the frustrated Jews of chapter 6. Open the doors to your apartment. Turn on the electricity. Stop living in the shadows. Live in the glory of God's fullness. Amen.
… from the fall of man to our day, …the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on the work always has been by remarkable effusions [of the Spirit] at special seasons. ↩
ACT 3:16 "And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him" [that is, Christ] "has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." Peter is saying that the faith he had to heal, was a faith that came through Christ.
ACT 18:27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; "They believed through grace. Our flesh cannot produce such faith. Only grace can."
ROM 12:3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. "God measures it out to us. So if you are full of faith, it is only because God has sovereignly given it to you."
EPH 1:19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us, who believe according to the working of His mighty power. "It's God's mighty power that produces this faith."
EPH 3:12 "in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through" [here's the phrase] "faith from Him. God is the source of our faith."
PHI 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, "It's been granted to believe. You couldn't have any belief in any promise of God unless God granted it to you."
2PE 1:1 Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: "It's something obtained, which means that before it was obtained, it didn't belong to you. And that faith is obtained – how? By the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." ↩