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Stephen: 5 Important Lessons from an Ordinary Christian, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
April 30, 2024 9:00 am

Stephen: 5 Important Lessons from an Ordinary Christian, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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April 30, 2024 9:00 am

Many people are being called on right now to glorify God in their hour of trial or in a situation where it is costly to obey him.


Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. We think of a church as a group of people gathered in one place to kind of bask in the anointing to share in the gifting of a few anointed individuals. When the real power of the church is not in gathering to listen to one anointed guy preach the word, the real power of the church is when ordinary people filled with the Spirit preach the word of God in places like Stephen did. That's where the greatest miracles happen. Thanks for joining us today here on Summit Life with Pastor J.D.

Greer. I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. You know, many people in the world today are being called on to glorify God in their hour of trial or stand firm in a situation where it's costly to obey Him. And while that might not be our experience right now, it certainly could be at any moment. In today's message, Pastor J.D. helps us understand that the way we view Jesus affects the degree to which we will be able to endure suffering and perhaps more importantly, how others will be blessed because of our faithfulness to God in the midst of our pain. We're learning five important lessons from an ordinary Christian, a young man by the name of Stephen. Let's rejoin Pastor J.D. where we left off yesterday in the book of Acts. Five lessons you can learn from the profile of the ordinary Christian.

Number one, the core of Christian commitment is service. Stephen is introduced to us as a servant. His job was not glorious.

He waited tables for widows. He obviously was a capable leader, a gifted theologian, and a good preacher. But he did not say in Acts 6, 1, well, I'm gonna need something a little bit more in line with my gifts and my passions. No.

He said, it's not about me. And if this is how I can serve the body of Christ best, I gladly will do it. And that service, though it seems insignificant to you and me, had a huge effect on the church.

Not only did it preserve church unity at a time when the church was threatened to be torn apart, it also led to the conversion of some of the chief antagonists to the church, the priest, and would lead to the conversion of the chief persecutor of the church, which was Saul. It's probably why Francis Schaeffer said, love on display is the church's most effective apologetic. This happens repeatedly at our church and I love it.

I love it because it is how God uses us to show the love of Christ to our community. Everyone in this church should serve. You say, well, how do I know exactly where to serve? Here's a little grid that I use that I would commend to you. Any one of these three places is where you should serve, a place of skill, a place of passion, or a place of need.

They might all three come together in one or they might not. So let me comment on that last one for a minute, a place of great need, because I'm not sure, listen, that waiting tables for widows was a passion or a skill for Stephen. He didn't do it because it was a place of skill or passion. He did it because that was a need was, and he was a servant. I can assure you that washing feet was below Jesus' pay grade. And you ought to make room in your life, particularly here in the church, to do things that you don't necessarily thrill to do so that you maintain the role of servant.

By the way, that applies to me too. What I do up here is supposed to be an act of service, not self-exaltation. It's like I pointed out to you, the apostles were servants before they were leaders. So when they quit waiting tables, it wasn't because they were too important to serve, they just found a greater need for their service. One of the things that I pray that I always will be true about how I think about my preaching is that I'll think of it as an act of service. The reason I say that is because it seems like a lot of pastors seem to lose sight of the fact that when they're preaching, they're supposed to be serving their congregation. They're supposed to be washing the feet of their congregation with the word, not exalting themselves. And I feel like I see a lot of guys lose sight of that. And I feel like you can start to tell that in their preaching and just their general disposition. And so I'll tell you, you can pray for me on that because I deal with that. Because when you get up here and you become a leader, it's just easy for Satan to fill your heart with things that would end up destroying the church. And I never want to get beyond the fact that what I'm supposed to be doing up here is just washing your feet.

And this is the most effective way that I can do it, which leads me to number two. Nothing is more important than the word of God. For the apostles to have filled up their schedules, even with something important like taking care of widows, would have been a disservice to the church because the church's greatest need is the word of God. It's kind of like if you were an EMT and you went into a place where there'd been an earthquake and there were piles of rubble everywhere and some people holding on, you know, for dear life, you know, they were about to die. As an EMT, you go in and start to clean up some of the rubble.

Oh, that seems like a nice thing to do, but it's actually disservice because you're one of the only people that can save the people's lives. Those people who are skilled at teaching and leading the word of God, that is the act of service they can provide. And for the apostles to have gotten filled up with doing something else would have been an act of disservice to the church. One of the things that I've most appreciated about this church from the time that I started was that they always said, we will make your schedule so that you can give attention to preparing yourself to teach the word of God.

And I've always appreciated that about this church. Stephen, one of the first guys to make that happen, by the way, Stephen's about to preach the longest sermon in the book of acts. Like I told you that's filled with biblical knowledge. Where do you think he got that biblical knowledge? He got it from here in the apostles teach.

So see, watch this. He devoted himself to the word in two ways. First, he freed up the apostles to be able to teach it.

Second, he prioritized learning it. It's not enough for you to free me up to teach the word. You got to prioritize learning it because like Stephen, you're going to be called upon to give answers in places where I'm not going to be present. And you're not going to have be able to call me up on the cell phone and be like, answer this guy's question. You got to be ready like Stephen was to be able to answer. And in order to do that, you got to know the word of God. So thank you for freeing me up to teach it to you. Now learn it, learn it, listen to it, get into it, memorize it.

Because here's what I found. The Holy Spirit is awesome. He can bring all kinds of things to your memory, but he cannot bring your memory what you have not put in there to begin with. Charles Spurgeon was converted as a teenager through the preaching of a layman who had to preach one Sunday morning because the preacher was snowed in. And Charles Spurgeon stumbled into the back of a church and basically they kind of looked at the congregation and said, well, the pastor's not here.

Why don't you come out and preach? God walks up, grabs the Bible, starts preaching. What if that had been you? Charles Spurgeon, would he have been converted that morning?

Would you have been like, I just don't understand it really. I just know how to consume and listen. You got to prioritize learning it. Number three, God does his greatest work through ordinary people. That's what you learn from Stephen. God does his greatest work through ordinary people. What he pointed out, he preaches the longest sermon, most biblical sermon.

It also has the most famous convert. Listen, read the book of Acts. I don't see anywhere else that anybody's preaching has this powerful of an effect on anybody.

I mean, even Paul, the great preacher himself, the closest I could find was a guy named Felix says, almost you persuade me to be a Christian, Paul. Stephen preaches and God uses it changed the apostle Paul's heart. Why do you think the Holy Spirit showed us this?

I'll tell you why. Listen, because he's wanting you to see, listen, that through the Holy Spirit, there is nothing that an apostle does that a layperson cannot do as well or better. In fact, sometimes God delights to put the power on the layperson because the professional ends up taking credit for it. And so what God does, he puts the Holy Spirit onto the heads of ordinary people, into the mouths of ordinary people. And he uses you to preach the most powerful sermons. I should not be the most powerful preacher at this church. You should be, and it should not be in the church.

It should be outside the church. In fact, it reminds me of what Jesus said that I pointed this out to you before it's one of the most amazing promises. Jesus made her statements, John 16, verse seven. Jesus said, if you understood who I was, you'd be glad that I was going back to the father because it is to your advantage. He said to the disciples that I go away because if I go away, then I'll send the Holy Spirit.

And I've told you, could you think for a minute about the absurdity of that statement on the surface? It's to my advantage that Jesus go away? What would it be like to walk around with Jesus for three years? I mean, imagine in your life, if you got a chance to walk around with Jesus, right? You're at a party and you run out of Chex Mix, bam, he multiplies the Chex Mix. You got a theological question, bam, he answers it.

You got a headache, bam, he takes it away. I mean, imagine if I got up here and said, hey, good news, we're opening up a new campus, going to be in Holly Springs. You know, even better news, a guy applied to be campus pastor and it was Jesus. He's going to be the campus pastor of the Holly Springs campus.

Now that'd be pretty awesome, right? But Jesus said it actually would be better if ordinary believers were filled with the Holy Spirit than if even I myself stayed personally. How we've built our churches and the temptation of this church is kind of turns that on its head. Because we think of a church as a group of people gathered in one place to kind of bask in the anointing, to share in the gifting of a few anointed individuals. When the real power of the church is not in gathering to listen to one anointed guy preach the word, the real power of the church is when ordinary people fill with the spirit, preach the word of God in places like Stephen did, that's where the greatest miracles happen.

The greatest miracles are not supposed to happen to me and here, they're supposed to happen with you out there. Number four, Christians are a befuddling contradiction to the world. Stephen's life is a contradiction to everybody, isn't it? I mean, on one hand, he's so kind and gracious and servant-like that he wins the heart of antagonistic priests. Yet his rebuke is so stinging that it makes another group of religious leaders want to murder him. Stephen looks at people and he says, you stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart, you always resist the Holy Spirit, just like your parents did. And then as they're stoning him, he says, God, don't charge them with this sin. They don't know what they're doing.

You see, Stephen is speaking with this curious mixture that characterizes, listen, every true gospel-centered Christian, grace and truth. And the world wants us to be one or the other. They don't like them both.

I'm going to tell you that. They hate both of them put together. They hate it worse than if you just had one. Because truth without grace is fundamentalism and it's easy to write off. Grace without truth is sentimentality and doesn't change anybody. You speak with truth and grace, you're going to be stoned or you're going to be crucified, just like Stephen. You want the world's approval?

You want it? You're never going to get it if you follow Jesus. When I was in college and I was facing a situation not similar to Stephen and that my life was not threatened, but when I was facing a type of persecution from some religious leaders, one of my mentors said, you cannot fight back. You cannot fight evil with evil. You can never carry the ministry of Christ with the spirit of Satan. And you've got to, I know you're only 21 years old, but you got to remain sweet.

You got to remain sweet and always give good for you. You're listening to Summit Life with Pastor JD Greer. Remember to follow us on social media and stay up to date with everything going on here at Summit Life.

We have an exciting featured resource available to our listening family this month. It's Pastor JD's newest book, 12 Truths and a Lie, answers to life's biggest questions. You know, it's normal to have questions about the Christian life and many of us have the same exact questions. Have you ever wondered, how do I know if I'm going to heaven or what's my purpose?

Why isn't God answering my prayers? In 12 Truths and a Lie, Pastor JD points us back to the gospel to help give us the answers. And with your gift of $35 or more to this ministry, we'll send you this book along with a discussion guide to go alongside it and to help you unpack what you're reading.

The guide makes a great resource for someone you're discipling, or to help facilitate family discussions, or to walk through with a small group. To receive your copy of 12 Truths and a Lie and the family-friendly discussion guide, visit us online at or give us a call at 866-335-5220. Now let's get back to today's teaching. Once again, here's Pastor JD. Number five, sometimes God's will for us is martyrdom. Stephen did everything right and he ended up dead. What happened? I don't know.

I don't know. But I do know it says, verse 58, that they laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. I get chills just thinking about this. It was a young man watching, and as every stone smashed into Stephen's face, and as Stephen's body lay mangled in a bloody heap, Saul heard Stephen's pleas for forgiveness for his persecutors. And Saul saw the glory of God reflected in Stephen's eyes.

And something happened in Saul's heart he never got over. Stephen's blood soaking into the ground became the seed of the Apostle Paul's faith. Stephen's most effective contribution to the kingdom of God came through his martyrdom. Paul was converted, not by seeing Stephen delivered. Paul was converted by seeing Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, testify to Jesus glory in the midst of pain.

Do you understand that the sermons you preach through your pain are louder than the sermons you can ever preach through your blessings? And I don't say that as some kind of sick psychopath that wants you to be persecuted or wants you to be in pain. I don't want that for me. I don't want that for my kids. I don't want that for my wife. I don't want it for my family. I don't want it for you.

But do you understand that there is an amplification that God can give to your testimony in pain that He just can't give it in blessing? It's not about me. I realized it's not about me living or prospering. My life is about one thing, pointing people to Jesus from start to finish.

Stephen's life screamed that. It's not about me. It's not about my self-actualization. It's not about me getting the respect I deserve. It's about serving and waiting tables.

If that's what I got to do because what the church needs. It's not about me and my potential, my actualization. It's about the bride of Christ. It's not about me obtaining blessing and walking in prosperity. It's about directing people's attention toward Jesus.

Here's a question. What's it all about for you? Is it all about you? A lot of people come to church that way. Oh, God's like a great addition to their life. I mean, you can make your family come together.

He's going to give you peace and harmony in life. But here's how you know it's all about you. You're easily offended in the church that your talents aren't recognized. You're easily offended by what other people say. They don't recognize who you are or the contributions that you make.

You're angry at God that you're not more blessed than you are. That shows you it's all about you. And there will inevitably be limits to your obedience. You're never going to go the full measure of sacrifice. You're never going to be financially really that sacrificially generous.

You're never going to be in a place like where Stephen is because it's all about you. It's not about Jesus. For some of you, maybe you would say it's all about your family. A lot of people in church are like that. God is such a help to my family.

But here's how you know. The idea of sending your kids out someday to be missionaries. You hate that idea because it's not about Jesus.

It's about you and your family. Where did Stephen get this kind of courage and selflessness to say it's all about Jesus? Well, when he looked up to heaven, what did he see? He saw Jesus stretching out nail pierced hands to receive him. Jesus had washed the feet of sinners, Stephen's feet. So it just made sense that Stephen would do that for the church. When Stephen prayed, father forgive them.

Where have you heard that before? That's what Jesus prayed from the cross for Stephen. You see Stephen, watch, is now doing for others what Jesus has done for him.

It's like I've often told you. Those people who believe and behold the gospel always become like the gospel. Stephen has believed and beheld the glorious face of Jesus. And now he's become just like Jesus.

What else did he see? Well, you know, he included an odd little detail when he sees Jesus. And it may not strike you as odd at first, but the detail is he says, I see Jesus standing.

Why is that an odd detail? Because everywhere else Jesus is at the right hand of God, everywhere else he is sitting. Son of God looked down from heaven and he stood up and he said, mine. The religious leaders and political leaders are saying, you're a heretic and you're a fool. And Stephen looked up into heaven and sees Jesus and said, no, no, no. They call him a heretic and a fool.

I call him mine. Earth condemned him. Heaven commended him. Earth rejected him. Heaven received him.

And Stephen said, I would rather have that affirmation than the affirmation of all these people around me. And though it looked everybody else like Stephen's life was in the hands of the devil, Stephen saw that his life was actually in the hands of God who was overruling all of this for good. He saw that Jesus standing at the right hand of God was in charge of it all. He had not forgotten. He had not taken a vacation.

He was not angry at Stephen. He was in charge of every single stone. And Stephen did not know it, but watching him die was the one who had become the greatest evangelist the world would ever know. You who are suffering. You need to see Jesus in the same place. You need to see him standing at the throne of God for you.

You need to see that he is in control. And just like he overturned Joseph's evil brother's plans for good, and just like he turned the martyrdom of Stephen into the conversion of the greatest missionary the world would ever know, Paul, he is using your suffering for the same thing. You need to see him standing in love and victory at the right hand of God for you with his arms outstretched.

The way we sing it here is we say this, behold him, they are the risen lamb. My perfect spotless righteousness, the great unchangeable I am, the king of glory and of grace, one with himself, I cannot die. My soul is purchased by his blood. My life is hid with Christ on high. His stones can't hurt me because I'm hit with him, with Christ my savior and my God.

In fact, maybe you ought to jot this down. The degree to which you understand Jesus' love and victory is the degree to which you will be able to endure suffering well. The degree to which you understand Jesus' love and victory is the degree to which you will be able to endure suffering well.

Now, one last thing. The name Stephen means crown in Greek. Crown was what they gave Stephanos, what they gave to overcomers, is what they called him. It's what they gave to Olympic athletes when they overcame the competition.

Don't miss this. Stephen overcame the world. The crown overcame the world not by experiencing what we would typically call blessing, but by dying faithful to Jesus with his eyes fixed upon the risen Christ.

And God used his death for more than he'd ever dreamed. God saves the world through your suffering well in the midst of death. You want to overcome the world? You want to overcome the world? Serve.

Confess that it's not about you. And submit to obedience, whatever the cost. Because see, many of you are being called upon by God right now, right now, to glorify him in your hour of trial.

For some of you, it's a physical or emotional affliction. And you've got to pray. You've got to say, Jesus, I need to see you standing. I trust you. I can see with the heart of faith.

Help me to give glory to you, whatever happens. Some of you are right now in situations where it's costly to obey. There's a man at our Gospel and Work Conference last week named Bob Doll, who's a rather famous man in the United States and the world of finance.

He was CNBC's go-to stock guy, made millions of dollars, was the guy that was always on TV. In a panel, not our panel, but one just like it, he was asked, have you ever experienced persecution? And Bob Doll said, well, I wouldn't really call it persecution the way that, you know, some people experience persecution. He said, but in my job, he says, my bosses have told me I'm not allowed to share my faith.

I'm not allowed ever to bring it up on the air at all. He said, and so I'm trying to be faithful to Jesus and trying to honor them. At the same time, I got to do what I have to do. And he said, that's about as close to persecution as I come. His bosses somehow found out about that answer on that panel and fired him.

And Bob Doll said to me last weekend, he said, I wouldn't trade it for anything. He said, because sometimes following Jesus is costly. Sometimes you just have to do that.

Maybe it's an integrity issue for you at your job. And to walk hand to hand with Jesus is going to cost you. And you got to make a decision whether or not the risen standing Jesus is worth it.

Maybe you're in school. And for you to testify to Jesus means that you are going to take ridicule. You are going to take all kinds of persecution and you've got to see him standing there. And you got to say his affirmation is much more important than my professors or my friends, because they're going to keep throwing stones at you.

They may not be actual stones. They're going to be stones of words and they're going to hurt. And you're going to say it's okay because I see him standing there and I would rather have his approval. For some of you, it's a way that God's going to call you to obey. Some that you realize if we're obedient to the great commission, that we're going to have Stevens in our lives.

We're going to have people, maybe some of us, maybe some of our children who are going to go out and they're not coming back because they're going to die. Have you ever gotten to a place where you say, Jesus, it's not about me. It's about you. I'll do anything.

Go anywhere. I'll serve. I'll suffer because it's about you.

It's not about me. What a convicting prayer for us to use to remind ourselves who's really in control and who really deserves the glory. Not long ago, I sat down with Pastor J.D. to ask him why he wrote his latest book, 12 Truths and a Lie, answers to life's biggest questions.

Here's what he had to say. I get asked a lot of questions as a pastor and I just began to notice that there were some that just kept being asked over and over. And we said, well, what if we just took those and put them in a book and made it as a resource? I hope it's a help to you in understanding and feeling more confident in your faith and also enabling you to be able to reach out to people who have these same questions. Maybe they're people in your family or maybe it's your neighbor. You know, it's really helpful to index.

You can just look up the question. Why is it that bad things happen to seemingly innocent people? Why is it that the Christian life often feels hard? Why does God seem to care so much about my sexuality?

How do you reconcile some of the stories in the Old Testament with the God of love? You can go and request a copy of that and a discussion guide we've made available to go along with it exclusive for our Summit Life audience. You can do that just by reaching out to us and donating, helping support the ministry here at Summit Life. You can just go to my website and you can do that today. To give or to become a member of the Gospel Partner family, give us a call at 866-335-5220.

That's 866-335-5220. Or you can always visit our website, I'm Molly Vidovitch inviting you to join us Wednesday as we hear about one man who took the risk of crossing cultural barriers for the sake of unity. We'll see you Wednesday on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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