“Now when they heard these things [Acts 7:1-53] they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he said this, he fell asleep”
Nothing enrages and disturbs my soul more than injustice. I read through this section the other day and I was mad. Acts 7: 1-53 is titled “Stephens Speech” and after 53 Spirit-filled verses of the wonderful boldness of Stephen, I was feeling inspired and encouraged. Then to read this as the end of his story, well needless to say it was a letdown. I do not blame God; that is simply not a part of my nature. But I was angry that these people who claimed to love God could not see their own hypocrisy and wrongdoing; that they could choose to react in such evil against someone who had done not a thing wrong in deserving such horrid treatment. And to add insult to injury, Saul (later Paul), arguably one of the greatest saints in the history of faith, was condoning this (Acts 8:1).
You also cannot help but see the true devoutness of Stephen, even up until the brutal end of his life. The last phrase he leaves is asking, intervening, pleading with the Lord to not hold this sin against them. His heart was so radically inline with God’s that this was his deepest desire as men were wrongfully beating him with stones. His boldness in speaking out the truth to those who had lost sight of it, his faithfulness to the mission of the early church, and the genuine love of God through the Holy Spirit he possessed are not only to be admired, but to be sought after in our own lives. Had Stephen not been so steadfast in his obedience to the Lord, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened in the life of Paul. Was he moved by this act of faith? Was the interceding of Stephen on behalf of Saul’s sin and life a leading factor in the miraculous encounter on the Damascus road? We can never truly know the inter-workings of God’s plan during this time, but I would like to imagine that the example of Stephen had a lasting impact on Paul’s life.
And are we not all thankful for that? Paul is a huge contributor to much of the New Testament, and was used by God in M I G H T Y ways throughout his entire life. His transformation through the grace of Jesus Christ back then gives us hope now for our own lives. I personally have been radically inspired and encouraged by the life of Paul and his writings inspired by the Holy Spirit to be the infallible Word of God.
I let God use this passage to take me on a mini journey of reflection back on my own life. And you know what I found? A whole lot of injustice. It had never really occurred to me before how much wrong has truly been done against me. But my response to each one…now that was worth remembering. What an amazing truth God showed me that I did not even see there before. I strive to pursue a life of holiness and obedience to the Lord, and lately I had been feeling like such a failure in that. Even as a frustrating situation arose just this past week, I found myself becoming angry and plotting ways to get revenge! I was so disgusted with myself. I struggled for exactly one day before releasing this over to God and obeying the hard response He was asking of me.
It was only one day though…because I’ve had so much experience in this in the past!
- In high school, I was physically and sexually abused for two years. I had mountains of evidence, proof, right and reason to take the case to the police and I would have won. God had a different plan for me and although it did not make sense, I instead forgave and let go of the hurt, anger, and bitterness.
- In college, I had a roommate who lied to the school to make it appear as though I was physically threatening her so she could move into her friends’ room. I had mountains of evidence, proof, right and reason to defend myself and expose the lies, but God asked me to forgive and let go.
- In college, I dealt with the authorities in obtaining an emergency restraining order against a person who was threatening and attacking me on campus; spreading just awful lies about me and lying to the school authorities in the process. I had the choice to push a full restraining order in court, meaning this person would be forced to leave the school for good or drop the charges, and move on. I had mountains of evidence, proof, right, and reason to file for this restraining order but after 15 hours of wrestling with God, physically exhausted, I chose to forgive and drop the charges.
- In college, the college released confidential information without my knowledge. They informed other students of an accusation I had never made, and in return, I lost every friend I ever had at that school and endured some very unfortunate bullying and isolation the remainder of my time there. What the school did was illegal, and I had mountains of evidence, proof, right and reason to press charges to bring about justice but I chose to forgive instead and let go.
- After I left school, I moved into an apartment for the following year. With a new job lined up, new school opportunities and more availability to help Jeremy with his dialysis treatments, I was feeling very blessed and excited to continue on a new lease in Rocklin. I was then abruptly kicked out two weeks before the end of my lease, for no justifiable reason, and was forced to move back home and subsequently start my life over. I could have fought back, but guess what? I chose to forgive and move on.
- I moved to Roseville in June when after signing our lease, had a roommate refuse to move in or pay rent for the summer, forcing us to find a replacement for the summer only to reach the end of the summer with the sudden decision that they would no longer be moving in, demanding we pay all the money and deposits back to them. We were threatened with eviction on grounds of our sublet for the summer (which was forced upon us by this same person who was threatening it) if we did not pay it back. Though I had no legal obligation to do so, I paid the amount back in full, forgiving and moving on in obedience to the Lord.
Each of these situations at the time were some very difficult seasons. And it was a hard pill to swallow when I realized that this is the narrow road we are called to walk on. We are called to forgive and let go even when it makes no sense, even when we have every human right to feel the way we do, even when it may put us in physical discomfort or financial strain. Each of these instances challenged my faith deeply. What did my heart truly desire above all else? Justice? Revenge? Anger? Bitterness? Holiness? Love? Forgiveness?
As I shared at the beginning of this article, nothing enrages and disturbs my soul more than injustice. In each of these cases I wanted justice to be served. I wanted to see the truth reign over the lies, I wanted people to be exposed for their wrongdoing and hypocrisy, I wanted to defend myself and stand up for what I believed to be was right!
But what makes me think my version of justice is better than God’s?
God wants nothing but the best for me and makes “all things work together for good, [to] those called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), which is me I can say confidently. Each of these circumstances I was asked to forgive and let go; to trust that God would hold the anger for me so that I would not have to compromise my pursuit of holy living. God loves me so much He empowered me to do that which was so against my fleshly desires and so against the logic of the world to experience more of Him. God knows that the best for me is always going to be more of Him. Just a glimpse of His splendor and glory is enough to satisfy. I realize that these situations could have been worse than they were and I thank God that they were not. But I also praise God that he allowed them to happen in my life, in order to draw me closer to Him and deeper in this walk of faith. I can truly understand and appreciate the saving power of faith and the genuine challenge of living a life worthy of the calling.
And the same went for Stephen. He was able to forgive and intercede on behalf of those who were wrongfully accusing and hurting him because he was “full of the Holy Spirit” and kept his eyes fixed on the “glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” What an example to follow.
So in this same spirit and in light of the truth of God’s word, I too ask God to not hold this sin against them. I acknowledge that these people who have done wrong against me are still God’s children, beloved and forgiven by him. I also acknowledge that our God is a holy and just God and does not let sin go unpunished. That would be out of character. These people have chosen to do evil instead of good and God will deal with them according to His holy perfection.
This is living in freedom.
I am now free to forgive and let go of any seed of anger, bitterness, or hatred that could have become a foothold in my life. God loves me so much that He wants to do anything and everything to empower me to live this life to glorify Him.
As I was talking with my mother on the phone the other day, sharing all this wonderful truth God had shared with me, she brought up a point I think is worth adding. As my mother, I have called her and leaned on her through each of the hard circumstances listed above. She explained to me how testing this has been for her own faith, how she has had to listen and obey God even when her maternal instincts were to protect and fight. During high school, as I mentioned, I was in a horrible situation. As the whole family was gone for a weekend, she stayed home and screamed and yelled and cried out to God in anger over how much I was suffering. God asked her to forgive this person who was abusing her daughter. She then responded in even more anger. How dare he ask her to do such a thing.
“How could you possibly ask me to forgive someone who is wrongfully hurting my child?”
“Is that not what I did?” was His response.
It has been a difficult lesson, but one that God has been teaching her over and over again through the circumstances in my own life. The love of a mother is a miraculous thing, and hard as H E C K. I commend and admire my mother for her dedication and obedience to the Lord, despite the hard and challenging things He has asked of her.
But again, what a beautiful lesson to have learned here. We have no idea what God is going to do in the lives of those around us, even those that wrongfully hurt us and cause us pain. But we have to believe and trust that He knows. Stephen did not know and never lived to see the fruits of his labors, he was not privy to see what amazing transformation God was about to do in Saul’s life but through his faithfulness and act of obedience in forgiveness and intercession, Stephen radically changed the life of the early church and so became Paul, one of the greatest saints of history and one of the greatest examples of faith for us to learn from even today.
I would like end with this:
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
I hope to do nothing but glorify God in all that I write. None of this is shared out of any other intention than to bring you into the story, to really feel what I have in order to better exemplify all that God is to me. I treasure Him above all else, and let everything I say and do magnify His supreme value in my heart.