Good morning and welcome to Wednesday’s podcast. My name is Alan and today in Chapter 6 verses 8-15 of Acts, we see Stephan, a man chosen to distribute food among the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, arrested on false charges. Verse 10 reads,
But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he [Stephen] spoke.
I wonder, how often do we read our Bibles?
I remember, years ago, I heard a leader from Nepal speak about the missionary work that he was involved in back home. How they were going out into the mountains and villages, preaching the gospel and how they trained up new Christians to go out and preach the gospel. It was inspiring. They were seeing thousands coming to faith. New converts were quickly trained and deployed into God’s mission field. This leader went on to share how for many of these church planters the only book they have ever read was the Bible. Missionaries taught them to read using the Bible and since then they had read and re-read the Bible over and over again. Many of them would read the whole Bible – even Leviticus – 4, maybe, 5 times every year. That’s the whole… 1251 pages (the number of pages in the Bible on my desk – although other Bibles are available!) 1251 pages of the Bible every 2 – 3 months.
A recent house guest of ours took up the challenge and read the whole Bible in one month… that works out at about 35 chapters a day. Fair play to her: she just about made it, running just a couple of days over I think.
“But it’s not about quantity Alan, it’s about quality,” I hear you say. Well maybe, but the point is that we need to dedicate ourselves to reading God’s word. We need to get God’s words in to our heads, into our hearts and begin to allow God’s words to change us.
…they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave [Stephen] as he spoke.
Surely the Spirit was dictating to Stephen his every word and sure enough, when I find myself falsely accused, I am sure that God will come up trumps. He will give me the download that I need in that moment!
Or could it be that Stephen was a man who had immersed himself in the word of God? And in this moment of confrontation, the Holy Spirit took hold of all that Stephen had taken in and brought it to life?
At the end of Ephesians 6 where Paul describes putting on the full armour of God, it says: “Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The Bible is not some 1st century light-sabre – although that would be seriously cool – but it is the sword of the Spirit. As we immerse ourselves in the Bible, as we pore over the word of God, we arm the Spirit in our lives. We give him ammunition to confront our fears and our insecurities, we learn about who we are and hear the promises God has made to us. As we allow the Spirit to get to work we are slowly changed by the renewing of our minds. And…. when we are confronted in the court of popular opinion, when the topic of conversation turns to Christianity and the church, we are ready… the Spirit is armed… He can bring out of us all that has been invested into us.
It is true that as we read the Bible the words can jump off the page and take on real relevance in a particular moment, for a particular reason.
When our kids were tiny I took my turn in looking after them during the week. With a little extra time on my hands, during nap time, I took to trying to learn some of the smaller books in the New Testament off by heart. I would write a few verses out and take them with me during the day, often checking up to see if what I was remembering bore any resemblance to the verses I was trying to learn. One day, I bumped into someone I knew from church. She started telling me of some of the struggles she and her husband were encountering. I simply reached into my pocket and gave her the scribbled Bible verses that I had written out that morning. They were exactly what she needed to hear that day. A small example of God using what we take in, at a particular moment for a particular purpose.
As we snack on the Bible each day, sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little, over the weeks and the months and the years the Bible begins to seep into us. We read, we think, we wrestle, we go to cell, we thrash out what it means for us today, we ask when we don’t get it. As we do this we place a sword in the Spirit’s hand. And with that sword he sorts us out and uses us to bring encouragement, faith, inspiration and challenge to those we meet.
And like Stephen we get the privilege of bearing witness to the glory of God… v 15…
and they saw that [Stephen’s] face was like the face of an angel.
Father thank you for the Bible; your word to us. Help us to read it, to study it, to meditate on it every day. We pray that your word would come alive in our hands, that we would hear you speak to us clearly as we read and we would place the sword in the Spirit’s hands. In Jesus’ name, amen.
READING: Acts 6:8-15
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’
All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.