While I greatly admire my students for their courage in standing up for the Gospel, even posting memetic status messages on Facebook, there’s a simple reason why I do not do the same: These memetic status messages bypass one’s inhibitions by using a simple psychological marketing technique: guilt.
Even if they do not use the inane threats like “Your mother or loved one will die if you don’t forward this” (Which I HAVE seen on supposedly Christian chain emails or memetic messages), they still prey on the same instinct. They are able to inflict a subtle psychological pressure on us that make us think we decided to say “Hey, I’ll stand up for Jesus” without us realizing that there was any external pressure at all.
Contrast this with Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Stephen was originally chosen to work in the ancient Jerusalem version of a church soup kitchen—to ensure the proper distribution of food to both the Hebraic and Greek believers. However, witnessing was natural to him.
The verses immediately after his selection (Acts 6:8-15) talk about how Stephen was preaching in public, and how he was so Spirit-filled that the opposition could not argue with him. Let’s step back for a moment and consider Stephen for a moment.
He was witnessing in public, when he knew there was powerful opposition from a large and influential group. Stephen could have said “Oh, since I’m just a charity worker, I’ll stick to ministering by serving food to widows.” He could have saved himself that way. However, he did not. Witnessing was natural to him.
Later on, Stephen is arrested and brought before the most powerful Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. This was the equivalent of Martin Luther being brought before the Diet of Worms (ironic double meaning, I know) and being told to recant, or in our day, being called before the Supreme Court. This was the ultimate judicial authority.
When a bunch of false witnesses come forward (vs 12-13), Stephen is asked if the charges were true. Stephen doesn’t even answer them with a yes or no—once more, Stephen preaches. To the Supreme Court. In doing so, he knew he would convict himself, because his belief that Jesus was the Son of God was considered blasphemous. He did so anyway. It was natural to him.
This was not an act of witness brought on by guilt. Not by coercion. It was brought about by the movement of the Holy Spirit in his own heart. This wasn’t just his religion. This was his life, in accordance with what the angel told the apostles earlier as he set the apostles free from jail:
“‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life.'” (Acts 5:20)
The word “life” here is not the biological “bios,” but the spiritual “zoe.” Christ to Stephen wasn’t just a religious leader. His path was a life to be lived. This was why he served food to widows, who were among the most despised and “useless” members of society during that time. This was why he showed them compassion. This was why he witnessed boldly in front of powerful religious authorities.
Looking at Stephen’s short entry in Acts, I just feel so inadequate in my witness. Do I live my life consistently with what I preach? Do I witness as naturally as he did?
Brothers and sisters, dear students—let’s make every effort to be unflinching witnesses. Let’s remember that the Spirit we rely on is the same Spirit that filled Stephen.