Stephen was a deacon in the early church who was selected to wait on tables in Acts 6. I’m sure he must have been a pretty good waiter, the kind of server who made sure the food was evenly distributed and all; but apparently he had other skills. Acts 6:8 says of his selection, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” As it turned out, he was a pretty good preacher, too…
Not Just Your Average Waiter
In an earlier post I mentioned that Stephen used the phrase “the Son of Man” in his sermon in Acts 7:56: “Look”, he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen was one of seven men with Greek names chosen to be a waiter at meals for the early church. He was not an Apostle (one who saw Jesus in the flesh), but he did miraculous things (Acts 6:8) and contended with the wisdom of the Spirit (6:10).
With all of those gifts and attributes, I imagine Stephen might have been expected to rise to prominence in the early church, perhaps as a leader or preacher. He had good character and was obviously prepared to lead. Instead, Luke tells us that when an argument broke out about portions being given to the Greek widows at the covered dish supper, the church chose seven men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3) to wait on tables and hand out the food.
Giving Away What You Cannot Keep
For a guy chosen to be a mere waiter, Stephen had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of both Jewish history and the Scriptures, and preached a pretty effective sermon before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. He had to know that his preaching would stir up a hornet’s nest, but he was bold and fearless.
(His actions remind me of Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed in 1956 while reaching out to the Auca Indians… Jim said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Like Stephen, Jim was a bold preacher whose faith put him in harm’s way. You can read his inspiring story in this book, written by his wife Elisabeth, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Through_Gates_of_Splendor )
Stephen, who just moments before was serving as a waiter, preached such a powerful sermon that the authorities decided to shut him down. The Sanhedrin condemned him and dragged him out to be stoned, and he became the first martyr in Jerusalem. (And oh yeah, his stoning was approved by a guy named Saul. He probably heard that sermon. Maybe it even produced unexpected fruit in his life just a little ways down the road…)
Prepared for the Unexpected
Here are a couple of important things about Stephen: he was prepared for this moment long before this moment happened. He was well-versed in God’s word and gave a ready answer to those who opposed him. He preached a powerful sermon, giving comprehensive context about who Jesus was and how he fit into Hebrew history. In the face of death he continued to proclaim his beliefs; he even died while forgiving those who were casting stones to kill him.
So how do we normal folks apply Stephen’s experience in our lives? He makes a pretty strong argument that seeing Jesus “in the flesh” is not necessary to have faith or to experience life-changing belief in Jesus. We can do that too. Also, we should realize that it’s not what we DO or how we serve that gives us value.
You may be a waitress or a salesman or a sanitary engineer, but if you know Jesus and God’s word, you can contend with wisdom. You can live a changed life. It may be a truism, but someone whose Bible is falling apart usually has a life that isn’t… A daily walk with God is the best preparation for the big moments in life. So, when your moment comes, be ready!
The Powerful Waiter
Stephen was a man who seemed a lot like me and you;
He served, and waited tables, and he probably bused them, too!
He did his job, just serving bread, or bringing food to eat–
And Stephen probably thought his life was pretty much complete!
He must have studied Scriptures when he wasn’t waiting tables,
Since, when he started preaching, it is clear that he was able!
He must have had a walk with God that happened every day,
Since when his moment came he knew exactly what to say!
So even if you’re doing hair, or slinging some spaghetti,
Just have a daily walk with God that’s regular and steady,
And when your moment comes to serve –like Stephen– you’ll be ready!
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