What does being Spirit-filled look like? We can take a look at one who was Spirit-filled:
· And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8; ESV)
Stephen was also filled with wisdom, a fruit of the Spirit:
· But they [the Jewish opposition] could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Acts 6:10)
When we walk closely with God, we drink of His wisdom and have a holy boldness, which comes from the assurance we derive from Him. When we spend time with the Lord, it also becomes apparent to others that there is something special about us, even if they hate us for what they perceive in us:
· And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
Nevertheless, the council had hardened their hearts and were intent to convict Stephen of a capital offence. Stephen began to make his defense in all gentleness and respect: “Brothers and fathers, hear me” (Acts 7:2). However, he was preparing them for the Word of God – something that would convict them. Stephen concluded his lengthy talk:
· “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
The council had been so convicted by Stephen’s words, that they “cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears” as they “rushed together at him” (Acts 7:57).
Meanwhile, Scripture reiterates that Stephen “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God” (Acts 7:55). Clearly, Stephen’s cutting words reflected the Words of the Spirit.
However, today such words are controversial. Aren’t we supposed to be gentle, non-provocative, and winsome? James gives us a portrait of the Godly wisdom:
· But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)
James words seem opposed to Stephen’s cutting words (and certainly Jesus’ words). Stephen’s words were not aimed at making peace but at convicting of sin. Stephen had to know that his words would cut deeply, as they did. Then didn’t his approach contradict James’ teachings? Just superficially.
How then do we reconcile these two portraits? I think that before we can learn calculus, we first have to learn how to add and subtract, and learning biblical truths seems to follow this pattern. Hebrews teaches us about two sets of truth – the milk of the word and the meat. The milk must first be mastered before we can go on to the meat:
· For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
Not every Christian has the discernment to “distinguish good from evil.” This can only come with practice. Consequently, we are not all ready to act as Stephen had. Instead, we first have to concentrate on the basic teachings, as specified by James. We first have to learn how to live in peace before we can confront.
Because of this critical distinction, Paul taught that not everyone was ready to correct others:
· Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Only those who are spiritual, having mastered that milk of the Word, are in a position to correct others and to speak as Stephen had. Yes, there is a place for judging others. However, we first have to deal with our own blindness before we can see clearly enough to correct another (Matthew 7:1-5).
Similarly, we need to begin by understanding the grace of God. However, after learning this foundational truth, we then have to understand how grace imposes upon us Godly responsibilities. One of these requires us to speak truth in love, something that might provoke.
Stephen didn’t speak such harsh words because he lacked love for his brethren but because he truly loved them and knew that they needed to be convicted of their sin, for their own welfare. Of course, this concern also motivated Jesus to speak as harshly as He did.
When we speak in this manner, we will be hated as the Prophets of Israel had been hated and murdered. However, this is what being Spirit-filled might look like.