Stephen Accused of Blasphemy
Open Your Bible
Acts 6:1-15, Exodus 34:29-30, 1 Timothy 3:8-13
BY Jen Yokel
What makes a leader good? I ask myself this question all the time, because leaders with integrity are sadly hard to find. We see power in the hands of the charismatic and connected, wielded by the ones who can command a room and summon a following. But who are the real leaders in Jesus’s upside-down kingdom? We can learn so much from the first generation of Jesus followers, and today we’re getting to know an early church leader named Stephen.
Throughout Church history, Stephen is considered the first martyr. Acts 6 gives us a glimpse into his life and character. He’s the first name on the list of seven men who were chosen to care for the Jewish and Greek widows in the community. Think of these seven as the original deacons, if that’s part of your church tradition. These seven were chosen not for their charisma, education, or commanding presence, but for their “good reputation” as men who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).
In fact, you may have noticed words like “Spirit” and “wisdom” are used over and over to describe him in this short passage. He’s “full of faith and the Holy Spirit…grace and power,” and he quickly becomes known for “performing great wonders and signs among the people” through a power beyond his own ability (vv.5,8). Stephen beautifully fits Paul’s later portrait of a deacon: “worthy of respect, not hypocritical,” tested and proven “blameless” (1Timothy 3:8–10).
In his service, Stephen led. In his integrity, he became a reflection of God’s glory, like Moses whose face shone after he spent time in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29–30).
So again, what makes a leader good? The kind of integrity that comes from the Holy Spirit and time seeking God. It’s a commitment to following the way of Jesus so strong it cannot be shouted down, a faithfulness that bears up under accusation, that’s tested and proven worthy of respect—especially when the respect is questioned by the powerful.
For Stephen, that meant holding steady under the weight of judgement and lies. We’re told that his commitment to truth-telling offended a certain group of religious leaders, but “they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). The only way they could even build a case against him was through lies and rumors. Of course, we have to seek wisdom and discernment when challenges come, but our character can be our truest witness.
There are so many competing stories about how to lead and serve well in this world, but in Stephen’s life, we see how following Jesus and seeking the Spirit’s wisdom can give us the humility, courage, and faithfulness we need to find our way.