If you’ve been in church leadership any amount of time, you’ve faced criticism. Sometimes, criticism has an underlying hint of truth in it. It’s usually how it is presented that turns us off to the critic and even hurts us deeply. However, sometimes deacons face backbiting, gossip, and even direct false attacks on their character and actions. We can use criticism to ask the Lord how we are doing in a time of soul searching. What we can’t let criticism do is cause us to second guess everything God has called us to and who we are in Him. He knows the truth! While it shouldn’t, we know criticism and sometimes even outright attacks “come with the territory” of church leadership. Stephen faced some vicious attacks on his character that lead to his martyrdom, but ironically it was his tremendous character that caused Jesus to stand in honor of the faithful servant (Acts 7:56).
Acts 6:11-15 tells us the religious leaders, “Secretly induced men to say, “‘We have heard him (Stephen) speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council.They put forward false witnesses who said, ‘This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law;for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.’And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.” Even while he was being attacked, Stephen’s visible response was that of “the face of an angel”. His reaction causes me to rethink ways I’ve reacted in the past. His example especially makes me reconsider my thought life and words to others who have attacked me (but did not stone or kill me).
Can Jesus stand in honor of the way I have represented Him when I face opposition, attack, and criticism? We know Stephen preached a bold, Spirit-filled, powerful sermon (Acts 7:2-53). He even rebuked his accusers in a biblical manner (vv. 51-53). There is a time and manner of standing up for yourself. There’s also a time to be silent and let your character and God speak for you (Matthew 27:12). Sometimes, it takes more character to remain silent when you are being attacked and falsely accused. We see a perfect example of Stephen’s character displayed alongside his accusers. While he was asking God to receive his spirit and forgive his accusers (Acts 7:59-60), they were literally sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling at the top of their voices like a bunch of first graders while they seized Stephen and stoned him (Acts 7:57-58).
1 Peter 3:9 says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Peter goes on to say, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (vv. 15-17). We all have a lot to learn from deacon Stephen. We all have a lot of opportunities ahead of us to practice what we have heard him preach. What a model of being a deacon who rises above his false accusers and knows the One Who is Truth will defend, receive, and honor him in the end…and that’s all that really matters anyway.