“Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Grace and power are two seemingly diametrically opposed qualities. However, in order for each to work properly, the other is necessary. These two essential traits for deacons are married, bringing richness and fullness to one another. You see, power, without grace, can be mean, volatile, greedy, selfish, and abusive. Grace is necessary to make biblical power effective. Without grace, we are weak, even if we possess worldly power. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he quotes Jesus by saying, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Paul would later say, “It is by the grace of God I am what I am.” We know God’s grace is manifest perfectly in Jesus. He was the grace that appeared to all men, offering salvation (Titus 2:5). He alone, not works like power, is the grace that saves (Ephesians 2:8-9). He gives grace to the humble, another quality of Christian power (James 4:6). It is His grace that gives us power in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Power, infused by grace, is the humility Jesus displayed on the cross. What power Jesus possessed as the Son of God! What restraint, forgiveness, and humility as well! Stephen also displayed this Christ-like power and grace in the way he died. Acts 7:60 tells us Stephen, while being stoned, cried out for God to forgive his murderers! Isn’t that how Jesus responded in His death (Luke 23:34)? To be full of grace and power is to be full of Jesus, responding and living like Him.
We know, according to Acts 6:3 and 6, Stephen was full of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills every believer, as we see in Acts 1:8, for a very special primary purpose, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses…” We are filled with His grace and power for the purpose of being His witnesses. And Stephen was certainly a great witness! He was not, “Ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16)! While Luke records 46 verses in Peter’s three sermons, Stephen’s single sermon would take 52 verses! He not only preached to the religious leaders who brought Him opposition (Acts 6:9-7:53), he was the initial change agent for the gospel to grow beyond Jerusalem. We know by Acts 5:28 that the disciples had filled Jerusalem with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be proclaimed throughout the world, starting in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). Stephen was the first to preach the gospel to the Greek speaking Jews in their own synagogue (Acts 6:9). We must also remember Stephen is preaching the gospel to a very important figure…Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul. How influential was Stephen in the conversion of Saul? Saul was present, giving his consent to the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1). In one of Paul’s last’s sermons, he recounts his conversion and calling conversation with Jesus by saying, “And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him” (Acts 22:19). This humble and powerful, faithful and grace-filled disciple, deacon, and preacher, paved the way for many to come to Christ, including the Apostle Paul.
Deacons, you never know to whom you are witnessing. That’s why it’s vital to always be full of grace and power! This mysterious and intriguing combination displayed to a watching world in a gospel-centered lifestyle will help usher in the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. As you go about your daily lives, walk in God’s Spirit, be full of faith, grace, and power. Just as Stephen did, you’ll need grace and power when you face opposition. If not, your responses will be fleshly and sinful. You’ll need grace and power to serve people in the greatest way: with the gospel. It comes with demonstration (Acts 6:8) to draw people to a relationship with Christ and glorify God. If you became a deacon to just get “power” within the church, you certainly missed the indispensable grace of God and you’ll have no power. Most likely, the power you’ll display without grace will destroy a local church. With grace comes true power not like the world gives or displays. Stephen’s humble, grace-filled life was powerful, ushering the gospel to the first Greek Jews on their own turf and to the scoundrel Saul. Remember as you serve as a deacon to walk in the grace and power of Jesus.