Some of the best advice I ever received on preaching came from one of my first elders, Dean Brookshire. He was a retired minister and told me, “John, prayer, and patience will solve 90% of the problems in the church.” Dean was right, and I wish I had practiced his advice more often over the years. Like most ministers, I have a burning desire to right wrongs and speak out against what I see as injustice. I carry “righteous indignation” in my breast pocket, so when Stephen told the Sanhedrin:
“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).
I am shouting from the back of the hall, “Amen, brother! Preach on!” My blood is boiling.
Thankfully, we aren’t called on to echo Stephen’s defense very often. Those who do are most often slaves of pride (“I know best!”), and guilty of stirring up dissension in the congregation. They seem to thrive on controversy. Paul told Timothy:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3 – 7).
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Even though Stephen had to say some tough things, did you notice how Luke describes him? “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
Having the face of an angel doesn’t come from wearing sunscreen and exfoliating your skin every night before bed. It comes from love that springs from “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”