I’m going to show my age here, but when I was growing up there was a musical group named Meatloaf. I know they had a lot of songs, but I only remember one. The most famous line from the song was, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” By the way, I am not endorsing Meatloaf and their music in any way, just making a reference to a song I have heard literally hundreds of times in my life. That song came into my head, because I believe in many ways we as people put conditions on our love and commitment. This can apply to people, situations, or even organizations. We say phrases such as , “I love you, but” or “I know I should go to church, but.” The word “but” is a conjunction that is going to reveal the condition. One of those conditions centers around forgiveness. The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. In today’s text, we are going to see forgiveness put into action in a difficult situation. In Acts 7, we see the first Christian martyred. His name is Stephen. The religious leaders found people who would lie about him and what he was teaching. Two things stand out about the story in Acts 7. The first is how Stephen used his time to defend himself. He didn’t defend himself! Instead of saying, “these guys are lying, I’m not doing any of what they are accusing me of”; Stephen gives a history lesson. He recounts God’s faithfulness and God’s plan from Abraham all the way through Jesus. Stephen was calling on the religious leaders to repent and believe, instead of being worried about his own life. This is the example of Christian love in action we should all strive for.
The second thing that sticks out to me is the depth of Stephen’s love for God which led to a deep love for the people, even the ones persecuting him. After false witnesses were found, and he didn’t defend himself, Stephen is going to be executed. He was taken out of the city and stoned. As they are hurling stones at him, as he is bleeding, and his life is fleeting from him, Stephen does something unbelievable. Acts 7:60 says, “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Stephen followed in the footsteps of Jesus in the sense of asking God to not hold his murderers accountable for their action. Stephen is forgiving his persecutors as they are killing him.
The only way that we can choose to not defend ourselves, and to even forgive those who are causing us harm is to have a deep love and an abiding relationship with Jesus. Stephen was living out his theology. He believed that God is sovereign. This is why he didn’t try to defend himself against the lies, because he knew God was in control of all things. Stephen knew that Jesus loves sinners. Stephen knew that forgiveness is available through Jesus. Stephen knew that to close his eyes in death was not something to be afraid of, but rather to be embraced because something far greater was waiting for him. Stephen could forgive, because he knew he had been forgiven. His persecutors didn’t ask for forgiveness. Why would they, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. Yet, by his words, Stephen is choosing to forgive them. It’s easy to forgive those that we love or when it truly isn’t a big deal. However, it takes a love that is bigger than us to forgive those who are persecuting you. Yet, this is the very type of love that Jesus shows us, and that we are called to show to the world. When we have right beliefs, they will show by our right actions. What do our actions say about our beliefs?
By His grace and for His glory,