The Apologetics of Stephen: Lessons from Both Sides

Acts 6:10–11 (ESV)
"But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”

Long before Paul’s famous Mars Hill defense of Christianity (Acts 17:22-31), Stephen was defending the faith with ironclad resoluteness.

We see in Stephen a life transformed by the Holy Spirit, one in which the Hellenistic Jew became so full of power and grace, and was thus so fervently opposed by such groups as the Synagogue of the Freedmen. Stephen was challenged publicly by this group and others, but one by one, his arguments could not be refuted.

The only recourse left was to falsely accuse Stephen of blasphemy against Moses and God. They were defeated and they knew his arguments were true—but the hardness of their hearts would not allow a change to occur.

In his response, Stephen gave a wonderful oratory of Jewish history challenging the overconfident beliefs of his countrymen. Their overconfidence was rooted in their mistaken notion that possession of God’s blessings, promised to Israel in the OT, indicated that God’s favor rested upon them at that time regardless of their sinful actions and attitudes.

We can learn much from this example. Not only in Stephen’s defense of Christianity, but in the audience who would not accept his message.

As Christians, we have a duty to always be prepared to defend our beliefs to those who would argue against us (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). To always be prepared requires us to diligently study Scripture regularly and understand what the common challenges are for a non-believer to overcome. It is in this encounter where Christianity gets the blackest eye: All too often, believers in Christ are unable to articulate the why of their faith—and this serves as an indictment against the whole premise of Christianity. Whether you are new as a believer or one who was saved decades ago, you need to be prepared to give a rational defense of the Christian worldview.

Unfortunately, what I just wrote in the preceding paragraph will fall on the ears of some believers much the same way as Stephen’s message back then. We know we need to give a defense—for it is prescribed in Scripture—yet there are those who refuse to acknowledge this truth and make the necessary changes.

Here's a test. Does the following describe you?

"Doing so would take time out of my worldly pursuits, I just don’t have time. Plus, my circle of friends are all believers. I don’t have to worry myself with encounters from those other types. Let the church leadership defend the faith, and let me just attend my Sundays in peace. And don’t talk to me about Sunday school. I’ve been reading my Bible longer than you’ve been alive!"

There are people in churches today that fit this description. They may possess only one of the attributes, or they may possess them all (and some I did not recount). Regardless, they are an impediment to the growth of Christianity and if this was a sports team instead of a church, they would be kicked off for poor performance.

But we’re not a sports team, we’re a church. We’re Christ’s church. And we owe it to not only those outside of our building to share the Gospel, but to all of those inside the building to love and to grow in His grace. In a spirit of humility we should encourage others to share in the ministry of the church with a gentle nudge of encouragement.

And if you’re the recipient of that gentle nudge, recognize that your role in building God’s church goes beyond sitting in a pew on Sundays; rejoice in giving of yourself—a giving more precious than money.