Stephen’s Example in Acts 6
As the community of believers grew following Christ’s resurrection, they had all things “in common,” consecrating their property to the apostles, who then distributed according to peoples’ needs.
Eventually, a dispute arose because certain widows were being “neglected in the daily ministration” of food (Acts 6:1). More logistical oversight was required. But the apostles correctly understood that “it is not reason[able] that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts 6:2).
So the community of believers chose seven men to administer the temporal affairs of the church —we could think of them as the early church’s equivalent to the Presiding Bishopric. One of these was named Stephen.
The narrative then pivots to follow the activities of Stephen. What would you expect those to be? Probably his expertness, fairness, and eye for detail at administrating the temporal logistics of the saints, right? Because that was his calling?
We learn that Stephen was “full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost . . . and power” and that he “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:5, 8). We see him defending the word of God, so that opponents of the faith “were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). We see him boldly testifying before the Sanhedrin and, moments before suffering martyrdom, having a vision of “Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
In other words, Stephen was a bold missionary, a vessel of the Holy Ghost, a fearless witness, and a seer.
Stephen did not limit his activities to the seemingly temporal affairs of his calling. While I have no doubt that he fulfilled those duties, and fulfilled them well, he understood that to be a member of Christ’s church, and especially a leader within that church, gave him the power, authority, and responsibility to look after the spiritual welfare of God’s children.
Learning from Stephen’s Example
How often do we get called to a seemingly temporal position in Christ’s church, and we limit ourselves to temporal administration? As I pondered this question, several such callings came to mind:
- Clerks and secretaries
- Directors of sports programs or activities
- Building cleaning specialists
- Bishop’s Storehouse workers
- Service missionaries
- Office elders
- Deacons, teachers, and priests
Satan would love to have people in these callings believe that their ability to bless and serve God’s children is limited to logistical or temporal functions. That is simply not true, for two reasons:
- Every calling and assignment, whatever its nature, can be used to spiritually bless God’s children. God has declared that “all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34).
- Every disciple of Christ has the power, opportunity, and responsibility to bless God’s children outside of the scope of their particular calling. By virtue of being a baptized member, we are all called to “mourn with those that mourn, yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). We are all called to “impar[t] to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants” (Mosiah 18:29, emphasis added). We are all called “to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls” (Moroni 6:5).
Perhaps the way we make this mistake most often is when we confine the function of the Aaronic Priesthood to purely temporal duties: Preparing, passing, and cleaning up the sacrament, collecting fast offerings, and performing service projects. But note what the Lord described as their duties:
“The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:46-47).
Teachers and deacons are “to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59).
Let us, like Stephen, catch the vision of the mighty works of faith and the spirit we can perform in our discipleship. There are no strictly temporal callings!
Stephen from the book of Acts did not limit his activities to the seemingly temporal affairs of his calling. While I have no doubt that he fulfilled those duties, and fulfilled them well, he understood that to be a member of Christ’s church, and especially a leader within that church, gave him the power, authority, and responsibility to look after the spiritual welfare of God’s children. This led Stephen to be “full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost . . . and power” and do “great wonders and miracles among the people.”
Image credit: Mariotto di Nardo, “St. Stephen Preaching / St. Stephen before the High Priest and Elders of the Sanhedrin,” Tempera on panel, 1408. Via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.