Stephen spoke. The council swore. Stephen preached. The council plotted. Stephen seized the opportunity. The council seized Stephen.
The high priest begins the interrogation saying, “Are these charges true?”
(Acts 7:1). Instead of pleading the fifth amendment, Stephen takes the next 50 verses to remind them from whence they came. He preaches expositorily from their scriptures to set the record straight. Without mincing words, he methodically addresses the sins of “our fathers.”
How did the Council react to these honest accusations? How would you react? Be honest. With rage? Fury? Hate?
And Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, surprised them again by gazing heavenward and saying, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56).
That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, salt rubbed into an open wound, a modern day “in your face.” With one accord, they cried out and cast him outside where they began to stone him.
Then Stephen did something amazing. The one who had “told it like it is” surprised them again by crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60).
He had learned his lesson well. He was imitating the Master. This was the consummate example of love in action. Jesus taught him to hate the sin and love the sinner. Hating the sin is a sign of strength. Loving the sinner is an act of gentleness and greatness.
How does one distinguish between the sin and the sinner? Sometimes, as parents, we face the same dilemma. As parents of two active boys, my wife and I were often guilty of not being able to separate the soot from the son. Now you’re supposed to hate the soot and love your son. You’re supposed to separate your feelings toward the soot from your feelings toward your son.
It’s a very thin and delicate line that separates the soot from the son. It is that same line that separates the alcoholic from the burned-out businessman, the sin from the sinner, you from yourself.
All of us have been guilty of “falling short” and missing the line. It is humanly impossible to separate the sin from the sinner, but it is heavenly possible to hate the sin and love the sinner. Christ recognized the difference when He spoke to the thief on the cross. Stephen understood it when he prayed within earshot of a young man named Saul. And with a little help from the Spirit, you too can keep on keeping on!
Joe Noland, A Little Greatness