Twice in the book of Acts, we find a unique description of people selected among the believers in the early church. In Acts 6:5, we meet the man who would ultimately become the first martyr of the early Church, Stephen. Scripture describes Stephen as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. Later in Acts 11:24, a similar description is added about Barnabas he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith… These young men eventually became significant actors in the history of the early Church as it unfolded in the book of Acts. I have always wondered what it meant to be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. All of the people in the early church had faith and the Holy Spirit, but something distinguished Stephen in Phillip as the only members of the early church singled out with this description.
The Holy Spirit
Throughout the Old Testament, we see numerous occasions when the Holy Spirit came upon people, and they did mighty works for the Lord. In the book of Judges, we see that occur with Samson and other judges of Israel. In the book of I Samuel, we see it happen with the young king Saul. But there is a difference in the book of Acts. Rather than the Holy Spirit coming upon people, we find them filled with the Holy Spirit. This distinction is important to recognize because it signals the dramatic shift that took place as the work of God transitioned from the old covenant to the age of grace and the Church.
The new order was an order of the Spirit! Through the work of Christ Jesus, men and women could access the throne room of God and be led by His Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit does not possess a believer. He does not control us. The nature of the Holy Spirit of God is not one in which God uses His Holy Spirit to force us toward His will. The nature of the Holy Spirit partners with believers to hear, obey and fulfill the will of God in the earth.
Imagine the Holy Spirit like the brain our body. Our limbs and fingers sense the instructions of the brain and carry those instructions out. In that way, the will of the brain is established in the tangible world that surrounds us. Similarly, the Holy Spirit transmits to us the will, purposes, and preferences of God. When we respond with obedience to those signals, we establish the will of God on earth as it is in heaven, effectively becoming the Body of Christ in the earth.
Full of Faith
Jesus said that when we are faithful in the small things, we will be rewarded with greater things.
His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)
That principle applies to many facets of life, including our walk with the Holy Spirit. The Lord can entrust us with more when we are faithful in small matters with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 5:32, Peter describes the Holy Spirit as the gift given by God to those who obey Him. Each act of faithful obedience to the signal, the prompting, and conviction of the Holy Spirit results in a more significant measure of the Holy Spirit expanding into our lives.
It is worth noting that Stephen’s selection in Acts 5, the place where he is singled out for the obvious presence of the faith and the Holy Spirit within Him, it is not to do some mighty work for God. The leaders of the Church include Stephen in a select group of individuals who would wait tables for widows within the church. From this place of obedience in the small things, Stephen was elevated by the Spirit, in the course of one chapter, to give a powerful address to the religious leaders of Jerusalem and then become the first martyr of the church (Acts 7:60).
The Relationship of Faithfulness to the Presence of the Holy Spirit
When we read of men like Stephen and Barnabas who were filled with the Holy Spirit, we find men who were faithful (i.e., full of faith as the scripture says). They were faithful in the little things that the Holy Spirit called them to do and could be entrusted with more. Like every human being, they still faced temptations to choose their own will over the will of the Spirit. They still struggled to bow their will in obedience to the will of God. They proved their obedience and faithfulness, and as a result, God blessed them with greater portions of His Holy Spirit in their lives. After a while, those around them clearly recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit because they faithfully guarded the Holy Spirit in their lives. They recognized that sin and disobedience, the prioritizing of personal self-will over the will of God, grieved the Holy Spirit and shrunk the presence and activity of God in their lives. They practiced righteousness and obedience and held a sacred guard over the Holy Spirit’s presence in their hearts.
While the Holy Spirit of God does not need our protection, there is a requirement to sanctify and esteem the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must guard our righteousness and obedience with a sacred call so that the presence of the Holy Spirit will grow and spread throughout our inner being so we too can be full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
This Monday Devotional is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released “Understanding the Holy Spirit” book from JB Shreve. Stay tuned to the website for release dates and availability.