Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE METHOD OF OPPOSITION”

Acts 6.9-15; 7.54-60

 

Seeking to bring people to Jesus Christ and representing the Savior is the business of this church and each and every one of our members. Working together to accomplish the goal of obeying Christ’s Great Commission, we engage in a spiritual enterprise that from time to time meets with great spiritual opposition. Perhaps no greater example of such opposition is found in the Bible than in the life of that first Christian martyr, Stephen. Please make your way to the book of Acts, chapter 6.

This morning we are going to take a look at the human side of the spiritual opposition to getting sinners saved and serving God. Stand with me as we read the text, leaving out the very long passage recording Stephen’s sermon that runs from Acts 7.1-53. I will only read Acts 6.9-15 and Acts 7.54-60:

 

9      Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

10     And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

11     Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.

12     And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,

13     And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

14     For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.

15     And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

 

54     When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55     But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56     And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57     Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58     And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59     And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60     And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

Those of you who are familiar with the book of Acts will remember that Stephen was one of the seven men in the church at Jerusalem who was chosen to be a deacon, literally a servant, to perform routine tasks that were taking up the valuable time of those called by God to spiritual leadership. You will also remember that God tremendously blessed the ministry of Stephen, so much so that great opposition rose up against him. The opposition was of such a type that I would like for us, this morning, to examine the method of opposition used against that spiritually muscular but personally meek Christian man. The reason we are going to study how Stephen was opposed is because the basic method of opposition to truth, and the basic method of opposing God’s servants, has really never changed throughout history, and because I expect this type of opposition to increase in our church, as part of a satanic effort to thwart our increasingly effective efforts at bringing the lost under the sound of the gospel.

Think about what I said for just a moment. The method of opposition to truth has never changed. Looking at the experience of the first Christian martyr, we are going to review the three stages of opposition he faced. My hope is that this will prepare you to handle this method of opposition, that never really changes, when you see it used by the devil’s minions against someone in our church. Since the method of opposing truth never changes, you are going to want to learn just how those who preach the truth and stand for the truth are opposed. Why? So you will recognize it and be able to resist the evil influence of those who continue to oppose the truth that you stand for. Simply put: So you will know how the enemy is going to attack our church, and me, and you, and other members, before the attack actually takes place, and so you will recognize it while it is taking place. This way you will not wallow in doubt and guilt and self recrimination, but will know that this is what happens when you do right.

 

THE FIRST STAGE OF OPPOSING THE TRUTH IS BY ARGUMENTATION

 

In Acts 6.9-10, we learn that Stephen taught in the synagogues. He taught the truth concerning the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah . . . as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. As Stephen led men and women through the Hebrew scriptures, he showed them how the Messiah, Who those Jewish people had been waiting for, must die and be raised from the dead to fulfill the predictions of the prophets. As you might expect, the opponents of truth did not agree with the conclusions Stephen drew from the Old Testament about the Lord Jesus Christ and vigorously opposed him. The way in which they opposed him, remember, was by arguing against his conclusions.

First, notice the source of these arguments against Stephen. This is seen in Acts 6.9: “Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.” According to Luke’s account, primary opposition arose from three synagogues in Jerusalem, the first of which was designated “the synagogue of the Libertines,” the second comprised of those from Cyrene and Alexandria (this is North Africa), and the third attended by those from Cilicia and Asia (what is today southern Turkey).[1] There are several reasons why Stephen was opposed by men from those synagogues. Since the first of the synagogues was called the synagogue of the Libertines, we know that those who attended it either were ex-slaves or were the descendants and relatives of former slaves.[2] This is what “libertines” refers to . . . those set at liberty. These people were Jews who had who had been hauled away at one time or another to be Roman slaves, but who had somehow gained their liberty and had worked their way to Jerusalem, though they still spoke Greek as their primary language. The same would apply for the other two synagogues, since we are told; they had been born in Greek speaking regions such as Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and Asia. When you remember that Stephen was a Greek speaking Jewish Christian with an obviously Greek name, it all begins to fit together why these particular synagogues were so vigorous in their opposition to him. Stephen had very likely attended these same synagogues before he trusted Christ as his Savior. He continued to attend these synagogues so that he might teach others the truth and bring them to Jesus Christ. Not so that he might “straighten the synagogues out,” as so many foolish professing Christians try to do when they “get saved” and stay in Christ-denying denominational churches or synagogues that they ought to flee from. It was likely at one of the weekly worship services in one of these synagogues that the smoldering resentment toward Stephen for teaching of the truth burst forth into open opposition and antagonism and spread to the other synagogues. Therefore, those who Stephen had known before his conversion likely put the argument forth. If you examine the map section of your Bible you will notice that in that area known as Cilicia, where some of those synagogue attenders had come from, was a city called Tarsus. Whom do we know from Tarsus? Right. Saul of Tarsus. Is it not strange to consider that the man who later became the Apostle Paul, that brilliant young student of the Mosaic Law under the tutelage of the great Gamaliel, may have lost the first theological debate of his life to a Christian named Stephen . . . who he may have known from back home in Tarsus? So much for the source of the arguments. Do not be surprised if the arguments against a Christian come from those who know him. The opposition might even come from those who know him well, and with whom he has had a long acquaintance. Those who opposed Stephen might very well have been those who counted him as friend before his conversion.

The substance of the arguments can be gathered from Luke’s use of the word “disputing” in verse 9. The word “disputing” means to examine, to question, to seek together. It is a word used to describe a debate.[3] In other words, Stephen’s opponents in the synagogue were not trying to understand whether what he said was true, according to God’s Word. They were opposed to the truth for selfish reasons, or for reasons related to pride. If Stephen was right in his interpretation of the Bible, they must have reasoned, and then they would be robbed of the privilege of being respected teachers. Because if Stephen was right then they, of course, had to be wrong. Therefore, they resorted to debating Stephen, trying to trip him up, trying to confuse him, and trying to find a point of weakness or inconsistency in his doctrine.

However, the strength of Stephen’s arguments proved too much for these opponents of truth. This is seen in verse 10: “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” Stephen had wisdom and a humble spirit, which enabled him to present the truth in an effective way. Thank God, He raises up servants to present His truth in such a way as Stephen did. But you know, it ought to sadden us to think that truth must be specially packaged before it is accepted by so many. Would to God more people would accept truth simply because it happens to be truth, and not demand that it be delivered by a flashy orator or someone with a winning smile. Failing in their attempts to oppose the truth by arguing against Stephen in the synagogues, the opposers of truth moved on to stage two in their opposition to truth. I am sure you will recognize stage two. It is a tactic still used today in politics and in other areas of life. It is a tactic which proves, conclusively, that the opposition has no real ammunition to shoot with, because they would use it if they had it. What is stage two? What is it the enemy of the truth will resort to when he has no really effective means of opposing the truth?

 

STAGE TWO OF THE ENEMY’S OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH IS FOUND IN VERSES 11-14. THE ENEMIES OF STEPHEN’S LORD TURN THEIR GUNS ON HIM AND BEGIN TO ASSASSINATE HIS CHARACTER.

 

When the politician gets desperate he starts name-calling. President Clinton, perhaps the best practitioner of this foul tactic in the 20th century, used to call it “the politics of personal destruction” whenever someone was doing it to him. Typically, when the enemy of truth can do nothing else he will attack, not the truth itself, but the messenger of truth. This was done in three stages to discredit Stephen. Notice what they did.

First, they suborned men. This means that the opposers put men up to tell lies about Stephen.[4] This is found in verse 11: “Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” They actually stooped so low as to lie and falsely claim that they had heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and God. Is that not a familiar tactic? “I heard so and so say that he . . . .” Folks, the tactic never changes. When Kenneth Starr began investigating Whitewater and Travelgate years ago, and when birthers started asking for President Obama’s birth and citizenship records, what happened? Political functionaries began their vicious personal attacks. This is not new. Over and over again, for thousands of years, men who have used exactly the same tactics have opposed the messengers of the gospel. Is this not what Potiphar’s wife did when she lied about Joseph to cover up her own wicked schemes? As well, Charles Finney used such tactics against preachers who opposed his unscriptural methods. Another approach is to subvert and undermine by suggesting, “The man of God said such and such, but what he meant was . . . .” Why do you think I began recording my sermons? So you can buy them and listen to them? That is a secondary reason. The primary reason I want my sermons recorded is so I can prove what I said against the charges of those who would seek to use my words against me. Such a little trick of perjury, no matter how slight the distortion of truth may be, is guaranteed to start a fire. It happened to Stephen, to the Apostle Paul, to Martin Luther, to John Calvin, to Jonathan Edwards, to Charles Spurgeon . . . and it happens today.

Having started a little fire, the opponents of truth began to fan their little fire. This is done by stirring up the people, verse 12: “And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council.” Notice that those who were stirred up were the people, but those who reacted were the elders and the scribes. You see, to oppose truth in front of a crowd of people you must first start a fire among those who do not really know what is going on, who really were not there to witness the event first hand. Then you mix those folks up really good so they are completely confused. What will happen is this: You will get a reaction from those who were there, who did hear Stephen’s words, who know that he did not blaspheme God or Moses. However, they are reacting to the people who have been stirred up by those opposed to the truth and the crowd being manipulated ends up ignoring what Stephen actually said, even though they know what he said. Do you see how Satan uses ignorance of the facts to achieve his ends? None of this could have happened to Stephen if those people who were stirred up had instead replied, “Hold on a second. Even if Stephen is wrong, as you say, this is not the way to deal with it. There is a right way to go about this.” However, such presence of mind is a rare commodity in any age.

Once the officials responded to the pressure of the crowd, false witnesses were set up to guarantee Stephen’s downfall, verses 13-14:

 

13     And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

14     For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.

 

Of course, they made a completely false charge against Stephen. They said that he was blasphemous, in verse 13: “And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law.” A complete fabrication, but a very clever one. Their supposed “proof” of this charge was what Stephen had said about the destruction of the Temple and the changing of the customs of the people, verse 14: “For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.” This is a piece of propaganda worthy of Democratic strategist, James Carville. Listen to John 2.19-21: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” Folks, Stephen was talking about Christ’s sacrifice. He was not referring to destroying the Temple at all. So, they took some of the words Stephen had said, but they took what he said completely out of the context in which he originally said it, and intentionally warped its meaning for the purpose of damaging him. In reality, those men lied by telling almost the whole truth about what Stephen had said. Almost the truth. Does that sound familiar? Telling almost the truth is what makes countering the lie so difficult. A preacher is opposed to homosexuality, so he is portrayed by the media as homophobic and someone who supposedly hates homosexuals and is a hate-monger. Or a preacher is accused of not keeping confidences, when it turns out that a man’s own wife betrays his confidences and blames the pastor for it. Even though he knows his wife is liar, even though she has been caught lying behind people’s backs on numerous occasions, he will believe the bad report about the pastor. Are not such wimpy fools incredible? They deserve everything they get.

 

THE FINAL STAGE OF THE ENEMY’S OPPOSITION TO THE TRUTH IS TO ASSURE HIS SILENCE

 

It must be admitted that character assassination is usually effective in opposing the truth. Discredit the messenger, it is reasoned, and you discredit the message. We know that is not true, but it is the way people think. However, character assassination did not succeed in Stephen’s case.

Read verse 15 with me: “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.”

They knew his character was above reproach. When they questioned him throughout Acts chapter 7, he did not defend himself. Instead, he gave Biblical proof that his doctrine was correct and theirs was error. Knowing that they had not yet silenced him by ruining his reputation, and being outraged at the piercing and cutting truth that he spoke so eloquently in Acts 7.1-53, the opposers of truth went into a fit of fury and took steps to assure his silence forever.

Notice why those men acted the way they did, Acts 7.54: “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” They were convicted of their sins. That is why they wanted Stephen silenced. This happens in one way or another whenever people are convicted of their sins. You are cut to the heart by the truth about your sin and your guilt before God. However, instead of repentance, these men wanted revenge. Is that not the way it is with the reprobate? Revenge instead of repentance. Damnation instead of deliverance.

Verses 55-60 show us that they wanted to continue their opposition to truth. They would do anything to assure Stephen’s silence . . . even if it meant killing him:

 

55     But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56     And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

57     Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,

58     And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.

59     And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

60     And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

Do you see the never-changing pattern that is used to oppose the truth? It is the same method today as was used 2000 years ago. Nothing changes. Perhaps you are such an opponent of the truth of the gospel. You first argue against the truth. If your arguments against the truth do not prevail? Then you try to assassinate the character of the person presenting the truth. If his character is above reproach? You will then resort to silencing the messenger of truth in some way.

Granted, few people are murdered in the United States for preaching the gospel. The main reason, of course, is that very few preachers actually preach the gospel in the United States. Presenting the facts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ without properly setting those facts within the context of God’s Law is not necessarily preaching the gospel. In those cases where the gospel really is preached the tactics used have not changed at all. This is because man’s sinful nature has not changed down through the centuries. You are as utterly depraved, and without love for God, and enslaved to sin as any lost person who has ever lived.

When the claims of Christ from God’s Word are preached to you, have you ever argued against the conclusions instead of opening your mind and heart to accept the truth of what is said? If so, you are at stage one of opposing the truth. Have you ever resorted to arguing against someone who is seeking to bring you to Christ, perhaps by referring to the so-called Christian hypocrites you know, or the charlatan preachers you are aware of? Maybe you only put up such arguments in your mind. No matter how you do it, you are engaged in character assassination. That is stage two in opposing the truth. Then, when you walk away from the person who is trying to bring you to Christ, when you do not want to talk about it, when your mind wanders during the preaching of the gospel, or when you refuse to talk to me about your soul, you have moved to stage three. You see, when you do that you have silenced me, or that person who seeks your conversion. You have done enough to ensure that you do not have to listen to me or that other person anymore.

You Christians here today, have you noticed how faithful preachers are attacked? If the enemy of truth cannot argue with his doctrine, they assassinate his character. If that does not work, they try to silence him. How will enemies work to silence a preacher? There are many ways to silence a preacher short of killing him. Get him fired. Refuse to attend church. Distract yourself if you are in church. The details vary but the goal is the same. Make it so you do not have to listen to him anymore. Or, if you are a real demon, you work to so discredit the preacher so others will not seek his counsel, so others will not make use of him as a guide to Christ, so others will not trust him. If you know someone who does that then you are acquainted with a real viper.

Friends, the method of opposition to truth has never and will never change. When you see this method being used on me, or when you become aware of this method being used on you or some other Christian, the person who is using this method has identified himself as the enemy of truth. When our church split started almost twenty years ago, this pattern was used. First, there was an attempt to argue with me. When that was unsuccessful, an attempt at character assassination was mounted. And the third part? Silence me by either refusing to listen to me anymore or by leaving.

Let us learn from this. Let me give you some pointers to help you avoid being drawn into anything you should not be involved in:

ź  First, never allow yourself to be drawn into argumentation with a lost guy. Proverbs 13.10 says, “Only by pride cometh contention.” Contending for the faith is not the same as arguing. Arguing, contention in the context of Proverbs 13.10, is the result of pride and is just plain wrong.

ź  Second, and this is for you lost folks, Proverbs 3.30: “Strive not with a man without cause, if he hath done thee no harm.” Why dispute with a man who has no desire to hurt you, but to see you blessed of God? Why oppose the man who supposedly introduced you to Christ or who ministers to your children? Or why get nasty with someone who only wants to see you come to Christ?

If you will humble yourself in the sight of God, you will not argue as Stephen’s enemies argued with him. If you will simply leave people alone who mean you no harm you will not assassinate the character of others, as Stephen’s enemies tried to assassinate his character.

What if you are the one on the receiving end of the opposition? What do you do when you are attacked? Well before you are attacked; make sure that any attack that comes against you will be the result of opposition to your position, not opposition to your disposition. Make sure people are not offended by your personality, even if they are offended by the truth of your doctrine. That done, make very sure that you do not back down when faced with a spiritual assault. The real difference between a Stephen and a tough-talking man who shows cowardice in the face of the enemy is what happens when the shooting starts.

If you enter the conflict right with God, opposition does not mean things have gone wrong. Opposition means that things have gone right. We are, after all, in a spiritual war! Does this mean that Christians should go looking for fights? Oh, heavens no. Never go looking for a fight. I hate worse than anything in the world to fight. However, when you are doing what a Christian is supposed to do the fights will occasionally come looking for you.

If it has not happened to you before, you now know what shape it will likely take . . . because, with a wrinkle here and a slight modification there, the method of opposition will be the same: argumentation first, character assassination second, and third, somehow assure silence.

I now close with these final words to those of you here who are unsaved. Think about the gospel message. The Bible says that you are dead in trespasses and sins and that you need to be saved. If you do not come to Christ, one, two, or all three of the following things will happen: First, you will argue. Maybe not out loud. Perhaps your argumentation will be in your heart and mind, disagreeing with what I have preached from the Bible. Please understand that, ultimately, your argument is not with me, but with the One Who wrote the scriptures I have quoted, God. Second, character assassination. Maybe you will try to discredit the message by looking at a personal flaw of mine, seeing me as being inconsistent, or thinking of that hypocrite preacher or lying Christian you know. Remember, assassinating the messenger’s character reveals the weakness of your own position, not it is strength. You still have not refuted the truth of God’s claims that you are a sinner in need of the only Savior, Jesus Christ. Finally, there is the attempt to silence. Fidget during the sermon. Think about something else. Distract yourself in some way. Leave and decide not to come back. Kids will play with the person next to them. Mothers will unnecessarily tend to their children to distract themselves. We had one guy who could never sit through a service, but had to go out and blow his nose or something every single service.

Friend, why not just stop? Respond to the truth. Come and talk to me and let me guide you to Christ. If you do not God will pour out His wrath on you.



[1] See footnote for Acts 6.9 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1644.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 274.

[4] Ibid.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org