Dealing With Conflict: the Case of Stephen

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)

Conflict resolution is a vast topic. Books have been written on it. Volumes, really. No, I should say, libraries! The world is full of conflict. We are constantly surrounded by it. In our homes, at the office, in the streets, even in the supermarkets, we end up facing conflicts from time to time. For some of us, we seem to face it more often than others. Is it our fault? It could be! But that is not always the case. We are sometimes innocent targets of those who would want to destroy us. Take, for example, the case of Stephen, who is described in the Bible as being “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5b). Stephen was stoned to death for no fault of his own – people were envious of him because he had the power of God residing within him. They did not have that same power and, as was common with the religious men of the day (the Pharisees and scribes), what they did was out of envy more than anything else.

In fact, Stephen actually mentioned envy as being the reason why Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. He said, “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him.” (Acts 7:9) And again, we read in Mark 15:10 the reason why Jesus himself was delivered up to be crucified, “For he (Pilate) knew that the chief priests had delivered him (Jesus) for envy.” Again, in the case of persecution against Paul in Acts 13, the same thing applies, for we read, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.” (Acts 13:45) And again, in Acts 17, with the case of Paul and Silas, we read, “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” (Acts 17:5)

All this to say, of course, that one possible reason for conflict is that of envy. It is “one sided” conflict – conflict that you are not personally responsible for if you are the victim of such an attack. However, what you are responsible for in such a situation is to handle the situation carefully. Notice in Acts 7 Stephen did not “retaliate” with insults, but actually prayed the prayer, as he was being stoned to death, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” (Acts 7:60) Of course, I have to be careful when I say that Stephen did not “retaliate” because it might give the impression that Stephen acted as a doormat for the abuse which he suffered. But was Stephen a doormat? No, of course not! This was a man who obeyed God every step of the way. In fact, the very reason why Stephen was even “around” at the time to be persecuted was because he was being obedient to God in delivering a very important and powerful message to the religious people of the day. It was in that message, just before they stoned him, that Stephen declared, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

Wow, what a man of God! We should all be like Stephen. (And, of course, that means being willing to die for what we believe in, as well!) Stephen was certainly not a doormat, but spoke the truth to these men who needed to hear it! All this to say that if we feel like we are the “innocent recipients” of an attack from another person, we do not have to act like doormats. But be careful! Stephen was as sensitive as could be to the Holy Spirit and only spoke under his direction – not out of any selfishness on his part, but out of obedience to what the Father wanted him to do. When it was time to rebuke, he rebuked with full authority. When it was time to be stoned, he handled that in an appropriate manner, as well. Now in situations like these, Scripture would have us “flee” if we could, but obviously, it was not possible for Stephen to do that and I’m sure the Lord gave Stephen great peace and assurance in the midst of it all. At that point, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, Stephen prayed the prayer, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” I’m sure there was no regret or anger in Stephen’s voice, only love and compassion – and possibly a looking forward to meeting the Lord! The message had been delivered. The rebuking had been done. And the purpose for Stephen’s life had now come to a close. It was now time to go and be with the Lord.

Questions to consider:

1. How did Stephen deal with conflict in this case?

2. Do we always deal with it in the same manner?

3. Based on this Scriptural example, do you think that it is always God’s will for us to be “free” from troubles?

4. What was Stephen’s obligation to “correct” the problem that he experienced?

5. Was Stephen a doormat?

6. According to Matthew 10:23, should we just let ourselves be “steam-rolled” if we can avoid it?

7. If Stephen had tried to rebuke his persecutors after they began stoning him, in the hopes of saving his life, do you think it would have been pleasing to God?

8. How could Stephen be so self-controlled at a time like this?

9. Is it possible for Christians today to be as self-controlled as Stephen was back then?

10. Are you willing to die for your faith?