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Stephen’s martyrdom teaches ministers to die well, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Like the first Christian martyr Stephen, ministers must be willing to proclaim the Gospel faithfully even under the threat of death, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during his fall commencement address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Preaching from Acts 7, Mohler said the story of Stephen’s martyrdom gives ministers only one option when they face persecution for preaching the Gospel.

“This is a reminder to us that when the minister of the Gospel is accused of the fact of preaching the Gospel,” Mohler told the seminary’s 132 graduates Dec. 9, “he should plead guilty and then preach the Gospel.”

The Sanhedrin — scrupulous protectors of the temple — accused Stephen of blasphemy against the temple and the Law of God. However, instead of attempting to rebut the charges, Mohler pointed out that Stephen took a seemingly odd strategy: He answered his accusers by unfolding the Old Testament and showing them how the Law, the temple and the promises are fulfilled in Christ.

Though charges of blasphemy were punishable by death, Stephen answered his accusers by pointing them to the Gospel because he was not afraid to die for the sake of Christ, Mohler said.

Modern ministers must exhibit the same level of courage and faithfulness to the Gospel, even if it causes them suffering or death, he said. And they must follow Stephen’s example in defending the Gospel of Christ comprehensively from the Scriptures, he said.

“Stephen wasn’t afraid to die,” Mohler said. “He was afraid that he would be found unfaithful [in] having been given this incredible opportunity before the Sanhedrin to declare the Gospel.

“Stephen intended by no means to repent of his message. Rather, he called upon those who were his accusers to repent of making the temple an idol and of corrupting the Law and of missing the point and of killing the prophets — including the Christ.”

Mohler warned ministers not to love life and safety more than Christ and His Gospel, Mohler said.

“One of the hallmarks of ministry in the Book of Acts is the recognition that life is not as important as faithfulness,” Mohler said.

“Every opportunity to defend the Gospel is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Stephen is the example that when the minister of the Gospel is accused of being faithful to the Gospel, the only proper response is to do exactly what you have been accused of doing; preach the Gospel as Stephen did.”

The persecution of Christians that began with Stephen has continued throughout church history, Mohler said, and some today are called to be witnesses to the faithfulness of God through suffering and death.

But where the church has undergone intense persecution, it has grown profoundly, Mohler said, pointing out that mainland China has witnessed an explosion of Christianity since falling under communist rule after World War II.

Mohler pointed out that communist leaders attempted to retard the growth of Christianity in China by separating believers from their families, stripping them of their jobs and assigning them to menial tasks such as door-to-door garbage collection. However, Christians used the new jobs to spread the Gospel across China, Mohler said. The faithfulness of Chinese believers illustrates well the essence of Christian ministry, he said.

“That is really what our calling is all about,” Mohler said. “We take what the world gives to us and turn it for the Gospel. If the world calls us to die, then let us die for the Gospel. If the world strips us of respect and position and prestige and rank and sends us door-to-door to pick up the garbage, then let us go door to door, but let us be faithful as we go, faithful as we live and faithful as we die.

“It is so easy in a warm room surrounded by friends and family on an occasion of celebration to think only warm thoughts about how good God has been to us,” Mohler said. “We need to have warm thoughts about how God will be good to us even if we are called to suffer, even if we are called to die. Let us seize every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel whether we live or whether we die.”

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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